Thursday, July 04, 2019

Why Teaching a Comic Craft Module is Perfect for Your Classroom

As a comic artist, I am a huge advocate for comics.  I believe that there is a comic genre and an art style for every reader, and I want to help non-comic readers find a comic they can love.  I adore the juxtaposition of art and text and feel that comics are the perfect medium.

Unfortunately, comics are still not taught in many classrooms and are still frequently treated like a second-class form of literature (if they're treated as literature at all).   Comics are not a replacement for novels, poetry, short fiction, or nonfiction- it is a unique medium on its own.  In some way, shape or form, comics have been with us since the dawn of time- sequential art is an important part of human history.  From cave drawings to stained glass, from altarpieces to hymnals, we have used sequential art and storytelling to convey information to those with varying degrees of literacy.

Today I'd like to share with you why comics are a great fit for many classrooms, and why you should consider teaching a module on comics.  If you need guidance or additional resources, don't hesitate to email me, I'm happy to help!

The focus of this post is to encourage teachers and librarians to teach comics as a method of storytelling, and not necessarily as an industry to enter.  Comics as an industry is in a constant state of flux- the industry of today is not going to be the same industry your students enter as professionals.  And within the comics industry, there are many paths- webcomics (self-published online), self-published books, working as an independent creator on a creator-owned project with an indie press, working on a creator-owned project with a large press, working on an existing IP for a publisher, and each path is different.  The one constant throughout all these paths is a need to communicate visually, to convey stories, and to utilize visual media and the written word to tell a story.

This ability to communicate visually is a valuable skill that is underutilized and sets students and employees apart, regardless of your students' interest in creating comics outside of the classroom, or their ability to draw.  Even stick figures can be an effective medium for storytelling, as evidenced by the Kingdom of Loathing and West of Loathing games, as well as by the popular webcomic XKCD.

Comics, and comic storytelling has application far outside the art sphere.  Comics are cross-discipline and can be useful for conveying information about history (The Warren Commission Report, The Crogan's Adventures series), science (:01 Second's Science Comics series), math (Economix, What If), music (Hip Hop Family Tree), computer science (Wizzywig, xkcd), philosophy (The Unflattening), geometry and design (The Acme Novelty Library) and more.  Comics are a useful platform for creative writing, encouraging students to tell stories visually.  For struggling and emerging readers, comics also provide visual support for literacy and can be useful for children and adults with emotional development disorders learn important socialization skills.

English/Writing/Composition Classes
  • Comics is a form of storytelling- story composition, story construction, three-act structure, crafting dialogue, creating engaging characters and believable settings
  • Comic craft, as a broader topic, also involves the ability to write a synopsis, create a pitch, craft a story with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Analyzing comics- short and long- for what works, what doesn't work
  • Teaches students to think about story both in a written form (script) and in a visual form (final comic or final thumbnails)- storytelling is taught in two dimensions
  • Comic drawing and reading provide hands-on engagement- this engages multiple senses
  • Works well for various types of learning styles

  • Scripts can be loose or follow a very strict format- from plotform (which just describes the actions on the page, if that) to a structured script that includes setting, shot and stage direction, character acting and motivation, and descriptions of clothing and facial expression.
  • Can focus on just getting them to the thumbnails stage-still strong focus on visual communication, less emphasis on drawing technical skills
  • Students who enjoy it can earn extra credit for additional levels of finish

  • Collaboration- communication and cooperation- comic process can be broken into discrete stages and distributed amongst a 'studio' or group of students- writer, editor, penciler, inker
  • Practice positive and useful forms of critique- aimed at making the product better at every stage
  • Almost any professional writer or artist needs peer review and editing, so these are valuable skills that translate to other industries as well, including programming and engineering

Even within the framework of an English class, comics are:

Multi-Discipline- comics require math (multiplication, measurement, geometry)
Science- observation, and analyzation
Computer skills- research, digitizing and correcting finished comic pages, website building and maintenance
Collaboration- Students can opt to work together to complete a single project, or may exchange editing and critique skills to improve their personal projects
Public speaking comes into play if your class hosts a mini comic or zine exchange- students can practice summarizing and pitching their comic projects to classmates, then present the project to the class

  • Comics support literacy and social skills through a combination of text and imagery.  Children who struggle socially may find comics provide cause and effect scenarios that combine dialogue, facial expression, and body language
  • While comics are great for struggling students, it is not JUST for those students- comics are for everyone and can be as simple or as complicated as you wish


Art Classes

  • Comics are a natural fit for art classes and would make a perfect collaboration between art and English/fiction classes
  • Comics teaches cartooning- the distillation and processing of visual information.  It requires more critical thinking, but less technical skill than drawing from reference, and students may find cartooning far preferable to more realistic drawing
  • Cartooning is also an excellent opportunity to teach figure drawing, perspective, drawing from reference, drawing clothing, drawing hair, understanding folds- basically comics can be a great way to encourage students to draw outside their comfort zones
  • Cartooning allows more room for creativity and imagination
  • Cartooning still teaches valuable art skills- students still need to understand anatomy, develop systems for drawing, need to understand observation, perspective, and composition.  Cartooning just presents this in a format that is more palatable to many artists, with skills that are more relevant to their daily lives
  • Cartooning and comics do not take the place of learning traditional art skills- these skills are useful for comic artists
  • GOOD COMICS DONT HAVE TO HAVE GOOD ART! This can be an easy entryway for timid artists to develop artistic motor skills and build confidence
  • Many of your students already enjoy comics, anime, and manga, so you're utilizing an existing interest to teach them new techniques

When Contacting Artists
  • Please only contact artists who are open for such contact-this type of help is time-consuming and frequently unpaid.
  • Many comic artists willing to do classroom visits or Skype visits
  • Loads of resources available online, Google around before you email a specific question
  • Consider tipping (Paypal, Ko-Fi, Patreon) comic artists who are willing to help

Any educator who needs resources for teaching comics, please feel free to email me

About me

I'm a comic artist and illustrator with an MFA in Sequential Art and a BA in Fine Art.  My Master's thesis explored how the comic page layout affects a reader's comprehension and focused mainly on younger readers.  While working on my thesis, I became convinced that comics were a perfect medium for readers of all ages, particularly younger readers and struggling readers.  Many teachers and librarians at the time believed that comics hindered reading, but even then, there was sufficient research that proved the opposite- comics are an excellent addition to picture and prose books and reinforce not only reading skills, but also social and spatial skills.  This research inspired me to pursue kidlit comics as my focus, and my comic, 7" Kara, combines beautiful watercolor art (reminiscent of children's picture books) with comic craft.  Now I spend my time teaching comic workshops, leading comic community ed classes, and creating kidlit comics.

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