Lecturer, Illustration Animation & Critical and Historical Studies, Kingston School of Art
In manifesto statements reproduced in the Journal of Illustration, Gannon and Fauchon assert that “Illustration thrives on a network of active collaborative relationships”. In the same issue, Newbigging argues for “autobiographical comics as a method of engagement with critical theory”. This paper outlines ways in which theoretical frameworks and professional, pedagogical and participatory networks developed or initiated through my autobiographical comics work have refined my understanding of my role as teacher-practitioner. I chose David B’s graphic memoir Epileptic as a case study for my PhD on theoretical grounds: the imagery he develops to express the trauma caused by his brother’s epilepsy made an apt case study for a dissertation on the use of metaphor in narrative drawing. When I wrote the chapter, in January 2017, I was reeling from a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis the previous month. The question of how an illustrator could use their practice to confront trauma caused by chronic neurological disease took on an acutely personal significance. The following year I began my first comic on this topic during a postdoctoral residency at LCC. A symposium convened to mark its completion included contributions from physiotherapist Tino Kulnik, on developing self-management strategies for stroke survivors, and metaphor theorist Lisa El Refaie, co-founder of drawingout.org, which encourages non-professionals to create visual metaphors to communicate experiences of invisible disease. In 2020, encouraged by students, I collaborated with Tino to develop from his research a project for postgraduate design students at KSA. At Lisa’s invitation, I helped judge a drawing competition addressing the effects of lockdown. My current comic will be published in an academic journal as a practice-based output, without supporting textual commentary. These formally disparate activities comprise a single illustration practice, in which my roles as author, assessor, connoisseur, participant and patient are in flux and mutually reinforcing.
John Miers completed his PhD at Central Saint martins, University of the Arts London, in 2018. That year he began a postdoctoral residency at in UAL’s Archives and Special Collections Centre, during which he began applying his theoretical work on visual metaphor and depiction to the production of autobiographical comics dealing with his experience of multiple sclerosis. Work developing this project was longlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel prize in 2020, and a new short story on this theme will be appearing in the journal Biography: an Interdisciplinary Quarterly in 2021. Other forthcoming illustration-as-research publications include an essay in comics form produced in collaboration with Paul Fisher Davies and Thierry Chessum for the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. John was awarded “best postgraduate teacher” in Kingston School of Art’s academic impact awards 2020. In addition to his work at KSA he holds visiting lecturer posts at Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of art. Visit johnmiers.com for more information.