Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Author Avatars, Lecturing and Authority in Educational Comics by Aaron Humphrey

This is the final presentation from Inkers and Thinkers 2014 and it comes from one of our co-organisers Aaron Humphrey. Aaron’s bright and engaging presentation style was the perfect way to end a long, but enjoyable day of comics. The 2014 event was such a success that we are coming back and better this year. Over the coming weeks we will be introducing you to the presenters and workshop leaders we have chosen for the 2015 event. In the meantime enjoy Aaron’s presentation on the multimodality of comics in relation to educational comics with insights from his own work as a cartoonist.


Author Avatars, Lecturing and Authority in Educational Comics

The use of comics for education dates back to before World War II. However, social stigmas attached to comics in the West largely kept them out of schools, libraries and classrooms until around the start of the 21st century. The cultural and economic capital accumulated by literary graphic novels has helped to create space for book-length comics on the shelves of school libraries, and increased the market for educational comics and “graphic textbooks.”

Several new book-length, non-fiction educational comics are published in North American every week, on topics ranging from xxx to xxx, and recent research into the benefits of using of comics in classrooms at all levels of education suggests that this trend may continue to increase.

One benefit of using comics over traditional textbooks is that they are multimodal, incorporating many different ways of interacting and interpreting the text. Modern theories of education champion “active learning” led by students. However, most textbooks create a passive experience where readers are meant to be led through a text by it author. The multimodality of comics may offer a way to make textbooks more active.

To explore how this works in practice, I will examine several educational comics through two theoretical lenses: information design, particularly the work of Edward Tufte, which asks what meanings and actions are made possible by visual presentation; and curriculum alignment, as articulated by John Biggs and Catherine Tang, which examines how well particular learning activities support intended outcomes.

My paper will show how educational comics that align their design with their content and outcomes are able to support deeper levels of learning and student engagement. I will also identify several principles that can help guide the creation of effective educational comics, and show how I have put these principles into practice in my work as a cartoonist.



Aaron is a PhD candidate in the Discipline of Media at the University of Adelaide. His research is focused on the crossover between comics and education, specifically the idea of comics as an educational tool. He is also one of the co-founders and organisers of the Inkers and Thinkers Symposium and an artist in his own right, producing the Echidna Dirgible mini-comics and examples of educational comics for his thesis project.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism by Brigid Maher

The work of Joe Sacco was another popular topic at Inkers and Thinkers 2014 and Brigid Maher provided a look at how Sacco’s comics journalism also represents an act of reflection on journalistic practice and the role of foreign journalists in conflict zones.


Graphic Representations of Translation, Cultural Exchange, and Journalistic Practice in Joe Sacco’s Comics Journalism


Joe Sacco’s comics journalism is unique in the way it uses various features of the comics medium to shed light upon journalistic practice, reporter subjectivity, and the role of language and translation in the news-gathering process. Journalists and foreign correspondents often work in a multilingual environment, dealing on a daily basis with problems of translation and cultural difference. Yet accounts of these challenges rarely reach consumers of news and reportage; in the case of print journalism, in particular, there is a preference for a finished product that presents information and analysis exclusively in the target language, with all trace of translation and mediation hidden in the background.

In Sacco’s work on the conflicts in Palestine and Bosnia, however, the multimodal nature of comics is exploited to full effect, incorporating multiple voices and perspectives in such a way as to present the complexities of working in a multilingual environment, with translators, interpreters, fixers, and wider a network of more informal contacts. Comics also lend themselves to irony, through the contrast between different textual and/or graphic representations of a given scene, and Sacco uses this technique in an ironic critique of his own struggles as a cultural outsider seeking to understand complex debates on sensitive and divisive issues. The medium also allows him to create a visual juxtaposition between objectivity, on the one hand, and the journalist’s inner state, particularly his doubts and fears, on the other.

All these carefully deployed features of comics allow Sacco to take readers beyond the illusion of unmediated research and reporting towards a more nuanced depiction of the involvement of different stakeholders in the newsgathering process. By synthesizing the written word and the graphic image, the journalistic and the socio-cultural, Sacco’s work sheds light on the complex role foreign journalists have in a community in conflict: they bring outside influences, power, wealth, and status, but also compassion and a sense of humor. At the same time, Sacco depicts the problematic aspects of this relationship, exploring his own vulnerability and naivety as he weighs up the obligations of friendship against the demands of his profession.



Dr Brigid Maher is Lecturer in Italian Studies at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of Recreation and Style: Translating Humorous Literature in Italian and English (John Benjamins, 2011), and co-editor of Words, Images and Performances in Translation (with Rita Wilson, Continuum, 2012) and Perspectives on Literature and Translation: Creation, Circulation, Reception (with Brian Nelson, Routledge, 2013). She has published in a number of journals in the fields of literary studies, Italian studies, and translation studies. Her research interests include humour, irony and satire in literature; crime fiction; and the translation of literature, comics, and film.

Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Comics in 21st Century Spain: Challenges and Opportunities of an Emerging Medium by Enrique Del Rey Cabero

We’ve been very busy organising Inkers and Thinkers 2015 and unfortunately neglected our commitment to posting the recordings from Inkers and Thinkers 2014. We are rectifying that right now and over the next few weeks we will post the remaining presentations from the 2014 Symposium. First up we have Enrique Del Rey Cabero providing an insightful look into the nascent Spanish comic book market, one many people may be unfamiliar with but can surely relate to through the same struggles for legitimacy and opportunities to turn comics into a viable career.



Comics, contrary to historical prejudices that classify the medium as light reading or exclusively addressed to a young audience, are becoming more and more important in the cultural sphere. Moreover, the unique language and features of this medium in our image-dominated world, as well as the versatility to tell very different stories shown by authors during recent years, have placed comics in a unprecedented place that would have been difficult to foretell ten or twenty years ago.


The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the position of the comics industry in Spain, which has seen the rise of a new generation of authors, the consolidation of the graphic novel and a progressive acceptance of the medium in general culture.


In spite of the continuing crisis of the medium in the country (many Spanish authors are forced to migrate, work for other markets or publish their work first in a foreign language), it cannot be denied that comics are now more widely appreciated among many audiences and, more relevant, not only as a cultural subproduct or humorous pastime. As is known, the rise of the graphic novel at a global level (with famous examples such as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis) has played a very important role and has produced notable examples in the Spanish context. Comics are also increasingly present on-line through websites and webcomics. Moreover, the role of the state and the Ministry of Culture (since 2007, a National Comics Prize is awarded annually), public libraries (which have considerably extended their comics catalogue in recent years) and universities (which organize more frequent seminars and now are even starting to teach whole degrees on comics) have also contributed to the visibility of comics in Spain.


The analysis of all these factors and agents will allow me to draw some conclusions about the challenges and opportunities of the medium in Spain, which will also be relevant to the Australian context, where comics are also rising in the cultural sphere and sometimes facing similar processes of change.



Enrique is based at La Trobe University in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce. After finishing his studies, Enrique gained experience teaching Spanish in Spain (in international programs at the Universidad de Salamanca and the UIMP in Santander and for the Engineering Team at Aramco and Técnicas Reunidas in Madrid) and Belgium (Haute École de la Ville de Liège). His research interests include pedagogy of Spanish as a foreign language, 20th century Spanish and Latin American poetry and the relations between Music and Literature and Literature and Comics.

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