As an assignment for the “Visual Media Studies” course (GenEd course offered by the Faculty of Communications Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand), students from various faculties and departments (Architecture, Communication Design, Psychology, Engineering, Literature…) were asked to explore the concept of “windows on time in a single place” developed by American cartoonist Richard McGuire with his two stories titled “Here” (1989 in the pages of RAW, and 2014 as an extended graphic novel). The complete groundbreaking graphic narrative can be read on this post: “Here” by Richard McGuire.
Here are some of the results, tackling topics such as Thai political turmoil, adoption, Black Lives Matter, but also time travel, family ties and… cats. Many more results from the CommArts students are also posted on this page.
PS: click on the comics pages for higher resolution.
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
During the second lesson of the “Imaginative Communication” course [a Comparative Media course in which we explore the theme “To Say the Unutterable” by analyzing and comparing the depiction of Psychic Trauma in various visual media, from comics to animated & live-action movies, tv series or choreographies], I asked my Thai & exchange students at the Faculty of Communication Arts (Chulalongkorn University) to do the “Grid and Gestures” exercise developed by Nick Sousanis, professor of Humanities & Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University, and author of the groundbreaking comics dissertation Unflatteningpublished by Harvard University Press in 2015.
[Course: Imgt Comm, 2800217, International Program, CommArts, Chulalongkorn University, 20 January 2020, with 35 students]
The purpose statement for the exercise provided by Nick Sousanis is as follows:
“So here’s how to think about Grids & Gestures. Quickly, have a look at your ceiling tiles or other grid-ish things around you. If you then imagine putting these features to music, you might have regular long notes on the tiles, some shorter notes, and maybe rapid staccato beats on a ventilation grill. Ok, now come back to a comics page – and think about the idea that in comics, time is written in space. Comics are static – and it’s in the way we organize the space that we can convey movement and the passage of time. Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition. The way you orchestrate these elements on the page is significant to the meaning conveyed – there are some strong correspondences between comics and architecture in terms of thinking about the way the entire space operates together.
Having briefly thought about this, I want you to take a single sheet of paper (any size, shape will do) and drawing with a pencil or pen, carve it up in some grid-esque fashion that represents the shape of your day. It can be this day, a recent day, a memorable day, or a typical/amalgamation day. And then inhabit these spaces you’ve drawn on the page with lines, marks, or gestures that represent your activity or emotional state during those times represented. The emphasis here is to do your best to not draw things. (You can always do that later!) And also, you can leave space blank on your page – but that has to mean something. This isn’t writing where you can finish a final sentence mid-page. Every inch of the composition is important in comics – so be aware of that as well. Finally, when I do this in class or with groups, I give people about 5-10 minutes to do it, so they have to make decisions quickly. Try to give yourself a similar limit.”
Adapting the exercise to depict a refugee’s journey
After this first exercise was completed, I asked the students to draw a second “Grids and Gestures” page but, instead of depicting a personal day/travel/experience, they had to draw the perilous travel of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali, 20, who had filmed her journey from the ruins of Kobane in Syria to Austria.
“Her footage shows what many refugees face on their perilous journey to Europe. Rania is cheated by smugglers, teargassed and beaten at the Macedonian border. She risks drowning in the Mediterranean, travelling in a boat meant to hold 15 people but stuffed with over 50. Those with disabilities are carried across raging rivers and muddy fields in their wheelchairs.” (The Guardian).
During the 22′ footage, some students drew the “Grids and Gestures” of Rania as her narrative was unfolding while other students preferred to take some notes and draw Rania’s grid right after the end of the film.
The outcome has been positive as students focused [more than usual] their attention on the emotions and struggles experienced by the refugees, trying to capture Rania’s emotional states, and discovering -as they were drawing on a limited space- the physicality and volume of incessant ups-and-downs (hopeful/hopeless…) and turns of events (wait/treks/dead ends/returns) faced during these precarious and usually dramatic odysseys. I’ll try to find time to study the results of this experiment in detail, and see if it tends to raise awareness/mindfulness (Sati/สติ) and empathy towards refugees. A promising exercise.
Here are some of the “grids and gestures” depicting the journey of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali and composed by CommArts students:
“In one of the Greyshirt stories in Tomorrow Stories, we did something very peculiar with the panel layouts. We had an apartment building, the same building, upon ever page. There are four horizontal panels on each page. Then, to add another element, we made it so that the top panels are all taking place in 1999, the second panel down on each page is taking place in 1979, the panel beneath that takes place in 1959, and on the bottom panel of each page, you’re seeing the bottom of the building as it was in 1939, when it was a fairly new building. We’re able to tell, by some quite complicated story gymnastics, quite an interesting little story that is told over nearly sixty years of this building’s life, with characters getting older depending upon which panel and which time period they’re in. There’s something that you couldn’t do in any medium other than comics.” Alan Moore (as cited on The Great Comic Book Heroes website), 2001.
In The Bloody Footprint (link) published by The New York Times on February 5, 2015, American multidisciplinary artist, illustrator and cartoonist Lilli Carré explores a personal memory yet later reclaimed by one of her childhood friends. Who experienced the event and who made its recollection her own? An intimate and effective take on the blurred contours of memory through a clever blend of prose, comics and GIF animation.
MIRROR by Chris Ware & John Kuramoto
More animated film than webcomics (yet using comics features), Mirror (link) is the result of a collaboration between The New Yorkerand the radio program This American Life. Through a cover for The New Yorker and its expansion as a short animated feature, extraordinary American cartoonist Chris Ware – with the assistance of John Kuramoto -revisits a radio interview (and an interesting reflection) of writer Hanna Rosin and her daugther about parenting, makeup and teenage self-awareness. Published by The New Yorker on November 30, 2015.
ME AND THE UNIVERSE by Anders Nilsen
In Me and the Universe (link), American cartoonist Anders Nilsen cleverly combines diagrammatic storytelling and the infinite canvas feature to explore his place in the Universe, from ancestral past to more-or-less present and distant future. Published by the New York Times on September 24, 2014.
WHY I LOVE COMICS by Chris Ware
Echoing Anders Nilsen‘s Me and the Universe, Chris Ware‘s Why I Love Comics (link) also depicts an artist’s lifetime on Earth. Playing with iconic solidarity and text spatialisation, the first word of each rounded panel spells out an acrostic hidden message. Published by The New York Times on October 16, 2015. Note also the epigraph:
“Cartooning is the art of turning time back into space.” Art Spiegelman.
“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.” Art Spiegelman, NPR interview, 2011
“It was the first time I had had my mind blown. Sitting on that couch, I felt time extend infinitely backwards and forwards, with a sense of all the biggest of small moments in between. And it wasn’t just my mind: “Here” blew apart the confines of graphic narrative and expanded its universe in one incendiary flash, introducing a new dimension to visual narrative that radically departed from the traditional up-down and left-right reading of comic strips. And the structure was organic, nodding not only to the medium’s past but also hinting at its future.” Chris Ware, The Guardian, December 17, 2014 (see below for link to the article).
Dear students, the 2014 extended version ofHere is available @ Kinokuniya bookstores.
An interesting adaptation of the original six pages of McGuire’s Here into a short film (“about a series of events in time that happen in one point of space: the corner of a room in a normal house”). Student-produced at the RIT Dept. of Film & Video in 1991, by Tim Masick and Bill Trainor for their senior thesis project.
And an interesting GIF of Richard McGuire’s complete original version of Here.