We know, we know, comics are all the rave right now. And with the onslaught of action packed pointillist perfection, has come some much needed diversity. We’ve seen butt-kicking fems and racially diverse superheros, but until recently we had yet to encounter comics designed (and beautifully so) for the blind.
They may not be mainstream yet, but were hoping that Ilan Manouach’s designs will make their way into the hands of every visually impaired comic-lover. Prior to his specialized comic books, Manouach was already widely known for his work with “conceptual comics“, focusing on projects that draw from his jazz background with elements of architecture, sound, and space. His latest conceptual project, that he terms Shapereader, comes to us from this background of intersecting interests and the overarching goal of creating something relatable and accessible to all.
Okay so how does it actually work exactly? First and foremost, like any good comic, the narrative is the ultimate prize of the work; the tactile medium is secondary to story. Manouach’s story, titled Arctic Circle, centers on two climatologists journeying to the North Pole, encountering all sorts of dwellers, creatures and cryptic messages. Rather than graphics and speech bubbles, his comic uses tactigrams, or tactile ideograms that use a textured surface to represent objects, feelings, actions, and the vast scope of narrative features. Anxiety can be represented by a series of jagged lines, snow mirrors the lumpy shapes they make on the ground, all of which can be easily memorized by the reader.
The tactile alphabet is “intuitive and doesn’t involve any technical training to learn,” according to Manouach.. Each symbol appears as raised shapes repeated across the comic’s 57 ‘pages’ (wooden surfaces), and have “more in common with Chinese pictograms than with braille letters or the Roman alphabet.” The book comes complete with an index of every tactigram.
“I wanted to produce a sensual work that could bypass verbovocovisual stimuli solely by the universal use of touch,” Manouach told Hyperallergic.
Beyond a single story, the tactigrams can also be rearranged by touching them in a different order, and subsequently shift the plot. With Manouach’s comic, readers are stimulated in deeper more profound ways, feeling their way through the arctic tundra and the brutality of the climate rather than simply visualizing it. Although not available to the public just yet, the debut read with be showcased at Washington University, Seattle this September.
Images courtesy of Hyperallergic.