I’m an English teacher from Cambridge, England. I work in an 11-18 comprehensive school, teaching students across the full age and ability range. Like most English teachers in the UK, almost all the reading I do with students in the classroom involves purely print-based texts. However, for a while I’ve been wanting to explore how teaching comics might work in an English classroom.
DWWP is a 15-chapter book designed to accompany a typical university-level studio art class meeting three hours a week. However, if you are actually teaching a class like that, you will quickly realize that our book is quite generously overstuffed and there is almost no way you can touch on every single item in the book in the classroom.
My students are never artists, are always timid and shy about their drawing abilities, and have very little or no experience with comics (most of my students say they have never even held a comic book before!). But the jam comic lets us jump right into sequential art in a way that promotes creativity and removes the academic pressure of what my students believe they ought to be doing in a college classroom. I like to think of the jam comic as a kind of secret weapon against the stuffiness of academia: I can pull it out at any moment, in any class, and the classroom instantly turns into a place of play and creativity.
I just finished co-teaching a three-week class at the School of Visual Arts. It’s a pre-college intensive summer course in cartooning: 25 students, 4 teachers, one assistant, 250+ pages of comics produced!
The “pictureless comic” activity, originally from Chapter 7 of DWWP, is one that we use constantly, in formal classes, in intensive workshops, and in casual talks and improvised situations. We once did it in a lecture hall at a comic convention with 200 people! It has so many advantages: at its core, it’s a study of how comics work, the elements of comics and how they work together to create meaning, even without pictorial images. It’s also a great way to learn layout and lettering skills, and to concentrate on those technical skills, again, without distraction. Finally, it’s an activity that anyone can do. Drawing skills are unnecessary (though a design sensibility is certainly a help!).
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