Comic Books + Playing with Scholarship

A few weeks ago, I finished rereading Mary Talbot and Bryan Talbot’s graphic novel Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes. The work combines memoir with a serious examination of not only James Joyce’s daughter Lucia but also of the very act of literary biographical scholarship itself. I grew up on lessons learned in comic books, from Larry Gonick’s epic Cartoon History of the Universe (among other indispensable guides and histories) to Scott McCloud’s metaworks.

Taking the graphic novel as a scholarly text and transforming it into digital can make things even more interesting. The digital editions of graphic novels, including the CD version (with animations, billed as “interactive literature”) of Cartoon History of the Universe and the many layers of Art Spiegelman’s Meta Maus, add another dimension to the form. Comic books evolving online are already texts of study for the digitally-minded humanities, but can they also offer inspiration for rethinking our own forms of communication?

Often, the comic form is still associated with simplicity or beginners. Series of graphic scholarship spawn titles like McLuhan for Beginners that suggest comics are only a tool for transitioning to the “real” monographs. But of course, McLuhan himself used experimental forms in his scholarship–The Medium is the Massage has more more in common with graphic novels than it does with his text-heavier volumes.

These forms offer a starting point for experimenting with public, accessible scholarship that launches away from the confines of the traditional monograph. I propose a session for THATCamp brainstorming ideas for future forms of scholarship inspired by these types of experiments and comic books.

About Anastasia Salter

Anastasia Salter is an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore, where she directs the graduate programs in interaction design and information architecture. She has two books forthcoming in 2014: What is Your Quest? From Adventure Games to Interactive Books from the University of Iowa Press and, co-authored with John Murray, Flash: Building the Interactive Web from MIT Press. She writes for Profhacker, a blog on technology and pedagogy hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

6 thoughts on “Comic Books + Playing with Scholarship

  1. Brilliant! Yes, I very much want to talk about this, as I’m in the very early stages of planning a freshman seminar on graphic novels aimed at students who integrate the humanities, arts, and CS. Might we also touch on ComiXology as a platform (that has potential to be really innovative) and Comic Life as a means for engaging with the form?

  2. This idea rocks! I’m excited about the possibilities of mixing successes from existing visually-focused genres–games, comics, e-lit–to produce more dynamic and participatory written scholarship. In my own work, I think more about editions than about monographs, but I think the net effort is really the same: emphasizing the idea of literary “engagements” as opposed to traditional archives/editions/monographs: online spaces of play, intervention, or visual/audio performance of knowledge. Active reading, monographs as starting points for discussion and experimentation instead of rich but static graveyards of knowledge.

    Some more examples to throw into the ring:
    HTML5, doing crazy things with how we move through “pages” and arrange information:

    E-lit, with its history of making web design choices that emphasize affect and narrative (sometimes at the cost of credibility and legibility, but sometimes at the gain of powerful emotional impact)

    Dynamic webcomics such as Homestuck (, which does a bunch of non-traditionally-comic stuff such as transmedia (e.g. music albums, analog book meta-remediations of the born-digital comic) and interactive gameplay. A very slow start reading-wise, but it does really pay off (it’s even on my Ph.D. exams list!)

    If we did end up talking about the practical side of making “weird monographs” like the ones people are suggesting, I’d be interested in creating a list of actual small tools people would like to see–things you could install on WordPress, Omeka, or Drupal that would make your next piece closer to the tools it sounds like this session would imagine. I’ve been thinking about developing plugins like this for my dissertation, and I’d love to help other people realize some of their publication needs.

  3. Pingback: More THATCamp Session Threads!: Anastasia Salter on Comics and Monographs « Literature Geek

  4. Definitely! I love Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, and I actually teach a comics course whenever my university lets me where we look at dynamic webcomics and work with infinite canvas and other digital comic platforms–which feeds in nicely to the practical side of making “weird monographs.” 🙂

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