4th Animation Postgraduate Research Group / Graphic Novels Research Students Symposium

Illustration by Pen Mendonca

[Image by Penelope Mendonça, 2013]

The Animation Postgraduate Research Group was set up in 2011 by Dr Paul Ward of the Arts University College at Bournemouth as a safe and supportive network in which MPhil/PhD students can exchange ideas and disseminate their research. To join the group and receive further information about this and future events, contact <pward@aucb.ac.uk>.

The 4th APGR Symposium was held at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts London on Saturday 23rd March and was extended to include researchers from the field of comics for the first time. The symposium featured a range of international speakers from the disciplines of animation and graphic novels who spoke from diverse practice-based and theoretical perspectives at the cutting edge of their subjects. Although graphic novels are without sound and movement and animation lacks a tactile, sensual interaction with paper and page turning, during the discussions that ensued many similarities between the two subject areas emerged:

  • a concern with humour, visual storytelling and the representation of character;
  • both disciplines have strong and inclusive communities of practice and scholarship;
  • there is a shared sense of work which externalises personal, interior thoughts and quirky ways of looking at the world.

Here is a list of the speakers and panel sessions with abstracts and speaker details:

International Communities of Practice (chaired by Professor Joan Ashworth, Royal College of Art):

Chanya Hetayothin, “Thai Shadow Play, ‘Nang Talung’: An Alternative Direction for Animation”


This presentation will examine ‘Nang Talung’, the shadow puppetry of the southern region in Thailand, as a creative source for my animation. I shall present the working process of the animated film. This investigates how I have modified the puppets, their movements and how I have integrated this traditional puppet performance into the contemporary animation.


Chanya Hetayothin spent almost 10 years in the Thai animation industry working as art director and animator. She is currently a PhD student at CCW (Camberwell, Chelsea, Wimbledon College of Art), University of the Arts London,  (Year 3). Her PhD research started from an observation on how commercial models such as Disney and Anime affected Thai animation. Looking back to her own roots, she adopts Thai shadow puppetry as a raw material for her animation. Her research investigates how to integrate this traditional shadow play into contemporary animation.

Eliska Decka, “I am an animator…so now what?”


In this paper, I would like to present a first part of my current Ph.D. research which consists of the analysis of the career possibilities of young animators willing to make an independent authorship animation after finishing their perspective university studies. (The 3 year research is planning to focus on the budding New York independent animation scene in particular and on the possible translation of some of its good practice to the stagnant contemporary Czech animation.)

During this first phase of my research, presented in this paper, I have mapped the situation of the educational systems in American and European animation field. I used the methodology of oral history and led a number of in-depth semi-structured interviews with pedagogues, students, recent graduates and animation producers to find the key problems and challenges in the important transformation period from an academic safety net into a tough life of an animation professional. Apart from the interviews, I have worked with the texts used in the animation classes and with the student films as well. I also use my longtime experience as a festival dramaturgist and newly as a teacher. At the end of the paper, I would like to present some conclusions and possible recommendations that I have reached so far and discuss them with the audience.


Eliska Decka is a first year Ph.D. student of Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague. With her academic past including MA from a Film Studies Department (with a thesis “Autobiographical Elements in Films of Czech Female Animators”), Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague and MA from a Law Faculty, Charles University in Prague as well, she focuses her research and publication activities on the connection between animation theory and practice with especial interest in gender issues and social influence of animation and vice versa.  She has been member of the Society of Animation Studies since 2009 and presented her papers at SAS conferences in Atlanta, Edinburgh and Athens. She teaches at Jan Amos Komensky University in Prague, publishes in various Czech and international cultural journals and compendiums and collaborates as a dramaturgist with a Czech Festival of Film Animation Olomouc.

Timothy Jones “Inscribing Common Ground: Social Learning in the Indian Animation Trade Press”


Recent studies of labor in the creative industries have made great progress revealing how film and television practitioners conceive identities, form social networks and generate production culture. However largely absent from the debate is the role played by a different kind of creative worker – trade press writers. This paper analyzes the unique contribution of a nascent trade press to institutional learning and community cohesion in the formation of an Indian animation industry.

Via semi-structured interviews with editors, columnists, bloggers and web-portal administrators, I explore the perspectives of writers about animation on skills development, organizational culture and identity. Applying a Communities of Practice approach, my research reveals how they manage knowledge crucial to sustaining national animation practitioner networks, despite substantial spatial and interactional limitations. Describing themselves not only as cheerleaders and aggregators but as ‘connectors’ and ‘ecosystem catalysts,’ their writing provides a conduit for social learning by which newcomers enter production communities, acquire subject awareness, shared tastes and norms. Likewise they offer a forum for experienced practitioners to debate positions and influence common agendas; these writers do not merely provide commentary on industry from the outside but are located within the very structures they cover. They identify as members of an animation community and are recognized as such by others, blurring established creative and critical roles and boundaries. Though they are not necessarily animators themselves, their identities are complex, and the creative contributions they make demonstrate the need to privilege a range of critical activities in assessment of animation production culture.


I am a 3rd year PhD candidate at the University of East Anglia, School of Film, Television and Media Studies. My current research concerns social learning in the creative industries, specifically animation education and the development of production culture in Indian animation practice. This paper is drawn from one of four chapters in my work-progress dissertation directly concerned with structures for animation learning and identity formation, falling between analysis of animation schools, commercial design institutes and professional associations. Existing in a contested space between media industry and animation studies, I believe my project directly addresses unresolved current challenges in both fields. Having participated in the last several PGR events, I am eager to explore these concerns with my fellow emerging animation scholars. I completed an MA in Critical Studies from the University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts. I am active in ASIFA and the Society for Animation Studies and a managing editor for the latter’s journal Animation Studies.

Gender and drawn narrative (chaired by Dr Birgitta Hosea, Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts London):

Julia Greither, “Make the boys read! – Graphic novels as an enhancer of reading motivation”


During the last centuries, changing developments in the media were a constant. However, the ability to read, understand and reflect texts remain part of the most important skills in the modern and even the post-modern society. In the latest PISA- study of the OECD (PISA 2009a: 18ff.) reading literacy was the evaluated major-competence. The importance of reading literacy is evident, but the motivation to read declined under the OECD-level in the UK as well as in Germany. Especially boys do not read for entertainment in their spare time, and in all OECD participant states girls exhibit better reading skills than boys. In the last years reading promotion of boys is a main task in the literature classes, but the research has not found an efficient way to enter the findings of the theoretical reading research in the practicable method for education at school. The thesis of this lecture is that Graphic novels (as one of the favorite reading interests of boys) are able to be the foundation of a motivating literature class. The PISA-studies shows that boys significantly read more comics than girls and that reading comics in spare time is associated with being an inferior reader (PISA 2009b: 35f.). Linking these two facts – the interest in comics on the one hand and the need of reading promotion on the other hand – one may recognize the importance of graphic novels in the field of reading promotion for boys. The relevance of this thesis is increased by german studies, which demonstrate the deviation between the reading interests of pupils and the lecture-choice of teachers: The pupil.s favorite literature genres like fantasy or detective stories were rarely read at school. Teachers more often choose texts with a realistic and educational content, although this type of texts is one of the most unpopular ones for pupils. The genre of a text is often connected with its the length and this marks a further barrier for inferior readers, especially if the teacher chooses a book with more than 200 pages. The consequence is clear – the motivation to read is killed softly, sometimes already in the first years at elementary school (Richter/Plath 2005: 44f.). But the maximum of disaffection is reached in the grammar school in the age 14- 17 years only a quarter of the boys are pleased or very pleased with the literature class books. (Bischof/ Heidtman 2002: 30f.) Graphic novels offer the opportunity to use the interest of the pupils as a starting point to show them literature structures in combination with the visualization in the panels. The engagement of lettering and picture opens also less talented readers the possibility to understand texts and get an emotional connection to them. The synopsis of this lecture is the systematization of theopportunities of graphic novels with the three-step-conception by Christine Garbe (Garbe 2012:296ff.).


Julia Greither studied German Language/Literature and theology at the Martin-Luther-University of Halle-Wittenberg and then passed the traineeship as a teacher  at the Latina A. H. Francke in Halle/Saale. She is currently a PhD student at the Institute of German Language and Literature, Departement of Didactics of German Language and Literature, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg

Penelope Mendonça, “Mothers Storying the Absent Father: A Graphic Novel “


This paper will explore the way pregnant women/ first-time mothers of young children represent absent biological fathers through their stories of conception, pregnancy and early parenting. Bringing together my practice (drawing and graphic storytelling) and background in public engagement using graphic facilitation, story telling and accessible information, this process will seek to contribute new insights, approaches and original outputs. Engagement with women often on the fringes of research about motherhood will help inform a fictional, entertaining graphic novel which supports greater understanding of contemporary family life, alongside a written thesis analysing the theory, research findings and creative choices behind the novel. Given the early stage of the project this paper will provide an introduction to my research interests, practice and proposed methodology.

Where the biological father has been absent since before birth (for reasons other than employment) women may feel a need to rationalise, defend or invent their choices and/or circumstances, whether they were planned and/or full of uncertainties. What do the narratives of these women tell us about motherhood, the performance of gender identities and family life today? What does this reveal about social context and culture? How can a methodology including graphic facilitation, experimental drawing and the language of comics contribute to our understanding, and challenge stereotypical, over-optimistic or romantic representations of pregnancy and early parenting? And given the subjectivity of memory and autobiography, and the way stories can emerge from a slip of the tongue, an image, a Facebook post, or a silence, what opportunities does the graphic novel form, with it’s ‘pictures, words, and the space between them’ (Wolk, 2007), present when exploring the ways in which women construct, adapt, or attempt to control absent biological father representation?


Penelope Mendonça is an independent graphic facilitator and artist with twelve years experience of engagement and development work within the private, public and third sectors. Using process design, meeting facilitation techniques, graphic recording and illustration, Pen supports a diverse range of organisations, businesses, communities, adults and children to listen, reflect, find creative solutions and agree a vision or plan. As part of her approach Pen visually captures key issues on large wall charts in real time for meetings and conferences. Pen is known for her ability to represent diversity, and issues that may be considered sensitive or controversial.

Pen has a BA (Hons) in Fine Art from Chelsea, University of the Arts (London), an Msc in Citizenship Studies from Birkbeck, University of London and is currently undertaking a PhD at Central Saint Martins (UAL). Born in New Zealand, Pen has a Diploma in Parks and Recreation Management (Lincoln University, NZ), has worked in India, the Middle East and the UK. Pen trained in graphic facilitation techniques with Grove Consultants International in 2000. Since then she has developed a significant body of highly original work tailoring her practice to meet the needs of each unique project. Her artwork, writing, storytelling and animation have been used widely in publications and websites on care, personalisation, disability and age. Prior to setting up her own business Pen worked as a National Officer for a large disability charity. She has a background in mental health, learning disability and older people’s services, she has provided direct support to people as well as managed care services, and even cleaned some of them.

Sequential narrative analysis (chaired by Dr Roger Sabin, Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts London):

John Miers, “Score and Script: a practice-based investigation into the relationship between visual form and narrative content in comics”


Taking as its starting point Nelson Goodman’s discussion of ways of identifying and notating works of art, the Score and Script project aims to provide insights into the interdependent and mutually informing nature of visual form and narrative content in the cartoonist’s creative process. I began the project by creating a single-page comic, and then providing two groups of fifteen cartoonists with templates derived from that page. One group created single-page comics from a sparse written account of the events I had depicted, from which all visual description was removed, while the other used as their starting point a diagram that specified the location and dimensions of significant visual forms but provided no narrative information. The project is still ongoing, but twenty-three completed pages were exhibited in November 2012 at the Centre for Recent Drawing.

This paper will present the results gathered thus far and reflect critically on the theoretical basis of the project. Initial interpretive frameworks applied to the pages produced, based primarily on George Lakoff’s work on categorisation and conceptual metaphor, will be outlined, and some possible conclusions presented. I will also briefly discuss ways in which this interpretive process has continued to guide my individual practice, both through suggesting subsequent artistic research projects and informing comics produced outwith the context of formal research.


John Miers is a PhD student at Central Saint Martins. His practice is motivated by an interest in the unique visual languages of comics and graphic novels, and their ability to communicate complex subjects to diverse audiences. His work can currently be seen in the billboard-sized comic “Foyles: A Graphic History” on Charing Cross Road. Recent and forthcoming publications include Studies in Comics, Solipsistic Pop 5, and the Newcastle Science Comic.

Tony Venezia and Nina Mickwitz, “Bringing It All Back Home: Mediating the Iraq War in US Comics”


This paper consists of two connected parts. It opens by tracking a range of responses to the Iraq war in US comics, before more closely examining Brian Wood’s DMZ (DC/Vertigo, 2006-2012), a comics series emblematic of certain trends in recent mainstream American comics.  The DMZ incorporates the processes of mass mediatisation of conflict within its formal texture, and at the same time adopts tropes of post-apocalyptic and dystopian sub-genres to narratively engage with anxieties concerning the Iraq war.


Tony Venezia has recently completed his PhD at Birkbeck College, writing on Alan Moore and the question of History. He is a founding member of Comics Grid, co-organises The Contemporary Fiction Seminar and the Transitions Symposium in Comics at Birkbeck, coming up to its 4th year. Tony guest edited the latest issue of the Intellect journal Studies in Comics; From Akira to Žižek: Comics and contemporary cultural theory.

Nina Mickwitz is a PhD candidate and associate tutor at the School of Film, Television and Media at UEA, writing a thesis on comics and documentary. She is also involved with the organisation of the Transitions Symposium.

This event was supported by MA Character Animation, part of the Centre for Performance at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, University of the Arts London: http://www.csm.arts.ac.uk/ma-character-animation.

[POSTSCRIPT: The next Comica Independent Comic Fair will be taking place at Central Saint Martins on April 20th 2013. Click here for more information.]




Dialogues on Performance II: Drawing Performance – Performance Drawing

2-4pm, Weds 20th March, Central Saint Martins, London

As part of the ‘Making Knowledge’ exhibition at Central Saint Martins, which presents practice-based research by staff, the second ‘Dialogues on Performance’ event is on the theme of performance drawing. Five speakers from a range of disciplines will discuss very different types of work that they have created which explore varied connections between drawing and performance. Steve Roberts, a traditional animator who specialises in animating in pencil, will talk about how his animation work is informed by acting techniques. Artist, Robert Luzar, will present conceptual work in which the body in motion imprints and enacts erasure. Rebecca Ross will show work that she does with students to program robots that make drawings in motion. Jenny Hayton and Graham West will show installation work in which architectural drawings are rendered through embroidery inspired by techniques from costume design. Maryclare Foa will present performance drawings created through sound.

For more information and to book a free place, go to: http://cfpresearchdop2.eventbrite.co.uk.