Comic Explorations Presentation

I had a great day yesterday at Sheffield University’s Literacies conference, which is always a brilliant event full of fascinating and generous people. Looking forward to the second day today. Here are (most of) the slides from my presentation…



Comic Explorations: Representing data and visualising complexity in multi-sited, multimodal research


In this presentation I relate a number of ways in which comic strips were used as methodological tools during an ethnographic study of a children’s after-school Minecraft club. This longitudinal research project sought to examine the ‘lived experience’ of a group of participants engaged in collaborative videogame play using this popular world-building game; this included a focus on how players’ identities were explored and expressed in a complex space that enabled multimodal and multi-sited interactions. As the children played and worked collaboratively to construct a ‘virtual community’, a range of visual and participatory methods were used to generate data; this included participants’ use of a GoPro action camera, discussion sessions where players talked whilst constructing virtual ‘identity models’, screencasts of gameplay on multiple screens and photographs of the action in the room. Faced with the dilemma of how to represent this complex data in a way that felt ‘true’ to the original context, comic strips were employed as a medium that enabled multimodal transcription; using a combination of data from the multiple on- and off-screen sources, theses constructed narratives allowed me to take account of the children’s actions as well as their spoken interactions.

Drawing on the rich data generated during this project, I show how these comic strip transcriptions were constructed and how they contributed to an emerging process of data analysis. In addition, building on recent work around the affordances of visual methodologies in literacies research, I explain how I also used illustrated comic strips as a means of developing thought and illuminating ideas. I will demonstrate how these different types of comic strip were included in the final account of the project, helping the reader to visualise the data, whilst also revealing the process of analysis that led to the project’s findings.  As well as considering how this methodological approach helped to explore and represent the identities of participants, I also show how this process of experimentation with emergent visual research methodologies helped to expand my own thinking, therefore reflecting on how this approach impacted on my own identity as a researcher.

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Graphic Scholarship Symposium


Graphic Scholarship Sympos

Excited to be presenting here later in the year.

‘This is not a door’: thoughts on directions in representation

Collecting a few quick thoughts, ideas and references, starting with a ‘sign’ above a ‘door’…

this is not a door 3

During a Minecraft ‘virtual models’ discussion session, I noticed that a player had placed a sign above a door. It read ‘this is not a door‘. Asking why he had placed this particular sign here the player, <Castaway112>, simply insisted, ‘because it’s not a door’. Another player, <yoloface23jr>, repeated this assertion and, after my own comment that ‘so, everything is not always as it seems in Minecraft…’, we moved on elsewhere in the game and in our discussion. I wish I had pursued the issue further, but I didn’t.

Here, months later, returning to this screenshot of door (the ‘not-a-door’ door) provides me a ‘way in’ to thinking about representation. Recalling this sign now I am reminded of this image by Rene Magritte called ‘The Treachery of Images’.


Of course (of course?) it’s not a pipe – it’s a picture of a pipe; a representation. Similarly, <Castaway112>’s door ‘n’est pas une porte‘; a number of other possible (imagined) responses could be…

“It’s not a door, it’s a picture of a door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a Minecraft door.”

“It’s not a door, it’s pixels on a screen.”

“It’s not a door, it’s a sign.”

“It’s not a door, it’s some writing about a ‘not-a-door.”

Each of these possible answers return to the idea of representation, albeit from different directions (I’m resisting saying ‘layers’ as layers don’t feel very rhizomic). Throughout this project I have considered issues of representation;  how I am representing the lived experience of others, how different  ways of collecting and representing data have implications and, specifically, how comic strip transcription can represent a scene differently to a textual transcript.

horse funeral comicDeleuze and Guattari’s (1980) rhizome as an ‘image of thought’ has underpinned my thinking, itself a representation of a way of thinking about stuff (and one which includes itself). This has led me to, increasingly, exploring and representing my own thinking visually. For instance, in the following panel from a longer comic strip I use text and images to explain the idea of approaching the club’s soundscape as a rhizome, as an alternative to pursuing a more linear, chronological reading (or ‘listening’). Nick Sousanis’ ‘Unflattening’ (2015), which challenges ‘the primacy of words over images’, helped me to consider using images to explore metaphors of thought.

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Also in relation to the the soundscape of the club and considering the challenges of representing (and, in particular, visualising) sound, I have producing a number of visual representations (or non-cartographic, composite maps) of the club’s sound, drawing on John Cage’s (1969) anthology of unconventional music manuscripts.

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Here I was also recently inspired by Jon Dean’s recent presentation which included his representation of a particular soundscape, performed simultaneously verbally and through composite sound. I must also credit Diane A Rodger’s recent talk on underground comic strips as part of #focussheffield – in particular her drawing of ‘Rivelin Valley’ in Sheffield helped me to consider how a drawn composite image of a place can effectively represent a location in a particular way.

So, what is this door that’s not a door? It’s likely that I will never fully know what it represented for the player. But for me? I suggested at the beginning of this post that it was a way in: an introduction. But equally it could provide a way out: a conclusion. Whatever it is, for me, at this point, it definitely represents the challenge of representation.

This is not a door


Cage, J.  (1969) ‘Notations’ Something Else Press, New York.

Dean, J. (2015) “Submitting Love?” A Sensory Sociology of Southbourne. Qualitative Inquiry. 1-7.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia

Magritte, . R (1929) ‘The Treachery of Images’:

Rogers, D. A,  Blog here:

Sousanis, N. (1995) ‘Unflattening’. Harvard University Press, London.

Comic Explorations: Comic strips in qualitative research

This short post was written for the blog for the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University, following my recent presentation there. 

During my recent LRDG talk I shared data from my ethnography of an after-school Minecraft Club in comic strip form. Here I will briefly elaborate on how comic strips came to form an integral part of this project. My adoption of the comic form was not a case of me bringing an existing skill to my project; rather it arose as a need that emerged from the project itself. I use comic strips in two main ways: as a form of transcription, and as a means of exploring theory.

Comic Strips as Transcription

My first use of comic strips followed the funeral of a virtual horse. During their Minecraft play, children role-played a funeral for a horse that had ‘drowned’. This was captured using video (in the room) and a screencast of my screen (in the game). When I attempted to produce a multimodal transcription of this episode, using text alone, I felt that my written output did not represent the nature of the events I had observed; it felt like a reduction of what I had seen. As I gradually added visuals to my written account I realised that I was creating a form of comic strip. Rethinking my approach to transcription led me to produce around 25 more such comic strips, based on episodes from the club, identified by me and the participants.

horse funeral comic

Comic strip transcripts have been used by others (Plowman and Stephen, 2008). My particular take on these combine visual data relating to the on- and off-screen action seen in the club, alongside the children’s speech and additional scene-setting comments. The ‘Horse Funeral’ comic uses mainly on-screen visuals, whereas some of the other comics draw more heavily on action in the room; an additional example of this technique can be found in Bailey (2015).

Comic Strips as Methodology

My use of comic strips spread beyond transcription to the development of my methodology. The pages below begin a longer exploration of Deleuze and Guattari’s (1980) image of thought, ‘the rhizome’, using my own staged screenshots from the game itself. The rhizome was fundamental to my methodological approach, which I called ‘Rhizomic Ethnography’.


Where Minecraft screenshots felt insufficient, I turned, nervously, to pen and paper. Drawing did not come naturally, however the process helped me both to exemplify and expand my thinking. This chimes with Sousanis’ (2015) assertion that such techniques can lead to an ‘unflattening’ of ideas. The act of drawing pushed me well beyond my own comfort zone, also giving me an unexpected emotional attachment to the ideas I was seeking to explore.



These comic strips were produced with the help of the application Comic Life:

Bailey, C.(2015) ‘Free the Sheep’. Literacy, Early View[online]:

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F.(1980) A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Plowman, L. and Stephen, C.(2008) ‘The Big Picture? Video and the representation of interaction’. British Educational Research Journal, 34 (4)541 – 565.

Sousanis, N.(2015) ‘Unflattening’. Cambridge. Harvard University Press.


‘Free the Sheep’ article


My Literacy article about children singing around their Minecraft play is now online in the journal’s early view section:

Comic Strips as Data Representation

Really great to present at Sheffield University as part of the CSCY / Focus Sheffield Visual Methods series today.

Here’s the Storify link, courtesy of @dylanyamadarice:  Comic Strips and Virtual Models


And here’s some of what I presented today:



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