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Student guide chapter 1: Building Blocks

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Chapter 1 introduces the basic terminology of comics and starts you off with a few activities designed to get you thinking about how drawings can tell stories.

Prep guide

Questions to ask yourself

  1. In one sentence, what is your definition of a comic?
  2. Beyond words and pictures, what are some of the parts of a comic?
  3. What are some of the ways action can be shown in a comic?
  4. Does it matter if you know how to draw to create comics? Why or why not?

Supplies you will need

  • pencil
  • eraser
  • sheet of office paper or sketchbook paper
  • sheet of office paper or sketchbook laid out into a 9-panel-grid

Optional but recommended

Nothing extra this time


Drawing time

Part 1: Actions within a drawing
The idea here is to build up a repertoire of ways in which you can represent movement. Part of how comics work is to capture not just a static moment of time (like a photo), but a span of time passing. Click on the link to see examples of other students' work with critiques and commentary.
Part 2: Actions within a panel
The main focus of this part of the activity is to think about how readers follow complex action within a panel. Again, time passes within a panel: an action and its result can be depicted right alongside one another, but still be perceived as happening one after another. You'll need to use techniques you worked out in the first half of this activity to make the action clear, but then add a layer of thought about reading order, and where readers can be expected to look, in what order. Click on the link to see examples of other students' work with critiques and commentary.

Drawing in Action

What you should be aiming for in this assignment is something along the lines of the "Drawing time" activity—a complex action that requires readers to follow along a certain path to understand it. The content is entirely up to you, but think of your characters as telling the story with their bodies. Examples of student work
Directed jam comics
Will Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art ———, Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative David Kunzle, History of the Comic Strip. Vol. 1, The Early Comic Strip: Narrative Strips and Picture Stories in the European Broadsheet from c.1450 to 1825 ———, History of the Comic Strip. Vol. 2, The Nineteenth Century Scott McCloud, Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels ———, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Extras: Nine Panel Grid

Of special interest to nomads: when doing the "Directed jam comic" extra credit, it's a good idea to have on hand enough pre-printed 9-panel grid pages for everyone in your group, so all your comics have the same number of panels, and you don't need to waste time ruling out panels. Print this PDF and make as many photocopies as you need. You might even have extras in case you want to keep on jamming!" 9-panel-grid to open a printable pdf of a nine-panel grid.