Interview: Sequentials, a New “Comics” Journal

As part of Comics Academe, one of the things I want to do is to promote what’s happening in academia and comics studies–especially when what’s happening is something that is innovative, or challenges what academic “scholarship” can be. When I first heard about Sequentials, a new comics “journal” being put out by the incredible English department at the University of Florida through their TRACE innovation initiative, I was intrigued. I connected with co-editor Ashley Manchester to ask her a little bit more about how this project came about and how it’s challenging what comics scholarship can be.

What is Sequentials? What makes it different from other academic journals out there?

Sequentials is part of the University of Florida’s TRACE Initiative. TRACE comprises several innovative projects including augmented reality criticisms (ARCs), MassMine open source software, play@TRACE (a lab used for conducting research on digital games), and the TRACE academic journal. As one element of this group, Sequentials solicits and publishes illustrated, rather than written, scholarship. We want to challenge the conventions of scholarship and publication by asking contributors to submit comics that visualize and interpret various topics. We have received a handful of submissions already, and so far they are wonderful and creative!

I hesitate to even call this project a “journal,” although I’m not sure yet of a better term to describe Sequentials. One of my main ambitions here is disrupting the connotations of scholarship and journal publication, especially because these conventions largely include some seriously problematic politics and hierarchies. My hope is that people who have innovative ideas and knowledge find Sequentials to be a place where they can explore the content and form of their interests in an inclusive, creative way.

That sounds amazing and anything that seeks to challenge or subvert (I love how you used ‘disrupt’) what constitutes academic scholarship is something that grabs my interest. How did this idea come about? What niche is it trying to fill?

I’m hoping that Sequentials can encourage more writers, artists, editors, and journals to expand their ideas of what knowledge looks like, which will perhaps mitigate some of the troubling politics of publication that we see today that hinder certain groups’ abilities to get their ideas out there.

A staple in comics studies is Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a comics text about the architecture and vocabulary of comics. This book was published in the early 1990s and opened up a new way of thinking of communication, knowledge production, publication, and information circulation. Since then, we have seen the emergence of several other projects that use comics as a mode of making new kinds of meanings – Nick Sousanis’ recent and very successful book Unflattening comes to mind. Sequentials hopes to be the first hub of this kind of work, as we believe that words are simply one way of communicating information, and that images provide a whole other level of important interpretive work.

As a graduate student, I often feel constrained by the restrictions of publishing in academia. As a queer woman in academia, I feel especially constrained. I’m hoping that Sequentials can encourage more writers, artists, editors, and journals to expand their ideas of what knowledge looks like, which will perhaps mitigate some of the troubling politics of publication that we see today that hinder certain groups’ abilities to get their ideas out there.

That’s something that I feel like our readers (and myself) would feel passionate about too. And obviously, you’re one of the editors, but who are are some of the other women involved in this project or other projects at TRACE?

We have a group of really strong women at TRACE, and I’m happy to be working with them! Melissa Bianchi does a lot of work with animal studies and is co-editing the journal right now. Her work also overlaps with game studies and ecocriticism to look at visual representations of the non-human. Emily Brooks is doing some incredible work with 3-D printing and is also the Production Editor of ImageTexT, another comics journal at UF. Madeline Gangnes works on various TRACE projects and serves as a staff member of ImageTexT, as well. She also studies the connections between Victorianism and comics. Shannon Butts studies rhetorics of resistance and parody in popular media. She also looks at creative design and digital making in TRACE. Overall, we have a solid group of intelligent and creative women working on all sorts of visual rhetoric and comics projects!

For now, I’m serving as the editor of Sequentials, but I also work for ImageTexT and teach classes on comics. I primarily study queer theory and lesbian-authored comics from the 1960s to today. When I’m not doing this kind of work, I am skating with my roller derby team (my derby name is Oxford Coma and I’ll soon be married to the best skater ever, Madam Secrescary).

Congratulations! Not just on your upcoming nuptials but your incredibly awesome roller derby names. I feel like that’s a story worthy of a zine in and of itself. I think so many people think of the people who work in academia as essentially living in our offices on campus without any outside interests back, and that brings me to another question about Sequentials–who is the intended audience? Is it just for academics or artists? What if I’m neither?

The audience for this project is everyone! We want this project to extend far and wide and we hope to encourage all sorts of people to contribute comics, regardless of their artistic “skill.”  Despite the fact that Sequentials is housed at a university, we want people in all fields to submit comics or read/look at our published comics. With time, there will be something for everyone.

People are generally attuned to interpreting images, as we all do it all the time, every single day. I think people who may not “know” comics, but who are interested in other visual mediums, might find Sequentials a cool place to find innovative work.

That’s so true! People are inundated by images all the time, even if they’re not comics, proper. And we know that the definition of ‘comics’ is an amorphous one at best. What kinds of pieces do you want Sequentials to be a home for?

Ideally, we are looking for an immense variety of styles and forms. That’s mainly why we left some of our language in the Call for Comics a little vague – we hope people will consider their illustrative mediums (pen and ink, colored pencils, digital illustration programs, etc.), as well as their vision of comics (traditional panel grids, abstract art, unique architecture and page layouts, etc.) when they draw something for the project.

Sounds great! There will be a link to the Call for Comics, below, but if you could also share when you’re aiming for publication, and if there are any plans for future issues?

The first themed Call for Comics is due January 1st. This call focuses on the concept of postmodernism and we invite contributors to submit comics that visualize the movement in relation to their field, critique the movement, or totally disavow its existence altogether! The submissions we’ve received so far do a little of all of these! We are hoping to have this first issue published by mid-Spring.

We also have a rolling general call, where people can submit comics about any topic at all. You can find the Calls for Comics, as well as other information about Sequentials and TRACE at our website, here. Because we want this project to be open to everyone, all issues will be open access and we are working on effective ways to reach non-academic audiences.

Soon I will be circulating the call for our second themed issue, which will focus on queer studies, theory, and existence. I can’t wait to see what kind of submissions we receive for that one!

Can’t wait! Well, I think that’s everything for now. Thanks so much for speaking with me about this exciting new project.

Thank you for the opportunity to get the word out there with WWAC!

For more information about the Sequentials Call for Comics due January 1st, 2017, click here. To learn more about the TRACE innovation initiative at the University of Florida, click here.

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Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.