As It Happens

B.C. art teacher submits thesis in the form of a comic book

Meghan Parker has earned a master of arts degree from B.C.'s Simon Fraser University after successfully defending a 236-page graphic novel about art and teaching.

'I think it's a really exciting form for scholarship of all kinds,' says graduate Meghan Parker

Meghan Parker published her master's thesis in the form of a comic book. (Art Teacher in Process/Meghan Parker)

A Vancouver high school art teacher has written a thesis people might actually want to read. 

Meghan Parker graduates this month with a master of arts degree from Simon Fraser University after successfully defending her thesis — a 236-page graphic novel about art and teaching. 

"I have always been a person who makes things and draws and doodles, so it seemed kind of the right way for me," Parker told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

Parker has managed to create a thesis you might actually want to pick up and read. (Submitted by Meghan Parker)

Called Art Teacher in Process: An Illustrated Exploration of Art, Education and What Matters, the thesis is part autobiography, part exploration of what it means to make and study art in the classroom.

"It is about my experience as an early career public school visual arts teacher. It's about why visual literacy is important, why art education is important, why the arts are important, and then sort of through the process, kind of figuring out who I am and what's important to me," Parker said.

"The more you do something, the more skilled you get at it, so over the process, it was really rewarding. And it kind of became my language through which to think."

Parker's thesis explores what it means to teach and study visual art. (Art Teacher in Process/Meghan Parker )

Parker said she had tremendous support from the university to pursue this unconventional approach to academia. 

But not everybody was so generous. 

"There were a few unkind things on Twitter," she said. "Things like, 'Oh get your crayons out and you can get a master's degree' or 'My 10-year-old could have done this.'"

But that only reinforces her dedication to the craft, she said. 

"That's part of the reason I think it's an important work because, you know, we privilege text and I kind of ask the question at the beginning of the thesis: Why does scholarship look like this — pieces of paper with 12-point font Times New Roman?" she said.

Meghan Parker has published a master's thesis in the form of a comic book. (Art Teacher in Process/Meghan Parker )

She also took an unconventional approach to defending her thesis, inviting one her students to accompany her performance on the ukulele.

Not only was she successful, but she was awarded the 2017 Arts Researchers Teachers Graduate Research Award for her efforts. 

"The tools that we work with shape what it's possible to think. So I think that there are things that can be said in this form and I think it's a really exciting form for scholarship of all kinds," Parker said.

"Not just arts education, but I think to explain concepts, to explore ideas, to tell narrative, to share with others. I think it has a really big potential and I'm excited by that."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that SFU believes Parker is the first Canadian to complete a thesis in comic book form. However, several people have written to As It Happens with other examples.