Toronto Metropolitan University
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Incendiary: A Digital Graphic Novel

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posted on 2024-06-19, 13:17 authored by Michael ZaharukMichael Zaharuk

The convergence of digital media with activism has become a powerful tool for social movements over the years. From the Arab Spring protests of 2010 to Black Lives Matter, digital media has been utilised extensively for the dissemination of activist ideas and agendas (Eltantawy, 2011). 

Illustration has enjoyed a long relationship to activism. The role of the artist as activist, seeking positive change through illustration, has been a long-standing tradition, from Victorian-era Punch cartoons to modern advocacy and social awareness campaigns (Scott, 2016). 

Graphic novels also have a long, kinetic history in advocating for progressive causes. The 1980 graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman, for example, brought widespread awareness about the horrors of the Holocaust to young audiences. It has since served as a trailblazer for comics that deal with disturbing societal issues such as racism or war (Geis, 2007).

For my Major Research Project I have set out to explore the graphic novel as a form of digital art and storytelling and will also examine its relationship to digital media and activism. In particular, my MRP focuses on creating a digital comic sample based around the ideas of three prominent American progressives. 

The working title of my comic is Incendiary – American Progressives and Radicals. This project will explore the ideas of three figures of the American left: Richard Wolff, Emma Goldman and Malcolm X. 

As an instructor of Illustrative Activism at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) for more than ten years, I have witnessed a dramatic increase in the prevalence of activist content on digital media platforms and the use of digital tools in content production. Digital media, borderless and often without cost to consumers, has the capacity to reach larger and ever-growing audiences (Eltantawy, 2011). 

Digital activism strives to affect positive change through digital media. This activism has the ability to help shape a more just and equitable society (Eltantawy, 2011). 

Additionally, digital platforms and websites have become essential to the livelihoods of many creative content providers who want to remain relevant with readers, and viewers (Carton, 2020). 

Social platforms such as Instagram, Patreon and Kickstarter are among the many digital platforms artists now use to attract and grow audiences. Many of these sites are free, democratising the ability of creatives to reach new people and markets (Carton, 2020). 

As a working artist, my desire to remain relevant in my field of practice and attract new audiences has motivated me to use new digital tools and technologies to create, produce and display my work. 

Michael CarterLike many artists who learned their craft through traditional tools and practices, I recognize the importance of showcasing my work on a wide range of digital platforms and frequently use digital technology to enhance or hasten my work process.





  • Master of Digital Media


  • Digital Media

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP

Thesis Advisor

Michael Carter



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