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Ken Foote talks comic books and graphic novels for the Voinovich School

Austin Stahl March 27, 2013



Dr. Ken Foote, a leading expert in cartography and author of the award-winning book “Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscape of Violence and Tragedy,” gave his lecture for Voinovich School faculty, staff, and students on Wednesday, March 20 entitled “Maps, data and stories in a world of digital media: Rethinking multimedia and interactive cartography.” The talk was tailored for the many GIS scientists, cartographers and visual storytellers in the audience.

Foote focused on integrating lessons from graphic novels and comics into multimedia and interactive cartography as technology in the digital age opens up new methods of storytelling. (A graphic novel is the common term for a fictional story written in a similar format to a comic book.)

“I think we as GIS scientists can learn a lot from looking at graphics novels and comics,” Foote said. “Maps are an ideal way to tell stories, but can we go further than that?”

Foote cited examples of storytelling ranging from 19th century maps to modern-day movies and television, highlighting the changes that digital media is bringing about. In particular, he said with a computer screen, you can change the size, shape, position, speed, viewpoint, distance, scene, and the texture of images, so the challenge is figuring out how to use these tools effectively.

“These tools give us the ability to look at things in new ways, including that which would be otherwise obscured by environmental phenomena,” he said.

Foote encourages cartographers to think outside the traditional rectangle of the page and see the computer monitor as a window to another domain, almost like a virtual world in a computer game.

Capturing time is another challenge in storytelling, and Foote recommended viewing time and space as the same to focus on both aspects of the map rather than separating them.

Foote cited the map of Raccoon Creek made by Karla Sanders, a 2012 graduate of the Voinovich School’s environmental studies master’s program, as an example of cartography that uses space well to show a compelling story. In her piece, the actual map in the center is surrounded by informative text and graphics.

Foote will be taking his sabbatical next year and said he is hoping to write something theoretical to advance the field of multimedia and interactive cartography and create an example of how incorporating components of graphic novels and comics would work in such a piece. In particular, he said he wants to look at violence against African-Americans communities in the Reconstruction period up until the 1920s.

“I think it’s an important story to tell,” Foote said. “We tend to think violence ended at the end of the Civil War but it didn’t.”

Dr. Ken Foote’s profile can be viewed here: http://www.colorado.edu/geography/foote/foote.html

Karla Sanders’ map of Raccoon Creek can be viewed here: http://www.ohio.edu/voinovichschool/article.cfm?customel_datapageid_1792195=2007808.