Academic Writing and Comics Theory
In 2017 I completed my Professional Doctorate in Design focused on the subject of digital and non-paper-based comics. While I’ve been making digital comics for more than twenty years and lecturing about making them for nearly as long, it was only during my doctoral study that I really got to grips with trying to theorise my practice. This section of E-merl collects my published academic writing on the subject.
Key Terms in Comic Studies is an impressive new publication from Palgrave Macmillan that aims to offer “a glossary of over 300 terms and critical concepts currently used in the Anglophone academic study of comics.” I was invited to write entries covering four terms – architecture, game, hybrid and sound. As a whole I think the book should serve as a good starting point for anyone looking to get a snapshot of the wide breadth of topics covered in academic comic studies.
This chapter on Game Comics is my contribution to the book Comics and Videogames: From Hybrid Medialities To Transmedia Expansions from Routledge. The chapter is based on the work I did during my doctorate to explore some of the theory behind Game Comics and the design challenges of their creation. While folk might find getting hold of a print edition of the book a touch on the pricey side, the whole thing is also available for download as a free PDF through the wonders of Open Access.
The slightly more illuminating subtitle of ‘Design Choices for Comic Creators in Print and Digital Media’ hopefully makes the subject matter of this one a little clearer. Essentially this is me collecting my thoughts on how the design decisions around a comic’s format can have massive implications for the way the comic is created and the eventual audience it might reach. Click here to check out the slides for the original talk I gave at Poetics of the Algorithm in 2016 or pick up a copy of Lessons Drawn: Essays on the Pedagogy of Comics and Graphic Novels from McFarland to read the full essay.
This is the final written thesis for my Doctorate in Design (Ddes) which I studied at the University of Hertfordshire between 2011 and 2017. Included with the thesis are links to the comics I created as practice-based elements of the study. Many of the published articles listed elsewhere on this page went on to form the basis for chapters in my thesis. In general I’d recommend reading the version that appears in my thesis over the earlier (and often less polished) versions.
The Sound of Digital Comics – 2015
My own contribution to Writing Visual Culture’s Digital Comics edition was this article that examines the use of audible sound in digital comics. The article is based on a paper that I delivered versions of at a few different conferences (including The Digital Reading Network in Bournemouth, Transitions in London, Visibility in Bergen and Mediality & Materiality in Tübingen). It gave me a chance to revisit my thinking on old projects like Doodleflak and Mr. Nile, while also getting in depth on some of the ideas behind my recent piece, The Empty Kingdom.
This year saw the publication of the first two peer-reviewed academic journals to focus on digital comics, both edited by your truly (with the help of my talented co-editor, Jayms Nichols on Networking Knowledge). Despite starting work on Writing Visual Culture a year before Networking Knowledge, contributor delays and workload woes lead to the latter being the first to see publication. Taken together, the journals offer 10 articles that cover an impressively wide cross-section of the field. I hope they’ll prove to be a useful resource for anyone looking to expand their digital comic studies.
I’m currently trying to figure out exactly how the Electricomics project fits alongside my doctoral study, as they’re sort of intertwined and sort of separate entities. It’s possible that attempting to start a new, large-scale research project in the same year that I’m finishing my doctorate was a foolhardy move, but when the chance to work with Alan Moore comes up, you don’t say no. This paper was co-written with my fellow research partner, Alison Gazzard and represents a good summary of our initial thinking on the nature of the digital page and the impact of animation on the rhythm of reading. It was originally delivered at The Fifth International Graphic Novel and Comics Conference at the British Library.
The part of my doctorate that isn’t focused on comics on screens is focused on comics in space. Not the no atmosphere, my-god-it’s-full-of-stars sort of space (although that would be cool), but the physical, architectural spaces of buildings and galleries. This paper focuses on my comic installation, Black Hats In Hell and examines some of the issues raised in adapting the tropes of the medium to successfully inhabit architectural space. It was originally delivered at The Graphic Novel – Second Global Conference in Oxford and will eventually form a chapter in Inter-disciplinary.net‘s next book of comic theory.
These are the original slides from the paper on Game Comics that I delivered at the Joint International Graphic Novel and IBDS Conference in Glasgow. The full paper is now also available via Volume 6.1 of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. Since I tend to write pretty full text for my presentations, these slides give a decent snapshot of my thinking. A big part of my doctorate has been centred on examining the hybridisation of comics and videogames. Because I’m doing practice-based research, that’s meant a regular cycle of thinking, making, thinking some more, making some more, thinking again and then occasionally lots of writing. This paper documents that process as it relates to my two game comics, A Duck Has An Adventure and Icarus Needs.
One of the things I’m always keen to stress is that digital comics aren’t a new thing – people have been trying crazy shit on the web and other digital spaces long before smartphones and tablets rolled around. This paper in Studies In Comics – which represents my first published academic writing – looks at the relationship between space and time in comics and then examines how the relationship has been changed by digital remediation. I’ve since expanded on the paper as a chapter in the book Storytelling in the Media Convergence Age. Even with these revisions, I still feel like some of the comics theory is in need of a little updating (my heart was in the right place, but my grasp of time in comics lacks a bit of nuance). But I think the paper gives a good snapshot of how the formal qualities of the comics medium have been changed by digital display. Hopefully when I work this stuff back into my thesis, I’ll finally nail it.
From Comic to Hypercomic – 2012
One of the first things I wanted to do in my doctorate was nail down a decent definition of hypercomics, since I’d seen so many misleading ones in circulation over the years (I’m looking at you, Wikipedia). After my research uncovered a much earlier origin for the form than I expected (way back in 1970), I wrote this short history to document the development of the medium and contextualise my own work as a hypercomic practitioner. The paper was originally delivered at The Graphic Novel – First Global Conference and then published a year later in 2013 as a chapter in Cultural Excavation and Formal Expression in the Graphic Novel.
A Webcomic Tetrad – 2001
This short essay represents the pre-history of myself as a comics scholar. It was written way back in 2001 as part of my master’s degree in hyperfiction, where it was created as an accompaniment to this webcomic that explores how McLuhan’s four laws of media can be applied to the medium of webcomics. I was really only just starting out as a practitioner when this was written and Sixgun was still just a twinkle in my comics-making eye. I include it here both as a window into my very early thinking and because it’s still pretty neat how well McLuhan’s Tetrads line up with the evolution of digital comics.