#MondayBlogs Untold Stories: Building a digital project with students

This is our first draft of a logo by Paul Fillingham. I wanted to use the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky as it's such a great image. The quote is adapted from Oscar Wilde.

This is our first draft of a logo by Paul Fillingham. I wanted to use the Russian artist Petr Pavlensky as it’s such a great image. The quote is adapted from Oscar Wilde.

Last month I wrote to every UNESCO City of Literature to see if they were interested in being a partner on Dawn of the Unread II: Untold Stories. To be a partner I have requested that they fund a writer and I’ll take care of the rest (the letterer, colourist, artist, script editor, digitiser, etc). There are three reasons I approached the UNESCO cities. Firstly, part of their remit is to build global relationships, particularly between the Creative Cities network. So providing projects that achieve their goals means you are more likely to get a response. Secondly, this means the marketing takes care of itself. Dawn of the Unread was successful because it involved so many people. Extending this globally is a natural progression. Thirdly, in order to achieve Arts Council Funding I need to bring in money and support in kind. This is why multi-collaborative partnership take so long and on average it’s usually around 8 months of planning before I submit a proposal.

New College Nottingham students

New College Nottingham students

In thinking through the concept of Untold Stories I’ve approached two ‘focus’ groups. Richard Johnson of New College Nottingham has created coursework for FdA Design students where they will either create an alternative logo for Untold Stories or pitch an idea of the kind of stories they would like to see in the comic serial. By making it a formative assessment I am guaranteed that the students will take the work seriously. The benefit for the college is they link up with external stakeholders who offer creative industries experience. To quote Del Boy, everyone is a winner. I gave a talk at the college for a couple of hours and offered tutorial support. So it hasn’t really been too time consuming. They were given one month to complete the coursework and it was handed in on Friday.

You can read the coursework brief NCN brief untold_stories_2015-16

I first met Richard Johnson at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio in 2009 and was impressed with how he had used social media to engage with his audience by asking them to draw characters from his Erth Chronicles. Reading is a completely individual experience in that we all conjure different images from the words. Richard (who writes under the pseudonym of James Johnson) got unique feedback from this which in turn shaped the way he went about describing future characters and situations.

I’ve also created a focus group of ten students from NTU as part of their Humanities at Work Module which requires them to fulfill a 30 hour placement. I want them to have some kind of ownership from conception to inception. Too often placement students are used as an expendable workforce to do the jobs other people don’t want to do. I’m hoping that involving them from the planning stage will either help to create a great project for us or show them exactly how these projects are born so that they will go on and do similar one day.

Employability is one of the key goals of NTU’s strategy and they recently achieved a top 20 ranking for its teaching quality in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016. Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Peck said: “Our pledge is for every course to contain strong links to employers and we are already a long way down this road with associations to businesses who offer work placements; many courses offer professional accreditation of periods of work experience.”

This animation is from Issue 1. You can view the animation here.

This animation is from Issue 1. You can view the animation here.

There’s also some tidying up to do with Dawn of the Unread which is delaying the publication of the physical book. With this in mind I’ve been working with a Korean-Italian student studying B.A (Hons) Media at NTU called Vincenzo Yun Chang Huh who is creating animations for six of our 16 comics. Every issue has one tiny animation but we didn’t have time to do it all when the project was live because a) it was something we hadn’t budgeted for and b) it was something I realised I wanted to do once our first issue came out. I felt the last page of our opening issue didn’t have enough Nottingham references and so I had the eyes of a ‘zombie’ flickering between Shippos and Home Ales Breweries. Having one animation per issue brings in another gaming element to Dawn of the Unread in that readers have to find them. This is exactly what our target audience (Youtube generation) would enjoy.

Vincenzo also created the above video which explores locations featured in Dawn of the Unread which he’s filmed and then overlaid with pages from the comic.

vinceLet me tell you a little bit about Vincenzo’s ‘Untold Story’ and why I think it’s important to give students a chance. He was born in Caserta, Italy, spent seven years in Brazil and finished off his secondary school education in Moscow. During his schooling he set up an advertisement service group and went on to produce promotional videos for Zeitgeist Literary Magazine and producing presentation slides for TEDx speakers. He even found time to work with some independent game developers as well as get involved with a family entertainment show.

Perhaps because of his nomadic adolescence, and a bright mind that seems to be satiated through entrepreneurialism, Vince suffers from anxiety issues and describes himself as an introvert. Social media and creative projects have offered a means of connecting with the outside world, albeit from the safety of a laptop. Dance has also served as an outlet to express himself and he’ll be performing United the Scene on 6 November. You can also catch him busting some moves in this coursework (designing an App) he did at Nottingham Trent International College.

I can’t believe how lucky I am to have someone like Vince working on both Dawn of the Unread and Untold Stories. One of the reasons he wanted to be involved is because he believes in the principles that underpin these projects. He said:

“Youtube introduced me to short-films which taught me inspirational life lessons and different perspectives in life. One of my all-time favourite short-film that moves my heart is called With a Piece of Chalk by JuBa Films. One of the goals of Dawn of the Unread is to combat illiteracy. Producing a promotional video for them could change some people’s lives for the better. I may never find out who these individuals are or how it affected them, but I feel good knowing that I produced something that could have a positive impact.”

Untold Stories will have a theme for every issue which will shape the story. The embeds will include a philosophical discussion of the theme and a Call to Action from a real life case study (Amnesty, English Pen, Liberty, etc) Our first theme will be ‘Anxiety’.

DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.


One thought on “#MondayBlogs Untold Stories: Building a digital project with students

  1. Really interesting article! 🙂
    I particularly enjoyed the discussion involving Vincenzo and his struggles with anxiety; I think people often underestimate how important social media is in connecting people throughout the world, and in such a multitude of ways.
    His ability to publish all his work and to feel like he’s having a positive impact on the world must have really boosted his confidence, especially when he’s working with fellow artists to accomplish the goal of combatting illiteracy.

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