Lectures & discussions
4.1: Reading between the lines
You should make sure your students are familiar with Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and if they’re not, assign them to read at least chapter three in preparation for this class. You may well have your own ideas about the concept of closure between panels so you should feel free to use this chapter and McCloud’s books as you like.
- You could make a short activity out of the idea suggested by the two-panel example on page 38: bring in a stack of randomly photocopied panels and have students pick two each (or match up pairs of students with one panel each) and then invent a story or scenario suggested by the juxtaposition. You can point out that this can, in fact, be a great way to generate story ideas.
- Save the Post-its from the “Wrong planet” activity so that you can use them as examples throughout your discussion of this section.
- Use the “Wrong planet” Post-its or any other page of comics and ask your students to identify what kind of panel transitions are featured.
Encourage discussion and questioning to underscore the fact that these are not hard-and-fast categories.
Activity: Comic jumble
Either assign students to bring in newspaper comics sections or bring in a stack of them yourself. (Even if you do assign it to students it's a good idea to bring in some extras yourself.) Plan on allowing about 30 minutes for students to cut up, re-arrange, and tape down their panels. Circulate and help students who are having trouble distinguishing from one transition type and another or who are being too literal about the continuity: the point is to tell some kind of story and ignore the fact that the characters may change from panel to panel (in fact you can point out that it adds an intriguing/funny sense of weirdness to the comic). When critiquing, encourage students to move or take off panels that don't work. A productive way to extend this assignment would be to have students trace their finished "Comic jumble" and re-draw it as a new comic using their own characters.
There is no Further reading for this chapter
Homework: Closure comics
Remind students once again that they are just to do thumbnails, not finished pages. It will take some reminding for some students to simplify their work enough to be editable. Also remind them to do their thumbs on separate sheets of copy paper and make them legible enough for their classmates to critique.
Extra credit: Five-card Nancy
If you have the time to make a Nancy panel card set, we would recommend playing "Five-card Nancy" as your main activity in class instead of "Comic jumble." You can try other comic strips that also have a long run and a limited number of settings (Garfield? Little Lulu? Peanuts? Please let us know if you try one and it works well!) but the general consensus is that Nancy has the ideal minimalism and repetitiveness to work best. In order for this game to be instructive as well as fun you'll want to monitor the play pretty closely. Make sure students are voting on new panels based on a) following the transition rule indicated by the die and b) narrative intelligibility. Make them argue their points pro and con and avoid letting them approve panels just because they are silly in any context (and there are many of those!). The more you hold them to the rules of the game the more likely they are to produce a funny and weird but also intelligible comic. Find Scott McCloud's official Five-card Nancy rules here
: we invented a new activity that can take the place of 5-Card Nancy in a discussion of transitions: the Panel Lottery. Check it out here
Homework critique Chapter 4: "Closure comics"
When asking students to point out examples of transitions in each others' comics have them be as specific as possible. Have them walk up and point to each pair of panels that exemplifies one of the transition types. You might even put pieces of tracing paper over the thumbnails and have students write the transitions directly over the comics. One point in particular to look for is how students were forced to transform the narrative to incorporate all types of transitions. Scene-to-scene is a tough one, as is non-sequitur. Critique the story as a whole, regardless of individual panel transitions. Solicit comments on coherence, panel and page composition (keeping in mind—in fact, underscoring—the fact that these are thumbs), pacing and rhythm. Click on the links below to see examples of student work with commentary.