Lectures & discussions
3.1: A comic a day
One way to handle this discussion would be to make enlarged photocopies of the panels we’ve drawn, and then to follow the various steps we outline using the panels on a board. You might also solicit suggestions from students as to what kind of panel might work next, what’s a good choice, what isn’t. Please let us know if you come up with a funnier apple gag! We’d love to make ours better.
Another approach is to bring in your own collections of classic comic strips (or contemporary ones, for that matter), and analyze them as a group, as we do on pages 28-30. It’s important to do this kind of close reading, where you look at each panel in succession, paying attention to how the next panel adds to the story, and possibly subverts your expectations. Look, too, for visual flow, as demonstrated in the small graphics accompanying each strip. Many contemporary strips won’t show much flow at all; they’re too small to be able to utilize this kind of composition well.
Also, whether or not your class reads “How to Read Nancy,” Karasik and Newgarden’s essayis excellent preparation for a discussion of comic strips, both formally and in terms of narrative. Try some of the visual breakdown techniques from the end of the essay on strips you’re interested in.
This section needs little explanation, but it’s a good idea to bring in examples of thumbs that fit your specifications, i.e., on the correct-size paper, to the correct level of detail. We find that insisting that students use regular letter-size “office paper” for thumbs, and using a full sheet per page of thumbs helps us and the student. Us, by making it possible to carry a sheaf of them around without extra portfolios, and by making them large enough to (potentially) be readable. Students, by giving them an idea of the reproduced size of a comics page (approximately, of course), and what will fit on it, and, not insignificantly, by giving them practice at turning things in a required format, always an important skill.
Activity: The wrong planet
Most of the details you need to run this activity are already in the book—time limits on given sections, especially. It's important to jolly students along and make sure they don't take too long over the panels, or get too detailed. Also, inevitably, some students find it difficult to ignore differences in rocket design (or gender of astronaut). Pressure from you can help ease them past it. It's actually helpful in this case to NOT have the students read the activity through ahead of time. Then, when you tell them to perform the next transformation, it comes as a surprise, and they haven't had a chance to plan for it as they're drawing the previous stage. When students finish Step 3, the complete, edited story, it's time to let the various groups wander around and check out what other groups have done. You might point out parts that work particularly well in a given story, or even do a short critique. Some things to look for: the pacing of particular segments (do students want a very even feel, or should the parts in space feel slower, the arrival faster?), the links between sections (are they clear and smooth?), the logic and clarity of the ending. Step 4 is more for the fun of it than anything else. Of course the real individual qualities of the story will be pretty much erased by shortening the story so much, but each super-short version should still contain all five steps of the original assignment.
Bill Blackbeard, ed., Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics Robert C. Harvey, The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History ———, Children of the Yellow Kid: The Evolution of the American Comic Strip Jerry Robinson, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art
Homework: Strip it down
Make sure students understand they are drawing simple thumbnail sketches ONLY and not finished, inked art. It might unite and motivate the class if you collaborate on making up two or three characters that everyone can use in their strips. Some students will find working in an unfamiliar form paralyzing, not to mention trying to come up with some semblance of real story in so short a space. You could have your set of Spark Cards (see Appendix C) on hand to help them with a jump-start.
Extra credit: How to Read Nancy
As we mentioned above, this essay
is really fantastic for getting students thinking about strips, and the myriad decisions that go into even the simplest comics. We highly recommend it.
Homework critique Chapter 3: "Strip it down"
It's early to be pushing story structure too hard, but this crit is a nice opportunity to introduce the idea naturally, as an extension of the cause-and-effect of the Chapter 1 homework (Drawing in action), and possibly Chapter 2 as well. The top concerns here should still be clarity of action and reading order, but you might also spend a few minutes re-telling the story of some of the strips, to see if you can tease out sparks and resolutions(See Chapter 9: Structuring Story). Solicit from the group other possible versions of the story/punchline. Click to see examples of the homework by students with some comments from Matt and Jessica.
Finally, make sure to spend a little time on rhythm, as discussed in section 3.1. Are the panel breaks in the right spots? Are there enough panels? Too few? It's a good idea to correct spelling and punctuation, ideally publicly, so that students start to get the clue that proofreading is important.