For the last few years, I’ve been collaborating with Roger Whitson on editing Comics as Scholarship, a special issue for Digital Humanities Quarterly. The open-access issue is now available and may be of interest to anyone experimenting with alternatives to the monolithic scholarly essay. The collection includes six comics written and designed by scholars as ways to think about using comics to communicate as part of humanities discourse:
- “Behind the Scenes of a Dissertation in Comics Form” by Nick Sousanis explores the process behind the dissertation that became his book Unflattening, a visually stunning comic that pushes back against the flattening of knowledge.
- “Is this Article a Comic?” by Jason Helms uses a digital comic format to propel a meta-reflection on whether scholarly uses of comics are possible and desirable.
- “Materiality Comics” by Aaron Kashtan uses digital tools to craft an exploration of materiality as a way of theorizing and tying digital humanities methods to comics.
- “Multimodal Authoring and Authority in Educational Comics: Introducing Derrida and Foucault for Beginners” by Aaron Scott Humphrey analyzes the multiple modalities at work in comics that explore theoretical discourse.
- “Sequential Rhetoric: Using Freire and Quintilian to Teach Students to Read and Create Comics” by Robert Watkins and Tom Lindsley looks at the challenges of multiple literacies required for comics pedagogy.
- “Graphic Images of YHWH: Exploring and Exploding the Bounds of Sexual Objectification in Ezekiel 16" by BJ Parker looks at the consequences of remediating a shocking text as a comic.
The project came out of a conversation at THATCamp (the original CFP is here) inspired by rethinking scholarly forms, particularly given the desire for public engagement and the use of some of the same rhetorical tools as the mediums we study. The use of comics for communication is nothing new: Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics remains a fixture in courses on everything from comics to marketing to visual rhetoric. However, it’s still rare in peer-reviewed scholarship, with Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy taking the lead for the last twenty years in peer-reviewed alternative format scholarly work. There are also a number of great examples in Itineration, including Barry Mauer’s comic “Deadly Delusions” series.
If you’re interested in experimenting with comics for communication or student projects, one simple tool for getting started is Bitstrips. Adeline wrote a great tutorial on Bitstrips, and you can see examples of it in action in Aaron Kashtan’s “Materiality Comics.” Digital tools of this kind make playing with comics-making more accessible than ever. We hope that this collection provides examples and fuel for thought for further play with comics as an alternative to the scholarly essay.