Chulalongkorn Comics Workshop Phantasmagoria

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Last month I traveled to Thailand to teach a workshop at Chulalongkorn University's design program, CommDe, in Bangkok. It was a remarkable experience in about a hundred different ways, but in particular the students were amazing and I wanted to share a bit of what we did, here. I don't often write much about the little bit of teaching I do, but, this was a kind of concentrated, unique experience that might be of interest to other students and instructors. The workshop was four six-hour days in a row, a format I've never done before. It was exhausting (the letlag probably didn't help), but also super rewarding. It was great to watch work unfold in four days that would take four weeks in a normal class. 

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After introductions and a few quick exercises to loosen everyone up I handed out random character names to everyone: things like 'Duck', 'Unicorn', 'You as a very old person', etc. Then everyone had a few minutes to do a drawing of that character. Then they had to draw them again, three more times in a completely different way. There were 20 students, so by the end of this we had 80 characters, which they then taped up onto the wall. We did something similar with settings (desert, swamp, lonely road, etc) and objects (stick, gun, chair...). Then everyone voted on what they wanted to use to tell a story, finally settling on three characters, two settings and two objects (with some gentle nudging from Nicolas and myself to keep things open ended). Here are the winning selections:

 Characters: a well dressed Duck, an Elephant and a faceless and apparently infinite cat

Characters: a well dressed Duck, an Elephant and a faceless and apparently infinite cat

 Settings: a swamp, with a single lotus flower and a "desert globe"

Settings: a swamp, with a single lotus flower and a "desert globe"

 Objects: a meteor and a stick which happens to be contained inside a crystal.

Objects: a meteor and a stick which happens to be contained inside a crystal.

And a few of the other drawings of various sorts, many of which had their own particular magic and I was sorry to leave behind (though a few would resurface later):

 

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So once they had these basic story constituents, we did a narrative loop exercise (thank you PFC). The details are a bit complicated to explain here, but basically you are handed a page that starts and ends with two unrelated panels, and you have four panels in which to connect them. It's 'jam' comics of a sort, but with more structure. What they ended up with when everyone was done was BANANAS. I can't show the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts:

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In my experience this loop project does tend toward surreal, dreamlike narratives. In this case it went extreme psychedelic. There were multiple instances of characters ingesting other characters and new worlds being born in their guts; portals; multiple states of existence; dying and rebirth, worlds within worlds. It was kind of phantasmagoric. There was lots of hilarity in tracing the whole narrative afterward with the full class. It was so nuts that I decided to do a follow-up exercise the next day to try and figure out What Happened:

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Over the last few years I've developed an exercise with different groups that I refer to loosely as a 'Duplex Planet Strip'. It's loosely based on some strips David Greenberger and Daniel Clowes' did in the late eighties, from Greenberger's zine-cum-comic book Duplex Planet. Greenberger worked at a nursing home of the same name, and the strips depicted the residents, many of whom were less than fully lucid, answering his random interview questions. So things like "What was the most important invention of the 20th century?".To which you'd get answers like "Manicures".

The exercise involves drawing five or six different characters and introducing a question, which becomes the title, and which each character must then answer, reflecting its personality, point of view and possible agenda. So to get some perspective on the previous day's fever dream I figured we'd do a duplex planet strip, using some of the discarded characters (as well as some of the stars) as if they had been witnesses.

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From there students had to choose one panel or image from the previous two days of work (by this time the walls were pretty well covered with detritus and various bits of exercises from the first two days) and use it as a seed for a two day 3-5 page comic as a final solo project. They were also supposed to do something interesting or unusual with panel layouts (I did a short slide lecture on panel structure). Some of the results were quite impressive. Two days isn't long, but they killed it. Of course it's a bit difficult to adequately capture this stuff but here are a few examples.

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 Nicharee Sawartsoot (Artie)

Nicharee Sawartsoot (Artie)

 Chompoonut Tweesukstian (Uang)

Chompoonut Tweesukstian (Uang)

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 Siri Thaitrakulpanich (Winnie)

Siri Thaitrakulpanich (Winnie)

 Ployjaploen Paopanlerd (Bamie)

Ployjaploen Paopanlerd (Bamie)

 Rinrada Kajohnchalearmsak (Wawa)

Rinrada Kajohnchalearmsak (Wawa)

 Tharit Hirunyavasit (Rit)

Tharit Hirunyavasit (Rit)

 Phatdanai Jeedang (Tonkla)

Phatdanai Jeedang (Tonkla)

 Phapaul Wongmahapaul (Sam)[a character's word balloons travel around a planet, eventually becoming it's rings]

Phapaul Wongmahapaul (Sam)[a character's word balloons travel around a planet, eventually becoming it's rings]

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 Sirusanant Yananissorn (Kade) [drawings on transparency that are slowly revealed as you turn pages.]

Sirusanant Yananissorn (Kade) [drawings on transparency that are slowly revealed as you turn pages.]

My many thanks to Nicolas Verstappen who put my name in the hat for the position, and was the perfect guide and ally in navigating Bangkok and the class, both. Thanks also to Be Takerng and Mat Trusler for inviting me; Bahp Juthamas for the plum wine and Eva Cardon/Ephameron for hanging out and trading classes. A good portion of what I did at CommDe was adapted from PFC residency exercises, so thanks, also to ChiFouMi and June Misserey. And lastly of course to the students: Piraya, Champ, Hams, Mae, Wawa, Tung, Tonkla, Nut, Bam, Sand, Sam, Bamie, Winnie, Punn, Kade, Vee, Uang, Aim, Arty and Rit.

Anders Nilsen