Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Microsoft Video VSA Drawing

A month or so back, I gave a talk at Microsoft Research to accompany the exhibition of excerpts from my dissertation. (I posted images from the show here.) They recorded the talk, as it was also being streamed to Microsoft employees not physically in attendance, and they've now kindly put the talk together with slides and a transcript! If you're up for seeing and listening to me in action - you can check out the video courtesy of Microsoft research here. (A live-blog of it can be found here.)

I made an image-text version of a talk from last summer and that's available here. My talks over the past few years have really helped me organize my thinking for the dissertation, and have fed where I'm going. In turn, as i make new pages, those end up feeding my talks. It's been an energizing feedback process. By clicking on the dissertation tab at the right, you can get up to speed with pages from the dissertation itself. Including the finale to Chapter Three, which is the heart of my theorizing on comics.

Also, more recently I had the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker for the Visitor Studies Association's annual conference in Milwaukee. Had an absolute blast, welcoming group all around, and was thrilled to get all of the nearly 200 folks gathered that morning to make comics with me! It's an exercise I made up that approaches spatially organizing a comics page in an abstract sense that I call "Grids and Gestures." Without going into detail, it asks the maker to think about carving up a sheet of paper into forms that represent the shape of their day. In the process, it's designed to help challenge and open up what it means to draw. Some time soon, I'll get together something more shareable about it. (I go into it in some detail in the final third of the Microsoft video). Anyhow, a few pictures from what attendees made below.

Finally, I was pleased to get a kind nod in The Atlantic's 1book140 August reading group focus on graphic novels. This August, they'll be reading and discussing on twitter some key graphic novels, and shared my recent page on multimodality as a way of introducing comics. The article was by Nate Matias who also live-blogged the talk at Microsoft here.

Deep into Chapter 4 at the moment. Onward! - Nick

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

VSA Keynote & roundup...

This week, I'm off to Milwaukee to give the opening keynote for the Visitors Studies Association annual conference "Where Innovation Meets Rigor." I'll be discussing my dissertation and comics as a means of presenting complex information and ideas with clarity and without reducing their complexity.

Recently, Brett Terpstra interviewed me for his 5by5 systematic podcast. We talk comics, education, and philosophy - and his treadmill for his standing desk!

Also, French comics scholar Nicolas Labarre wrote an article discussing comics as a form of research that offers a look at my dissertation work within that emerging field. It's in French - for those that can read it - and there's a handy translate button that gives a rough approximation in English. 

A couple weeks back, MIT doc student Nate Matias live-blogged my Microsoft Research talk, you can see what he wrote up here. And I posted images and reflections about the MSR exhibition in this post

Finally, I finished Chapter Three last week! See the final pages and the full Chapter here.

Excited about how Chapter Four is starting to take shape and looking forward to having more to share soon. Stay cool out there - Nick 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ch3 Finale

At long last, Chapter Three is complete! Although it's overall structure/length stayed more or less the same from my initial notes, this chapter just kept growing on me in complexity as I got deeper into it. This second half of the chapter was all about how comics work - and in this metacommentary approach - which is easy enough to do when i can point to existing comics as examples, here I kept having to invent page structures and little narratives within the main discussion that demonstrated what i was exploring. 

Anyhow, a little bit about the two new pages here. The first, dealing with the architectonic nature of a comics page - in some ways sums up most of what i've done over all the chapters and hints at where i'm going. The opening panel reprises text from the beginning of Ch3, while the imagery harkens back to the page on the Enlightenment from Ch2. The second "panel" or block of panels really - conflates the imagery from Ch1 with reflections on text and sequential thinking from earlier in the chapter. And that final block in the top row weaves together the pages on simultaneity and distinct types of awareness also from earlier in the chapter. One important note about this page - it's about how the organizational structure of the page conveys essential meaning - and as such it's one where i designed the structure before I knew what went in ANY of the panels. This is not a terribly uncommon practice for me - but usually I start with at least some semblance of what is entailed within. Here - the spaces suggested images, which then prompted corresponding text, and so far in a feedback cycle. A final note - besides wanting to verbally and visually reference Chris Ware, I was also thinking of some of the space cutting layouts Frank Quitely has done. When I ended up thinking of Alice's dismissal "you're nothing but a pack of cards," that led me to Quitely's collage imagery from "Flex Mentallo" which I'm definitely referencing for that final right corner. The last page reworks ideas and images from my earlier journal piece The Shape of Our Thoughts, of which much of this chapter builds on - including the name. 
I've reposted below the previously posted pages constituting the second half of Ch3 that take up my theorizing on comics so they can be easily read in sequence, though you can dig through older posts to get a little more background on the pages. Also, you can get the whole chapter by starting with part one "amphibious refraction" here and then "where words fail" which leads immediately to this lengthy final sequence. Pleased to have this chapter behind me - so I can start work on Chapter Four - now! Thanks for following along, Nick

Monday, July 1, 2013

Microsoft Exhibition Wrap

Back from an amazing trip in Seattle and sharing a little update on all that went on in the exhibition and talk at Microsoft Research - Building 99. A huge thank you to Microsoft Research, the folks behind the Studio 99 space, and especially the beyond generous support, enthusiasm, and patronage from MSR's Donald Brinkman. If coolness is defined as going to all lengths to support the realization of things that  you find exciting and important and believe should exist in the world - Donald is the epitome of cool. It's a terrific space - consisting of a good expanse of wall space for the printed work, a series of columns composed of video screens to display more work, two large monitors, and a long bar/table with a plexiglass top under which we displayed reproductions of my process sketches showing the development of several of the individual pages. As someone who spent many years writing about exhibitions and has organized a good number of exhibitions over the years - it was an absolute treat to be on the other side of things, and I'm extremely grateful for the exceedingly rare opportunity of this sort of venue and all the ways of sharing the work the space offered. 

The work was printed and framed there, so I arrived only having to arrange it and hang it. In the midst of laying it out, I felt like we had a strong opening sequence, especially focusing on the darkness of the first chapter that tapered to a little less oomph with the remaining work. Donald was kind enough to on the spot make a giant, oversized print of the page featuring my dog and sense of smell as way of seeing, which really balanced it all out and made a powerful impact visually and thematically. Doubly pleased to see my lost friend up in my first solo exhibition. (I was rather occupied during the opening, so all my shots come from long after it was over - MSR had photos taken then, which I hope to share a bit of later.) An additional note, it was quite a surprising treat to see the work printed and framed. As a comics maker, I think of comics as something to be read, held in hand - and I was really struck by how they came out. The composition roughly followed the sequence of the dissertation (though obviously with lots of gaps), so one could walk through the exhibition and get a sense of how the narrative unfolds.

As I mentioned earlier, besides the printed work, the space offered two large columns composed of video screens, and I'd designed slices from the work to match the displays, which then cycled through a sequence - making for a different sort of way of seeing the work and allowing access to far more of it than we could otherwise have on view. It was pretty neat for me to assemble the process sketches under plexiglass and reconstruct my own thinking for others to follow and see the final result. We also set up two moveable walls on which I made sketches with dry erase markers - one, showing a rough outline of my thinking on comics from my talk and the other, a layout of the current page I'm working on in progress (which will be posted soon, soon). On the freestanding video monitors we showed credits for the show and on the other had on loop the animation/teaser trailer of the dissertation put together by my student Bryan Ribeiro. You can view that video, which focuses mostly on the first trailer, here

The lecture was fun and we had the good fortune of having in attendance MIT doc student J. Nathan Matias who live-blogged during the talk, and posted his summary here. It was recorded and live-streamed to MS employees. I'll share here if that stream becomes available. Near the end of the talk, I took the audience through a comics-making exercise I call "grids and gestures" which reconsiders what drawing is by thinking about the composition of a single comics page as orchestrating the shape of one's day. (I need to publish some instructions on this down the road, so it's more easily shareable). They created some great and quite diverse works - adding to the discussion and thinking on the comics form. A few of the samples were added to a wall alongside the exhibition - which I think made a lovely complement to the work and my larger argument for comics as a powerful tool for thought. Attendees to the talk all got signed copies of a booklet/excerpting work from the dissertation, and copies will be on hand for all attendees of the exhibition. A cool added bonus to the whole experience. 

Anyhow, thanks to Donald and all who made this possible. Thanks for all the support I received from afar while this was going on. It was a fantastic experience all around. And now - back to drawing! Chapter Three is about to be finished and Chapter Four awaits! - Thanks, Nick 

Vide column display
Video Column display

View from the atrium of columns, process table, and prints

View of the space and atrium of building 99 from third floor 
Donald Brinkman and me
left outline of comics capacity, rt layout of new pg...

the process table

compiled sketches from the comics-making exercise