Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

15 June 2020

Marginal Voices in UK Digital Comics

I am an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student based at the British Library and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UAL). The studentship is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Programme.

Supervised jointly by Stella Wisdom from the British Library, Roger Sabin and Ian Hague from UAL, my research looks to explore the potential for digital comics to take advantage of digital technologies and the digital environment to foster inclusivity and diversity. I aim to examine the status of marginal voices within UK digital comics, while addressing the opportunities and challenges these comics present for the British Library’s collection and preservation policies.

A cartoon strip of three vertical panel images, in the first a caravan is on the edge of a cliff, in the second a dog asleep in a bed, in the third the dog wakes up and sits up in bed
The opening panels from G Bear and Jammo by Jaime Huxtable, showing their caravan on The Gower Peninsula in South Wales, copyright © Jaime Huxtable

Digital comics have been identified as complex digital publications, meaning this research project is connected to the work of the broader Emerging Formats Project. On top of embracing technological change, digital comics have the potential to reflect, embrace and contribute to social and cultural change in the UK. Digital comics not only present new ways of telling stories, but whose story is told.

One of the comic creators, whose work I have been recently examining is Jaime Huxtable, a Welsh cartoonist/illustrator based in Worthing, West Sussex. He has worked on a variety of digital comics projects, from webcomics to interactive comics, and also runs various comics related workshops.

Samir's Christmas by Jaime Huxtable, this promotional comic strip was created for Freedom From Torture’s 2019 Christmas Care Box Appeal. This comic was  made into a short animated video by Hands Up, copyright © Jaime Huxtable

My thesis will explore whether the ways UK digital comics are published and consumed means that they can foreground marginal, alternative voices similar to the way underground comix and zine culture has. Comics scholarship has focused on the technological aspects of digital comics, meaning their potentially significant contribution reflecting and embracing social and cultural change in the UK has not been explored. I want to establish whether the fact digital comics can circumvent traditional gatekeepers means they provide space to foreground marginal voices. I will also explore the challenges and opportunities digital comics might present for legal deposit collection development policy.

As well as being a member of the Comics Research Hub (CoRH) at UAL, I have already begun working with colleagues from the UK Web Archive, and hope to be able to make a significant contribution to the Web Comic Archive. Issues around collection development and management are central to my research, I feel very fortunate to be based at the British Library, to have the chance to learn from and hopefully contribute to practice here.

If anyone would like to know more about my research, or recommend any digital comics for me to look at, please do contact me at Tom.Gebhart@bl.uk or @thmsgbhrt on Twitter. UK digital comic creators and publishers can use the ComicHaus app to send their digital comics directly to The British Library digital archive. More details about this process are here.

This post is by British Library collaborative doctoral student Thomas Gebhart (@thmsgbhrt).

12 June 2020

Making Watermarks Visible: A Collaborative Project between Conservation and Imaging

Some of the earliest documents being digitised by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership are a series of ship’s journals dating from 1605 - 1705, relating to the East India Company’s voyages. Whilst working with these documents, conservators Heather Murphy and Camille Dekeyser-Thuet noticed within the papers a series of interesting examples of early watermark design. Curious about the potential information these could give regarding the journals, Camille and Heather began undertaking research, hoping to learn more about the date and provenance of the papers, trade and production patterns involved in the paper industry of the time, and the practice of watermarking paper. There is a wealth of valuable and interesting information to be gained from the study of watermarks, especially within a project such as the BLQFP which provides the opportunity for study within both IOR and Arabic manuscript material. We hope to publish more information relating to this online with the Qatar Digital Library in the form of Expert articles and visual content.

The first step within this project involved tracing the watermark designs with the help of a light sheet in order to begin gathering a collection of images to form the basis of further research. It was clear that in order to make the best possible use of the visual information contained within these watermarks, they would need to be imaged in a way which would make them available to audiences in both a visually appealing and academically beneficial form, beyond the capabilities of simply hand tracing the designs.

Hand tracings of the watermark designs
Hand tracings of the watermark designs

 

This began a collaboration with two members of the BLQFP imaging team, Senior Imaging Technician Jordi Clopes-Masjuan and Senior Imaging Support Technician Matt Lee, who, together with Heather and Camille, were able to devise and facilitate a method of imaging and subsequent editing which enabled new access to the designs. The next step involved the construction of a bespoke support made from Vivak (commonly used for exhibition mounts and stands). This inert plastic is both pliable and transparent, which allowed the simultaneous backlighting and support of the journal pages required to successfully capture the watermarks.

Creation of the Vivak support
Creation of the Vivak support
Imaging of pages using backlighting
Imaging of pages using backlighting
Studio setup for capturing the watermarks
Studio setup for capturing the watermarks

 

Before capturing, Jordi suggested we create two comparison images of the watermarks. This involved capturing the watermarks as they normally appear on the digitised image (almost or completely invisible), and how they appear illuminated when the page is backlit. The theory behind this was quite simple: “to obtain two consecutive images from the same folio, in the exact same position, but using a specific light set-up for each image”.

By doing so, the idea was for the first image to appear in the same way as the standard, searchable images on the QDL portal. To create these standard image captures, the studio lights were placed near the camera with incident light towards the document.

The second image was taken immediately after, but this time only backlight was used (light behind the document). In using these two different lighting techniques, the first image allowed us to see the content of the document, but the second image revealed the texture and character of the paper, including conservation marks, possible corrections to the writing, as well as the watermarks.

One unexpected occurrence during imaging was, due to the varying texture and thickness of the papers, the power of the backlight had to be re-adjusted for each watermark.

First image taken under normal lighting conditions
First image taken under normal lighting conditions 
Second image of the same page taken using backlighting
Second image of the same page taken using backlighting 

https://www.qdl.qa/en/archive/81055/vdc_100000001273.0x000342

 

Previous to our adopted approach, other imaging techniques were also investigated: 

  • Multispectral photography: by capturing the same folio under different lights (from UV to IR) the watermarks, along with other types of hidden content such as faded ink, would appear. However, it was decided that this process would take too long for the number of watermarks we were aiming to capture.
  • Light sheet: Although these types of light sheets are extremely slim and slightly flexible, we experienced some issues when trying the double capture, as on many occasions the light sheet was not flexible enough, and was “moving” the page when trying to reach the gutter (for successful final presentation of the images it was mandatory that the folio on both captures was still).

Once we had successfully captured the images, Photoshop proved vital in allowing us to increase the contrast of the watermark and make it more visible. Because every image captured was different, the approach to edit the images was also different. This required varying adjustments of levels, curves, saturation or brightness, and combining these with different fusion modes to attain the best result. In the end, the tools used were not as important as the final image. The last stage within Photoshop was for both images of the same folio to be cropped and exported with the exact same settings, allowing the comparative images to match as precisely as possible.

The next step involved creating a digital line drawing of each watermark. Matt Lee, a Senior Imaging Support Technician, imported the high-resolution image captures onto an iPad and used the Procreate drawing app to trace the watermarks with a stylus pen. To develop an approach that provided accurate and consistent results, Matt first tested brushes and experimented with line qualities and thicknesses. Selecting the Dry Ink brush, he traced the light outlines of each watermark on a separate transparent layer. The tracings were initially drawn in white to highlight the designs on paper and these were later inverted to create black line drawings that were edited and refined.

Tracing the watermarks directly from the screen of an iPad provided a level of accuracy and efficiency that would be difficult to achieve on a computer with a graphics tablet, trackpad or computer mouse. There were several challenges in tracing the watermarks from the image captures. For example, the technique employed by Jordi was very effective in highlighting the watermarks, but it also made the laid and chain lines in the paper more prominent and these would merge or overlap with the light outline of the design.

Some of the watermarks also appeared distorted, incomplete or had handwritten text on the paper which obscured the details of the design. It was important that the tracings were accurate and some gaps had to be left. However, through the drawing process, the eye began to pick out more detail and the most exciting moment was when a vague outline of a horse revealed itself to be a unicorn with inset lettering.

Vector image of unicorn watermark
Vector image of unicorn watermark

 

In total 78 drawings of varying complexity and design were made for this project. To preserve the transparent backgrounds of the drawings, they were exported first as PNG files. These were then imported into Adobe Illustrator and converted to vector drawings that can be viewed at a larger size without loss of image quality.

Vector image of watermark featuring heraldic designs(Drawing)
Vector image of watermark featuring heraldic designs

 

Once the drawings were complete, we now had three images - the ‘traditional view’ (the page as it would normally appear), the ‘translucid view’ (the same page backlit and showing the watermark) and the ‘translucid + white view’ (the translucid view plus additional overlay of the digitally traced watermark in place on the page).

Traditional view
Traditional view
Translucid view
Translucid view
Translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracingtranslucid+white view
Translucid view with watermark highlighted by digital tracing

 

Jordi was able to take these images and, by using a multiple slider tool, was able to display them on an offline website. This enabled us to demonstrate this tool to our team and present the watermarks in the way we had been wishing from the beginning, allowing people to both study and appreciate the designs.

Watermarks Project Animated GIF

 

This is a guest post by Heather Murphy, Conservator, Jordi Clopes-Masjuan, Senior Imaging Technician and Matt Lee, Senior Imaging Support Technician from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

 

10 June 2020

International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling 2020: Call for Papers, Posters and Interactive Creative Works

It has been heartening to see many joyful responses to our recent post featuring The British Library Simulator; an explorable, miniature, virtual version of the British Library’s building in St Pancras.

If you would like to learn more about our Emerging Formats research, which is informing our work in collecting examples of complex digital publications, including works made with Bitsy, then my colleague Giulia Carla Rossi (who built the Bitsy Library) is giving a Leeds Libraries Tech Talk on Digital Literature and Interactive Storytelling this Thursday, 11th June at 12 noon, via Zoom.

Giulia will be joined by Leeds Libraries Central Collections Manager, Rhian Isaac, who will showcase some of Leeds Libraries exciting collections, and also Izzy Bartley, Digital Learning Officer from Leeds Museums and Galleries, who will talk about her role in making collections interactive and accessible. Places are free, but please book here.

If you are a researcher, or writer/artist/maker, of experimental interactive digital stories, then you may want to check out the current call for submissions for The International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS), organised by the Association for Research in Digital Interactive Narratives, a community of academics and practitioners concerned with the advancement of all forms of interactive narrative. The deadline for proposing Research Papers, Exhibition Submissions, Posters and Demos, has been extended to the 26th June 2020, submissions can be made via the ICIDS 2020 EasyChair Site.

The ICIDS 2020 dates, 3-6 November, on a photograph of Bournemouth beach

ICIDS showcases and shares research and practice in game narrative and interactive storytelling, including the theoretical, technological, and applied design practices. It is an interdisciplinary gathering that combines computational narratology, narrative systems, storytelling technology, humanities-inspired theoretical inquiry, empirical research and artistic expression.

For 2020, the special theme is Interactive Digital Narrative Scholarship, and ICIDS will be hosted by the Department of Creative Technology of Bournemouth University (also hosts of the New Media Writing Prize, which I have blogged about previously). Their current intention is to host a mixed virtual and physical conference. They are hoping that the physical meeting will still take place, but all talks and works will also be made available virtually for those who are unable to attend physically due to the COVID-19 situation. This means that if you submit work, you will still need to register and present your ideas, but for those who are unable to travel to Bournemouth, the conference organisers will be making allowances for participants to contribute virtually.

ICIDS also includes a creative exhibition, showcasing interactive digital artworks, which for 2020 will explore the curatorial theme “Texts of Discomfort”. The exhibition call is currently seeking Interactive digital art works that generate discomfort through their form and/or their content, which may also inspire radical changes in the way we perceive the world.

Creatives are encouraged to mix technologies, narratives, points of view, to create interactive digital artworks that unsettle interactors’ assumptions by tackling the world’s global issues; and/or to create artworks that bring to a crisis interactors’ relation with language, that innovate in their way to intertwine narrative and technology. Artworks can include, but are not limited to:

  • Augmented, mixed and virtual reality works
  • Computer games
  • Interactive installations
  • Mobile and location-based works
  • Screen-based computational works
  • Web-based works
  • Webdocs and interactive films
  • Transmedia works

Submissions to the ICIDS art exhibition should be made using this form by 26th June. Any questions should be sent to icids2020arts@gmail.com. Good luck!

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom