Comics as Computation

15 November 2023 — 10:45   |   ULiège, Faculté de philosophie, arts & lettres (Quai Roosevelt 1B – access from Place du XX août), building A4 (histoire), Room A4/R30 (ground floor).

A talk by Ilan Manouach, who will be presenting his postdoctoral research project (ULiège).


Nowadays, anyone can generate stunning algorithmic illustrations with a few inspired keywords. In the fast-evolving world of computational creativity, the potential impact of AI technologies on comics, a medium that has historically served as a laboratory for today’s global entertainment industries, is a case in point. With the term « synthetic comics, » I propose to describe comics content that was generated, modified or manipulated in a highly automated manner by way of machine learning. While this emergent practice certainly challenges the established craftsmanship traditions, it forces us to requalify comics in terms of Big Data, and to revise the extent of automation in the comics industry’s history. In tune with emergent trends and weak signals in the fast-changing nature of computational creativity, this talk ambitions to advance an understanding of comics as a large ontology of non-photographic, metadata-rich imagery. The medium’s informatization has important cultural and economic considerations, intensely more so in countries where comics is an essential part of their popular cultural heritage, and where there is a collective stake in what its future(s) would look like.

Ilan will also be presenting some of his earlier published work of conceptual comics, and more recent work that was co-created with emergent AI such as Fastwalkers, the Neural Yorker and Chimeras (ed.), a collective glossary on AI, with 150 contributors exploring a variety of epistemic perspectives on artificial intelligence, interspecies, crip, monstrous, feminist, distributed, and decolonial, among others.

Ilan Manouach is an artist, a book publisher and a researcher on comics and literary arts. He is currently an affiliate scholar at Harvard’s MetaLAB, and a postdoctoral scholar on « Computational Creativity » at the University of Liège. Author of over 25 comic books (three of which co-created with AI), Ilan is mostly known for Shapereader, a system for tactile storytelling specifically designed for blind and partially sighted readers/makers of comics. He is the founder of Echo Chamber, a non-profit organization exploring radical and speculative artistic practices in contemporary comics. On the side, Ilan is responsible for the Conceptual Comics Collections at Ubuweb, is an appointed expert on the comic book industry to the Belgian government, and works as a strategy consultant for the Onassis Foundation in Greece. His latest books include Chimeras: Inventory of Synthetic Cognition (ed.), a collective interdisciplinary glossary on AI, the Neural Yorker and Fastwalkers, a 512-page synthetic comic book co-created emergent tools from the ML space.

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