The graphic narratives produced by my Thai [and exchange] students were inventive and striking, as some explored not only the COVID-19 crisis but addressed social and political issues in a straightforward way, revealing Thailand’s traumatic decades made of military coups and bloody crackdowns. I guess the assignment came timely, capturing the frustrations of a new generation of young adults, revealing visually the overburduning and endless cycle of coups and sociopolitical struggles. With my students and with Richard McGuire’s approval, we decided to set the assignment as a challenge and invite everyone to take part, as we believe that in these times of self-isolation, it might be interesting to widen the limited and constrained space we now inhabit by exploring it through time.
“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, in: Conan, N. (2011). MetaMaus: The Story Behind Spiegelman’s Classic; radio interview, Oct 5)
So here’s the layout that you are free to use [click on the image for larger version], and please add the hashtags #MeanwhileHereComics and/or #การ์ตูนที่นี่ (‘KatunTiNee’ which means “Here Comics” in Thai language) so that we can follow your artworks online.Thank you in advance for joining!
“Time, as cut into minute sausage slices and laid out on the [comics] page in an array from which larger connections and patterns may be sensed, is the cartoonist’s ‘paint’ or ‘clay.’ […] Trying to communicate the hugely incomprehensible yet indescriptibly fine texture of life in little reconstructions sort of mirrors the way we remember it… Really, when one come right down to it, in the end, that’s all we have: our memories!” (Chris Ware, in: Why I Love Comics. The New York Times , 2015)
OUR STUDENTS’ COMICS
#MeanwhileHereComics pages by students of the “Creative Writing Section 11 [Experimental and Fiction Comics Composition]” course. More will be added soon. In the captions below some pages, I’ve introduced links to some local/Thai events referred to in the graphic narratives. PS: I’m proud of my students’ hard and meaningful works. #ProudAjarn
As these “constrained comics” & concept are quite challenging, composition was achieved over a couple of weeks, and with the submission of several drafts commented by yours truly… via the Line app due to current COVID-19 crisis. If you want to spot the differences, and see how every minute detail [from color to fonts or encapsulation] matters in comics composition where “each element is thus: one with everything” (Nick Sousanis in: Unflattening, comics dissertation published by Harvard University Press, 2015).
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:
On June 1, 2018, The Comics Grid published my first open-access scholarly paper dedicated to a lost chapter in the History of Comics Art; the creation in 1938 -and 30-year development- of the Cartoon Likay signature comics genre by Thai Comics master khun Prayoon Chanyawongse.
Paper abstract: “By launching in 1938 a series of adaptations of folktales in comics form, Thai cartoonist Prayoon Chanyawongse established the Cartoon Likay genre which places the reader as a member of an audience attending a Likay performance. The local theatrical form frames his graphic narratives where scenes of a play performed on a stage continuously alternate with sequences taking place in the vast realms of epics set in the Ayutthaya period. By introducing key Likay conventions such as recurring humorous interruptions and asides, Chanyawongse could effectively address contemporary social issues and political topics within traditional folktales. This paper explores several Cartoon Likay narratives in the context of the Likay theatrical form and the local folktale repertoire to discuss the nature and development of Chanyawongse’s signature comics genre.”
If I had to compare Prayoon’s Cartoon Likay comics to a better-known comics, it would be to René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo‘s Franco-Belgian series The Adventures of Asterix for their shared humor centered on puns, caricatures, anachronisms and modern-day allusions in period adventurous tales. If Cartoon Likay predates Asterix for about 20 years and if Prayoon’s social & political criticism and aesthetic of disruption (through fascinating fourth-wall breaks yet to be fully explored) are more apparent, Prayoon Chanyawongse and René Goscinny do share a love of language, of often-disregarded ‘common folks’, and such a playful & witty (and kindred) spirit. So much more is to say about the Cartoon Likay comics genre (and about the “Lost Continent” of Thai Comics), as a complete exploration of sophisticated Likay rhymes and play of words is yet to be undertaken, not to mention the dozens of other folktales adapted in comics form by Prayoon Chanyawongse.
My thanks go to The Comics Grid, and the Research Funding Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to my former and wonderful research assistants mesdemoiselles Tanchanok Ruendhawil & Suttiarpa Koomkrong for their invaluable help and commitment, to Dr. Sukanya Sompiboon for introducing me to Likay, to p’Soodrak Chanyavongs for her time and insights, and to my better-half. My thanks also go to Colin Cheney & Dr. Jirayudh Sinthuphan for suggestions to the content of this paper.
Full paper is available in open access on this page of The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship.
On May 14-17 2018, some 40 students at the International Program in Communication Design (CommDe, Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand) attended in two groups to 4-day parallel “Open Studios” led by Belgian cartoonist and illustrator Ephameron (aka Eva Cardon) and American cartoonist and illustrator Anders Nilsen.
〈Anders Nilsen wrote his own account of the 4-day “Chulalongkorn Comics Workshop Phantasmagoria” on this blog post.〉
“It was a remarkable experience in about a hundred different ways, but in particular the students were amazing.” Anders Nilsen (blog post here)
The current post presents the two first days of the Open Studios, and a second post will soon display pics from the last two days of workshop. Students were able to experience two completely different approaches in comics composition during these Open Studios, as Ephameron focused on capturing the essence of a short story and its breakdown and visual adaptation in comics form while Anders Nilsen explored “non-standard” panel layouts and constrained comics exercises (inspired by OuBaPian experiments from the Pierre Feuille Ciseaux international comics residency-laboratory) in order to generate unexpected characters and plots. I do apologize here for the far too invasive presence of my noisy camera, and thank all participants for the patience and understanding. Nicolas
Here are the presentations of Ephameron and Anders Nilsen’s Open Studios by the CommDe program which invited the two artists and hosted the event.
“Eva Cardon leads CommDe Open Studio on Graphic Narrative. In this open studio on Graphic Narrative each student chooses one of the short stories from American author Raymond Carver collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral and turns it into a graphic narrative that explores the limits of comics, and experiments with storytelling techniques. Eva works under the pseudonym Ephameron and is based in Flanders. She publishes and exhibits internationally.”
“Anders Nilsen leads CommDe Open Studio ‘Where Do Your Ideas Come From: A Comics Workshop.’ Anders will lead students to explore their own creativity in developing characters and narratives. Anders Nilsen is the award-winning artist and author of nine books of comics and visual narrative including Big Questions, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, The End and Tongues. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Chicago Reader, Medium, Kramer’s Ergot and elsewhere. His comics have been translated into numerous languages and his artwork has been shown internationally. He lives in Portland, Oregon.”
DAY 1: MONDAY, MAY 14
Ephameron’s Open Studio; students Pear, Medfai & Noey
Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio; students Arty & Bamie
Belgian cartoonist Ephameron’s Graphic Narrative Open Studio at CommDe, Thailand
American cartoonist Anders Nilsen’s Comics Open Studio at CommDe, Thailand
DAY 1 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 01: story-boarding of a Raymond Carver’s short story. The Belgian artist introduced the life and works of Raymond Carver and proposes a warm-up exercise. All students had to break down an imposed short story Why don’t you dance? (from Raymond Carver’s collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) into a storyboard of 10 illustrations.
Ephameron comments students’ storyboards.
“Why don’t you dance?” 10-panel storyboard by student Darnis.
“Why don’t you dance?” 10-panel storyboard by student Plue.
Ephameron comments student Darnis’ storyboard, with students Pear and Noey on the right.
DAY 1 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 01: the Comics Loop. Meanwhile in the classroom below, the American cartoonist proposes a first exercise to generate imaginative character designs. Each student randomly draws a name card on which a stock character is named (“beggar child”, “drug dealer”, “elephant”, etc.). Each student is then asked to divide an A4 page in four panels and is given a few minutes to create the character design of his/her assigned character in the first panel. When done, students are given a few more minutes to come up with completely different interpretation and graphic rendition of their assigned character, in order to avoid the obvious/common portrayal they might have provided in the first panel. When the second panel is completed, students must redraw their character in the two last panels but in graphic styles different from their personal style in order to leave their confort zone.
Students in Anders’ Open Studio.
Student Sam designs his character.
When done, the same exercise is repeated but with name cards of objects, then name cards of settings/sceneries. All character/object/setting designs are then separated and taped to a wall. Each student must then designates his/her 3 favorite character designs, then objects, then settings.
Anders Nilsen considers his own selection of character designs.
Each student designates his/her three favorite character/setting/object designs, .
Each student designates his/her three favorite character designs. With students Arty, Winnie, Tonkla and Champ.
Anders Nilsen considers the resulting character designs.
After voting, the three favorite character designs, objects and settings are brought together.
As the three selected objects (like the fish can or the anthropomorphic chair) could be turned into characters and would be redundant with the initially selected characters, Anders and I decided to substitute them for a meteorite (which could also be used as a setting), a “bone trapped in a crystal”. The “top of a building” setting was discarded in favor a snow globe, being an object and holding a potential setting. The 9 definitive elements were then used as references, and limitations to maintain coherence, for a collective comics composition assignment -in the form of anexquisite corpse– based on the constrained exercise La Boucle/The Loop developed by the ChiFouMi Association. This exercise had been already implemented at the Faculty of Communication Arts in 2015 with 17 participants, whether professional Thai cartoonists or enthusiasts (more info on this dedicated post). Here is the “protocol” of the constrained exercise. Let’s note here that the story remains “wordless” to facilitate the development of the narrative, as the presence of dialogues might complicate the action of linking the first and last panels together.
Step one: defining 9 elements (3 characters/ 3 objects/ 3 settings). See above.
Step two: each student draws a 6-panel regular grid on an A4 page. Every student must start the action of his/her story in the sixth (and last) panel using one or several of the 9 imposed elements. When done, he/she gives his/her page to the artist on his/her left. Time limit: 15′.
Step three: in the first panel of the page he/she got from his/her seatmate, the artist must continue the action he/she started on the previous page. Time limit: 15′.
Step four: all pages, with only the first panel filled by an artist and the sixth panel filled by another artist, are gathered together. Each student randomly draws a number and -following order of the numbers- can select a page on which he/she will have to fill the four remaining panels (or panels 2 to 5), and link panels 1 and 6 into a somehow coherent narrative.
Step 4: discovering the pages with only panels 1 and 6 filled. From left to right: students Winnie Rit, Bamie, Sam, Kade and Vee.
Step 4: discovering the pages with only panels 1 and 6 filled. From left to right: Anders Nilsen and students Winnie, Piraya, Champ, Uang and Punn.
Step five: each student must now fill the four empty panels (or panels 2 to 5) on the page he/she picked, and link panels 1 and 6 (each drawn by another student) into a somehow coherent narrative.
The Final Story:As presented by the Association ChiFouMi, “the story that is made through all these joints makes an infinite loop, where all the elements that were produced before gives some kind of common road where each author can intend its own singularities and its own imagination, while following a protocol nearly invisible.”
It is interesting to note that a series of recurring motifs appeared throughout the narrative, without any consultation among the students. If “transformations” are obviously to be expected in order to link two disparate panels together, the frequency of “transformations by digestion” was here quite remarkable. Recurring motifs include ingestion, swallowing, vomiting, excretion (maybe in connection with the importance of food in Thai culture, or with gluttonous Brahmin Chuchok whose belly would burst in the Vessantara Jataka, or Krasue spirit with their internal organs hanging down from the neck?), and some related scatological elements, to which -and quite logically in a Buddhist culture- the recurring lotus flower raising from mud would balance. Karmic retribution, and Inception-like worlds inside worlds, were quite present too. The resulting comics was wild, and hilarious at times, as the following pictures show.
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop. From left to right: students Arty, Piraya, Rit, Bamie and Punn, with Anders Nilsen
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop:, with Anders Nilsen.
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop: student Uang explains her plot to Anders and her classmates.
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop. With students Sam, Winnie, Arty, Aim, Bamie and Tung.
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop, with student Arty.
Collective reading of the resulting collaborative comics loop. With student Bamie.
DAY 1 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 02: the comics “scrabble/domino”. Anders Nilsen proposed another exercise to which the students were invited to participate whenever they wanted during the 4-day Open Studio. The American artist scattered some illustrations on different walls and asked the students to add new illustrations after, before, above or below his own in order to generate strips, and narratives which would slowly spread across the walls.
Collective and improvised “scrabble/domino” comics.
Student Rit enjoys Bamie’s idea.
Collective and improvised “scrabble/domino” comics.
DAY 1 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 02: figure drawing. Meanwhile Belgian artist Ephameron lets her students release some steam, after a challenging and focused day of short story analysis and story-boarding, by proposing a “figure drawing” session. Each student was invited to draw one of his/her classmates, respecting proportions and attitudes, and exploring various facial expressions.
Student Darnis by his classmate Pin.
First year student Plye strikes a pose to help her classmate capture some facial expressions.
DAY 2 in Ephameron’s Open Studio. Part 01: comicsadaptation of various Raymond Carver’s short stories. At the end of previous day, Ephameron provided each of her students with a different short story written by American author Raymond Carver and mainly taken from the collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral. Each student has the three remaining days to adapt his/her assigned short story into a comics.
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 01: Taming the Beast. As the Comics Loop resulted in a wilder-than-expected exhilarating narrative, the American cartoonist decided to go for an additional exercise in order to “tame the Beast” and channel the energy.
Anders Nilsen presented the students with Daniel Clowes‘ comics page “What Is the Most Important Invention of the 20th Century?” published on October 1989 in the first issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.” Other Duplex Planet-inspired comics -with each story’s title is the question Greenberger asked, e.g., “Where Do Wiseguys Come From?”- appeared in Eightball #2 to 4, and 6 (see below for pics).
Daniel Clowes’ comics page published on February 1990 in the second issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.”
Daniel Clowes’ comics page published on June 1990 in the third issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.”
Daniel Clowes’ comics page published on October 1990 in the fourth issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.”
Daniel Clowes’ comics page published on June 1991 in the sixth issue of his comics series Eightball. The page is a visual adaptation of “the work of David Greenberger, who asked questions of nursing home residents and transcribed their answers in his zine The Duplex Planet.”
Before. Students Bamie (left) and Arty (right), with students Punn, Aim, Winnie and Kade.
During. Arty’s portrait by Bamie?
After. Discovering the “What happened?” comics pages.
Here are some results from the “What Happened? – Clowes/Greenberger” assignment by the students.
And an extra constrained comics assignment:
Extra assignment: create the speech ballon with text first, then add an image and the text of next panel, etc.
Extra assignment: create the speech ballon with text first, then add an image and the text of next panel, etc.
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 02: Finding Anders Nilsen. The American cartoonist did a short presentation of his journey as an artist, with the various defining steps and realizations mapping out his career path, such as stressing the importance of his sketchbooks in all aspects of his numerous projects. Some 25 of his books (from zines to graphic novels or collaborative productions) were on display in the classroom for the students to consult.
Anders Nilsen shortly presents his journey as an artist, here with the path-defining short story he wrote for his little sister.
Cover of the second issue of Anders Nilsen’s zine series “Big Questions”.
DAY 2 in Anders Nilsen’s Open Studio. Part 03: “I Almost Died!” assignment. After a lot of fun, students were asked to work on a more dramatic and/or intimate (or humorous if preferred) 8-panel comics page starring two characters. The first character would talk about a time that they almost died. The other character only speaks once, to ask a question. Seven panels show the two characters, and one panel (selected by the student) shows something else.
Getting serious, or trying. Student Winnie.
Getting serious, or trying. Student Kade working on her “I Almost Died!” constrained comics assignment.
Anders comments student Punn’s on his “I Almost Died!” constrained comics assignment.
Students Piraya, Wawa and Mae at work on their “I Almost Died!” constrained comics assignment.
Student Punn at work on his “Deadly Situation Survival” story.
Getting serious, or trying. Student Bamie working on her “I Almost Died!” constrained comics assignment.
Getting serious, or trying. Students Punn and Uang, and Anders Nilsen introducing the “I Almost Died!” constrained comics assignment.