Final Comic Expo in Reading Graphic Novels

About two weeks ago, I described my summer Reading Graphic Novels course and my students’ remarkable midterm comics.


Today, they submitted their final comics to share with the class.  And WOW!


We also had donuts.


For this assignment, I asked my students to compose a comic of at least 2 pages and 12 panels and 3 colors that communicates a thematically or emotionally unified personal narrative.

Final Comic 4381 Summer 2014_005

There were also to include annotations on the comic vocabulary they used while drawing their comics.


The annotations would appear on a separate page, typed or handwritten, that detail the comic vocabulary used in panels selected for annotation.


They were to refer to the comic vocabulary used by panel number and page number.  For example, the comic vocabulary of a motion lines used in panel 1 on page 1 would be signified as follows:  P1P1: motion lines.


They were required to include at least 10 annotations from the following list, and none could be repeated. 

  • Bordered panel
  • Panel border
  • Panel with no border
  • Gutter
  • Motion lines
  • Emanata
  • Inset panel
  • Panel within panel
  • Narrative box
  • Speech bubble
  • Thought balloon
  • Close up
  • Medium shot
  • Long shot
  • Polyptych
  • Image echo
  • Transition – moment to moment *
  • Transition—action to action *
  • Transition—subject to subject *
  • Transition—scene to scene *
  • Transition—aspect to aspect *
  • Transition—non sequitor *

* Each transition annotation should explain how the transition works between the panels.


Here below is a slideshow of photos of today’s class along with closer views of the amazing comics they created.  Choose fullscreen and pause for closer inspection of comics.  You can also access the slideshow here.

When I Was 6 X 6

Monday, June 30, 2014

This morning in my “Reading Graphic Novels” class, I asked students to draw a picture of themselves when they were 6 years old and then to develop a 6 panel comic based upon an experience they had during that time in their lives.

Because they have a Final Comic Assignment due in two days, I thought I’d give them a chance to draft something this morning that they might develop further into a 12 panel comic for this week.

First, I showed them an example or two of Lynda Barry’s “Marlys” comics to give them an idea of what might be possible.

Then I asked them to draw a portrait of how they looked at 6.  I also asked them to think about what clothes they might be wearing, what games or toys they played with, and the relationships they had with siblings and friends.

Next, I asked them to draw a narrative box in which they wrote, “I am [their name], and I am [some activity].”

After letting them draw and write for about 10 minutes, I then passed out blank 4 X 6 inch note cards and asked them to draw a 6 panel comic based upon their portrait and brief narrative.  After 15 minutes, I asked them to share their comics with each other, and then asked if anyone would like to share theirs with the class on the document camera.  About 8 students volunteered.

Here’s the one I sketched quickly;

My Job My Job_001 My Job_002 My Job_003 My Job_004 My Job_005I’m happy with what my students were able to sketch out for comics in the limited time I gave them.  Now I see that this is an exercise I could use in any class to prompt personal narrative writing.  I will definitely use this exercise in my creative writing class in the second summer session starting next Wednesday.  I’m also happy with what I learned about myself at the end of my comic.

Drawing is Learning

Monday, June 23, 2014.  San Angelo, Texas.

Today in class, I led my students through an exercise in which I asked them to remember one of their earliest memories, to write about that memory, and then to draw a 6 panel comic that captured the emotional content of that memory.

Memorial Day

This summer I am teaching an upper division special topics English course at Angelo State University titled “Reading Graphic Novels.”  For the course, students are reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Alan Moore and David Gibbon’s Watchmen, Joe Sacco’s Palestine, and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth.  (The syllabus for this course is here.)

In the Comics

In response to the daily reading assignments, students submit responses in the form of drawings.  These drawings use the “handmade thinking” technique I’ve developed wherein students choose among 21 visual formats that will serve as the basis for their drawings.  These visual formats or templates include common icons or images, such as a portrait, a web, a before and after sequence, a venn diagram, scales, layers, and a map.  (More on handmade thinking here.)


Students also have two major assignments in which they are to draw comics.  At midterm, I asked them to draw a comic of at least 2 pages, 12 panels, and 3 colors about an influential cartoonist or graphic novelist.  (A slideshow of their midterm comics is here.)  For their final, they will draw a comic with the same formal requirements, but this comic will be a personal narrative that has a emotionally or thematically unified content.  A slice of life or snapshot of some experience they’ve had.


The purpose of today’s activity was to provide them practice in accessing memorable experiences and converting those memories into a comic of 6 panels.  Because students have been studying comics and its visual vocabulary, as well as drawing two handmade responses each day, they have become quite comfortable and adept at drawing.  They know by now that visual analysis and composition is a mode of language learning and expression that is rarely taught in school when compared to textual literacy.

Literacy Shift

But they are now, after three short weeks of practice and very basic drawing instruction, pretty proficient at using images through their own drawings to capture their responses to the comics and graphic novels we are reading.  And their midterm comics were exceptional in their representation of the lives of influential comic artists and graphic novelists.

But in today’s exercise, I wanted them to sketch a comic out of their own experience, rather than in response to another text or subject.  And just as importantly, I wanted them to visualize and represent the emotional content of that experience.

Do It Yourself

So I asked them to close their eyes and consider that the memories they hold in their visual warehouse of memories were only stored there because they had emotional significance.  And I wanted them to go back into the farthest reaches of this warehouse, to the very back wall of the warehouse, to the place where they put their earliest memories, and to bring one of those into the light so they could see it better.


I then asked them to write about this memory for awhile.  And when it looked like most had captured that memory in words, I asked them to translate that memory into 6 panels of a comic.  I told them not to worry about having to include narrative boxes or dialogue but to focus on the emotional content of the images that might best depict this memory for others.


After they had shared these comics with each other, I then asked them to add an additional panel to the beginning of their comic and to add another panel at the end of their comic.  For the new first panel, I asked them to draw an establishing shot that might help their reader get a sense of where the action of their comic was taking place.  It could be a drawing of a house or a neighborhood or a larger perspective of a room.  For the final panel, I asked them to draw a close-up of an object that was already in one of their panels, an image that might assist in expressing the emotion of the memory.  After completing these additional panels, I asked students to share their comics again and talk about the changes they made and how these added panels contributed to the emotional content of the comics.

Contact Info

All I was trying to do in class today was help them prepare for their final comic assignment by giving them a chance to practice retrieving their memories, drafting a comic, and focusing on the visual representation of emotional content.  This exercise is similar to those we often use in a creative or first-year writing class to help students write out of their own experiences.

Poetry Workshop

But my teaching experience tells me that using visual language to communicate those emotions has a different kind of power for the artist and reader than words might.  As an engagement strategy, as a tool for learning and communicating, drawing has served my students well.  And it’s a damn shame we don’t promote visual language learning and performance in schools for all students.  My faith in the word has become stronger in school, but I have had to gain faith in the image on my own, like most artists do.  I’d like to see a drawing-across-the-curriculum agenda adopted by schools and colleges everywhere.  Drawing is thinking and learning and understanding and communicating, too.  Why limit the languages available to us?  Let us expand our perspectives on learning.


Midterm Comic Expo


Wednesday of this week my Angelo State students in a senior level course English 4381: “Reading Graphic Novels“ turned in their midterm comics.


In this class were 8 English majors and the rest were other liberal arts majors, except for one pre-nursing major.  There were no art majors in the class.


I wanted them to experience what it would be like to draw a comic themselves so that they might become better readers of the choices comic artists and graphic novelists make.


The assignment had relatively simple formal requirements: at least 2 pages, 12 panels, and 3 colors.


They were to draw the comic about an influential cartoonist or graphic novelist.


Amazingly, these 19 students …


selected 19 different artists.


More photos and a complete catalog of students and their comics from this midterm comic expo can be viewed in the slideshow below.  You can also access it here.