A great deal of work goes into publishing a great journal article: after research comes writing, then translation if English is not your first language, and finally copyediting and proofreading. But once your work is published, how do you make sure your audience will read it? Scholarly research has long been equated with sober design and a specialized (i.e., limited) readership. Yet amid the ongoing debates about the pros and cons of open access publishing, new visually creative approaches are being developed for improving its accessibility and the way it is shared with broader audiences.
Cartoon abstracts, devised to bring greater exposure to scholarly work, are one such example. Granted, not all research topics are equally suited to being represented visually. But the widespread interest generated by cartoon abstracts both within and beyond the confines of academia is further evidence of the power of images to convey information, tell a story, and generate engagement.
First launched by Taylor & Francis in 2015 as a new way of promoting research articles, cartoon abstracts make the most of the interaction between words and images, fostering new ways of meaning-making that ultimately challenge conventional notions of knowledge dissemination.
Photo credit: Taylor & Francis Group
Marking a radical departure from traditional academic discourse, scholar Nick Sousanis has taken the concept to extremes, writing his dissertation entirely in comic book format. Published in 2015 by Harvard University Press with the title Unflattening, his work employs comic strips as a pedagogical tool, the medium for new forms of knowledge construction and communication―or, in Sousanis’ words, “an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint” that weaves together “diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology” in a bid to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that he calls “flatness.”
Photo credit: Nick Sousanis
More recently, the London School of Economics (LSE) Library has been experimenting with producing cartoon abstracts of open access journal articles. After selecting two articles for the project and funding them for open access publication, the Library commissioned UK comics creator and illustrator Karen Rubins to work with the authors and translate their articles into comic strips. The cartoon abstracts were published in 2018 and met with an enthusiastic reception both in academic circles and on social media platforms:
Photo credit: LSE Library
Photo credit: LSE Library
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