Conference: Comics in Ethnography and Qualitative Research

Comics-based ethnographies and ethno-graphic novels

This year in Trento, at the 9th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference, on Thursday June 8, 16:15-19:15, there will be a lovely series of presentations on comics within ethnographic research. 

Chaired by: Veronica Moretti (University of Bologna) & Francesco Della Puppa (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

With this fantastic panel: 

  1. Monica Sassatelli – Thinking with Drawings
  2. Juulia Kela, Carmen Grimm, Henry-Paul Ontto-Panula – Collaborations, translations and question marks. Developing an ethno-graphic novel in the field of criminalisation
  3. Elizabeth Allyn Woock – Peer Review for Research Comics
  4. Annalisa Plava, Stefano Ratti, Onofrio Catacchio, Sara Colaone, Mario Rivelli, Veronica Moretti – Drawing bodies: using graphic novel for raising body donation awareness in Italy
  5. Giada Peterle – The geoGraphic novel: comics as a research practice in geography
  6. Letizia Bonanno – The graphic in the ethnographic: of drawings, ethnographic methods and other affordances


The abstract for my paper:

Much attention is paid to guiding the creation of academic comics in the social sciences, ranging from comicsbased-research methodologies to the communication of research results in comics format. There are instructions on how researchers should approach collaboration with artists (Lydia Wysocki, Applied Comics), how to frame qualitative results within comics (Rachel Crane-Williams, “Can You Picture This,” 2012), or reflections on the necessities of the physical production of the comic Paul Kuttner, Nick Sousanis, and Marcus Weaver-Hightower (“How to draw comics the scholarly way,” 2017). “How to draw comics the scholarly way). While there has been extensive argumentation made to establish comics as ‘legitimate’ literature and guidance for how to approach and evaluate comics as literature (Michael Pagliaro, “Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?” 2014) there is still no concrete model for one of the most important elements of academic publication: peer review. Currently, peer reviewers may be called upon to evaluate an article with sections of comics formatted material, if not the whole article, without previous experience evaluating this type of text. Moreover, most journals which accept comics formatted submissions do not have specific guidelines for illustrated proposals or clear definitions of academic rigor for illustrated submissions, as they do for standard text-based articles. This paper will draw on the ethical peer review framework developed by COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) and adapt it to the specifics of ethnographic research communicated in comics format.

Looking at existing publications of research comics which have passed through peer review, discussions with journal editors, and drawing on my own experience submitting graphic paper proposals to editors and the subsequent peer review processes, I will outline the common issues that editors or peer reviewers might face. This research culminates with a practice rubric, based on Pagliaro’s rubric for evaluating the “literary quality” of comics and graphic novels. The rubric aims to provide a framework for peer reviewers to ensure that both the text and the illustrations are given weight and a range of potential evaluative metrics to orient a reviewer who may be no stranger to comics studies and ethnography, but requires more clarity in this delicate and essential process. As graphic submissions become more ubiquitous, it is essential that the academic community provides guidance on how to integrate these works into the standard publication processes. This paper will offer the audience a chance to apply the proposed rubric immediately on a range of samples, and aims to open a dialogue about how to develop better frameworks for the peer review process. )

You can download a beta version of my proposed rubric here.



COPE Council 2017 COPE Ethical guidelines for peer reviewers. New Kings Court, Tollgate, Chandler’s Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire, SO53 3LG, United Kingdom: Committee on Publication Ethics.

Davies, Paul Fisher 2019 «New Choices of the Comics Creator», in The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9, 1, pp. 3.

Kara, Helen, Medley, Stuart and Mutard, Bruce 2021 «Scholarship in action», in Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 13, pp. 310–320.

Kuttner, Paul, Sousanis, Nick and Weaver-Hightower, Marcus 2017 «How to draw comics the scholarly way: Creating comics-based research in the academy», in P. Leavy, ed. Handbook of Arts-Based Research. NY, NY: Guilford Press, pp. 396–423.

Littner, Boglárka and Szép, Eszter 2020 «Lines and Bodies», in Sequentials, 1, 2, n.p.

Pagliaro, Michael 2014 «Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Determining the Criteria for Graphic Novels with Literary Merit», in The English Journal, National Council of Teachers of English, 103, 4, pp. 31–45.

Snyder, Timothy and Krug, Nora 2021 On Tyranny Graphic Edition: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press.

Sousanis, Nick 2015 Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Weaver-Hightower, Marcus 2017 «Losing Thomas & Ella: A Father’s Story (A Research Comic)», in Journal of Medical Humanities, 38, 3, pp. 215–230.

Williams, Rachel Marie-Crane 2012 «Can You Picture This?» Visual Arts Research, 38, 1, pp. 87–98.

Wysocki, Lydia, Murphy, Adam and Murphy, Lisa 2021 Applied Comics Collaborations: Ways for humanities and social science researchers to work together with comics creators. Available at:[Last accessed 26 February 2023

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