Not many dissertations are considered for comic book awards, but Nick Sousanis’s “Unflattening” is no ordinary treatise.
Sousanis’ dissertation at Columbia University, “Unflattening”was awarded the Lynd Ward Prize for Graphic Novels on the afternoon of Oct. 6.
Presented by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book and sponsored by Penn State University Libraries, the Lynd Ward Prize is awarded by a jury to the author of what it considers to be the best work published the past year. Though he now teaches about comics at the University of Calgary, Sousanis said the medium was not taken as seriously when he studied math as an undergraduate.
“[At] the time I went to school, comics were not something you studied,” Sousanis said to the audience gathered in Foster Auditorium. “And they weren’t really something you did if you thought of yourself as an intellectual.”
Sousanis wished to step outside of the constraint that mathematicians lack talent, or that artists are not intelligent.
In “Unflattening,” he uses a two-dimensional mediums to explore the multidimensionality of our biases, perspectives, and perceptions of the world around us.
John McComas of the State College Comic Swap, served on the jury that selected the comic as the winner of the year’s prize, and spoke of the comic book as an “ascendant” form as opposed to an established one.
“It borrows from the most poignant and powerful delivery mechanisms of our other established mediums, but it has to do it all at once at the same time,” McComas said.
McComas said the comic seemed to reach for a lot higher and loftier goals.
Camila Gutierrez read the work as part of a course she took on graphic medicine, and said she creates comics of her own — “Unflattening” validated the idea of visual learning and thought
“You can lift from the flat text more information as you work with [visuals],” Gutierrez (graduate–comparative literature) said. “I think a book like this can help you think differently about the way you take notes, about the way you write your essays. If you can make a big doodle of an outline and then turn that into an essay or a comic, that’s really useful.”