I first encountered Nick Sousanis’ dissertation project as a poster at the Fourth International Illustration Symposium in Oxford (UK) in 2013. It stood it to me because (a) it was one of the only posters that relied on illustration to convey meaning, instead of talking about illustrations, and (b) it was thrilling to explore. (Here’s a link to Sousanis’ blog, which features excerpts from his dissertation and forthcoming book. You may have to scroll through to get a good idea of his work.)
Though I have not read the entire dissertation, I can see the problem that its existence addresses. Academics are hung up on text as the primary medium for arguing ideas, promoting new methodologies, and disseminating knowledge. Dissertations are the gateway for access into an academic community, and they must adhere to many of the same standards that have come to exist in academia. This all makes sense within the walls of the ivory tower. But what of public engagement? How can academics get into the cities, onto best-seller lists, onto billboards, into Comic-Con? By doing things differently. This is more than teaching differently; it’s about promoting differently.
Scott McCloud is one of the very few readings in the New Media Seminar that’s actually in a new medium. He tells us of the things that comics do that the conventions of the written word just don’t allow us to do. Time changes; synchronicity fluctuate in each panel. Nick Sousanis follows the conventions of comics into something that stimulates us to think differently–both stimulating differently and thinking differently.
Might this be the distressing of the future? Probably not. But it is an avenue to changing the structure of the academy into a place that would allow for dissertations in new media, as documentaries, long-form podcasts, and comics. Sousanis is just the start.