Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Hello Everyone,

Today is the First Anniversary of this Dissertation blog. The good news is—I graduated.  A pdf of my dissertation can be found here:

As of today this blog has been viewed 5,429 times from people on all continents except for Antarctica (come on down there!).  People have viewed this blog from over 70 countries including France, Germany, Latvia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, South Africa, China, Australia, most of the Middle East, and almost every country from Central and South America.

To commemorate the occasion I am posting the first in a series of interviews I conducted with comic creators, publishers, and editors. This first post is my interview with Kim Thompson. Kim was my editor for many years at Fantagraphics. Sadly, Kim passed away earlier this year not long after this interview (I believe it may have been his last).

Look for more interviews soon!

All best wishes,


The Kim Thompson (1956-2013) Interview

Brian M. Kane: What are the strengths of the graphic narrative format for education?

Kim Thompson: The fact that they combine the verbal and visual medium very intimately. Some information is best imparted through words and some through pictures, and the flexibility of being able to alternate between the two, or combine them, is just very helpful.

BMK:  What are the weaknesses of the graphic narrative format for education?

KT:      It depends on what you compare it to. If you compare it to a documentary film you don’t have the visceral, lived in sense of the real being photographed. Obviously, text-only allows you to go deeper into the subject matter in some ways. Every medium has its own strengths and its own weaknesses.

BMK:  What would you recommend to academicians intending on creating their own educational graphic narratives?

KT:      Doing graphic narratives is a hell of a lot of work, so you have to be pretty serious about it. The implication would be that, since few academicians are trained graphic artists, you’re talking about academicians creating the basic text and then hiring illustrators. So anyone hiring illustrators would have to have a pretty deep and broad familiarity with the medium. If this were something that would become a major trend there would probably be agents or packagers who could provide illustrators.

BMK:  What do you think about the possibility of having an academician co-author an educational graphic narrative with a comic book/graphic narrative industry professional?

KT:   I think it has possibilities. Every collaboration has possibilities. Clearly the sensibilities of an academic are going to be quite different from the sensibilities of the cartoonist, or illustrator, or draftsman, so that may make for some interesting tension. Academicians have a reputation for being a bit dry, so it might be interesting to see a cartoonist or illustrator adapt something more serious.

The art of comic book writing is certainly a craft and quite likely not something that academicians are going to go to naturally. I suspect that in many cases they will have to go to some type of collaboration. The fact is, even outside of the question of academics, when you talk to cartoonists they are going to tell you they’ll be collaborating with a writer who has no experience in comics per se, a prose writer, and inevitably there are problems because the writer doesn’t understand the mechanics of it. The simplest and most obvious case being instances were writers will write and say: “In this panel this happens, and this happens, and this happens, and this happens,” not realizing that in a graphic narrative you have to break it down; you can’t have four things happening at once. That is a trap that I think academics would fall in too. So there would have to be one more element in the combination, which is a comic book writer who could take the material from the academic and transfer it into something for the cartoonist or illustrator. Of course there are a number of cartoonists and illustrators who are excellent writers on their own, so it’s still possible to have just a two-person operation with just an academic and a cartoonist who can adapt the material. Certainly, someone like Joe Sacco who does his own writing would be able to do it.

I think the use of comics for journalistic or historical purposes, specifically with Joe Sacco, has been a great benefit to the medium and, for that matter, to journalism and history. I have the problem of the non-academic towards academics being somewhat dry and tedious, and wrapped up in their own little world, but on the other hand that means that the addition of someone from the outside, specifically a cartoonist might help to shake that up a little bit, so I’m all for it.

BMK:  Thank you, Kim!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summary, Conclusions, and Implications for Future Research

Sequential art is a “show-don’t-tell” medium. Since I am championing this medium as a teaching tool it seemed appropriate to use sequential art in order to summarize the key elements of my dissertation in the form of a graphic narrative. Basically, it was time for me to “put up, or shut up.” The art for each page was developed to fit an iPad screen, and since I am trying to mimic that visual experience for this dissertation I created this iPad in Photoshop, based on, but not copied from, a real iPad. With few exceptions (the book covers, and article pages on page #2) many of the visuals were created by me. For example: while the page from the book Feynman is an actual page my manipulation of it on pages #4 and #5 is my own design; the SmartBoard (pages #5 and #6) was created in Photoshop but based on an actual SmartBoard; I applied multiple travel stickers to the steamer trunk on page #8 (and distressed them); the computer (page #8) was built by combining photos of an old typewriter and an old television; the drive-in theater (page #12) is a photo montage (that is not the original sky that went with the cars); and even the “Smiley Faces” were created directly in Photoshop. This is a very arts-based presentation showcasing my skills as a graphic narrative writer, visual artist, graphic designer, and digital photo manipulator all in service of teaching higher-level concepts through the use of a visual art medium.

As with all graphic narratives the key is to know when to let the images speak for themselves and carry the story. On page #1, for example, I introduce a version of my Purpose Statement, and present it with the use of a modified title and dialogue (word) balloon. However, the visuals on the page tell a parallel story. The visuals, once decoded, are a visual biography of myself. This is where I work at home, and while it is a lot less cluttered in the illustration all the essentials are here. Some of the elements are obvious. I am drinking from a Pittsburgh Steelers mug, which is an indication of where I am from. The books I have written are sitting on top of my printer, and the IPPY Award I received is behind the router. Some elements are a bit more subtle. My clothing is casual because I want the reader to be relaxed, and rather than fill the area with a flat color I chose to scan my own shirt and jeans, which makes the art all the more personal. The Graphic Narrative Model on my monitor foreshadows its discussion on page #3. Some elements are decipherable only if you know me very well. My illustration of my boys is on the card on top of the computer. I was a comic book inker, and one of my tryout pages for a story is on the iPad. The first character I ever drew was Snoopy. While these elements are not part of the main storyline, they are, as stated previously, in parallel to the main story since they are part of my résumé. They act in the same fashion as an author’s bio at the end of an article, and if this were an actual iPad, all the reader would have to do is tap on any of these elements and a text box or hyperlink would lead them to a more detailed explanation.

The graphic narrative portion follows a fairly straight-forward summary of the dissertation: Purpose Statement (p. #1); background to the study (pp. #2-3); how graphic narratives relay information and related theories associated with cognitive and visual learning skills (pp. #3-6); conclusions and recommendations (p. #7); applying learned information and proposing how graphic narratives can be used as teaching tools (pp. #7-12); and closing statement (p. #12). 

You may view the pages in this blog, or you may download a hi-res pdf of the entire 12-page conclusion by clicking on the link below. You have my permission to distribute this freely, but please do not publish it anywhere in hard copy without my permission. My email address is

For those who are interested, I am also including a link to my references. The bibliography is sub-divided by category, and since it is 29 pages this is the easiest way to include it.

would like to thank my dissertation committee members: Professor Clayton Funk, Professor Arthur Efland, Professor Jared Gardner, Professor Shari Savage, and my Adviser Professor Candace Stout who championed this dissertation from the start. I would also like to thank Professor Christine Ballengee-Morris, Professor Patricia L. Stuhr, and my fellow students who have walked this path with me. Finally, I would like to thank my 16 interviewees for their time and patience. I will be including their interviews in subsequent blogs.

Stephen Bissette: Graphic Narrative writer and illustrator best known for his work on Swamp Thing for DC Comics.

            Professor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.

            Comic Book Rebels (1993). New York: D.I. Fine. Co-Author.
            Tyrant (1994-1996). Wilmington, VT: Spiderbaby Graphix. Author & Illustrator.
            Teen Angels & New Mutants (2011). Encino, CA: Black Coat Press. Author.

Tom Brevoort: Senior Vice President and Executive Editor, Marvel Entertainment (Marvel Comics).

Kevin Cannon & Zander Cannon: Graphic narrative writers and illustrators.

            The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA (2008). New York: Hill and Wang. Illustrators.
            T-Minus: The Race to the Moon (2009). New York: Aladdin. Illustrators.
            Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth (2011). New York: Hill and Wang. Illustrators.

Josh Elder: Founder and President of Reading With Pictures, Chicago, IL, an educational non-profit dedicated to facilitating the use of comics in the classroom in order to promote literacy and the visual arts, and improve educational outcomes for all students.

Jared Gardner, Ph.D.: Professor of English and Film at The Ohio State University where he is also the Director of the Popular Culture Studies program.

Jay Hosler, Ph.D.: Professor of Biology, Juniata College

            Clan Apis (2000). Columbus, OH: Active Synapse. Author & Illustrator.

            The Sandwalk Adventures (2003). Columbus, OH: Active Synapse. Author & Illustrator.

            Optical Allusions (2008). Columbus, OH: Active Synapse. Author & Illustrator.*

            Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr's Life (2009) Ann Arbor, MI: G.T. Labs. Illustrator.

            Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth (2011). New York: Hill and Wang. Author.

            * The production and publication of Optical Allusions was made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Dean H. Johnston, Ph.D.: Professor of Chemistry, Otterbein University.

            Research and Teaching Interests: Synthetic inorganic chemistry, X-ray crystallography, Photophysical properties of metal cluster systems, Molecular symmetry, and Structural chemistry.

            Professor Johnston also serves as the Director of Undergraduate Research and Creative Work at Otterbein University.

Wendy Johnston, Ph.D.: Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biology, Otterbein University.

Caitlin A. McGurk: At the time of the interview Miss. McGurk was the Visiting Curator for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at The Ohio State University. She is now that institution’s Engagement Coordinator.

Jim Ottaviani: Writer and publisher of comics and graphic novels about scientists.

            Masters in Nuclear Engineering, University of Michigan.
            Masters in Information and Library Science, University of Michigan.

            Librarian at the University of Michigan, and the Coordinator of Deep Blue the University’s personal research and intellectual property database.
            Fallout (2001). Ann Arbor, MI: G.T. Labs. Author.
            Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr's Life (2009) Ann Arbor, MI: G.T. Labs. Author.
            T-Minus: The Race to the Moon (2009). New York: Aladdin. Author.
            Feynman (2011). New York: First Second Books. Author.
            Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas (2013). New York: First Second Books. Author.

Stephen Saffel: Senior Acquisitions Editor, Titan Books. Responsible for acquiring and editing original and tie-in fiction, illustrated books, comics and strip collections.

            Former Editor for Marvel Entertainment (Marvel Comics).

Mark Schultz: Graphic narrative writer and illustrator.

            The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA (2008). New York: Hill and Wang. Author.

James Steranko: Graphic narrative writer and illustrator.

            Mr. Steranko is a legendary figure in the comic book industry, and in the 1960s-1970s helped establish some of the visual iconography and techniques used by graphic narrative creators today.

            In 1976, Mr. Steranko created the “Visual Novel” Chandler, which is considered one of the first graphic novels.

            Chandler: Red Tide (1976). New York: Byron Preiss.
            Steranko: Graphic Narrative (1977). Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Art Gallery.
            Visual Storytelling: The Art and Technique (2002). New York: Watson-Guptill.

Kim Thompson: Vice President, Editor, and Co-Publisher at Fantagraphics Books.  For over thirty years Mr. Thompson has championed the cause of alternative comics in the American market. A long-time proponent of European comics, Mr. Thompson has also translated the work of a number of international cartoonists published by Fantagraphics.

            Among some of the many notable cartoonists published by Fantagraphics Books include: Jessica Abel, Peter Bagge, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Roberta Gregory, Joe Sacco, and Chris Ware.

A Columbus Public Library librarian who wished to remain anonymous.