Teacher's Lounge

Teacher’s guide chapter 1: Building Blocks

Lectures & discussions

1.1 Defining “comics”

This is a good opportunity to solicit ideas from your group on what they think about comics. In some cases, they won’t have thought about their assumptions about comics at all. You might encounter resistance to the idea of even trying to define comics. This can all be productive—bring up leading examples, such as a series of paintings on a wall, a series of sculptures in a space, a single-panel comic. Try to get students arguing and staking out territory. The list of questions at the end of the section can be helpful conversation starters, as can the various possible definitions we present—have students compare them and decide which they think aligns more closely with their own ideas, and why.

Another idea is to start with a list of characteristics students think go into comics. Do this without even opening the book. They might be formal elements like word balloons, or content such as superheroes. Start by uncritically listing them all. Then interrogate various items, asking, for example, “Is it possible to have a comic that has no word balloons? What would it be like?” (The answers being along the lines of silent comics, or comics with only narration, or with dialogue, but no balloons around it.)

You might have students read McCloud’s Understanding Comics chapter 1 for this class, as well.

The conversation might leak over into the “what’s in a name?” sidebar—that’s fine. It’s really a continuous topic. It’s not crucial to discuss the name “comics” in class, but it can be a help to arm students with ways to talk to family and friends about what they’re doing.

1.2 Terminology

It’s important to go over terminology quickly, just to make sure everyone has the basic language down, and in common. Some usual gaps in knowledge: Tiers, gutters, spreads, bleeds. Also, of course, emanata. Defining this one can be fun: have students describe various signs and symbols they’ve seen, and you can draw them on the board. Be as inclusive as possible; make sure you’ve got motion lines and speed lines on the list, so students can see how emanata apply to their work.



Further reading

Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art ———, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative David Kunzle, History of the Comic Strip. Vol. 1, The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825 ———, History of the Comic Strip. Vol. 2, The Nineteenth Century Scott McCloud, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels ———, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Homework: Drawing in Action

Extra credit: Jam comics

Although we put this activity in the Extra credit section, we encourage you to set 45 minutes to an hour aside to do some jam comics. They're a great way to end a first class. They're fun, low pressure, and get students talking and laughing together. You might bring with you enough 9-panel-grid for each student to have one. That way you have a consistent amount of work to do on each page. Explain the various constraints, and have students pick one each, then write their choice on the top of the page before starting. Walk around and help people figure out what they want to do, then encourage them as they work. Students are likely to be shy at first, but need to keep trading pages in order to finish the jams, so make them stand up as soon as they've finished a panel, and walk over to other students who've finished to trade. This concept, of making them stand and walk around, is reliably helpful in getting students energized. The excitement is infectious, and by the end you won’t need to prompt them. As they finish the comics, post them on the wall. When they are all finished it's gratifying to congratulate the class and tell them they've just completed x number of comics in 45 minutes. If you have time, it's a good idea to do an informal, student-led discussion of the pages. Ask the students which ones they think are funniest? Which have the most coherent stories? Which jam rules produced the most interesting results? Can anyone point to a comic that could be improved (made clearer, funnier, more poetic) by some slight changes?

Extra extra credit A: editing

Extra extra credit B: phoenix comic

Either of these assignments can be used to introduce or underscore the concepts of editing/rewriting and idea generation/creative problem-solving, respectively.

Homework critique from Chapter 1: "Drawing in action"

The most important element of this critique is the same as in "Drawing time: actions in a panel," that is, is the action readable and clear? This means both can you understand who is doing what? And, do you tend to read the action in the order intended? You can use tracing paper over students' work to trace the line of action and/or the line readers would be likely to follow in looking at the panel. You hope these two lines will be the same, but they won't always be. You can also use this crit to open the discussion of composition. Initially, you're dealing with composition in the purely utilitarian sense: does the panel function? But you can add a layer of aesthetics with the fifth bullet point in the crit:
  • How are the images framed?
  • How might you choose to frame,crop, and design any image differently?
  • Think of at least three alternately framed versions of each panel. Sketch them quickly on a piece of paper or on a blackboard.
Here, you're talking about the functionality (or lack of such) in a panel, but you can also talk about the way cropping a figure differently, for example, might affect the emotional resonance of a panel. See Chapter 11, section 11.1, for more discussion of the effect of artists' compositional decisions on the meaning of a panel. Click on the link to see examples of the homework from the student study guide with some commentary. Drawing in action