This is part of a series of posts by Derek Mainhart—an entire year‘s curriculum for a comics class at the secondary level: middle school and high school. Follow us via rss, Facebook, or Twitter (buttons above to the right) to be informed when new posts go up. To search for all the posts by Derek, including all in this series, click here.
So the first day of school was about starting to get to know your students (and vice versa). The second day will be about them getting to know each other. To this end, I like to have the class play a game called The Exquisite Corpse. Originally conceived by Andre Breton and the Surrealists, the game encourages group creativity through random chance (in my experience, kids love all things random).
So my Objective is simply:
Objective: Creating an Exquisite Corpse
Just the mystery of this weirdo objective may begin to intrigue them (“an exquisite corpse? What’s that?! Probably something with zombies…”).
To further prime them:
Do Now: Draw a hybrid creature
Though it may seem obvious, elicit some examples of hybrid creatures from the class. Make sure everyone understands what’s being asked of them. You will also start to see, based on their responses, which kids are into mythology, which are into Harry Potter and which have watched Napoleon Dynamite too many times (I always get “liger”).
You may also notice certain tendencies amongst some of your students:
Here’s a link with excellent step-by-step instructions on how to play:
These can be from a previous class (always save good examples) or, if you’re a new teacher, make one yourself. (Note to new teachers: When trying a new lesson, ALWAYS try it yourself FIRST. This will help you anticipate any problems your students might encounter. It will also help you to map out the process step by step.)
If you have an uneven number of students, don’t worry about it. As long as they keep passing to the left, it’s fine. They can also pass to another table if they have to.
(An aside: My students are already divided into groups of four. I assign seating on the first day. This prevents students from automatically sitting with their best friends. It also prevents anyone from feeling left out.)
This can be something fun—a sound effect, or playing music while they’re drawing and shutting it off when it’s time to switch
Walk around; take a look. There are always some surprises. Here are some examples:
(Looking at the third one, note how the head is not attached to the body. This is because the first person didn’t follow the rules and indicate to the next person where they should start. Still kinda works though.)
There are numerous advantages to this lesson. It encourages “outside-the-box” thinking. It gets students to begin thinking in terms of character and successful character design. And, most importantly, it promotes collaboration. As in most art classes (indeed, most classes in general) students will spend a great deal of their time working on their own personal projects. They should be encouraged to actively seek out feedback from their classmates. This “ice-breaker” on the second day is a step towards that goal.
I use this opportunity to begin discussing the role of inking in cartooning. Each student will have a drawing in front of them with four distinct styles. Can they use inking to create unity in the drawing? It’s not just outlining! They should add texture, pattern, shading etc. They are not allowed to erase what anyone else has done however. They have to work with it! (There will be a formal lesson on inking later in the semester.)
Derek Mainhart is an art teacher at Deer Park High School and at the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. He has taught widely at many institutions such as Molloy College, Boricua College and Hofstra, among others. He teaches cartooning workshops in the greater New York area. In addition, he was the first Vice President of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) in Manhattan, and was instrumental in the formation of its annual MoCCA Art Festival. He has organized and participated in numerous gallery exhibits in and around NYC. His self-published works include The Iraqi Tinies and W. He is married to web-cartoonist and fellow art teacher Ali Solomon. They live with their daughter in Forest Hills (not far from the house where Peter Parker grew up.)