While I’m pretty decent at writing comics, when I started out writing prose fiction I had no idea what I was doing. Not only that, I didn’t particularly like doing it. On the other hand, I’ve had a number of students in comics classes who are prose writers first, and they all tend to hit certain sticking points. So here are a few observations about turning from comics to prose or vice versa.
My work focuses on the process of reading comic books, rather than on the readers. When I started down the path of focusing on reading, I encountered the false assumption that “anyone can read comic books.” Even people who did not consider themselves comic book readers thought they knew how. In teaching with comic books and graphic novels, I have found that I have had to teach many of my students the ins and outs of how to read comics.
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.
A great way to introduce people to the world of comics is to make a “jam comic” —an improvised collaborative comic. In addition to being a relaxed introduction to creating comics, jam comics are a great warm-up activity and icebreaker.
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