Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SpinWeaveandCut Site!!

Lots of new reviews and other things as Unflattening is getting out into the world. I've got all of that stuff plus my archives up at - my new site! Please join me there!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Arrival! PW Podcast - NEW site

While I've moved my updates, archives, comics, and comics and education resources over to their new home,, I know people are still showing up here - so I'm posting a little update and asking visitors to migrate over to (A longer version of this post is here.)

My copy of Unflattening arrived! Nearly a year ago, I defended the dissertation, just after we welcomed our daughter into the world, and as she turns one and is starting to get up on her feet, it seems fitting that this too is launching. Calvin Reed of Publishers Weekly interviewed me about Unflattening for their More to Come audio podcast. It's a long conversation on comics, scholarship, and my process - online here. (PW also reviewed Unflattening here and I did an interview with Inside Higher Education here. I've devoted a page to compiling all news about the book, and you can see more info on Harvard UP's site as well.) 
As part of a series of essays on alt-scholarship (of which the entire collection is available here), I  contributed a piece reflecting on my experience doing the dissertation in comics, online here, Also this week, I did an interview with Anne Brackenbury for the series Graphic Adventures in Anthropology - in which we discussed my process, the intersection of scholarship and art, future possibilities for ethnography in comics, and collaboration. Have a look here. Finally, while it's only been out a few days, Unflattening has already been used in Professor Steven L. Berg of Schoolcraft College composition courses! They already took up the concept of Parallax and Dr. Berg is planning to use the book in his courses in the fall.

Thanks for the support - please join me at! - N

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New site, PW Review!

As mentioned in the previous post, I've moved this blog to a proper site I kept all the old archives, plus added resources on comics and education and more. Please join me there! Also - this week, Unflattening got its first review on Publishers Weekly - and it's fantastic. Check it out here and come on over to the new site! See you there, thanks! - Nick

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Site!

With the imminent arrival of Unflattening, I have a proper site now in place at I've been giving out that address all along, but it's been bouncing to this blog. Going forward, I'll be posting all content on the new site. I brought over all the existing archives of my work and added the former wiki I had of resources related to my course on comics and education as well. Hope you'll join me there!

Also, just in, a nice feature on the work at Inside Higher Ed. See you at - Nick

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cover, Reframing Inquiry

About a month to go to the release of Unflattening! While I've yet to see all of it bound in one piece, I was pleased to get my hands on the proof of the cover and test prints for the interior pages! More info on Harvard UP's site here. (Preorder available at places like AmazonBarnes&Noble, and Powells, or Chapters/Indigo in Canada - or from your local book store or comics shop!)

In other news, an article I co-authored with professors Anna Smith and Matthew Hall, "Envisioning possibilities: visualising as enquiry in literacy studies" was just published in the journal Literacy. We each shared our individual visualization research approaches toward making sense of literacy and learning. I discussed the way in which my visual creative practice drove my critical work, and vice versa. Specifically, I focused on a page from the dissertation revolving around stories and Scheherazade (on view here), and the research journey my comics making sent me on. A brief excerpt from my portion of the article:
Employing the multiplicity of meaning-making resources that the comics medium affords has greatly expanded the breadth and dimensionality of my (Nick's) research processes. A brief look at the form: comics function as a kind of network (Groensteen, 2007), braiding together two distinct modes of awareness in a single form – linear, sequential text-like reading (McCloud, 1993) and simultaneous, all-over image-like viewing. These different reading approaches are inherent to the form, and this extends to the specific interaction of words and images, which is described as blended and interdependent (Harvey, 1979), where they exhibit a tension of approaching each other whilst still remaining apart (Hatfield, 2009). It is a multiplicative marriage in which each informs and enriches its partner to produce a resonance (Sousanis, 2012) that exceeds what either can do alone. .... 
You can read the entire article online here (for free, i believe). Anna and Matt are terrific educators and scholars doing groundbreaking work using music notation and nonlinear visualizations of time - both approaches that I think will be adopted and repurposed by other researchers in their respective settings. The entire issue of Literacy is devoted to exploring new methodologies, as led by co-editors Anna, Rosie Flewitt, and Kate Pahl. Worth a look! (Also, in publishing, if you missed it my comics article "Threads: A Postmodern Fable" recently appeared in the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy's special issue on Arts-Based Educational Research.)  

This week, I had the opportunity to share my work with Calgary poet laureate Derek Beaulieu's  class on narrative at the Alberta College of Art & Design. I took them through the abstract comics-making exercise I've been sharing (you can watch a description of it from my talk at Microsoft here). The comics they produced in about 10 minutes were amazing and Derek was kind enough to share them on his blog here

Finally, back in December I went to the conference on new genres of scholarly knowledge production hosted by HUMLab at Umeä University in Sweden. The gathering was not only about the modes of production we use, but also concerned with the modes of interaction present in conferences themselves. I had the cool opportunity to present on my work on three wall screens and a giant-sized screen on the floor. I wrote a reflective piece on framing and connecting thinking in comics to the presentation possibilities of this multi-screen format. Here's a little snippet from that: 
... the composing of a comics page can be seen as akin to drafting an architectural walkthrough, in the way that the author is greatly concerned with how the reader moves through the page — from tightly controlled sequencing to allowing for more non-linear flow. Rather than simply being a series of illustrations about ideas, I want the form itself to embody the ideas. The reader’s movements are inextricable from the experiencing of the ideas. I saw the opportunity to present on multiple screens simultaneously as resonant with how I make comics — with the added bonus being that here I could in a way stand in that space. ... Decoupling from the standard powerpoint: slide, slide, slide… the multi-screen format mirrors the way in which a comic is significantly different than storyboarding, to which comics are frequently compared. In comics we are concerned with not just what is in each frame (panel), but the size, shape, and orientation of the panel, as well as its relationship to the others around it. This spatialization opens up possibilities for making unexpected connections — we bring together elements with different partners and forge new arrangements. HUMlab-X’s unique staging area let me play with the presentation in a similar manner. …  

It was an extremely generative and invigorating conversation overall and an important challenge to how we think about how we conduct our thinking and how we share it. You can see several of the different participants' reflections here.

Till soon - Nick 

(Oh - and randomly, the comic I made a long while back with science-comics writer extraordinaire and all-around good guy Jim Ottaviani on the creation of the Washington, D.C. Metro, was cited in an article in the Washington Post on the Five Best Brutalist Buildings in DC. Fun to see it still out in the world a bit.)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

In Print: Threads Postmodern Fable

With less than two months to go, I'm eagerly counting down to March 9 and the release of my comics dissertation-turned book Unflattening - see more details on Harvard University Press's site here! (And if you can't wait,  I see it's up for preorder at places like Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Powells!)

In the meantime, an essay I made in comics form before the dissertation is now in print in the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy's special issue on Arts-Based Educational Research (Vol. 11, Iss. 2). The piece was originally created for my advisor Ruth Vinz's course Postmodern Textual Practices (and shared on my site here), and it examines the move from modernism to postmodernism as constructed from mashups of mythology and fairy tales alongside the philosophical and scientific through the methodology of DJ sampling. Alongside Mind the Gaps the Shape of Our Thoughts, and Learning Pathways, Threads proved instrumental in shaping my dissertation process - particularly in moving back and forth between whole page compositions and intense panel-construction. This piece also touches on my Spin/Weave/Cut from which my site takes its name (see more on the meaning behind that here). You can view the piece in the journal online here and for those without University journal access, the first 50 to click through this link, can download the PDF of the article for free here. Or you can just read it on my site here and now...

Due to the diversity of sources woven into this piece, I thought it would be fun and perhaps helpful to show my hand a bit by providing the equivalent to footnotes to some of the imagery and references. So if you're interested in looking behind the curtain, check it out below the comic itself. Wishing all a possibility-filled and expansive 2015. - Nick

What follows is not offered as explanation, but a key to some of the imagery referenced – if you’re so inclined to look behind the curtain. I advise reading only after you’ve read the comic.

Threads – the Key

Page 1: The opening line is my take on “once upon a time…” The image specifically references Lee Lawrie’s statue of Atlas at Lincoln Center. The “world” is partially a reference to the statue itself but also to Kepler’s sketch of the nested Platonic solids.  

Page 2:
Panel 1: Greek myths are full of stories of locking away the primal, irrational, and chaotic in Tartarus (as with the Titans) or as this panel references – in the Labyrinth. I pull some of my thinking here from Michael Ayrton’s “Maze Maker,” a novel about the creative process, as told through the story of Daedalus, the builder of the labyrinth and father of Icarus. The Minotaur is seen less as a monster in its own right but as some primal aspect of ourselves necessary to keep down in order to seek a more rational life. Theseus follows Ariadne’s thread up into the light, and my text also alludes to Plato’s story of the cave and escaping to enlightenment (here, the radiating ball of string.)
P2-5: Ariadne’s thread becomes Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, which in turn transforms into the Yellow Brick Road as a golden path toward truth and knowledge. This series of connections on threads served as the genesis for this piece.
P6: The text is a reference to Descartes’ separation of mind and body.
P7: Continental Drift Theory had a huge impact on how we think of the world and I sought to depict that here with images of earth as Pangae, Gondwana, and today’s configuration of the continents. (Also placing them as I did is also a reference to the way multiple earths are depicted in DC Comics’ “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”)
P8-11: “No fixed points in space” is a quote from Einstein picked up by Merce Cunningham as part of his approach to dance. Moving fast to keep in place is a nearly direct quote from Through the Looking Glass. The Cheshire Cat is joined with Schrodinger’s cat – and the idea of superposition. This would’ve been fun to explore more, and Alice’s cat playing with a ball of string almost made its way in (only the string stayed in back up at Panel 1.)

Page 3: 
When the cord is cut, literally, I wanted to show our perspective falling like Alice down the Rabbit Hole. The fall not only references Alice’s fall, but the Great Fall text leads into Humpty Dumpty’s fall, which we’ll see the effects of on the next page.

Page 4:
Panel 1: Arriving on the scene to fix up Humpty Dumpty after his fall from the wall, are all the King’s Horse-Men. Having already decided to use hybrid creatures in the piece (a Spider-woman and a Mermaid), this compression of all the King’s horses and all the King’s men into one centaur worked well. Furthermore, I mashed this story with the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse, whose appearance here isn’t a fearful ending but something else altogether.
P2: Given the theme of threads that emerged early in creating this piece, Arachne was one of the few players I had in mind from the beginning. (Spiderman stayed out of it…) I saw Athena’s punishment as a gift instead, one of a number of reversals of perspective in the piece. “Fabric of relations” comes from Lyotard’s text on the Postmodern Condition. The image draws on Gustav Dore’s rendering of Arachne in Dante’s Purgatorio.
P3: We see the Three Fates, the Grey Women, or Moirae – maiden, matron, and crone. Those who spin, measure, and cut the thread that is our lives. Depending on where you read – their sight is ambiguous. Destiny or fate is often seen as blind, so while some accounts say that they share one eye between them, I went with the blind depiction here. (In subsequent pieces where I’ve incorporated them, I’ve gone with a different interpretation.)
P4: Rapunzel lets down her hair – a braid of DNA connecting us to our past, as postmodern methods cut up samples of past works to make new. The cycle of the moon also references the symbolism for the Three Fates – waxing, full, and waning, as the DNA becomes a coiled spiral, becomes waves – tides caused by the moon above. The text borrows heavily from Ayrton’s Maze Maker: “Life is not a circle but a helix.”
P5: Heraclitus’ words connect to the panel previous of past feeding present and the final panel on Chaos, as the Little Mermaid speaks to the merged creatures we’ve become, necessary for a world that’s constantly shifting.

P6: As this developed, it turned out for the most part I was working with stories featuring women – even when Theseus is depicted, it’s Ariadne that saves the day. Keeping with that, I brought in Pandora who definitely got a bad rap as patriarchal cultures took hold. Pandora’s name properly translated means “all-giving” and the “box” is actually a mis-translation for something more akin to a jar. I used the image of a jar and hoped by referencing “box” in the text that the connection was clear. I wanted to connect what’s in the jar/box back to things locked away in the Labyrinth, and in taking a different look at Pandora, take a different look at Chaos theory as well. And so what comes out is the fluid, nonlinear stuff that makes this world, and butterflies – symbols of metamorphosis and the butterfly effect – “a sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Even the smallest of things can have an effect in a connected system. I think it’s a beautiful thought, and from the physics referenced by Alice to Chaos theory here, all of the narrative speaks to a world shrugging off a search for certainty and perhaps embracing complexity as complexity. And perhaps by undertaking this tapestry of ideas in visual form, it allows that complexity to stay present. (Thus you probably shouldn’t have read this.) – Nick

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Final Page and International Talks

As we continue to get settled in Calgary, I ended up drawing one final page for my book Unflattening (formerly-known-as-my-dissertation) due out from Harvard University Press in March of 2015. While with the exception of the cover, some additional title images, and cleanup, the drawing has been done since i defended in the spring, circumstances required a last minute additional page to solve a pagination issue with how I intended the other pages to be laid out. I share the thumbnails i made for the layout and a vine video of my process here. The finished piece along with all the rest of the work will be out in just three short months (and already available for preorder)! Excited to be able to share it in one whole piece and see it that way for myself! (See more info on Unflattening on HUP's site.)

Days after arriving in Calgary, I had the opportunity to make a quick trip to Umeå, Sweden, and present on my work at the conference on Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production organized by Patrik Svensson. It was a thought-provoking event all around, and I had the privilege of being one of the first to present on their new 3 screens on the wall and one on the floor presentation space. It was a fun challenge to think through presentation as more than one slide at a time and particularly interesting for me to consider in terms of making comics and how one could use that spatial dimension to engage with the audience in different fashion. I'm sharing two virtual images from how I prepared the talk beforehand and one live image where i got to stand on all the feet that I'd gathered with the put your foot in my dissertation contest. Thanks to Patrik and all who gathered there for such a stimulating adventure and warm reception! 

Finally, back in November I gave a keynote address at the International Visual Literacy Association's conference held at the Toledo Museum of Art. It was a terrific gathering and I got to present in the grand venue that hosts the Toledo Symphony. The museum has just made videos from the conference available - you can see mine and others on YouTube here or embedded below. Note, should you wish to watch it but find yourself intimidated by the video's length - I speak only for about the first 20 minutes or so, and then lead participants in a comics-making exercise, which takes up most of the rest of the video until a final Q&A.

Wishing you well as we approach the shortest day of the year and the approach of the days getting longer again. (My two days in Sweden were nearly sunless - with the sunset that far north happening around 1:30!) Best to all over the holidays and in the new year. - Nick