Best Online Comics Studies Scholarship (BOCSS) Award!

There is lot of great online scholarship about comics, so it’s fitting that there is now an award to recognise some of that work that’s being done. A. David Lewis has done the hard lifting of getting the Best Online Comics Studies Scholarship award off the ground for its inaugural year, and starting a conversation around the BOCSS hashtag. I was thrilled and humbled to find out that the special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly about “Comics as Scholarship” that I had contributed an article to had made the short list of nominees for the award.

It’s a really exciting issue, because all of the authors used image and text in different ways to explore ideas about how comics signify meaning and open new and interesting ways to think about what scholarship can be. The editors Roger Whitson and Anastasia Salter did a great job of curating the issue and tackling the logistical problems with organising peer review and publishing this unconventional material. Have a look at the variety of approaches:

Behind the Scenes of a Dissertation in Comics Form by Nick Sousanis, University of CalgaryIs this Article a Comic? by Jason Muir Helms, Texas Christian UniversityMateriality Comics by Aaron Jacob Kashtan, Miami UniversityMultimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners by Aaron Scott Humphrey, University of AdelaideSequential Rhetoric: Using Freire and Quintilian to Teach Students to Read and Create Comics by Robert Dennis Watkins, Idaho State University; Tom Lindsley, Interaction Designer, WorkivaGraphic Images of YHWH: Exploring and Exploding the Bounds of Sexual Objectification in Ezekiel 16 by B.J. Parker, Baylor University

(Click on any of the images above to be taken to the full article)

The other articles on the BOCSS shortlist showcase the breadth and depth of comics scholarship in 2016. Two of the articles look at particular ways that comics make meaning, with Barbara Postema’s “Photography in Wordless Comics” providing a fascinating account of the narrational qualities of comics and photos, while Jorge Santos shows how the hybrid and open-ended nature of comics are well-suited to depict the intersection of cultures in “Ambulatory Identities: Montijo’s Revision of Chicano/a Hybridity in Pablo’s Inferno.” Taking more of a cultural studies approach, Robert Jones, Jr., examines racism and superheroism in “Humanity Not Included: DC’s Cyborg and the Mechanization of the Black Body,” the kind of criticism we need as comic book superheroes play an increasing role in global popular culture. All three articles are well worth a read!

The awards were announced last week at the “Comics Scholarship at Criticism” panel at The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE). I was far away in Adelaide, but fortunately the panel, featuring A. Dave Lewis, Hillary Chute, Karen Green and Forrest Helvie, has already been uploaded on YouTube. The awards announcement is appropriately low-key, but the panel is worth listening to if you’re interested in hearing folks discuss the state of comics scholarship.

I was proud to learn that the Comics as Scholarship issue had won, especially in field full of terrific work. It’s a testament to the hard work by Roger, Anastasia and the other contributors. I know several of the authors have called this project one of the most challenging pieces of scholarship they’ve worked on, but I think it’s also been one of the most rewarding. There are other exciting upcoming projects devoted to comics as scholarship, but I hope this issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly will serve as something of a landmark in the field.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what next year’s crop of BOCSS nominees bring to the table. Exciting times for Comics Studies!

Full article: The Avalanches on the cusp of the art, commerce and technology … circa Y2K

Last week I wrote an article for The Conversation about the legacy of mash-up pop band The Avalanches, whose last record dropped shortly after the dawn of “the new millennium.” I really enjoyed working with the site and their editors were fantastic, but I ended up writing twice as much as they could print. Below is my original draft, which features a lot more history of the band, and more theorizing about how technologies like sampling, record albums and digital music have changed the way music gets produced. Basically, I don’t think a band like The Avalanches could have emerged much earlier or much later in time — their record wouldn’t have been possible in 1997, and wouldn’t have been commercially viable by 2003. It will be interesting to hear what their new album sounds like in a few weeks. Here’s the original piece:

Can The Avalanches flourish in a pop music world remade in their own image?

Sampling pioneers The Avalanches are returning with a new record 16 years after their only major release. Their first album, 2000’s Since I Left You, has been dubbed a modern classic. A joyous, witty and funky melange of more than 3,500 samples, taken from vinyl albums bought in op shops, it sold more than 600,000 copies and influenced a generation of musicians.

The Avalanche’s brand of sample-saturated electronic music was unique in 2000. And their organization as enigmatic, amorphous collective challenged conventional ideas of what a band could be.

But the Melbourne-based band are reemerging to a world of pop music remade in their own image. Sixteen years on from Since I Left You, the music industry has transformed. It brims with samples, superproducers and music that is largely produced and consumed on computers.

The cut-up aesthetic that The Avalanches used so brilliantly in songs like the unforgettable Frontier Psychiatrist can be seen all over the Internet, not just in music, but also in the form of memes and GIFs that re-purpose and re-contextualise older media in evocative or amusing ways. Sampling existing material has become one of the most common ways that people communicate online.

Continue reading

Adelaidean Magazine spotlights educational comics


The new issue of the University of Adelaide’s magazine has a spotlight on my research! You can read the article online. The writer did a great job of summarising what turned into a long and rambling interview (conducted over the phone while my new son slept in my arms!) with me into something coherent and enjoyable to read.

I also drew an illustration for the article, which the magazine sent over a camera crew to film me drawing! I’d never drawn on camera before, so it was a bit nerve-wracking, but the end result was a nice suite of multimodal texts: the article, my drawing, and a short video. Taken together, they give a pretty good glimpse into where I’m at in this stage of my thesis. The video also shows the action-packed process of drawing with a pen in a beige cubical, backed by some pleasant ukulele music and whistling.

I agonised over the drawing and tried a couple of new things in terms of the colouring. If I hadn’t been being filmed, I probably would have gone back and forth and messed with it a lot more. That’s the power of video surveillance, I guess! I initially sketched a layout for a full page comic that would serve as kind of an outline for my thesis, but the Adelaidean editors asked me to condense all that down to a single panel or two.


My roughly sketched draft of that full-page is below the cut. You might find it interesting if you’re curious about my creative process or the general thrust of my thesis argument. The text of the Adelaidean profile also follows.

Continue reading

New Article: Multimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners

I’m pleased to announce my newest journal article, which is part of a special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly on “Comics as Scholarship.”

The entire issue is particularly interesting because all of the articles are composed in the form of comics. Each of the authors adopted a slightly different visual approach in order to suit their topics. My article examines the educational comics in the long-running “Introducing” and “For Beginners” series, books that I’ve seen the offices of almost every academic and postgraduate student I know, but which have never been given a proper critical appraisal.

In this article/comic, I examine the history behind these books, and look closely at how they combine visual and verbal modalities in unique ways. As the books I chose to examine are devoted to Derrida and Foucault, the article also delves into a critique of structuralism and post-structuralism.

“Multimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners” is my second comics-style journal article this year. I think this is a fascinating area for further study, and hope to publish more in this style in the future. The “Comics and Scholarship” issue of DHQ is an encouraging step forward for a promising direction for academic writing and publishing.

You can read the article/comic online at the DHQ website or download a PDF from the University of Adelaide. I hope you enjoy it! The article abstract is behind the cut.

Continue reading

Comic/Article – Visual and Spatial Language: The Silent Voice of Woodstock

The new issue of Composition Studies includes an article that I wrote and pencilled, which you read or download for free from the University of Adelaide’s Research and Scholarship repository.

I’m really excited about this one, because it’s done entirely in the form of woodstockwritingcomics, and says some things that I don’t think would be possible using writing alone. The article is actually about writing, and about the multimodal properties of writing that we usually take for granted. I argue that writing isn’t just an empty container for linguistic “content,” but that it has unique visual and spatial properties that also convey meaning in distinct ways. You can The article uses the form of comics to denaturalise text-based writing and to interrogate its properties. I also use the the nonlinguistic speech of Woodstock, the little bird from Charles Shulz’s Peanuts comic strip and the genre of asemic writing as a kind of lens to examine what writing can say even when it doesn’t “say” anything.

I had a bit of help in putting the article together from the cartoonist John Carvajal who did the final inks based off of my pencils. John is a great cartoonist in his own right, and it was a real pleasure to work with him. It was very interesting to see another person interpret my pencil drawings and bring their own touch to the project. Below is an example of the penciled draft I gave to John, and the final version he put together. The text and layout are mostly the same, but some little details are different — his lettering is very different from mine, he’s used a thicker, more consistent line, embellished the backgrounds, and given his own spin to the character. I’m very curious about how this changes the ways that readers react to and interpret the meaning of the comic.

compstudiesdraft1 compstudiesfinal1

One of my favorite things that John did was add himself into one of the scenes! My sketched draft just had a generic guy looking at his phone, but John drew the character as what I think is a representation of himself. It’s a great drawing, and much more interesting and expressive than what I originally had, as well as a fun little in-joke.

compstudiesdraft2 compstudiesfinal2

What exactly are all those books, posters, phones and newspapers saying? That’s the crux point of the article, so have a read and let me know what you think! If you have enjoyed this, I have another comics-style journal article which is in the pipeline. More “graphic scholarship” coming your way soon!

Publication: Keeping Your Grass Greener

screenshot-2016-12-30-20-32-01A new edition of a guidebook to wellbeing for medical students called Keeping Your Grass Greener, was recently published by the Australian Medical Students Association, and features several pages of my comics. The Keeping Your Grass Greener guidebook addresses a wide range of issues medical students and junior doctors face relating to physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. This is crucial, because, as recently discussed in the Medical Journal of Australia, medical students often face burnout, depression and other mental health problems, but rarely talk about the

When I began work on the Comic Book Handbook for medical interns at Mackay Base Hospital, part of my research was reviewing the existing resources for junior doctors, and the previous version of Keeping Your Grass Greener from 2011 was one of the highlights. It featured a lot of short essays by doctors and other experts which offered advice on all sorts of topics related to wellbeing. With the Comic Book Handbook, I tried to use the visual affordances of comics to take a different approach, which was to present information to readers in a way that was lesskygg-excerpt like an essay, and more like a puzzle or a map, something that they would feel invited to explore, play around with and put together in their own way.

I actually spent a lot of time looking at the 2011 edition of Keeping Your Grass Greener, so it
was an odd feeling to be asked to contribute to the new 2014 edition! Ultimately I was thrilled though, and I think the comics they chosen to reprint from the Mackay handbook really fit the theme and mission of the comic. It’s fantastic to see these comics going out to a wider audience, and hopefully some medical students will find them helpful, as well as a breath of fresh air in a book full of great, but very text-heavy, information.

A PDF of the 2014 version of Keeping Your Grass Greener can be found on the AMSA website, and the Comic Book Handbook for interns that my comics originally appeared in can be found on this very website.

Call for Papers: Inkers and Thinkers 2015

I’m pleased to by able share this Call for Papers for next year’s Inkers and Thinkers symposium at the University of Adelaide! I’m co-organising this event with my fellow doctoral candidates from Adelaide’s Department of Media Studies, Amy Maynard and Troy Mayes. The last symposium was terrific, and this year we’re expanding to two days and including creative workshops as well as academic presentations. Please consider submitting an abstract or proposal! More information about the symposia is available at!

Call for Papers for Inkers and Thinkers Interdisciplinary Symposium 2015: Alternative Forms, Alternative Voices

The University of Adelaide’s Discipline of Media will hold its second annual interdisciplinary symposium on comics and graphic narratives on May 15 and 16, 2015. We invite researchers of all disciples, as well as artists working in the comics field, to submit proposals for conference papers. The theme of this year’s symposium is ‘Alternative Forms, Alternative Voices’.

Questions that could be addressed by research papers include, but are not limited to:

  • How have comics historically been considered alternative and subversive?
  • How have comic creators used new technologies and emerging cultural practices to shape comics as an alternative or radical medium?
  • How have comics operated as a medium of expression for marginalised groups or ideas?
  • What publishing practices and formal properties have been used to position certain comics as alternative, or opposed to accepted ideas about literacy and discourse?

Abstracts of 250-300 words for presentations of 15 minutes should be submitted to by October 31, 2014. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by November 30, 2014.

Call for Workshop Proposals:

As part of the Inkers and Thinkers 2015 programming we are seeking proposals for 90-minute hands-on creative workshops on comics and graphic narratives to be held on May 15 and 16, 2015. The workshops should be thematically tied to the academic symposium, which explores the ways that comics have experimented with forms, uses, and content. Proposals are welcomed from both writers and artists, either working as individuals or in a team. Please note that we are seeking funding to provide stipends for accepted workshops.

Workshop classes could include, but are not limited to:

  • Technical Aspects of Comics Production: Such as how to write effective dialogue, unfold action in sequence, portray character emotion, etc.
  • Crafting Comics Content: Such as how to illustrate a wordless comic, working with historical and autobiographical material, using comics for political or educational purposes, etc.

Submissions should include an overview of the proposed workshop, including a draft lesson plan, and information about the presenters, including any relevant teaching and/or artistic experience, as well as what equipment and materials will be needed for you and the class. Workshops should be designed to accommodate up to 40 participants.

Pitches for workshop sessions should be submitted to by October, 31, 2014. Please indicate whether your session is designed for a beginner or intermediateaudience, or both. Notifications of acceptance will be sent by December 1, 2014.

Book Review: Graphic Encounters- Comics and the Sponsorship of Multimodal Literacy

Graphic Encounters: Comics and the Sponsorship of Multimodal Literacy by Dale Jacobs

Graphic Encounters: Comics and the Sponsorship of Multimodal Literacy by Dale Jacobs

I reviewed Dale Jacobs’ book Graphic Encounters: Comics and the Sponsorship of Multimodal Literacy for The Comics Grid last month. The review is Open Access, is available in both PDF and full-text form, and includes a far greater works cited list than a book review really should.

The cover of the book is amusing to me, as it calls to mind both Clark Kent’s quick-change transformation to Superman, and, perhaps unintentionally, a trenchcoat ‘flasher’ — a very ‘graphic’ encounter indeed!

Early on in the book, Jacobs plays with the notion that comics are, as Wertham long-ago suggested, a ‘seductive’ medium, and that audiences are changed irrevocably by these ‘graphic encounters’ — but it’s not just comics that are seductive in this way, but literacy in general. Just riffing off of the cover of the book, I think applying the trenchcoat flasher metaphor to the idea of literacy sponsorship is … intriguing, if more than a little disturbing! Jacobs book doesn’t proceed in that direction, though.

I was very familiar with the idea of multimodality before picking up Graphic Encounters, but knew very little about Literacy Sponsorship. Fortunatly, it’s the second aspect which Jacobs explores the most in depth, so I got a lot out of this volume.

This was the second academic book review I’ve done, although it is the first to be published. It was also my first experience with Open Access Publication. I’m becoming more and more of a supporter of Open Access scholarship, but that’s probably the topic for another blog post. The bottom line is that only a small group of academics will have access to that other book review when it is published, but I was able to share my review of Graphic Encounters over social media with friends, family, colleagues, and anyone who is interested. So if you are interested — go check it out!


smaccgold badge

This past March, I attended the 2014 Social Media and Critical Care conference held on Queensland’s Gold Coast (aka SMACC GOLD) to present some of my research on using Graphic Medicine to improve the wellbeing of junior doctors. It was an interesting conference which covered a lot of ground — from surgical techniques, to research ethics, to social media strategies, to everything in between.

My presentation was a simple “digital poster” coauthored with Kimberly Humphrey. Digital posters can mean different things at different conferences — here it meant a Power Point presentation of eight slides or less. The posters all lived on a bank of computers in the corner of the exhibition hall. You could walk up to a computer, scroll through the titles of various digital posters, and then pick one to watch. At SMACC GOLD, you could also vote on the posters (out of five starts), and leave public comments. To give you an idea of the set-up, here’s some covert pictures I took of people looking at OUR poster:

2014-03-19 13.26.132014-03-19 13.17.17


We got some nice, encouraging comments about our work from strangers with this system, and a pretty good, and a pretty good star ranking. I missed being able to talk to people in person though — at traditional poster sessions, you can stand near your poster and have people ask questions or discuss your research with you. The digital set-up makes it a little bit more anonymous. Overall, though, it was a great experience.

So far, SMACC has not put any of the digital posters online, but that won’t stop me from sharing my work with YOU! You can take a look at our digital poster from SMACC below:

I’ve become a bit addicted to using Prezi, a different slideware system which uses a scrollable, zoomable canvas instead of individual slides, so it was a unique challenge going back to PowerPoint. I think changing formats like that helps you to stretch communication muscles, which is always a good thing!

Book Review: Print Culture – From Steam Press to E-Book

I recently reviewed Frances Robertson’s excellent book Print Culture: From Steam Press to Ebook, which is a very readable and well organised cultural history of the ways that we create and think about print.

This kind of work is crucial in the early 21st century, as what we think of as “print” is rapidly shifting. Think, for example, of iPhone “Notes” application, which used to feature a sans serif font and a background image of yellow, lined legal paper. That kind of paper was almost never, historically “printed” on with a font, but the way that users understand the app is tied into their cultural understandings of both paper and printed text.The app has recently been redesigned to get rid of the faux paper, but the design of text on phone and tablet apps is the product of years of accumulated culture around text and printing.

Robertson explores the development of print culture, including specific advancements like moveable type, typefaces, fonts and lithographic printing, interrogating their histories and cultural legacies. In the process, she uncovers the ways that these industries have shaped our cultural understanding about literacy, communication and power. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

You can read my full review for free in an open access version archived via the University of Adelaide, or read the officially typeset version via Sage, although it may be behind a paywall.