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InVisDev: Visualising Mental Health Disorder

Earlier this year I submitted a funding application for a pilot project combining comics, teaching, and personal storytelling. While I haven’t yet heard back regarding funding, I’m sure you’re very keen to find out more about the project. Here it is, for your reading pleasure, my grant application and outline for InVisDev.

Research Area/Focus

My research focuses on truth and identity within autobiographical comic books and graphic novels. As many scholars note (Eisner, Hatfield, McCloud), the handcrafting of comics allows the form to better channel the philosophy and worldview of artists than more traditional forms of literature. Furthermore, comics are a more democratic form than resource- or skills-intensive media such as film or games. In my research I wish to explore how comics can be used to tell stories that help us understand and better ourselves, and the world.

Formal Activities/Training

The chief activity in the planned pilot study is a series of comic book workshops with (Confidential) reference group. People in this group have personal experience of mental health problems and have signed up as advocates to help others.

As a comics artist who has run a number of comic book workshops and drawing challenges, I am experienced at organising, facilitating and supporting such activities, both online and in physical spaces.

However, given the sensitivities involved with working with vulnerable groups I will need to establish a framework and support for such activities. To that end I will work with research mentors and co-investigators with extensive collected experience in working with marginalised groups, including close ties and successful collaborations with the planned industry partner. I will also secure ethics clearance from Swinburne and approval from —– to ensure that all protocols are correct, appropriate, and exceed Swinburne’s equity goals and Charter of Cultural Diversity.

To organise the research and prepare the findings for publication, I will build on my PhD on Autofictographic storytelling and carry out further research on identity negotiation and writing, with the goal of establishing an approach that will be valuable for future research including my own planned research activities.

Roles and Contributions

——- works in partnership with health services, schools, workplaces, universities, media and community organisations, as well as people living with anxiety and depression, their friends and family, to raise community awareness of anxiety and depression and reduce associated stigma. We plan to work with their ——- group in a series of storytelling and comic creation workshops.

During the workshops we will aid in the creation of comics and illustrations depicting the normally invisible world of mental health disorders. As this group are not only people with lived experiences of mental health disorder but also volunteers and peer mentors, they are well placed to communicate these issues with our assistance in storytelling and comic making.

——– will also be approached to aid in dissemination of finished works through educational settings, workplaces, health services and online, which aligns with their goal of raising awareness of mental health related issues and removing the stigmas associated with mental health.

The founders of ———– will be key to providing our project pilot with the wealth of their experience. Both organisations have spent years running projects that use various narrative and musical arts to develop individual self esteem, social capacity, creative skills and community bonds, with at-risk teens and incarcerated youth from diverse backgrounds and various indicators of social disadvantage.

Project summary

InVisDev: Visualising Mental Health Disorder through Comic Book Workshops is a series of comic workshops working with members from ——- to depict the lived experience of mental health disorder using the medium of comics. Mental Health is an “invisible disability” and a critically important issue in today’s society, particularly within marginalised groups, the creative sector, and students (Knuiman, Rosenberg 2016). The project will work with participants to understand and utilize basic storytelling and medium-specific concepts, in order to visually express their experience of living with mental health, and its impact upon their life and interactions. Where required we will enlist local artists and students to assist in the interpretation of complex visual concepts.

Partnering with ——- for this pilot project will enable access to workshop participants who are able to communicate authentic stories to the timely theme of mental health. The —– reference group identified by —— is an ideal fit for this project based on their lived experience and as ambassadors and peer mentors to others suffering with mental health disorder. As such, they represent a thorough understanding of, and sensitivity towards, the authentic graphic representation of mental health disorder.

The research team will collaborate with —– and research mentors to identify and establish best practice to ensure the health and safety of participants during workshops, and a formal process to follow in workshop design. Working with the ——- group, we form a small team of participants for the workshops. Workshop content will include basic tutorials to give an introduction to storytelling in comics and the use of art materials, allowing them to visualize their experience of mental health from a subjective perspective using the medium of comics and illustration.

This pilot project has been designed in such a way as to be scaleable according to subsequent research funding, as per the third point of this Developmental Scheme’s Rationale. This project can thereby maximise its reach and social impact through multiple community partners and participants in the future, in a way that furthers participants’ sense of self, community partner missions and goals, and increases the relevance of the comics medium and the arts to Australian society.

Intended Outcomes

Research outcomes from InVisDev will include an international conference presentation, two peer-reviewed journal articles, and NTROs in the form of an exhibition of works, and a printed anthology collecting exemplar outputs. Copies printed will be distributed by —– and at Swinburne events, as well as through student services.

Conferences targeted for abstract submission are International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics, Graphic Medicine, and Society for Cinema and Media Studies. As the research will not be at a sufficiently advanced stage for 2019 conference participation, submissions will be prepared for 2020 delivery, allowing for critical summary and reflection on the project.

Paper One will focus on the research methodology and structure of workshops, to be submitted to Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society. Paper two will focus on the analysis of participant outputs and feedback. The research will be submitted to a relevant journal such as International Journal of Mental Health Systems.

The goal of this pilot study is to develop a suitable framework for working with a broader range of marginalized or at-risk groups, with the assistance of an ARC Linkage Grant.

Timeline of Activities


– Initial communications with —- Seek approval from board.

– Contact Human Research Ethics Team to assess Ethics requirements

– Seek advice regarding copyright and use of completed works


– SUHREC Ethics Clearance submission

– Research for paper 1 (issues into stigmas and misconceptions relating to mental health, existing methodologies for overcoming and raising awareness)


– Planning workshop content and structure

– Advice from research mentors- working with participants, surveys/feedback forms

– Research for Paper 1 (essay structure)


– Approval from —-

– Ethics Clearance received

– Confirm participants, publish workshop session plan

– Finalise InVisDev workshop planning (room booking, catering)

– First draft paper 1 (finalise structure/workshop data collection methodology)


– InVisDev workshop 1

– Second draft paper 1 and conference preparation

– Send works from workshop 1 to artists for redrafting where required


– InVisDev workshop 2

– Send works from workshop 2 to artists for redrafting where required

– Third draft paper 1 with participant feedback


– Fourth draft paper 1- analysis of workshop, tighten structure

– Editing submitted workshop outputs


– Submit Notice of Intent to RIC (Linkage Grant)

– Fifth draft paper 1, editing

– Deadline for artists

– InVisDev publication design process


– Send completed works to —— for approval and edits

– Sixth draft paper 1, editing


– 13th November- submit review ready application to RIC (Linkage Grant)

– Final draft paper 1, submit to Q1 Journal

– Collection of edited and approved works compiled and sent for printing


– Public exhibition of works

– 11th December- Submit final application to RIC (Linkage Grant)

– 13th December- Submit final application to ARC (Linkage Grant)

– First draft paper 2- Analysis of workshop outcomes

– NTRO publication submission- book and exhibition

Obviously due to the time taken to receive word on funding this project is already behind. Do you think this is too ambitious? Let me know in the comments.