Wednesday, April 2, 2014

AERA14 and New Toes

This weekend, I'm off to Philadelphia for the American Education Research Association's (AERA) annual conference. I was to participate in three sessions, but because of exciting news on the home front (See below), I will be making a shorter trip of it and only making the Saturday and Sunday ones. I'll be giving away comics excerpts from my dissertation at my sessions - and if you want one and can't make the session - track me down while i'm at the conference. My colleagues at the Thursday session will kindly be sharing a poster excerpting the work (pictured) as well... 

A quick rundown of the schedule for AERA: 

Session 1: Comics in Education: Innovating Research and Curriculum (roundtable) 
Thu, April 3, 12:00 to 1:30pm, Convention Center, 400 Level, Terrace IV

This was to be a reunion with slight changes of a really enjoyable session from last year's AERA, featuring Stergios Botzakis, Christy Blanch, Jarod Roselló , myself, and new member Brooke Sheridan, who I first connected to through her podcast on comics and education, and subsequent interview. Due to a number of circumstances - it'll just be Stergios and Brooke - but their combined experiences teaching comics and teaching with comics should make for a great session for educators. Check them out!
This session brings together scholars and researchers who teach with comics and on comics, practitioners who make comics as a form of research, and those who synthesize all these practices. Recent attempts to create a singular discipline of comics studies have neglected the curricular or educational possibilities presented by the medium. By building on existing scholarship and from our own research and teaching around comics, we showcase a range of possibilities for using comics, offering attendees a sense of existing research, emerging practices, and the ways we’ve all found this medium to be rewarding in our teaching and studies.
Sat, April 5, 2:45 to 4:15pm, Marriott, Fourth Level, 409

This session features Arizona State University professor Donald Blumenfeld-Jones and me discussing the feedback between analysis and aesthetics that drives the process of our arts-based research. A question from Donald in a session I was in last year resonated with me about the nature of my work, and that led to us planning what I expect to be a dynamic conversation. Donald will be sharing dance and poetry and the process, and I'll be sharing pages from the dissertation, and reflecting on the feedback between image and text, aesthetics and analysis, form and content, and more from which the work emerges.

Session 3: In Symposium: Comics as Research: Toward an Imaginative Methodology (workshop)

Sun, April 6, 4:05 to 5:35pm, Marriott, Fourth Level, Franklin 13

Jarod Roselló and I discuss our comics dissertation projects, and then will lead participants through exercises in comics-making that reflect our particular ways of working and jump-start attendees into thinking about how to engage in this medium. I'll be doing the exercise I call "grids & gestures," a sample of which can be seen here from my talk at Microsoft. I'm pretty sure Jarod will have comics to give away, and I will for all sessions. (Page above from Ch6.5 - blank grid and resulting final page.)

Meanwhile, you still have a few days left to leave your footprints in my dissertation! I'm seeking tracings of feet of all shapes and sizes for inclusion in my final chapter. I've already gotten feet from across the US and Europe, but I'm still looking for a few more. See details here -  deadline Tuesday, April 8!

Finally, on a personal note - at 2:14am Thursday, March 27 - my wife Leah and I welcomed our daughter Rosalie Anne Goodbear Sousanis into the world. It's been a thrill watching her open her eyes to the world and each day we marvel more at her. A few years ago, my mom gave me her dog eared copy of Caroline Pratt's wonderful book on education, "I Learn from Children." Yes. Wonderful to experience the world alongside her. 

A few weeks to go to the dissertation defense and plenty of pages left to be drawn! But I welcome the chance to share in public forums and form new ideas from the conversation. New to this work? This recent interview in the Chronicle gives a good overview of what i'm up to, and you can find excerpts to the dissertation by clicking the dissertation label to the right. Onward - Nick

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Foot Work

Leave your footprints on my dissertation – and win a signed page! (UPDATED w/deadline below)

I’m nearing the finale of the dissertation, and for the final chapter I’m seeking a little help from you – specifically in the form of your feet.

Throughout the work, there have been a number of significant scenes involving feet and shoes, in terms of the paths we tread and the possibility of stepping out. (U of Wisconsin graduate candidate Remi Holden used this particular three-panel sequence from early in the dissertation as themantra of his keynote at the University of Michigan last summer.)

In the final chapter, I’ll be bringing some of these threads together to reflect on education. Consider that my size 10 1/2s don’t look a lot like someone else’s who happens to wear the same shoe size. And so if our feet when held to the same standard are that different, how different must be our ways of thinking…

This is where you come in. Rather than making up distinct foot shapes, I’m seeking a lot of outlines of people’s feet to use as visual information for a sequence tackling this. I’m not exactly sure how the page or pages will unfold, but I’m willing to embrace that uncertainty and see what comes of this.

I’ll be looking broadly at two general categories – feet comparable to my own, US M 10-11 and then ANY shoe sizes, to look at the differences even between the shape of left and right. If I happen to get a ton of one particular size, I may use that as my main focus instead. So that’ll be up in the air till I see what comes in and start to play with it all. I welcome the unexpected discoveries that surface.

If you’re up for it – what I need from you is simply this: trace the outline of each one of your feet and then label it right/left, male/female (what shoe you wear, not your gender), and US shoe size. In my case, this looks like R, M, 10.5, and L, M 10.5.  Then scan or take a digital photo of the tracing, low-resolution is fine (and preferred), as all I need is a clear outline. Label the picture/scan as above without any additional identifying information. Send it to me at nsousanis @ with subject heading “foot project” (or some clever pun if you’d prefer).

I will not identify your feet in any way in the work, and will save all the image files in a folder without retaining the sender’s information. I’ll be redrawing the outlines, for visual clarity and consistency as well.

In appreciation of your support, I would like to credit you in the acknowledgments of the dissertation – either your full name, if you choose, or first name and last initial, or anonymous if you prefer. So let me know which: “John Smith,” “John S,” or “please leave me anonymous”.

Additionally, for being such good sports, everyone who submits a pair of outlines will be entered into a drawing to win a signed 11by17 inch print of one page from the dissertation. Three runners-up will receive a signed-mini excerpt from the work. (Winners will be randomly selected.) All will have my gratitude for the contribution and for all the support of this project that I’ve been fortunate to receive.
UPDATE: To be eligible for the contest, foot outlines must be received by Tuesday, April 8!

Lastly, this site may go particularly quiet as I’m in that last push to finish and defend in late April. And any day now, my wife and I will be welcoming our first child – and with her a whole new set of feet…

Thanks for the support! Onward – Nick

For folks new to the work, you can get up to speed quickly in this recent profile in the Chronicle, or click the dissertation link to the upper right for more excerpts from the dissertation.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Coverage in the Chronicle and new page on Commuting

This past week, the Chronicle of Higher Education kindly featured my dissertation work alongside Dani Spinosa’s publicly-blogged dissertation in-progress. I’m overwhelmed by and grateful for all the support and enthusiasm this article has generated. Writer Sydni Dunn provided an indepth look into some of the backstory of how this came to be and its significance in pushing on the forms for scholarship. She also went so far as to get the perspective of my advisors Ruth Vinz and Robbie McClintock, whose openness to this work, I’m realizing I take somewhat for granted as I hear stories of others trying to tread alternative terrain of their own stopped short. I also appreciated the inclusion of the question of “what’s next?” As I find myself in this moment feeling quite fortunate to be doing work I want to do, to share it, and to teach courses I am thrilled to be teaching (comics for educators at Teachers College and a comics readings course at Parsons), I’m also particularly aware that finding an institutional home going forward is a less than straightforward proposition. You can find the article on the Chronicle's site here.

Over the last few years, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had an ongoing public conversation as I developed this work through conferences and talks. This has also included previous interviews, including in venues based in Russia, Alaska, Microsoft (which also put on an exhibition of the work), the UK, and in the Chronicle before I'd drawn anything. This most recent article, sprang from a  feature mentioning the work in the Chronicle on this year's MLA meeting. Also, in the interest of completeness, Liz Losh, author of Understanding Rhetoric in comics form, included the work in her recent post on comics and scholarship

I was particularly delighted to see my dear, departed dog prominently in the Chronicle of all places! This page began as an aside and has in many ways come to summarize the core of the work – that we make sense of our world by many different and diverse modes. And as I said in the interview, my approach from the start to do my doctoral work in comics form was “why not?” – of course one can do smart thinking in comics. Why does any form/mode have a claim on what thinking looks like and what counts? Because that’s how it’s been and stuck in that mindset, we only recognize thinking that looks like thinking that has come before. Which of course influences what learning looks like and how it is constructed.

Along these lines, lately I’ve been talking about how when I studied mathematics (my undergraduate work), people would say to me, ‘oh, you’re so smart.’ When they know about my work in comics, they’ll say, ‘you’re so talented.’ As I reflect on it now, I think I was talented at mathematics, whereas I see the art I do as smart – and as I said in the article, by collaborating with the visual, my comics are smarter than the work I do in text alone. These arbitrary labels, these boxes we divide ourselves into, that put a limit on what we can be. 

In relation to all this, I want to share one new page here that speaks to the unique quality of comics to do two things at once – hold two ideas in a single space – which is also very much where my philosophical concept of unflattening evolved from. In this page from the chapter “Ruts” (regarding the patterns of behavior, the ways of seeing in which we find ourselves entrenched), I wanted to demonstrate commuting as a kind of rut, and contrast it with my wife’s commute – a non-repeating dance around the city taking her to various locations in unique configurations each day. I connected this to the Situationist’s idea of the dérive – literally to drift. Most likely I will talk about this page as part of one of my sessions at the upcoming AERA conference, and my thoughts on it grow out of a presentation there last year on how the work isn’t about illustrating ideas rather it’s having the visual embody the ideas. Here, I thought about how my wife’s paths mapped onto the NYC map could drift across the page while statically in the background, the repetitive commute becomes pattern. It’s a simple enough of an idea – but one I think is richer in comics form in the ways that the two visually contrast and speak to one another. 

Finally, on a more personal note, I’m buying yogurt now with use-by dates beyond the expected arrival of my wife’s and my first child, so this site will likely be a bit silent as we welcome that new experience and I try to bring the dissertation to a close. (I'm sharing my original outline here, I've got the final two columns to draw!) I do have one more post planned before then – a request for some crowdsourcing legwork (or footwork!) for something for the final chapter. Stay tuned and thanks for the support. Onward. – Nick

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Scheherazade, Art & Science

Finished Chapter Five a little while back and now racing through Chapter Six, and wanted to share the page on stories I teased an excerpt of earlier. This page takes up the importance of stories, with Scheherazade as point of inspiration I build around. I had in mind book pages, frames that expanded from one another, snaking back and forth across the page, with the idea that like the stories within stories that make up the 1,001 Arabian Nights, each panel contains an element of the prior one, either zoom-like (ala the classic Eames’ film/book “Powers of 10”) or via more metaphorical links. But it was important idea-wise for me to talk about stories as not only fanciful tales, but the imagination of scientists – and so in seeking an appropriate example, I came across the work of Columbia University Professor of Arabic and Islamic science George Saliba, who has shown that astronomers working in the Arab Golden Age whose relatively unknown contributions made the revolutionary work of Copernicus possible (and Copernicus was taken up in an earlier chapter). Specifically, I ended up reading about Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and his explanation for a particular kind of observed planetary motion now called the Tusi Couple.

It ended up being an intense search trying to make sense of the history and mathematics well enough to use it for essentially all of three panels that tied into the series of transitions. Not great for finishing this all on my increasingly tighter deadline, but rather a thrill as ideas swirled together and the collision of my aesthetic decisions and research took me unexpected places. Had I been doing this only in text – I might’ve mentioned that by stories I meant science too – and moved on. But because of the visual schema I set forth, I had to find ways to hold it together visually, which made me search further. Those two forces conspired to make a stronger page than I had any inkling of doing otherwise.

In talks of late, I’ve been saying that my comics are smarter than I am. It’s not meant to be cheeky. In engaging spatially with image and text, ideas and aesthetics, I find I’ve got a powerful cohort of collaborators, that in some sense, as I said at MLA recently, “have their way with me.”
Comic strip on arts and humanities

And so that makes me think of the President’s recent careless dissing of the humanities (art history taking the biggest hit) – which I don’t believe he meant nor would he agree with the statement if pushed. (Columbia U art history doc student Tina Rivers had a great response here.) But it points to a larger problem: the tendency to divide into factions, to set up us versus them in this case, arts versus sciences (the divide CP Snow identified way back as “The Two Cultures”). And in some sense this is at the heart of what I’m getting at with “unflattening” in the dissertation and maybe throughout all of my work. My political comics sprang from the idea of needing to talk to one another across artificial boundaries and get beyond labels. Consider the simple fact that in seeing through two eyes we gain perspective and access to depth. Lacking that, our world is somewhat more flat. To engage with our world in a different way, we need multiple viewpoints, multiple modes and ways of seeing. And we need these vantage points to both be a decent distance apart, so that they offer us distinct views, but also that they continue to communicate. Separate yet strongly connected.
From Chapter Two - The Importance of Seeing Double and then some...

To be better thinkers, to be more whole in our thinking, we need engage the various viewpoints, the different ways of seeing, that we have at our disposal. In a grand sense, this means not building barriers between the arts and the sciences. My page as described above, speaks to keeping communication open between the arts and sciences and respecting the different views they each make possible. The stories we fashion - of all types - are essential. We need to be many-eyed to tackle challenges in a more dimensional way – and need to cultivate the multitudes of approaches of which we all possess. 

Onward! – Nick

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stories, MLA, & Microsoft

I'm nearly finished with chapter Five, which takes up the imagination, and sharing a small excerpt from a page here. It's about stories, and stories within stories - thus Scheherazade makes an appearance. Visually, i'm playing with something like the book Zoom or Powers of 10, but as the page continues to snake along, it does some different tricks as well. For the part unseen, I switch from fanciful tales to astronomers, specifically work done by astronomers working in the Arab Golden Age, whose works played a significant role in providing a crucial piece for Copernicus to construct his heliocentric Revolution, which was discussed earlier here. So, time-wise, three days of tangential research for what amounts to about three or four small panels, seems crazy, but I had a blast learning the history and the mathematics that went into this, and it transformed the entire page into something richer and unexpected for me to say the least!

This week, I'm off to Chicago for the convening of the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference. There I'll be participating in session #S173 titled "Beyond the Protomonograph." The session organized by Daniel Powell at the University of Victoria, BC, looks at different forms of scholarly research, those reimagining how dissertations can be presented. I'll be sharing from my dissertation and talking comics and visual thinking more broadly, as a legitimate form of scholarship. (Session abstract here.) You can get a sneak peek at some of the ideas and images, with a look at the poster I made for Oxford Illustration conference, which I'm sharing again here. If you're coming to MLA - swing by, I'll have free comics samples! And if you can't make the talk - track me down - you can still have a sample... Looking forward to meeting and learning about my fellow panelists - a wide range of different approaches will be explored! Thursday from 7- 8:15 in the Northwestern-Ohio State room, Chicago Marriott, S173.

There is a whole category devoted to comics studies at MLA, which Charles Hatfield has listed on the comics and graphic narratives site here, as well as some unofficial panels with comics featured, including mine, listed here.

Finally, last summer I had an exhibition and gave a talk at Microsoft research. I documented a bit of that here, and posted a video from the talk itself here. Donald Brinkman, my host there and his team created a video taking a look at the show, and featuring an interview of me talking comics, education, and interdisciplinarity. It's neat - and it's short, and I'm grateful for the documentation of the show. It's on YouTube here, and if the embed worked, should be below. (Update, embed sort of works, seems to truncate the left side - probably best to watch on YouTube.)

Thanks for following along! - Nick 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ch5 Saccades and Superheroes

Plugging away at Chapter 5, addressing the imagination as way of seeing. (I posted the opening to the Chapter here.) Given that the entire work is taking up the ways in which we see as metaphors for how we think and how we learn, for this chapter I want to explore the link between perception and imagination. I'd almost introduced saccadic motion in the previous chapter, but it didn't quite work, and it fit neatly into what I was exploring here. Briefly, saccades are the rapid movements are eyes make several times a second, where they fix on a target and then zip off and focus on another. As Pelaprat and Cole (and others) surmise, it is the imagination that fills in the gaps, that creates a seamless whole from all these disconnected fragments. (I recommend their article "Minding the Gaps", which also discusses Scott McCloud's idea of the gaps in comics! It's available in its entirety here.) (Also, I did discuss saccadic motion in a piece I did a few years back, coincidentally titled "Mind the Gaps" as well.) Anyhow, I wanted to draw the link between the work on eye movements, touched off by Alfred L. Yarbus, and transform the map of tracked eye movements into a picture. I did my best to estimate the sequence of movements Yarbus had tracked and overlaid them on a rather famous face, and proceeded to draw sixty separate little squares from there, before building it up into the single image at bottom. As a side note, I'd like to see this animated, with the map of movements alongside the developing picture. Perhaps...

Also, what's a chapter on Imagination without words from Maxine Greene? Well, she's actually on the page prior, which I didn't post, though the words on this page "to encounter" reach back to what I cited "Is it not imagination that allows us to encounter the other as disclosed through the image of that other's face?" The reason for using this famous face here, is also a call back to Maxine's passage. Click here for my comic on Maxine.

The second excerpt here (and note that these are not consecutive pages), is a rare directly personal note in this narrative, (a previous one introduced my dog's sense of smell as a way of seeing). Here I give Lockerman, the superhero I created in junior high, a brief cameo, to discuss a different aspect of the imagination, and eventually these seemingly separate views will weave together. He appeared also briefly in my piece "Bi(bli)ography" and some similar themes will crop up here. And what's a dissertation if you can't draw at least one superhero in it!? A curious note, in his earliest outings, Lockerman often referred to his rather outlandish headgear as originating from a windmill he'd met, and despite my not having read Quixote at the time, those early adventures were rather Quixotic. Also, I'm frequently asked what my next project will be after the dissertation - to which I occasionally respond - to draw a superhero comic. While that may not end up being the case, it's fun to revisit an old friend. Onward - Nick 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ch5 Pointland plus Rumpus

So I'm plugging away on drawing Chapter Five, and wanted to share a little preview.  In this excerpt, we make a return to EA Abbott's Flatland, which was initially introduced in the Interlude between Ch1 and Ch2, and has subsequently been referenced throughout. But I'm using this two-dimensional world here, and the even more bizarre situation of the zero-dimensional realm of Pointland as a way of introducing this chapter that takes up the imagination. You'll see a call back as well to the earlier definition of unflattening, and the symbol for it, which was first introduced in Ch2, emerging from thinking of Eratosthenes's calculation of the circumference of the earth.

Also, my recent NYComics Symposium talk, alongside cartoonist and author of Iron Bound, Brendan Leach, was written up by terrific artist Andrea Tsurumi, for the ongoing feature on the symposium on the Rumpus - check it out here. (Past talks here.) It was a great night at the symposium, Brendan's talk featured live music from the soundtrack accompanying his graphic novel, and I had some of the most engaging questions I've had - i'm still thinking about! If you're in NYC, definitely recommend coming by for a symposium session sometime.

Ok, Chapter Five isn't going to draw itself, and I need to start on Ch6 in a few days... Onward - Nick