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Reflections on “Communicating your research as a comic strip workshop”

Posted by selinalock on 24 January, 2013

prezi_screenshotInspired by some of the initiatives by PhD Comics and the rise of factual graphic novels I offered to run a workshop for PhD students at the University of Leicester on communicating your research as a comic strip. This allowed me to combine my job role (Research Information Advisor in the Library Research Services Team) with my love and experience of comics as a small press comic writer, editor and publisher.

The structure of the session:

  • Introduction to factual comics and graphic novels. I took along some graphic novels from my own collection.
  • Read and comment on some online factual comic strips using wallwisher followed by a group discussion. (You can view the comments on the wallwisher).
  • How I might turn research into a comic strip – using some example pages from Lady of the Skies (written by me, illustrated by David O’Connell, published in Ink+Paper #1) A biography strip about Lady Grace Drummond Hay and her voyage on the round the world zeppelin trip.
  • Summarising your research – the attendees got into pairs to discuss their research and how it might work as a comic strip.
  • Language of comics – the elements that make up a comic page and how a comic script is written.
  • Exercise – attendees had a go at writing or thumbnailing a comic based on their research.
  • But I can’t draw! – suggestions on how to find an artist & comic creation software available.

You can view my Communicating your research as a comic strip prezi online.

What worked…

  • The session went well overall – 2 attendees rated it as excellent, 9 as good, 1 as satisfactory and 1 as poor.
  • Wallwisher was a good way of sharing the online comic strips and allowing people to comment.
  • Feedback said the students liked seeing the examples of the comics (online & in print), found the content interesting and some were very enthusiastic about the whole idea.
  • Most of the participants didn’t generally read comics, but found them a clear way of presenting information and ideas.

Issues & things to improve…

  • My intention with the workshop was to give people another way of thinking about how to communicate their research using words and pictures. I thought this could then be applied as a whole comic strip, as one of two cartoon illustrations or to how they prepared posters/presentations BUT I didn’t state this clearly enough.
  • Even if they did a comic strip, where would they publish it? We ended-up having a discussion about this, as academic publishers aren’t likely to want you to submit a comic strip instead of a journal article! We thought possible uses might be in poster presentations, conference presentations, online to the general public, in internal publications or meetings, or to explain research when recruiting participants.
  • Presenting your research in comic strip format might be a risky move, especially for an early career researcher, as it’s not an accepted form of publication – so the workshop could be seen as a waste of time and irrelevant to their studies.
  • Participants said it would have been nice to feedback to the group after they discussed their research in pairs – to see what ideas people had come up with.
  • Biggest barrier to actually creating a comic strip – cost of an artist. PhD students do not have the resources to pay for an artist and all those who attended this workshop were not artists.
  • Perhaps I need to find some kind of interested community of artists to work with? Look at setting up some kind of network?
  • So, although most of the attendees found the session interesting it might be very hard for them to apply the knowledge and create a comic strip…

We had several people who wanted to attend but couldn’t, so we’ll probably be running the session again after Easter, and I’ll be tweaking it based on the feedback.

2 Responses to “Reflections on “Communicating your research as a comic strip workshop””

  1. D Boyask said

    You never know who might be hiding in campus or faculty based graphics departments. They might jump at the idea of helping researchers with this sort of thing over the summer, in between all the standard pamphlet updates.

  2. sarahw9 said

    It surely opens possibilities about ways to make your research accessible to the public, even for very technical research topics… although I’m sure much harder to do that it might appear. All part of researchers learning to communicate their work to different audiences.

    Also the idea is very fun and appealing!

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