Posted in comics

About Comics: making them and using them in education

Something brilliant happened just last week.

For the first time ever, a graphic novel made the Man Booker longlist.

Many of us have known comics to be an important, artistic and critical medium for, well, a long time now.  And – increasingly – so does the world.  Frankly, you don’t make the Man Booker list otherwise.

And that got me reflecting on comics and thinking about just some of what goes into making them.  It also got me thinking about why we still don’t really see them being used that much in education…

A while back I was exploring some principles about making comics, and I made this little video for a class that I was teaching:

Comics are an incredibly expressive medium.  One that, I feel, we do not use enough.  Think of how much easier it would be to grasp complex theory if it were presented in comic form…

Stay with that thought for a moment.

Does the idea of learning something important via a comic produce some odd feelings?  It may not, but I wonder… I wonder if we aren’t a little bit ashamed of the idea that we might find a book with pictures more helpful than a ‘proper’ book.  As if reading books with pictures, particularly at H.E. level, is something to be ashamed of.  Like I say in the video, we all go through the same reader progression: from pictures to text.  Over time we phase pictures out until they’re no longer present at all.  And, as a result, pictures are forever associated with childhood.

I think there’s also something around what I’m calling, ‘the mystique of knowledge’.

Academics and the institutions to which they belong are, arguably, guilty of propagating the idea of the academic as the wise sage – a kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi – but with books instead of lightsabers… As cool as that sounds (and if you’re me that sounds cool), there is no magical formula to the act of knowing or learning stuff.  It’s just graft like everything else.  An academic is not special because of the knowledge they have attained.  And there is nothing particularly magical in the acquisition of that knowledge… With time and the right kind of training and help, anyone can acquire knowledge.

Why, then, is there this kind of mystique?

Well, as in everything, language is key.

We academics have many, many big words at our disposal.  And – to make matters worse – we even go about inventing new words, believing that all existing words just aren’t quite good enough for the ideas in our heads… Couple this with the increasingly elite nature of Higher Education and, over time, I think that all of this creates the kind of mystique I’m talking about.

After all, who doesn’t like being part of a special club?  So, I think that we academics  have, to some extent, bought into these ideas about our very-special-knowledge.  And one consequence has been the loss of clarity in our communication.  In other words, academics could learn a thing or two from comics.

Human beings learn to read all things – not just words on a page.  So let’s use all things when we are trying to communicate with one another, particularly when we’re trying to communicate a complicated idea.

If you’re a teacher – what might you do with this information?  Well, there are comic text books and adaptations of the classics, which you may wish to take advantage of.  You might also think about making a few simple comics yourself.  Look at my examples in the video – they aren’t exactly well drawn.  All you need are some stick figures and away you go… Don’t worry about perfection, just worry about communication.  In the long run, your students will thank you for helping them understand something, not for drawing a masterpiece.

And – perhaps most important of all – get yourself to a comic book shop and start reading what’s out there.  I think you will be very pleasantly surprised at the wealth of incredible material in a shop somewhere near you.

Posted in comics, Fiction

All About Carl

Eight years ago I made a little comic called All About Carl.

I printed a few copies and sold them in a couple of local comic book shops.  It was one of those things that I really enjoyed putting together.  I genuinely loved spending hours in front of my computer, drawing and working out the panelling for the comic.

Panelling dictates the pace and flow of a comic.  And I love it.  I love the artwork in a comic, but give me great art and great panelling, and I’m sold.

I’m not suggesting that I’m particularly good at it, and I know that my drawing is amateur at best.  The Growing Pains comics are meant to look a bit childish, because they draw on childhood.  All About Carl should be a bit more up-to-scratch.  It might not look like it if you ever read it, but I spent a long time on this little book.  And, in the spirit of picking up some old stuff and presenting it once more, I have dusted off All About Carl and published it as a digital comic on Amazon.

If you would like, you can get it here

It’s a dystopia about a young man who never really understands the world or how to fit in it.  And he is not long for it.  I hope that some sweetness comes across, but mostly this little book is about what might happen to someone who just doesn’t get it.

Looking at things that I made some years ago is both weird and kind of fun.   On the one hand I can see the flaws in it, but on the other it makes me smile to think about the time I spent on little projects like these and how happy they made me.  I don’t do enough of this stuff anymore and I hope my little trips down memory lane might enable me to fix that.  If something makes you happy you need to do it, right?  Time has always been the biggest factor for me.  Just not having enough of it.

I imagine that this is a pretty big issue for a lot of people.  But another part of it is energy.   Emotional energy in particular.

If you’re spending a lot of your energy in a particular area of your life – for example, work.  It becomes increasingly difficult to muster the energy to do something else, like draw a panel in a comic, write a chapter of your book, tinker with a poem…

And yet, not doing these things ends up wearing you down even more.

So, here I am, pretty worn down.  I’m going to try and make some stuff!


Posted in comics

Jeffrey Brown: indie comic making

I recently re-watched a short documentary called ‘Drawing Between the Lines’ by Bruce Parsons.  It’s about Jeffrey Brown – a comic book writer that I have been following for many, many years.

I haven’t watched the documentary for a few years.  I remember buying it in my great, Jeffrey-Brown-furore.  I couldn’t get enough of his work.  And I still think his comic books are wonderful.

I bought Unlikely first.

Image result for unlikely be jeffrey brown

I was about to get a coach to… somewhere… I really can’t remember where.  Anyway, I called into Travelling Man in Leeds and I found Unlikely in the indie section.  I am a fan of indie work.  I bought it and read it on the coach.  Then I read it again.  And again.

It is just… honest.  Honest in the sense of stories.  You know, trying to get to something of the truth of human experience.  That’s a bit different from being completely truthful, which is to recount everything exactly.  Stories are about getting to the heart of truth.  And that’s what Jeffrey Brown manages to do.

I tend to think that with biographical books like his, it’s the vulnerability that really pulls me in.  Structure and well paced work is key – of course it is.  But the heart of it is vulnerability.  And, if we’re honest, it’s really hard to be genuinely vulnerable.  It’s hard to do that with those closest to us.  But if we are vulnerable as artists, I think the reader/viewer/player rewards us by drawing closer to what we have to say.  Vulnerability resonates.  Perhaps because many of us feel quite vulnerable much of the time.  And when you realise that other people feel that way too, you are flooded with relief.  You are not alone.  You don’t have to pretend the way you did at school.  Or the way you feel you have to at work.  You are not alone.

That’s what I really love about independent comics.  They give their creators space to connect more deeply.  Mainstream stuff has lots to offer – no doubt – but, for me, the indie stuff is where it’s at.


Posted in Uncategorized


Yesterday was free-comic-book-day. Behold my spoils:


You can find out more about this hallowed tradition here.  But suffice it to say: you turn up to comic shops where you find piles of free comics, you walk around and amass your stack. You go to the counter, they give you a bag, you walk away with lots of free comics. It is awesome. People dress up for free-comic-book-day, and there are mighty (good natured) queues to get into the shops.

It’s a great way to read something new, and more and more families seem to go each year. Which brings me to why this free-comic-book-day was different to previous years.

I have a daughter now.

She’s 11-months old – for anyone not familiar with kids, this means she still needs to be carried most places, even though she’d rather I put her down so she could crawl instead. She only says three words: da da, mama and Sky (that’s our dog). She seems to understand a lot, but largely expresses herself with beauteous smiles and great scowls of dissatisfaction.

I didn’t think I’d be able to go this year because the day was also full of other commitments, and there’s the need to try and get the baby to nap. Hanging out with a baby that has not napped, is like hanging out with a mogwai after midnight and sharing your snack with it.

Despite all of this, though, and with my husband practically shoving me out of the house. I took my daughter, who had not napped, caught a train to Leeds, and went to free-comic-book-day. It wasn’t exactly easy, but it wasn’t terrible. Given I had a cocooning mogwai/gremlin with me it all went pretty well. I even got to meet up with a friend and have a beer. Yep. Crazy.

The thing that’s really glorious though, is that:

A) I’m getting my kid started with comics early
B) having a kid is not stopping me from doing the things I love
C) comics!

So hurray for free-comic-book-day, hurray for husbands that make you go despite your protestations, and hurray for daughters/mogwai-gremlins. Also – hurray for friends that will still meet up with you, even if you have your child with you!

Also – look at all the comics I got:



I know I’ve included this picture already but look… LOOK:


Mmmmm… Comics…