On Thursday September 29, 2022, we held a stimulating guest lecture and workshop with French non-fiction graphic-novelist, editorial cartoonist and animation director Aurel whose movie Josep was honoured by the 2021 César Award for Best Animated Film.
My warm thanks to Aurel for his time and enlightening and captivating insights, and to La Fête, Beyond Animation Festival and Clémentine Arfi for making this meaningful cultural exchange possible!
The workshop consisted in applying the various graphic non-fiction composition techniques discussed during the guest lecture to the comics adaptation of an imposed paragraph excerpted from the chapter A Race of Cooks in Yuval Noah Harari‘s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011/2015). The 35 participating students -from Faculties and Departments of Literature, Architecture, Communication Design, Communication Arts, Psychology and Chemistry- had 30 minutes to compose individually a 2-page comics breakdown (drawn draft) of the paragraph. After completion, Aurel’s own graphic take on the Sapiens paragraph in his comics Singes and David Vandermeulen & Daniel Casenave’s comics adaptation in Sapiens: A Graphic History were introduced to the students to compare radically different approaches. Each student’s comics breakdown was later commented individually by yours truly.
Here are some results from the students’ workshop:
When abandoned by words, muted or silenced, Comics Art allows for different strategies to represent -or allude to- ‘invisible/invisibilized’ inner wounds, health and mental issues. These -usually overlapping- meaning-making strategies include, but are not limited to, the narrative use of colors, art/line style, textures and techniques (pencils, ballpoint pen, digital paint…), graphic embodiment of the characters, space-time interplay (space as time; contiguity of various moments/spaces/panels), braiding of visual motifs and visual metaphors, panels’ sizes and shapes, page composition (segmentation, layout, negative space…), text spatialization, speech balloons’ shapes and lettering, multi-modality (text-image dynamic; anchorage/relay, intertextuality), abstraction or suggestion (closure, gap between the panels). More on ‘the interaction between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare’, and the representation of (psychic) trauma, can be found on the website Graphic Medicine, and books such as Documenting Trauma in Comics: Traumatic Pasts, Embodied Histories, and Graphic Reportage (Palgrave Macmillan), Hillary L. Chute’s Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form (Harvard University Press), Harriet E. H. Earle’s Comics, Trauma and the New Art of War (University Press of Mississippi) and Eszter Szép’s Comics and the Body: Drawing, Reading, and Vulnerability (The Ohio State University Press) among many other publications.
Harriet E. H. ‘Earle suggests that comics are the ideal artistic representation of trauma. Because comics bridge the gap between the visual and the written, they represent such complicated narratives as loss and trauma in unique ways, particularly through the manipulation of time and experience. Comics can fold time and confront traumatic events, be they personal or shared, through a myriad of both literary and visual devices. As a result, comics can represent trauma in ways that are unavailable to other narrative and artistic forms.’
The following 17 ‘Traumics’ (comics on trauma) or Graphic Medicine narratives were produced by Thai or exchange students from various faculties (Psychology, Architectural Design, Language and Culture, Communication Design, Communication Arts, Engineering) at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, during the Covid-lockdowns in 2021 and 2022 as the final creative projects of two of my courses: Imaginative Media, a comparative course on the representation of Refugee Narratives and Psychic Trauma in various media (literature, comics, movies, tv series, dance/choreographies, paintings…), and Visual Media Studies, a ‘General Education’ course mostly dedicated to the study of Graphic Narratives and Comics Art. Both courses include the study of Psychic Trauma and its representations through a series of lessons based on the seminal works of psychiatrists François Lebigot, Louis Crocq and Sándor Ferenczi, and on my conferences on Comics as a Language of Symptoms of Psychic Trauma. All students were made aware of the challenging nature and content of the courses on the first lesson (and could choose to drop the course, or skip the triggering content/lessons); they were free to select their graphic narrative’s topic, but it had to be related to psychic trauma or any other mental/health issues, and to change their topic at any point, if the ‘graphic’ composition felt too challenging. Some stories are based on personal experiences, other are based on research by the students. In preparation of the composition of their graphic narratives, we’ve analysed pages from a dozen trauma-related short comics or graphic novels from the US, Canada, Taiwan, Vietnam, Belgium or France. Along the semester, students worked on various (constrained/experimental) comics composition assignments. During the last weeks of the semester, individual consulting sessions with yours truly were held, one to discuss the first layout and a second to improve some elements of the advanced draft of their comics. Most of the students had no prior art/comics training, and the following stories are usually their very first comics narratives. Most stories reveal the crushing weight of social pressure/conformity in Thailand (and Asia), and that -if comics studies were rightfully considered and fully integrated in the university curriculum- students would be able to produce many more sophisticated and meaningful graphic narratives on social issues and as a means of self-expression and of mindful communication.
My deepest thanks to all my students as they were always fully dedicated to the ‘unconventional’ content of my courses and to the comics assignments they were given. More comics have been produced during these two courses, but some were either redundant with the stories presented here or need some additional editing before publication. More graphic narratives should be published online soon.
These ‘graphic’ narratives contain depictions of domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, child abuse, self-harm, suicide, eating disorders, body shaming, [cyber-] bullying, disasters/mass shootings, discrimination, nudity, offensive language, and more…
Reproduced with permission. All rights remain to the authors/artists.
I’m pleased to announce the publication, on December 2021, of the second issue of the bilingual (EN/TH) comics zine series GAP/ช่องว่าง, edited by yours truly. The main purpose is to offer a new/regular creative space to young -or seasoned- Thai cartoonists, showcasing critical, autobiographical and/or experimental narratives. Each issue will also feature a foreign guest, sharing about his/her bond to Thailand. For this second issue, cover art is signed by talented artist Darnis Vimonthammawath aka Narsid, with one-page ‘loop comics’ by TUNA Dunn (in both EN and TH versions), 12-page comics by Arty Nicharee (bilingual EN/TH), 4-page ‘parallel storyline’ colour comics by Bamie Paopanlerd with Winnie Thaitrakulpanich and Best Chantharamethikun (bilingual EN/TH), 4-page silent comics by Sanprapha Vudhivorn and 2-page autobio comics by special guest Freddy Nadolny Poustochkine (in both EN and TH versions). The GAP title is designed byKhwansubhanut Banlunara. The A-5 format and 28-page zine is limited to 200 copies, with a cover price of 120 baht (3 EUR; 4 USD). Orders within Thailand: 120 baht + 20 baht for registered mail. For international orders; money transfer via ‘Wire’; delivery fee, please inquire via the FB shop page The Thai Comics Bookstore.
Dedicated post for the first issue of GAP/ช่องว่าง: click here.
During the second semester of the 2021-22 academic year, we welcomed spearheading Thai artists Peeraphat Kittisuwat, Faan Peeti, Superfah Jellyfish and Isaree Pipatpongsa who held workshops in three different courses, with the goal of introducing our Inter CommArts Thai and exchange students to new graphic and narrative techniques in order to develop their visual literacy & composition skills in preparation of their final creative projects.
A) “TRANSITION WORKSHOP” with Thai designer & cartoonist PEERAPHAT KITTISUWAT
February 22, 2022. First on-site guest lecture/workshop in 2 years! The Inter CommArts students of my Creative Writing (Section 11: Experimental Comics) course welcomed Thai designer and cartoonist khun Peeraphat Kittisuwat, founder of P. Library Design Studio. After introducing us to his different works (in experimental and live-drawing animation, mural painting, book design of The Art of Thai Comics…) related to his stunning cutout & double-sided non-linear comics leporello in-between, khun Peeraphat invited our students to play with his book’s print proofs to compose new looped graphic narratives by cutting/pasting/rearranging sequences with new “twists”. The 11 students presented their narratives at the end of the workshop, getting comments and feedbacks from our guest. PS: it felt good to get back to a communal creative experience with the students (while respecting all Covid safety measures).
Some works by guest artist Peeraphat Kittisuwat:
Students at work during Peeraphat Kittisuwat’s workshop:
Students’ presentations in front of the classroom, and some graphic narratives produced during the workshop:
B-C) “SHAPE & TEXTURE DOUBLE WORKSHOP” with Thai illustrators FAAN PEETI and SUPERFAH JELLYFISH
March 07, 2022. The Inter CommArts students of my Creative Writing (Section 10: Non-Fiction Graphic Narratives) course welcomed Thai artists Faan Peeti(book illustrator and cartoonist who explored creative panel layouts in her Manustrip series for a day magazine) and Superfah Jellyfish (painter, tattoo artist, and author of challenging old-school zines such as Having Sex First Time and The Intimates). They held two creative workshops exploring the symbolic use of comics panels/borders and body positivity through acrylic painting with markers. These were wonderful and inspiring midterm workshops meant to prepare the students for their final creative project. [All safety measures were respected with mandatory masks, hand-washing, and ATK tests before the lesson for all participants].
A short introduction, by yours truly, on creative uses of comics panels preceded Faan Peeti’s workshop.
Some works by guest artist Faan Peeti:
Some works by guest artist Superfah Jellyfish:
Pictures from Faan Peeti’s talk and workshop on the creative use of comics panels/borders. Students were then asked to compose an autobiographical or autofictional comics page playing with the symbolism of comics panels/borders.
Pictures from Superfah Jellyfish’s talk and workshop on the creative use of acrylic painting and black markers to address body positivity.
D) “SHŌJO MANGA & RAPE CULTURE” TALK & WORKSHOP with Thai illustrator ISAREE PIPATPONGSA
March 29, 2022. Fourth and final guest lecture/workshop for the semester. The Inter CommArts students of my Imaginative Communication course welcomed Thai artist Isaree Pipatpongsa (Izary P. Pipat). Khun Isaree talked about her thesis Rape culture awareness campaign through the female perspectives and Shojo Manga influences (School of Fine and Applied Arts, Bangkok University), with an introduction to the history of Shōjo Manga, her take on the genre to address the issue of Rape Culture in Thailand, her thesis process and design concepts, and a presentation of the resulting [and stunning] A1 comics digital prints, animation and journey kit. The students then participated in a workshop, revisiting Shōjo Manga pages with various techniques (drawing, tracing paper layers, screentones, diplopia effect, collage…) to reveal insidious aspects of the Rape Culture. It was a fascinating talk and highly meaningful and creative workshop! [All safety measures were respected with mandatory masks, hand-washing, and ATK tests before the lesson for all participants].
Pictures from Isaree Pipatpongsa’s talk, with an introduction to the history of Shōjo Manga, her take on the genre to address the issue of Rape Culture in Thailand, her thesis process and design concepts.
The students got the opportunity to take a close look at Isaree Pipatpongsa’s stunning A1 comics digital prints and thesis journey kit.
Students were provided with relevant manga pages, and their tracing paper versions as well as screentone sheets. Applying various techniques (drawing, tracing paper layers, screentones, diplopia effect, collage, black-out poetry…), they composed new pages addressing the Rape Culture issue and the victim’s traumatic experience. Here are some pictures of the workshop, with guidance by Isaree Pipatpongsa, and of the class presentations and the resulting graphic narratives.
The perks of teaching comics composition; being offered some of the sweetest gifts. My warmest thanks to former CommDe thesis advisee & soon-to-be Graphic Storytelling student at LUCA Beeldverhaal (Belgium), mademoiselle LycheeVanabudChaiprakorb, for this comics page which nicely encapsulates what my job is (sometimes) about, some nice comics features (non-linear narrative; De Luca/Siamese murals effects…), and an important lesson: comics help us to cut across boundaries. As Shane Denson puts it: the comics panel’s frame marks “a boundary that defines the image as a unit, thus separating it from the space around it, but it also marks a zone of connection and in fact invites the viewer to cross its threshold, to pass into the territory it defines” (Framing, Unframing, Reframing: Retconning the Transnational Work of Comics, 2013). It’s one of the many beautiful paradoxes of comics making; drawing borders that are meant to be respected AND passed through, in a constant back and forth, connecting each image with the ones around and beyond, intertwining the individual [panel] and the collective [page] in a all-at-once & one-with-everything unique experience. Little Muay gets a bit hurt at the end of the page, and that might be another lesson; comics’ scaffolding composition is no easy feat.
Thank you dear Lychee for this great page; it means a lot to me. Keep crossing borders, from Thailand to Belgium, from each panel to the others! A. Nicolas
I’m pleased to announce the online seminar “GRAPHIC NON-FICTION IN ASIA: THE ROAD AHEAD”, a roundtable with comics creators and editors from South and Southeast Asia to discuss their works and the challenges they face in their respective countries. Guest speakers: Bambi Eloriaga-Amago [Philippines], Charis Loke [Malaysia], Sreejita Biswas (Solo) [India], Tanis Werasakwong (Sa-ard) [Thailand] and Adoor Yeh [Taiwan], and moderated by yours truly. On Thursday November 25th, 2021, 4PM (GMT+7) [2:30PM Delhi; 4PM Bangkok; 5PM KUL, MLA & TPE]. Seminar duration: 2 hours. Organized by the National Research Council of Thailand and the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University. Inscription to the Zoom session via this link: https://forms.gle/5Gzw3eqpMwqQ2qkMA [Poster illustration from “taskun mudaan” by Adoor Yeh, 慢工出版 Slowork Publishing, 2021]
Delighted to announce the launch of the bilingual (EN/TH) comics zine series GAP/ช่องว่าง, edited by yours truly. The main purpose is to offer a new/regular creative space to young -or seasoned- Thai cartoonists, showcasing critical, autobiographical and/or experimental narratives. Each issue will also feature a foreign guest, sharing about his/her bond to Thailand. For this first issue, the cover art is signed by talented artist MM. Kosum, with GAP title designed by Khwansubhanut Banlunara, and with stories by Applesoda, Ping Sasinan, Sasi Tee & Namsai K., and illustrations by Arty Nicharee and Brussels-based guest artist Abdel de Bruxelles. The A5-sized and 24-page zine is limited to 200 copies, and with a cover price of 100 baht (3 EUR; 3.5 USD).
For orders within Thailand: 100 baht + 20 baht for registered mail. Orders outside Thailand: 3.5 USD + 6 USD for registered mail [or 3 EUR + 5 EUR for registered mail]. Contact me at Nicolas.V [at] chula.ac.th
Comics submissions, from Thai artists, are welcome too at the same email address. Nicolas
GAP/ช่องว่าง #01 backcover and artwork by Arty Nicharee
The second issue of the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée [Comics Art Museum – Brussels] magazine Le Dessableur has been released on June 2021, with a 10-page special feature on “Thai Autobiographical Comics” (composed by yours truly). Autobiographical graphic narratives are almost absent from the Thai comics production -even from its alternative scene- for various cultural and political motives. The feature -in French with Dutch translation- explores these constraints through the rare, remarkable and counter-cultural examples of Thai autobiographical comics. It spans from Sem Sumanan’s first self-representation in a 1924 Siamese comic strip and Isaan cartoonists’ regionalist memoirs, up to the contemporary zine scene and Sa-ard‘s 2020 daring and brilliant self-published graphic novel “Kan Sueksa Khong Krapong Mi Fa” (The Education of a Tin Can who had a Dream). Thanks Sa-ard for the cover art and the enlightening interview! And thanks Greg Shaw for the invitation; it was a pleasure! N.
After several preparatory assignments [see dedicated post for details], CommArts students from the Creative Writing: Non-Fiction Comics Composition course [Chulalongkorn University, Thailand] were asked to produce their final assignment: an autobiographic comics. As mentioned in the previous post, the two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative. The stories were composed over a period of one month, instead of two due to the pandemic outbreak. Individual comment sessions were held weekly via the Zoom platform.
Here are some of the resulting graphic narratives! More coming soon!
[All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property. Some nicknames have been changed at student’s request].
Autobiographic comics by student B. (with some help from her sister).
Autobiographic (GIF) comics by exchange student Alex
Autobiographic comics by student Smile
Autobiographic GIF comics by student May
Autobiographic comics by student Por (with some help from Peera Tayanukorn)
Autobiographic comics by student Pranang (a handheld game console format containing a long comics strip that can be scrolled manually and with a main character -Pranang’s alter ego- which can be moved up and down).
Autobiographic comics by student Jay
Autobiographic comics by student G.
Autobiographic comics by student Pin
Autobiographic graphic narrative by student Paint
Autobiographic comics by student Plai
Pages from exchange student Meg Hoogendam’s digital comics book on HSP
As of January 2020, undergraduated students at the International Programme in Communication Management [Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University] are able to choose between two Comics Composition sections as part of their Creative Writing curriculum: experimental/fiction comics composition and non-fiction comics composition. The latter is a new 16-week [3 credits] section open to 30 students without any drawing/art training. I’m introducing in this post the preparatory assignments of the “non-fiction comics” section, meant to facilitate the composition of the semester final project; a short autobiographic comics. The two main challenges were to compose a short comics without prior art training, and to write an autobiographic narrative in a country where the autobiographical genre is almost absent from local literature (and comics) as it is seen as ill-mannered in Thai culture to talk about oneself, and as shortcomings or mishaps are not to be disclosed in a context where [to save (i.e. preserve)] the face or self-image is essential. However, in a globalizing world and because of the “international” nature of the programme and of the students’ education [often in international schools], I considered these challenges worth facing.
The class was composed of 34 students [29 female students and 5 male students], and included 6 exchange students from abroad. All artworks are reprinted with the consent of the students, and remain their property.
ALL-SEMESTER ASSIGNMENT: GRAPHIC DIARY
On the first week of class, students were asked to acquire a notebook and draw an entry related to their daily life every day and over the complete 16-week semester. The goal was to help the students to familiarize themselves with the act of drawing and the observation of their surroundings and inner thoughts and feelings. Progress was checked in the classroom every two weeks, then online when the Faculty closed its doors due to the pandemic. At times, the graphic diaries revealed the frustration, the angst and sometimes the isolation experimented by the students during the lockdown.
WEEK 01 ASSIGNMENT: SELF-PORTRAIT
After a first short lecture introducing non-fiction comics [autobiography, confessional comics, graphic medecine and comics journalism; with examples from Julie Doucet, Wimmen’sComix, Robert Crumb, Joe Matt, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Neeske Alexander, Jennifer Hayden and Joe Sacco), students were asked to draw their self-portrait “in situation” in a Chas Addams’ cartoon from which the upper part had been blanked out.
WEEK 02 ASSIGNMENT: 10 MEMORIES
Students were asked to write down 10 memories, 10 crucial moments -positive or negative- that still impact/haunt/enlight their lives up to this day. I discussed individually with each student to know which memory he/she is eager and confortable adapting into a comics narrative [narrative/graphic potential]. Two memories are sometimes related [theme/period/figures] and were selected to be merged into one narrative. This list/thematic approach comes from Tom Hart‘s guideThe Art of the Graphic Memoir(St. Martin’s Griffin, 2018). Numerous references and resources were borrowed from his useful book.
WEEK 03 LECTURE: CHARLOTTE SALOMON
We explored, among others, the work of German artist Charlotte Salomon and her series of nearly 800 goauches Life? Or Theatre? produced between 1940 and 1942.
WEEK 03 ASSIGNMENT: TEXT SUBSTITUTION
Each student was asked to develop -at home and in written form- his/her selected memory over an A4 page. In class, we analyzed Chris Ware’s short comics I Guess [click on link for full story] in which the written text [the sensitive memories of a child] is imposed -seemingly arbritrarily- in the captions and speech/thought balloons of a six-page Golden-Age-style superhero adventure. However, beyond the “disjunctive form of verbal/visual interplay”, some words or sentences seem to echo drawn elements and to form a braiding of motifs; Chris Ware plays here with the fact that comics readers are drawn to look for meaning in the interaction of the pictorial and the linguistic.
After the analysis of I Guess, students were asked to compose a graphic narrative using the same concept by simply imposing the text of their ‘selected and extended memory’ [A4 page] in the emptied captions and speech balloons from three pages of French cartoonist Xavier Mussat’s autobiographic comics Sainte Famille. The latter book was selected as Xavier Mussat extensively plays with visual metaphors and allegories and because these could become generative of unexpected and accidental resonances with my students’ written memories.
WEEK 04 ASSIGNMENT: DIFFERENT TONE
In order to further explore the memory selected by each student, I asked them rewrite their text but as if written by their younger self -in a personal diary- at the age they were when the chosen event took place. The text was to be written on black and white photocopies of some pages from French-Canadian cartoonist Julie Delporte‘s pencil-color and organic diary Journal (Koyama Press, 2013).
The following pages show student G’s memories [to be compared with her version on Xavier Mussat’s pages above], written down as a personal diary, along with Julie Delporte’s drawings on which G added watercolor.
The objective of the “text substitution” and “different tone” assignments is to lead the students -without prior art training- to get a sense of the graphic potential of their stories as a comics narrative, to consider the use of visual metaphors, allegories and motifs, as well as the narrative use of color and ‘voices’, and to trigger new and unexpected (and maybe forgotten) elements to feed their narrative through additional layers.
WEEK 05 ASSIGNMENT: WAIT! STOP, YOUNGERVERSION OF ME!
Now that students have been drawing in their daily graphic diary for a few weeks, and that they have played with their written texts in relation to pictures through various substitutions, they were asked to draw their first comics (in the classroom). The assignment is to draw a comics over 4 pages with imposed regular grids, and with an imposed speech balloon (containing the sentence: “Wait! Stop, younger version of me!”) in the third panel of the first page. The balloon was borrowed from American cartoonist Jess Fink’ sci-fi graphic memoir We Can Fix It! (Top Shelf, 2013) where the author goes back in time with a time machine to warn her younger self of -and thus try to avoid- mistakes she made in her past. Students were asked to write such a meeting with their younger selves.
“Like how does something happen, and… how does it reverberate through time? And that act of memory is important, and comics are great for memory. Like even when you have a short comic, like a three-panel comic, you’ve got a past, a present and a future as soon as you look at those three boxes. And that allows you to reflect and compare times.”
We explored the interplay of Time, Space and Memory in comics narratives by Richard McGuire, Lilli Carré, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons & Rick Veitch, Frank Miller, Kevin Huizenga, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Matt Madden, Nick Sousanis and Kiriko Nananan.
WEEK 05 – SPECIAL GUEST: FREDDY NADOLNY POUSTOCHKINE
On February 03, we were honoured to welcome French cartoonist Freddy Nadolny Poustochkine as a guest. We talked time, space, the fabric/material of memory and comics art in his creative process from his autobiographical comics La chair des pommes(ego comme x) to his Cambodia-set La colline empoisonnée (Futuropolis) and his ongoing project; and of the seminal importance of (his) sketchbooks. More pictures on this dedicated post.
WEEK 06 ASSIGNMENT: THE MEMORY TREE
Based on works by Chris Ware and ideas borrowed from the previous lecture and Freddy’s talk, students were asked to map their memory on an A3 page, adding photographs of themselves, of related places and characters, and of artworks (posters, paintings, quotes…) echoing the emotions they experienced during the ‘life-changing’ event they will tell in comics form as their final project.
The composition of comics essays in small groups was originally considered as an assignment during the semester. Sadly, due the Covid outbreak, group projects were canceled at midterm. As we weren’t yet aware of that fact, one early lecture was dedicated on [non-fiction] comics essay composition; I explained the process of creating a comics essay based on a two-pager I wrote for a special issue of KaiHuaRoh magazine with art by Ployjaploen “Bamie” Paopanlerd. I went through the various stages of composition, from the first idea [informed by numeorus influences] to thumbnailing and other schaffoldings leading to a clear non-linear narrative (with much help from the artist).
WEEK 08 [MIDTERM]: COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
As for examples, a useful reference was Rob Stolzer‘s students work from his Graphic Narration class.
After reading the students ‘memory trees’, I suggested to each student various approaches, comics references or motifs/connections worth exploring before adapting his/her selected memory into a comics narrative.
WEEKS 09 TO 16: INDIVIDUAL [ONLINE] CONSULTING AND FINAL RESULTS
The autobiographic comics composed by the students will be published in an upcoming post! [Their final and individual comics projects weren’t limited in size, length or technique; each student had to pick the best fitted format to convey his/her autobiographic narrative]. More soon!