ICON9 – The Illustration Conference, Austin, Texas July 6-9, 2016

“The national illustration conference, ICON, is committed to providing a forum for an ongoing dialogue that serves the illustration, design, publishing, advertising, and academic communities.  Its purpose is to provide a platform for the most influential illustrators and industry leaders to address, in a timely manner, the most pervasive issues facing the profession.  ICON remains the only national conference specifically for illustrators and the graphic arts community providing an unprecedented forum for the creativity, inspiration and drive that captivates the profession.”

Martha Newbigging and JoAnn Purcell presented a paper at this conference, entitled ‘The Live Comics Project‘ .  Follow the link for more information. Abstract of the conference presentation below:

The Live Comics Project was an innovative extra-curricular project conceived to engage students in a critical discourse using the medium of comics.  The project evolved over the course of four Wednesday evenings with a select group of 12 illustration students who visualized, drew and inked collaborative comics in front of a live audience. Their comics responded both critically and personally to the themes of From the Forest to the Sea, a major art exhibit showcasing the work of renowned Canadian painter Emily Carr and Northwest Coast First Nations artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Over the span of the project, a deep engagement with the content, some of which was problematic, was scaffolded in order to enable students to construct critical graphic commentary.


Comics, through their pop culture status and accessible format, are uniquely situated to break down the hierarchy of institutionally-held knowledge as represented by professors and curators and within fine art museums. Through the creation of these comics, the students’ voices entered into a dialogue on par with that of Emily Carr, the Aboriginal artists and the exhibit curators.  The project was conceptually informed by the intersection of Paolo Freire’s critical pedagogy with Thierry Groensteen’s structures and semiotics of comics.


This paper will showcase in detail, how the project was created, developed and evolved. It will also consider how it brought the gallery content to a different audience through the posting of the work online, by showcasing the creative process of making art to a general audience and by demonstrating illustration as performance. As a mash up of genres, traditions and demographics, this project provided contrasts yielding new intersections for the students, professors, museum curators and the audience, both live and online.