Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Asteroid Belter and Applied Comics Etc

Comics are awesome.  Comics are also a powerful tool to engage audiences of all ages with factual information.  This is a blog post wrapping up all things Asteroid Belter and introducing Applied Comics Etc to show where we’re going next. 

Our beloved Asteroid Belter is just over a year old.  Here are some facts:

  • We launched Asteroid Belter as part of the British Science Festival 2013 hosted by Newcastle University.  This included 10,000 printed copies of a 44-page full-colour newsprint comic (now available to read in full for free online), two exhibitions, a day of workshops, and a school activity pack (free PDF download)
  • As editors we've given 3 conference presentations (Graphic Medicine at John's Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Comics Forum in Leeds, and Engage 2013 in Bristol), two other talks (Laydeez Do Comics and Sparks North East), and written one article (Comics Forum).  Full links: http://newcastlesciencecomic.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/tell-me-about-it.html
  • Presenting at Graphic Medicine led to receiving this proper awesome email from Eisner Award-winning comics creator Brian Fies: "Asteroid Belter is the best! I’ve never seen anything like it and am happy to know it exists. The breadth of topics covered is astonishing, from poop to quantum physics. It seems to me that everyone who reads it will pick out different comics they like and others they’re not interested in, and those choices will be different for everyone … I also like the tabloid format and pulp paper; they keep it from being too precious. Asteroid Belter is meant to be read, scribbled on, torn up to make science projects out of! Very nice."
  • Google's Blogger stats say our project blog (including the online Asteroid Belter) has been viewed over 18,000 times.  We're particularly popular in the US, UK, Ukraine, and Germany.  The plan is to keep the Newcastle Science Comic blog largely as it stands, as an archive of the project.  Our blog posts have started to move on to new projects, which brings us to The Future.

More projects are happening.  This means that MORE COMICS are being made and MORE FUN is being had.  

Our business identity for this is Applied Comics Etc.  You're very welcome to have a look around the new website http://www.appliedcomicsetc.com/.  All this is still led by Lydia Wysocki and we’ll still use our Newcastle Science Comic branding when appropriate.  

Applied Comics Etc does collaborative projects that integrate comics and factual information, particularly comics + research/education/engagement collaborations.  This is very much the same approach we took with the Newcastle Science Comic project: we’re now looking at projects in all subject areas not only science, and all geographic areas.  We’re ‘applied' in the sense of applied arts, applied mathematics, or anything else with an express practical purpose; we also have comics scholarship and educational practice, theory, and research in the mix.  We're 'comics etc' because whilst comics are central to what we do, not everything we do will result in the creation of sequential words and pictures.  Comics is an excitingly broad and experimental medium, and 'comics etc' shows it can go further still. 

Snapshots of our past projects - including Asteroid Belter - are on our website.  We’re currently working with Newcastle City Libraries as a follow up to the Comics Chaos summer partnership between Newcastle, Gateshead, and Stockton libraries.  We’ve also run workshops that use comics - both finished comics, and some of the mechanics of how comics work – to develop communication skills.  We’ll announce new projects when the ink’s dry on the project briefs.

We aim to use local, national, and international networks of comics creators to bring together the right artist, writer, and editor for each project.  This offers the flexibility to find a voice and art style that works for what each project wants to communicate: the only ‘house style’ is awesome comics.  Some projects will be by invitation and some will be open to new collaborators.  Our past collaborators have been fantastic, and we know that there is interest from equally fantastic people we haven’t yet met. 

This has been a long time coming.  The first meeting for what became Asteroid Belter was in January 2012, with the comic launching in September 2013.  Since then we’ve been running projects and workshops as pilots, presenting about our work, and wrangling Applied Comics Etc into its current form.  We’re grateful to everyone who has been part of this process. 

The ‘we’ of this blog post is important in showing that Applied Comics Etc projects are inherently collaborative projects.  Stepping aside from that for a moment, I (Lydia) would like to thank all Asteroid Belter collaborators (click here for a list of all 76) and editors: Paul Thompson, Brittany Coxon, Mike Thompson, Jack Fallows, and Mike Duckett.  It’s been fun so far, and I’m excited about what comes next.


Lydia Wysocki is an educator, artist, editor, and publisher.  She was Editor in Chief of Asteroid Belter:The Newcastle Science Comic and is the founder of Applied Comics Etc.  All that wouldn’t fit on her business card, so it says Comics Boss.

Lydia has extensive experience of teaching, development, and public engagement in Higher Education in the UK, US, and China.  She has also worked in social and market research, as a retail buyer, and as the voice of English language textbooks.  Lydia’s Master’s degree is in Education and she is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

For more about Lydia’s artistic practice in comics, drawing, and printmaking, visit her website.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Tell me about it

A wee* round up of us talking about comics (or if you prefer, us disseminating the work done by our editors and collaborators on Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic).

Comics Forum
Open access to comics scholarship?  Part of Thought Bubble?  Yeah, we like that. Our editors Lydia Wysocki and Mike Thompson's paper EPIC THEMES IN AWESOME WAYS: How we made Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic, and why it matters is now up on the Comics Forum blog.
Graphic Medicine
Healthcare professionals, academics, comics creators, and other folks?  With a conference at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland?  Yeah, we like that too.
Our editor in chief Lydia gave a presentation on Epic themes in awesome ways, or the wee and guinea pigs in Asteroid Belter: The Newcastle Science Comic, looking at the wee (urinary tract infections) and guinea pig (cancer drug trials) pages as case studies.  This focussed on how our collaborators made these comics, and what making these comics meant to our collaborators.

National Coordinating Centre for Public 
The Engage 2013 conference for people involved university public engagement?  In Bristol?  Yeah, we'll go for a bit of that.  Our editors Mike and Lydia led a workshop about using comics in public engagement.
Sparks Science Collider 
Giving coders, artists, and artist-coders (coder-artists) a chance to play with scientific data?  In Newcastle?  Aye, go on then.  Our editor in chief Lydia gave a presentation on comics-science collaboration, and led a workshop using comics to set up creative collaborations.
Comics conventions
We had stalls at Thought Bubble comics and sequential art festival in Leeds, Comica Comiket in London, and Canny Comic Con events in Newcastle.  We gave free copies of Asteroid Belter to comics fans and creators, met some of our awesome collaborators (some new friends, some old friends), and talked with people about our project.  

Our editor Lydia and our friend Ernesto Priego co-authored a letter in response to Matthew Reisz's piece The hero in all of is (Times Higher Education, 24th July 2014), and shared it on The Comics Grid academic blog.  Ermesto and Lydia clarified the difference between on the one hand academics and academic researchers as characters in comics, and on the other hand combining academic research with comics.  They also highlighted some key comics, events, and academic journals in this field. 

And finally
We haven't listed all the conversations, presentations at Newcastle University events, emails, meetings, 'can I just ask you a quick question' chats.  These all mean just as much to us as the conference presentations and academic paper.  We're still knocked-out delighted every time people tell us they've read Asteroid Belter, and are proper chuffed that it's still being read and shared online (click on the top right of our homepage).  If you haven't already read it, this corking review from Richard Bruton on Forbidden Planet International tells you what you're missing out on.

We might even have enjoyed talking about Asteroid Belter.  If you ask nicely we might even talk to you about it: at an event, over a cuppa, by email... we're versatile.

We're setting up new comics + research projects and will tell you about them just as soon as we can. Hopefully these links will keep you busy until then.

*haha very funny

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Well now that was informative.

Here’s a quick roundup after our infographics workshop at Newcastle City Library as part of the Comics Chaos festival on Saturday 9th August 2014.

We used examples from digital and print media to identify exactly what what makes good, bad, and misleading infographics.  Our infographicers were great at spotting what it is that makes an infographic a infographic. 

Then we focussed on what comics can teach us about combining words and pictures.  Yes, panel grids are part of this, and there’s a heck of a lot more besides. 

By the time it came to making their own infographics our infographicers (if I keep writing it it’ll become a real word, right?) were rather too good at, umm, not exactly telling lies with information, but certainly being selective about what they chose to emphasise.

Thanks go to our anonymous evaluation form filler-inners for the positive and encouraging feedback.  This is a workshop we can adjust to fit different groups’ needs*, so your comments will help with the fine tuning. 

Thanks also go to our friends at Newcastle City Library for coordinating the Comics Chaos Festival.  There are other comics events for children and for adults throughout August – pick up a festival guide at the library for more information.

Thanks also also go to our friends at CCCCCCC (The Canny Comic Con Comic Chaos Creative Collaboration).  @CannyComicCon’s twitter feed has a rundown of cracking ideas for comics to read, as a good and true record of the Best Comic You’ve Never Read debate. 

*aye, that’s an advert.  You’re welcome to get in touch to to discuss the comics + science (or comics + scientists) workshops we could run for you.  We have many, we do bespoke workshops, and we'll have a web page all about them soon.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sparks Science Collider

Sparks North East are running a Science Collider, you say?  Heck yes we're interested!

We'll be running a workshop for scientists, researchers, physical/digital makers, artists, and anyone else who takes part in the Science Collider.  This aims to get collaborations off to a sparky start: collaborators will come in not knowing what data they'll be playing with or who they'll be collaborating with, so we'll focus on how comics can help them get started and keep things on track.

Contact Sparks North East for FREE event tickets.  This is an 18+ event.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Infographics workshop + Comic Chaos

Well now here's some excitement.

Newcastle Science Comic have again teamed up with Newcastle Libraries as part of Comics Chaos, a programme of awesome summer activities linked to the British Library's Comics Unmasked exhibition.

Join us on Saturday 9th August from 11am-12.30pm at Newcastle City Library for a FREE hands-on workshop on infographics.

Newspapers, websites, and documentaries love using graphs, symbols, and pictures to present information.  Do these infographics help us understand complicated information?*  Are they a way of playing tricks with numbers?**  Is anything that combines numbers, words, and pictures an infographic?***

We will:

  • understand what makes good, bad, and misleading infographics
  • see what comics can teach us about combining words and pictures
  • make infographics, choosing to use our skills for good or for evil.
This workshop is suggested for ages 14 to adult.  You don't have to be good at maths or art.  You do need to ask questions about information that is presented to you, and think about what information you want to present to other people.  

The workshop is FREE but places are limited - you can book your free ticket online: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/canny-comic-con-comic-chaos-creative-collaboration-use-comics-workshop-tickets-12331699445

Get in touch if you have any questions about this workshop: newcastlesciencecomic [at] gmail [dot] com

*sometimes **often ***no

And that's not all!  The Canny Comic Con Comic Chaos Creative Collaboration will be running FREE drop-in activities all day for all ages, ending with a debate to finally answer the question 'What's the best comic that you probably haven't read?'  Head over to their website for the latest news on all things CCCCCCC.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Widcombe Junior School Comics Week

Year 5 students from Widcombe Junior School in Bath took part in a comics week with Hannah Sackett of Archaeological Oddities last month. With expert guidance from Hannah and the wonderful teachers Rebecca Cartwright and Jo Everritt they created some fantastic comics inspired by Asteroid Belter.

Year 5 have been working on the topic of space, so they took the Supernova Splashdown comics (by Paul Duffield) as a model and wrote their own comics on the same theme. As previous topic work they had all invented their own planet - describing plants and animals, geology, atmosphere, etc, so their brief was to have their spaceships land/crashland on these planets.

Click on the pictures to see larger versions.