21st Century Winter Journey: Exploring Comics, Adaptation and Community Art Education

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This visual essay book chapter describes a collaborative comics-based research (CBR) project between a homeless charity and a cohort of 2nd-year university students. The 21st Century Winter Journey project explores the status of community art education (CAE) in Middlesbrough UK, and the ways learning and making comics impacts communities locally and internationally.

The project challenged Year Two students at Teesside University to make comics, do research beyond the classroom boundaries, and explore the surrounding local community. We partnered with staff and homeless members of Streetwise Opera (SWO) who were staging a performance of Schubert’s opera Winterreise. SWO provides resources and community support to people affected by homelessness across the UK. Our task as a class was to collaboratively develop the opera into a narrative with SWO and adapt the libretto into a graphic novel.

I randomly divided the class of twenty students into five groups of four, with each group responsible for adapting five songs into comics. Traditional comics-making methods informed the foundation of the project’s artistic practice:

• Rough sketches and thumbnails based on research
• Cleaner pencil drawings and lettering
• Rendering inks and colours
• Final, camera-ready artwork.

Following each iteration, SWO and I (as tutor) gave students feedback and revisions.

Analysis of the project widens conversations in CAE through Research Informed Teaching (RIT), Just-In-Time Teaching (JITT) and Paolo Freire’s “conscientizaçāo” (awareness). RITT, JITT, and awareness triangulate and locate learning in a community’s relational and public spaces. In applying these theories with cartooning practices, a powerful pedagogical tool emerges. When students become researchers and make comics they negotiate their understandings of community, their identities, and their futures. These observations are evidenced in the reflections students wrote as well as in the finished comics they submitted at the conclusion of the project. RIT, JITT, awareness, and cartooning guide the flow of artistic practice through shared group experiences within community spaces.

I have been teaching comics for eighteen years to students of all ages around the world and I suggest that forms of comics such as comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels are recognized internationally. Creative practices of making comics and cartooning are transferrable to schools, community centres, universities, and care homes everywhere. As such, the medium of comics functions as a transversal language and participatory culture that links people and communities together.

Tragically, the global pandemic hit as we were developing the comic, and all teaching migrated online. Thus, the value of the life-world community and the sharing of space became even more precious. By making comics with a charity locally, students develop an awareness of their community and the relational spaces they share with others. However, with increased pressure to self-isolate, socially distance, and learn online in what ways will CAE negotiate a virtual relationality?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022
EventMedia Communication & Cultural Studies Association 2021: Provoking Practice: new forms of reach, impact and significance - Southampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Jun 202125 Jun 2021


ConferenceMedia Communication & Cultural Studies Association 2021
Abbreviated titleMeCSSA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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