Yesterday I read this article in the Times Higher Education, where Phil Richards, director of IT at Loughborough University, is cited saying that "researchers don't like sharing their resources. People who do top-level research are competitive and they don't naturally share. They will collaborate only if they absolutely have to."
Because I've been working a lot with other scholars in a joint (not-for-profit, non-funded) academic project, I thought talking about it here would be a good way of replying to this assertion. It might be true in some cases, but it is certainly not the case for all of us. As Claire Warwick put it in her Day of Digital Humanities 2011 post, "What makes DH work is the ability to create connections and for people to collaborate and create new knowledge from synergy."
So more than an exercise of shamelsess self-promotion, this post wants to give an initial explanation of what some of us have been up to, in an attempt to prove that though it is difficult and it remains largely unrecognised, collective, collaborative, open, free scholarly work is being done, often against the grain and the clock.
It's been more than a year since I first thought of a project that could go by the name "The Comics Grid" after conversations first with fellow comic scholar Tony Venezia (Birkbeck College) in London, and later with also comics scholars Roberto Bartual (Universidad Autnoma de Madrid), Esther Claudio (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) and Greice Schneider (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) after we all met in comics conferences in London, Manchester, Copenhagen and Leeds.
I've used the personal pronoun "I" in the previous paragraph of this post very reluctantly, because the idea was always to initiate a web-based collective project that would eventually take a life of its own. Not a "personal" platform, (in the sense of individual, referring to only one person or group), and not an institutional one either. The Comics Grid does not belong to any single participant: each of us has brought different skills in different measures, and the results have always been collective.
The Grid was to be a means to produce and disseminate accessible but serious scholarly work online, in English as a lingua franca, but with our eyes and ears in as much geographical and cultural territory as possible.
By the end of March, our collaborative blog will celebrate its first two full months online, and already many of the challenges and outcomes are becoming apparent. What started as a Wordpress.com free blog almost naturally became its own site using Wordpress.org. In theory and in practice, our learning curve has merged the technical aspects of good blogging practice and academic standards. We also worked hard on composing editorial guidelines for editors and contributors, in which questions of sustainability, metadata, citation standards, licensing and dissemination are all considered.
As we explain in our "About" page, our work is inspired by, but not limited to, the following questions:
How are form and format interconnected in comics?
What is the meaning of "content"?
How are page sizes related to what is contained in them?
How do different technologies affect the processes of creating and reading a comics page?
How do different panel arrangements work?
What is the media-specificity of a comics page?
What are some of the different possible ways of reading comics pages?
Our mission is to adapt the content and pace of our work to the demands of online publishing, and to help disseminate quality scholarship on questions related to graphic storytelling through brief and periodical posts. We believe there is nothing sadder than quality scholarship that remains unread (or only read by an increasingly reduced number of hyper-specialised people), so our aim is to be able to produce quality research which is paralleled by rapid and widespread online dissemination.
A Twitter account, a QR code, a Google Map, a Trunk.ly account to archive our shared links, a paper.li Daily to disseminate links tagged with #ComicsEdu and recently a YouTube channel have been some of the tools we have been using to spread the word of the initiative, opening up the invitation to anyone interested in practicing or learning more about comics scholarship.
None of the five founding members of the Grid have met physically to work on the project since we set up the blog. All collaboration has been done remotely via email and by working together behind the scenes in the blog's dashboard. At the moment there are 19 users registered users in the blog, including us. We have been posting every Monday and Thursday around midday UK time, and it is our goal to keep working at that rhythm for a long time to come. It is our hope the more contributors join the project, the less work will be concentrated on a small number of us (as it has been during this initial stage).
The Grid is also presently co-organising two academic events. "The First International Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels" hosted by the Instituto Franklin in Alcala de Henares, Spain, seeks to bring together a very high number of comics scholars. The theme is "Sites of visual and textual innovation" and it welcomes papers on (but not limited to): the origins of comics, avant-garde and experimental narration and biography and autobiography. The call for papers can be found here.
Also, back in London, "Transitions 2, New Directions in Comics Studies" is part of Comica 2011, the London International Comics Festival and is organised in association with Birkbeck, University of London, Studies in Comics, European Comic Art, the Contemporary Fiction Seminar and The Comics Grid. Full information here.
There are many other things that could and have to be said about how the Grid is evolving, the obstacles, challenges and also positive processes we have faced, but this post is already too long. Maybe the best thing is to visit us at our headquarters, http://www.comicsgrid.com/, and see for yourself what we have been up to. The door is always open.
Something I can assure you: you'll keep hearing from us. ;-)