“Every moment has its discontents, its challenges and failures. Yet no moment is every truly last, at least not so long as we persist in human conversation.”
From the start I knew that if The Comics Grid project was attractive to others it was going to grow fast. I therefore considered essential to design specific guidance documentation, that was later reviewed by the core editorial team. What started with one person, then five, has become now thirteen active contributors, including reviewers and editors. We have published 52 posts since January 2011, and have since maintained our publication schedule of two original posts per week. The blog has been viewed almost 28,000 times, and our analytics reveal that most readers find us by making comics research-related queries on Google.
A sense of mission is what has kept editors and contributors working together in spite of the logical challenges imposed by lack of face-to-face interaction (all work is done online, by email, on shared Google docs and on the blog’s dashboard). In what follows I’d like to share with you one the points that summarise our mission:
The Comics Grid wants to consolidate an international network of comics scholars and to offer a forum to promote their academic work online. It functions as an online laboratory where different critical approaches to comics are publicly and collectively put to test. Though our scope wants to be as diverse as possible, our initial aim is to focus on the analysis of specific comics page layouts and panels. Our content is media-specific. We foster public engagement through social media tools and other dissemination activities.
1. Key Audience
We want our audience to be as wide as possible without sacrificing intellectual and academic rigour. Our ideal audience can be thought of as three separate but related groups:
● Academia. Fellow academics and postgraduate students working specifically on comics and/or related aspects (cartooning, illustration, animation, video games, film, contemporary art, journalism, publishing, cultural studies, literature, etc.)
● Creators. Comics authors, editors, translators, conference organizers etc.
● Fandom. Comics readers, collectors, publishers, authors, fellow comics bloggers.
● General public, including academics, that perhaps are not initially interested in comics, but that find us through the themes we treat (topics, genres, characters, situations, terminology).
We want the blog to be attractive to (include, take into account, be aware of) audiences that have traditionally been misrepresented in the comics scene.
There are two main categories on this blog:
Our purpose is to make original contributions to the field of comics scholarship and to advance the appreciation of comic art within academia and the general cultural mediascape.
We want to become a trustworthy, authoritative, academic source by following consistent academic editorial guidelines and good practices regarding online publishing and social media.
We seek to foster international collaboration, empower early-career scholars and those who have not engaged in online scholarship and promote, in practice, digital literacy amongst comics scholars and readers.
We are a collective, international, open access, peer-reviewed and peer-edited academic blog.
We are not a comics news or comics criticism blog, but we share creative spaces with them.
Our intention is to become a reliable research resource.
Editorial decisions are taken collectively by a core editorial team. Contributors can engage in editorial decisions and become editors themselves depending on their commitment to the project.
We follow academic evaluation criteria for online resources, including Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency and Coverage (Beck 2009), and we seek to contribute to redefine them, not only in theory, but in practice.
All contributions are collectively reviewed and edited, and revisions are signed and openly visible to contributors on the blog’s dashboard.
We aim for diversity. We cover a wide array of topics, genres, critical approaches, disciplines and methodologies.
All contributions are to be relevant to readers regardless of a post’s publishing date.
Students, scholars and practitioners not formally employed by academic institutions are welcome to contribute as long as they follow our editorial guidelines and meet our academic criteria.
We have developed internal guidance documents that seek to ensure the academic, editorial and online media-specific good practices are followed consistently throughout the blog, with emphasis on referencing sources and creating reliable metadata.
Our mission statement, draft schedule, and editorial and contribution guidelines exist as online documents which are shared amongst all contributors and editors.
Our editorial guidelines and other internal documents are available to serious interested parties upon written request.
We aim to follow good practice in electronic publishing and seek to make our content as widely available as possible through reliable metadata, standardised image file description/referencing, search engine optimisation, human-readable permalinks, RSS and Mobile platform capabilities, etc.
We have clear open policies regarding content sharing and community management
All the original content published on the blog is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution–Non Commercial–Share Alike 3.0 Unported License, but individual authors retain their respective intellectual property rights.
We believe that online scholarship needs to be taken into account as valid academic work.
We believe that online scholarship has a real impact within scholarly communities and is naturally well-suited for public engagement.
All contributors are requested to actively engage in the promotion of our content through social media tools, conferences and other dissemination activities.
I hope that sharing these notes with you will have helped you understand what is that guides us and keeps us working together, and perhaps even see the similarities with your own projects or even (who knows!) inspire to start your own online collaborative project. For me these first six months have been incredibly exciting but also exhausting. In comparison, working individually, thinking only of your own benefit, seems incredibly easier. Also, having someone else to do all your PR and promotional needs is way easier than having to do it yourself. But we built something, and now we want others to use it, and to achieve this we need to work hard in spreading the word.
Until now we don’t have the institutional back up that other similar resources have. This also means that some of our colleagues may look down on us as “just a blog”. It would be a lie not to say this is also on my mind every day I spend hours working on the Grid, talking to people about it, commissioning contributions, working hard to convince established scholars that contributing a piece of research to us is worth it.