A Refugee’s Journey: Adapting Nick Sousanis’ “Grid and Gestures”

During the second lesson of the “Imaginative Communication” course [a Comparative Media course in which we explore the theme “To Say the Unutterable” by analyzing and comparing the depiction of Psychic Trauma in various visual media, from comics to animated & live-action movies, tv series or choreographies], I asked my Thai & exchange students at the Faculty of Communication Arts (Chulalongkorn University) to do the “Grid and Gestures” exercise developed by Nick Sousanis, professor of Humanities & Liberal Studies at San Francisco State University, and author of the groundbreaking comics dissertation Unflattening published by Harvard University Press in 2015.

[Course: Imgt Comm, 2800217, International Program, CommArts, Chulalongkorn University, 20 January 2020, with 35 students]

line_56379341401443_4
Above and below: CommArts students at work on the “Grid and Gestures” exercise

line_56381418332518_7


The purpose statement for the exercise provided by Nick Sousanis is as follows:

 “So here’s how to think about Grids & Gestures. Quickly, have a look at your ceiling tiles or other grid-ish things around you. If you then imagine putting these features to music, you might have regular long notes on the tiles, some shorter notes, and maybe rapid staccato beats on a ventilation grill. Ok, now come back to a comics page – and think about the idea that in comics, time is written in space. Comics are static – and it’s in the way we organize the space that we can convey movement and the passage of time. Unlike storyboards, to which comics are frequently compared, in comics we care not only about what goes on in the frame, but we care about the size of the panel, its shape, orientation, what it’s next to, what it’s not, and its overall location within the page composition. The way you orchestrate these elements on the page is significant to the meaning conveyed – there are some strong correspondences between comics and architecture in terms of thinking about the way the entire space operates together.

Having briefly thought about this, I want you to take a single sheet of paper (any size, shape will do) and drawing with a pencil or pen, carve it up in some grid-esque fashion that represents the shape of your day. It can be this day, a recent day, a memorable day, or a typical/amalgamation day. And then inhabit these spaces you’ve drawn on the page with lines, marks, or gestures that represent your activity or emotional state during those times represented. The emphasis here is to do your best to not draw things. (You can always do that later!) And also, you can leave space blank on your page – but that has to mean something. This isn’t writing where you can finish a final sentence mid-page. Every inch of the composition is important in comics – so be aware of that as well. Finally, when I do this in class or with groups, I give people about 5-10 minutes to do it, so they have to make decisions quickly. Try to give yourself a similar limit.”

Nick Sousanis (excerpted from this page)

line_56379729555404_6
Above: CommArts student at work on the “Grid and Gestures” exercise

Nanz 01
“Grid and Gestures” by Thai student Nanz. Description: “(1) I wake up late so I started the page with the cloud shape which refers to my dream. Then I have to hurry to take a shower and prepare myself to go to the University. I go to university by BTS [skytrain] and the station is crowded. When I arrive at the station near the campus, I notice that the sky is gloomy. (2) Suddenly, it starts raining. I’m stuck at the station and I’m worried I’ll be late in class. Moreover, I’m hungry since I forgot to eat something this morning. I have to figure out the way to reach my Faculty on time. I try to book a Grab taxi but there is no response. I have to walk under the rain to try to catch a taxi. (3) Finally, I reach the Faculty and I’m in class on time. When the course is finished, I come back home and take a shower. Before going to bed, I watch a movie on Netflix. Then I go to sleep. :)”


Adapting the exercise to depict a refugee’s journey

After this first exercise was completed, I asked the students to draw a second “Grids and Gestures” page but, instead of depicting a personal day/travel/experience, they had to draw the perilous travel of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali, 20, who had filmed her journey from the ruins of Kobane in Syria to Austria.

“Her footage shows what many refugees face on their perilous journey to Europe. Rania is cheated by smugglers, teargassed and beaten at the Macedonian border. She risks drowning in the Mediterranean, travelling in a boat meant to hold 15 people but stuffed with over 50. Those with disabilities are carried across raging rivers and muddy fields in their wheelchairs.” (The Guardian).

During the 22′ footage, some students drew the “Grids and Gestures” of Rania as her narrative was unfolding while other students preferred to take some notes and draw Rania’s grid right after the end of the film.

line_56378118998328_3
Students watching, drawing and/or taking notes during the projection of Rania’s footage.
line_56377290229983_1
Student Paar drawing Rania’s “Grid and Gestures” during the projection.
line_56376793795175_0
Student drawing Rania’s “Grid and Gestures” during the projection.

The outcome has been positive as students focused [more than usual] their attention on the emotions and struggles experienced by the refugees, trying to capture Rania’s emotional states, and discovering -as they were drawing on a limited space- the physicality and volume of incessant ups-and-downs (hopeful/hopeless…) and turns of events (wait/treks/dead ends/returns) faced during these precarious and usually dramatic odysseys. I’ll try to find time to study the results of this experiment in detail, and see if it tends to raise awareness/mindfulness (Sati/สติ) and empathy towards refugees. A promising exercise.


Here are some of the “grids and gestures” depicting the journey of Syrian refugee Rania Mustafa Ali and composed by CommArts students:

Nanz 02
Ranias’s journey by Thai student Nanz.
Palmmy 02
Ranias’s journey by Thai student Palmmy.
Rika 02
Ranias’s journey by Japanese student Rika.
Paar 02
Ranias’s journey by Thai student Paar.
Meg 02
Ranias’s journey by Dutch exchange student Meg.
Por 02
Ranias’s journey by Thai student Por.
Ink 02

Ranias’s journey by Thai student Ink.
Pure 02
Ranias’s journey by Japanese exchange student Pure.

 

“No Escape” by Patrick McEown, CAN, 1999

No Escape McEown complete 01 10

“No Escape” by Patrick McEown. Click on pic for full size. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown


No Escape by Patrick McEown (CAN), in: Dave Cooper’s Weasel #1, Fantagraphics Books, US, August 1999.

©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown

No Escape McEown Arrow 04 05 06
Excerpt of a 10-page non-linear/loop/polyptych comics. Pages 4, 5 and 6 of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. Arrows not in the original. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown

To read the story in diaporama:

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


To read the story in a full-size continuous polyptych, click on the picture below:

No Escape McEown complete 01 10
“No Escape” by Patrick McEown. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown

By two pages:

No Escape McEown double 01 02
Pages 1 & 2 (out of 10) of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown
No Escape McEown double 03 04
Pages 3 & 4 (out of 10) of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown
No Escape McEown double 05 06
Pages 5 & 6 (out of 10) of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown
No Escape McEown double 07 08
Pages 7 & 8 (out of 10) of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown
No Escape McEown double 09 10
Pages 9 & 10 (out of 10) of Patrick McEown’s No Escape. ©1999 Fantagraphics/McEown

“Glenn Ganges in: ‘Time Travelling'” by Kevin Huizenga, US, 2006


Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga (US), in GANGES #1, Fantagraphics Books, USA, 2006. More on Kevin Huizenga’s website (over here) and blog (over there).

Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga

Huizenga ganges.1
Page 1/5 of Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga. Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga
Huizenga ganges.2
Page 2/5 of Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga. Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga
Huizenga ganges.3
Page 3/5 of Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga. Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga
Huizenga ganges.4
Page 4/5 of Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga. Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga
Huizenga ganges.5
Page 5/5 of Glenn Ganges in: “Time Travelling” by Kevin Huizenga. Copyright ©2006 Fantagraphics/Huizenga

“Brother John” (in French) by Jerome Charyn & André Juillard, USA/FR, 1990


Brother John (in French), story by Jerome Charyn (USA) & art by André Juillard (FR), in: USA Magazine (L’Écho des savanes) spécial été #48/49, Albin Michel, FR, June 1990.

Brother 01
PAGE 1/9
Brother 02
PAGE 2/9
Brother 03
PAGE 3/9
Brother 04
PAGE 4/9
Brother 05
PAGE 5/9
Brother 06
PAGE 6/9
Brother 07
PAGE 7/9
Brother 08
PAGE 8/9
Brother 09
PAGE 9/9
Brother 00
The complete story

“Greyshirt: How Things Work Out” by Alan Moore & Rick Veitch, UK/USA, 1999


Greyshirt: How Things Work Out, script by Alan Moore (UK) and art by Rick Veitch (USA), in: Tomorrow Stories #2, Wildstorm Productions, America’s Best Comics imprint, USA, November 1999. The Greyshirt character is a pastiche of Will Eisner‘s The Spirit.

“In one of the Greyshirt stories in Tomorrow Stories, we did something very peculiar with the panel layouts. We had an apartment building, the same building, upon ever page. There are four horizontal panels on each page. Then, to add another element, we made it so that the top panels are all taking place in 1999, the second panel down on each page is taking place in 1979, the panel beneath that takes place in 1959, and on the bottom panel of each page, you’re seeing the bottom of the building as it was in 1939, when it was a fairly new building. We’re able to tell, by some quite complicated story gymnastics, quite an interesting little story that is told over nearly sixty years of this building’s life, with characters getting older depending upon which panel and which time period they’re in. There’s something that you couldn’t do in any medium other than comics.Alan Moore (as cited on The Great Comic Book Heroes website), 2001.

Dear students, this story was later published in the collection Tomorrow Stories book 1 (soft cover) by DC Comics.

Copyright ©2004 DC Comics/Moore/Veitch

Grey 1
PAGE 1/8
Grey 2
PAGE 2/8
Grey 3
PAGE 3/8
Grey 4
PAGE 4/8
Grey 5
PAGE 5/8
Grey 6
PAGE 6/8
Grey 7
PAGE 7/8
Grey 8
PAGE 8/8

Grey 10
PAGE 1/8 (and cover of “Tomorrow Stories” #2)
Grey 11
PAGES 2 & 3/8
Grey 12
PAGES 4 & 5/8
Grey 13jpg
PAGES 6 & 7/8
Grey 14
PAGE 8/8 (along original artwork)

 

Innovative/Notable Webcomics (I): Memory Lane

THE BLOODY FOOTPRINT by Lilli Carré

In The Bloody Footprint (link) published by The New York Times on February 5, 2015, American multidisciplinary artist, illustrator and cartoonist Lilli Carré explores a personal memory yet later reclaimed by one of her childhood friends. Who experienced the event and who made its recollection her own? An intimate and effective take on the blurred contours of memory through a clever blend of prose, comics and GIF animation.


MIRROR by Chris Ware & John Kuramoto

More animated film than webcomics (yet using comics features), Mirror (link) is the result of a collaboration between The New Yorker and the radio program This American Life.  Through a cover for The New Yorker and its expansion as a short animated feature, extraordinary American cartoonist Chris Ware – with the assistance of John Kuramoto -revisits a radio interview (and an interesting reflection) of writer Hanna Rosin and her daugther about parenting, makeup and teenage self-awareness. Published by The New Yorker on November 30, 2015.


ME AND THE UNIVERSE by Anders Nilsen

In Me and the Universe (link), American cartoonist Anders Nilsen cleverly combines diagrammatic storytelling and the infinite canvas feature to explore his place in the Universe, from ancestral past to more-or-less present and distant future. Published by the New York Times on September 24, 2014.


WHY I LOVE COMICS by Chris Ware

Echoing Anders Nilsen‘s Me and the Universe, Chris Ware‘s Why I Love Comics (link) also depicts an artist’s lifetime on Earth. Playing with iconic solidarity and text spatialisation, the first word of each rounded panel spells out an acrostic hidden message. Published by The New York Times on October 16, 2015. Note also the epigraph:

“Cartooning is the art of turning time back into space.” Art Spiegelman.  

“Big Tex” by Chris Ware, USA, 1996

Big Tex (one-pager) by Chris Ware (USA) in: Acme Novelty Library Vol VII, #7, Book of Jokes, Fantagraphics Books, Summer 1996.

Copyright ©1996 Chris Ware/Fantagraphics Books

“Like how does something happen, and … how does it reverberate through time? And that act of memory is important, and comics are great for memory. Like even when you have a short comic, like a three-panel comic, you’ve got a past, a present and a future as soon as you look at those three boxes. And that allows you to reflect and compare times.” Art Spiegelman, NPR interview, 2011

Big-Tex
PAGE 1/1