Activity: panel lottery, an exercise in narrative juxtaposition and editing

This is a collaborative game activity we came up with in order to teach principles of panel-by-panel storytelling. It is inspired by Scott McCloud in two ways: one reason we developed this game was to have an alternative to a game he invented called 5-Card Nancy, partly because of the rights issues (for our textbook) but mainly because not everyone has access to enough Nancy panels or the time to photocopy the strips onto cardstock and cut them out; the second reason is that the educational spine for this activity is to be found in McCloud’s taxonomy of panel transitions (Understanding Comics, chapter 6; recapped in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, chapter 4): even if you haven’t read about it, you’ve probably heard people talking about “aspect-to-aspect” and “action-to-action” transitions among others. You don’t really need to know this stuff to do the Panel Lottery: you will quickly find that the only way the game is fun is if you really question each other about whether a panel works in a sequence or not.

Panel Lottery in action

Jessica leading Panel Lottery game at Rocketship, Brooklyn 2008

Panel Lottery
An activity by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Download a pdf of the panel lottery actvity

3″ x 5″ index cards (large Post-It notes could work too)
pencils and pens
masking tape or push pins
a box with a slot in the top (you could also use a large envelope or bag)

Phase 1:
Draw a few random comics panels on index cards using the following guidelines. (They should not tell a story). Our goal is to produce a big pile of random, unrelated (except for the characters) comics panels.

1. Use any of the following characters:

Pingüino, Lucky, and Kriss Kross (…or invent your own.)

2. Use either of the two following guidelines to come up with your panel content:

a) Choose any one or more of the following instructions and use them as the starting point for your panel:

Somebody asking a question (no answer).
Somebody answering a question (no question).
Somebody walking through a doorway.
Somebody looking out of the panel with a surprised expression.
A punch or kick.
Somebody looking for someone or something.
A panel with no people in it.
A landscape with a single building in it.
A panel full of sound effects and/or emanata

b) Take a comic off a shelf, close your eyes, open the book at random and put your finger on the page. Open your eyes and draw a new panel with our characters based on the panel you have randomly selected. (Don’t worry if it’s a boring panel, in fact that’s better.)

3. When you finish your panel put it in a closed box with a panel-sized slot in the top.

4. Take a break.

Phase 2
1. Remove the panels from the box. Select one panel and stick it on the wall (or lay it on a large table). You can pick a random panel or choose one that seems like a good starting point.

2. Distribute the remaining cards in the box to everyone who wants to play along.

3. After reading the starter panel and consulting the panels they have, anyone who has a panel that would be a good second panel should raise their hand. Those people will put their panels up next to the starter panel. The group will then vote on which panel works the best. Discuss why certain panels work and others don’t or why you prefer one over another.

4. The group will proceed in this way until everyone has had a chance to post a panel. At that point, discuss as a group whether the strip is finished and, if not, ask for either an existing panel that might finish the strip OR a new panel someone might propose and draw on the spot. Also ask whether anyone has panels they think should be added (or taken away) to make the strip better.

5. Repeat as desired.

We first played this game at Rocketship, an excellent comic book store in Brooklyn, NY. Co-owner Alex Cox posted the results of the activity as well as photos of the event on the Rocketship blog.

If anyone out there does this activity or any variation on it, we would love to hear about it.

Notes for teachers:

Age appropriateness

This activity can work for various age groups. For teens and adults, discussion can delve into fairly sophisticated concepts of storytelling and the effects of panel juxtaposition. For kids, it could simply be a fun way to tell a story together.


  1. verbalization of narrative choices
  2. understanding of how comics function by juxtaposing panels
  3. learning how narrative choices later in a story can affect earlier understanding.
  4. understanding panel transitions and the principle of closure (see Drawing Words & Writing Pictures chapter 4).


10 Comments to Activity: panel lottery, an exercise in narrative juxtaposition and editing

  • by Matt

    On October 14, 2014 at 3:39 am

    This is a great extension of our activity, thanks for sharing it. Have you come across some of Oubapo’s comics dice and dominos created by Anne Baraou in collaboration with different artists? Could lead to even further variations:!catalogue/auteurs/b/open-auteur/3754/open/87

  • by Matt Finch

    On October 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks! I do love a little bit of Oubapo…will check this out :)


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