3-day comics workshop: the Huntington report

Matt and I were in Huntington WV in February as Walter Gropius Master Artists at the Huntington Museum of Art. (I also gave a talk at Marshall University.)  The museum hung a large show of our work (in conjunction with the opening of the LitGraphic show)  and we offered an intensive workshop to residents of the area—a soup-to-nuts “how to think about and make comics” workshop in just two and a half days.

We had a great group, which is always a pleasure, and the museum had all their materials on hand, so we could get started immediately. However, we didn’t have the opportunity to have students read anything from DWWP before we began, as we like to when possible (and which would have made the schedule a bit easier to manage). Our lesson plan follows. Note that the first day of work could easily be used as a stand-alone intro to the language of comics.

We’ll be posting soon notes from the exercise Sum of its Parts and video from Matt’s demo of using graphic white for corrections.

If you want to see some results of the workshop, our student and able assistant Zach Shildwachter posted his work here.

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: A Comics Workshop

Workshop description: In this intensive workshop, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden teach the principles of comics language—a mixture of drawing, writing, and design all marshaled in the service of storytelling. Making comics requires creators to think fluidly of words and images, to smudge the boundaries, and artfully blend the two usually distinct forms of communication to create a synchronized whole. We truly draw words and write pictures. Drawing words means to think of the letterforms as a part of the visual language of the comic. Writing pictures means to think of the images as carrying meaning much like language does. Comics has been compared to calligraphy in the blending of word and image, and to music notation in the visual notation of time passing and emotion written in ink. Participants will learn how to make comics through a series of short activities and exercises, reading, and finally writing and drawing a one-page comic.


  • Drawing Words & Writing Pictures textbook
  • Drawing boards or square tables suitable for use with T-squares
  • Bristol board 14×17
  • Hunt pen nibs (sketching set)
  • Watercolor brushes (1,2, 4)
  • waterproof India ink (See some suggestions in supplies list in DWWP)
  • Graphic white (Deleter #2 is the best)
  • HB pencils (and sharpener)
  • .07mm mechanical pencils
  • T-square
  • 18-inch ruler
  • Plastic eraser
  • Pigment pens


Lesson plan 

Day 1: Theory of comics

9am -4PM, half-hour lunch break


  • two 9-panel grids for each participant (available for download in the Extra credit tab of Teacher’s Guide for chapter 1)
  • random selection of newspaper or magazine photos with captions all removed.

1. Students and teachers introduce themselves, discuss interests and history/experience with comics

2. Jam comic (DWWP pg 13)

use one preprinted grid each

Assign revisions as homework (students draw on 2nd grid copy)

extra: think about panel compositions using “60 panels that just might work” (DWWP pg 152)

3. read/discuss DWWP ch 2, on projector if possible.

4. Sum of its parts (DWWP pg. 23), a juxtaposition exercise

Use random selection of photos and follow instructions in book.

5. Panel lottery exercise

(we will be posting this exercise within a week or two)


Reading over lunch: as much as possible of chs 1-4, 11 [this reading could also be assigned before the class begins, if students are buying their own supplies]

(As it happened, the Huntington provided us all with lunch in the museum dining room, which offered an opportunity for everyone to chat and ask questions in a more informal environment.)

6. Talk about basics of storytelling for 1-pager. The most basic kind of story structure for a one pager: a set-up and a punchline, whether humorous or not.

7. Show one-pagers and discuss. Pages we showed include:

  • Winsor McCay, from Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, Sammy Sneeze
  • Harvey Kurtzman, from Hey, Look!
  • Ben Katchor, from Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer
  • Robert. Armstrong, Dizzy Ratstein
  • R. Crumb, Short History of America
  • Jessica Abel , Oh My Sisters; Maybe Next Year
  • Matt Madden, House Music, Salida, The Frustrated Transmogrificationist


  1. revise jam comic
  2. 1 pg thumbnail (see DWWP pg. 32)
  3. read DWWP 1-6, 11
Day 2: Practice of comics

9am -4PM, half hour lunch break

1. Critique jam comics (paying attention to page and panel composition) in small groups (see crit guides DWWP pg 237)

2. Critique thumbs

3. Page layout tutorial (DWWP pg. 81, but lay out for 10” x 15” not, 12” x 16”)

4. Ames tutorial (DWWP pg 91): use layout page as practice lettering page


5. Work on layout

6. revise thumbs

7. begin penciling

8. Inking demo, corrections demo


  1. Pencils, lettering on 1-pager
  2. Read/review chapters 5, 8, 11-13
Day 3

9am -12 pm

work time/individual consultation

make copies of finished comics to trade (and almost-finished comics!)

make a phone/email contact list for possible future collaboration and/or forming a Nomad group (DWWP pg. xviii)


1 Comment to 3-day comics workshop: the Huntington report


  1. Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics « Abel Madden Events

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