comics as unflattening

Professor of Comics Nick Sousanis in conversation with Jonathan Worth (jan 2023)

@Nsousanis (Comics as thinking. Eisner winner. Unflattening from HarvardUP ( Former Detroiter/NYer/YYC/now assoc prof SFSU-Comics Studies!) on un\flattening ness via comics .. via jonathan worth:

We move through time in a sequential fashion, but our thoughts are all over the place. Comics can do this – it’s the great power of flat surfaces.

@nsousanis #Profut #Comics #illustration #GraphicNovel

Original Tweet:

from google: Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points.

notes/quotes from 50 min video:

1 min – interesting thing.. when say study math – they say oh so smart.. when they know you for making art – oh so talented.. my art allows me to be smarter than i would be w/o it

another art world.. art – being human.. rheingold (mom) art law.. et al

art (by day/light) and sleep (by night/dark) as global re\set.. to fittingness (undisturbed ecosystem)

2 min – 2004 did my first comic essay (political).. saw i could really get some complex meaning across.. sparked some ideas for me

3 min – always been interested in ed.. but shy of academia.. reluctant to commit to that.. because so many things that happen in academia stay in academia.. but in comics.. saw this thing i loved to do as a kid.. this way of working.. could bring to ed.. didn’t simplify.. but allowed me to get at things in a deeper way and to a broader audience

language as control/enclosure et al

6 min – saw fusion of my interest and my creative skill come together (in 2004).. even (back then) as undergrad if comics as illustration had been an option.. i think i would have dismissed it as that’s just kind of fun.. for entertainment.. and i want to do the intellectual stuff.. and i don’t think i would have made the connection to say.. oh.. this is intellectual stuff.. just in a diff form than we’re used to..

intellect ness et al

7 min – when came to columbia .. this is kind of stuff i can do.. wrestle w big ideas.. i put deep content in there.. but comes in a way that is.. kind of subversive.. seem (and are) accessible.. but depth of meaning kind of hidden.. i strip out divisive/academic language.. jargon .. and replace it w metaphor.. big question i get is ‘what is it about’.. in class everyone has diff takes.. i like that.. allows them to find their own way.. but still w main kernel

idiosyncratic jargon ness

9 min – (math to tennis to comics.. that is a circuitous path) yeah.. looking from present.. not circuitous.. but from while it’s happening.. definitely a lot of meandering going there.. i made art and played sports as a kid.. in college i studied math.. but art stayed on side.. then taught tennis to pay for everything.. later made up my own degree of math and art.. took so many art classes got fine arts degree at same time.. young enough i could try a lot of things

math, swimming, art.. vagus wandering law.. the it is me.. as the day

imagine if we

11 min – then.. happened to be at a wedding.. and someone needed a lecture class.. and i loved it.. to drop into something and be ready.. i think it hit a time where people were hungry for something diff.. i don’t think people knew enough about comics but i think people knew that i knew enough about comics and i was determined enough to find my own way and teach them about it.. *i was stable enough in my life i could get away with that.. could use tennis (which pays a lot) to fund other things i did

*graeber min\max law et al

12 min – on making comics as a kid.. batman was my first word..

14 min – 2004 – first one was about security.. ref scott mcleod’s understanding comics, scott’s avatar was always guiding us thru the comic.. that was the model i turned to.. then later.. wanted to break away from that .. loved alan moore and melinda gebbie’s this is information essay.. was a 9-11 tribute comic.. rather than themselves or some character telling a story.. it was this play of words and pictures and symbols.. and that really struck a chord with me as a way to use comics.. so i completely smashed my avatar.. that really became.. and i’ve continued to do things like that.

scott mcleod

16 min – in flattening i talk about how mistreated the word comics is.. images hold it together .. seeing how images and words lead to something

17 min – jonathan: when you showed me narrative doesn’t just go left to right top to bottom i literally saw world as diff.. please don’t assume your audience knows all the stuff you know..

embracing uncertainty et al

carhart-harris entropy law et al

18 min – a flyover about unflattening.. my dissertation (2014).. entirely a comic book.. first ish of its kind.. then came out of a book unflattening.. came out as argument for change in ed.. from system of steps/procedures.. sort of a recipe.. learning divided up into time/space/subjects.. and coming back to math and tennis and art thing.. it’s certainly an argument for myself.. we tend to see art and tennis as kind of freakish.. i think we’ve been drawing these artificial boxes around ourselves.. and that restricts who we can be as humans.. we artificially say.. i can’t be these two things because i’m not supposed to be.. and i don’t buy that at all.. t

marsh label law.. imagine if we only used daily curiosity (itch-in-the-soul) as label(s) to get to..

the it is me ness

ie: imagine if we listened to the itch-in-8b-souls 1st thing everyday & used that data to connect us (tech as it could be.. ai as augmenting interconnectedness)

19 min – i think i was very lucky that had family background that supported me to try things.. came from a background of educators who tried things

oikos (the economy our souls crave).. ‘i should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.’ – gaston bachelard, the poetics of space

graeber min\max law et al

20 min – we see comics as new medium.. but they’re not.. ie: 1830s.. topffer.. but really making sense of world thru picture stories.. egyptian murals.. cave paintings.. et al.. that’s people trying to make sense of their world thru images is as old as we’ve been us.. so we live in a culture where words and numbers are the dominate way we count as scholarship and pictures are what you put over your couch.. and i think we’ve left out part of ourselves.. t

oh my.. huge.. lit & num as colonialism.. another art world et al

21 min – so a little bit about comics.. and the affordances of them.. what can i do with comics.. defn’s are important.. but what i can do with them more important.. a form of communication.. scott says ‘juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence’.. so ie: 2 static images.. then the reader is taking it to life

22 min – one of key things of this is time.. passage of time is written in space

23 min – i think comics are weirdly good at thinking about time.. even though they don’t move.. they don’t do anything..

24 min – on will eisner’s affordances: time and space ie: time in comics is like relativity in physics.. relative to position of observer.. depends on how you want to experience the comic.. in filmstrip.. you move with cogs of strip.. in comics.. you can go at own speed.. and back and forth

theory of relativity et al

currently all our observing as whales in sea worldhari rat park law

26 min – comics handle time really well.. we talk about comics as a sequential art.. left to right.. top to bottom.. but how i think about them is the nature of simultaneity.. of things happening all at once.. but seeing whole page at one time.. so taking it all in at once.. and start to draw references back and forth.. t

zoom dance..

27 min – so starts to break the hierarchical nature of reading.. and allow some other kinds of ways of reading.. we’re seeing all of time all at once.. as the reader.. have a higher thing.. past/future real and visible.. sequential and simultaneous all at once.. t

28 min – we move thru time in a sequential fashion.. get up, breakfast, classes, lunch.. but when in a convo.. you think of something like.. that makes me think of that.. so your thoughts are going sort of sideways all at once.. even as your life is moving sequentially thru.. and i think comics do is hold both of those modes.. the sequential/linear thing with the all-at-once/simultaneous ways that our thoughts work

humanity needs a leap.. to get back/to simultaneous spontaneity .. simultaneous fittingness.. everyone in sync..

for (blank)’s sake

29 min – so i really think.. that flat surfaces.. that there’s this great power in being static and flat.. because it allows you to care about both drawing and meta drawing at the same time.. i care about both the whole .. and the individual .. together

small is {ginormous} beautiful ness.. thurman interconnectedness law ness.. networked individualism et al

ie: making an image with the whole while allowing you to read in sequence ie: frank king’s gasoline alley

30 min – simultaneity .. the awareness of so much happening at once is now the most salient aspect of contemporary life and i think comics really handle that.. ie: both philosophical and weird.. t

31 min – how i think about comics.. we tend to think of images plus text.. i try to look at how the reader experiences the page..

33 min – still read in left to right fashion.. but there’s multiple layers of info coming to you at once.. you’re aware of the background.. the beat.. it’s still a flat piece of paper .. but we can read all this diff level of complexity.. the sequential and simultaneous at once

i did a cover for the boston globe.. it’s about entropy.. how things fall apart ‘against the flow’.. specifically about things that go against that flow..t .. like life.. ie: omelettes won’t turn back into eggs.. that’s the linear flow of time of entropy.. then read down the page.. then asked to read right to left which you’re not used to.. then asked to read bottom to top which your definitely not used to.. so my goal is.. how do i make the page feel like what we’re talking about.. how do i make something that reflects linear but also pushes against it..

carhart-harris entropy law et al.. myth of normal ness

34 min – i take like 50 pages of notes to figure out.. how i want the reader to dance

how to dance the dance

35 min – so a big thing for me is to think about comics.. we tend to think about it as prose plus illustration (so if can draw and write good).. i think better to think about it as poetry plus graphic design then we’re really thinking about the space.. and that opens up comics to everyone who can make marks with their body

36 min – we tend to compare comics to storyboards.. but in storyboards only care about what goes in frames.. in comics not only care about what gets drawn in frame.. but size of frame.. overall placement on page.. et al.. for me.. composition matters.. everything you do is given a rhythm to how you tell your story.. theme is like zoom out picture.. which drives you thru it

zoom dance ness

38 min – comics are this profoundly powerful way to represent thinking and a profoundly powerful way to generate thinking ie: what goes first words or pictures.. my answer is yes

39 min – iterate a mess and things happen.. and anyone can make this kind of mess.. it’s not a picture of my thinking.. this is it.. t.. i start w images and text at same time and they take me places.. ie: i have to figure out how to make words go that way

rheingold (mom) art law: not so much about the art.. but about the conversation you have with yourself while you’re making the art

41 min – shows student works by self proclaimed non drawers.. i don’t think being able to draw is the thing.. ie: my fav part.. his 3 blank panels.. ‘i didn’t know my grandma’ and ‘then she was go’.. and that (blankness) was the most powerful thing to draw.. his thinking skills in space is great

rumi words law.. lanier beyond words law.. millman never nothing law.. quiet enough to see.. et al

44 min – shy girl’s comic.. allowed her to say things about herself that surprised he.. on not fitting in box.. and getting out of box

self-talk as data

rheingold (mom) art law

45 min – ultimately i came back to comics as a way of making things accessible.. but what i really learned early on is it changed how i thought.. it’s a diff way of thinking.. changes way you start to layer/org ideas.. think about comics making as a kind of choreography.. how do i want reader to feel as they move thru this.. how do i get you to move in a way that feels like the ideas i’m getting at.. i don’t have a character arch.. i have an idea arch.. often changes what i research.. slow moving process.. but in iterating this i sort of find the idea and find a way to embody that idea on the page.. how things emerge

mechanism simple enough ness ie: tech as it could be

47 min – as a non maker.. you tend to think of things emerging fully formed.. but that’s just not how it is.. it’s this incredibly circuitous (meandering) journey where you’re trying things.. for me .. i find my skill at drawing badly has served me well.. i interpret then redraw them.. i think so hard about not just what i draw but how.. how do we think about all those things.. and give reader and selves a diff experience

as the day ness.. embracing uncertainty.. et al

this is how we need to org 8bn people.. ie: org around legit needs

a nother way.. in the city.. as the day

imagine if we



1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people




I’m struggling (as many of us are) with cohorts of students who are themselves struggling to be positive, pro-active, collaborative, to network and self organise – man alive .. just to enthuse .. y’know? Your interest alone (however tangential) is a signal to them that the conversation (whatever that is) is out there and they’re a part of it if they want to be.

on why i don’t convo/social much:

1\ thinking restate/update 7.18

why (i do what i do): to set people free

because of our interconnectedness:

i believe that partial freedom is no freedom.. (ie: none of us are free if one of us is chained) and ..

i believe today we have the means to unchain all of us in sync/leap

[i think all our part\ial initiatives/efforts are keeping us from the sync/simultaneousness we need for global freedom/equity .. i think we keep getting distracted/disjointed by irrelevants (money/measuring/et-al) necessary to maintain/incentivize the partial ness.. and if i’m wrong.. thankfully.. there are plenty of amazing people/initiatives/efforts going that route]


2\ costello screen\service law

‘it’s most unethical to screen people for a condition if you don’t have the services in place to treat them’ jane costello

on the why of the unethical ness:

i felt i was telling (ocean) how it was going to die w/no cure. so i quit academia to work on a solution @Enric_Sala#2030NOW

scary how many people have come to the reasonable conclusion that it’s better to be fake and fit in rather than be real and lonely
Original Tweet:

after adding this here.. ended up making this page: warning ness





decolonizing methodologies et al



oh my math



language as control/enclosure

idiosyncratic jargon



john doktor – graphic novel and tyler benke – graphic novel ness from findings abstract (#4)