Recommended reading

Parents will sometimes ask me, “what can I do to encourage my child to keep making comics?” I think it is important for parents to (1) actively make comics or draw together with their children at home, and (2) to get good comics in front of their kids.

Collaborative comic-making can be very simple: a few years ago the author and dad Bruce Brooks explained to me how he and his son drew a collaborative epic comic story on a roll of white butcher paper, taking turns panel-by-panel. For parents with minimal to non-existent drawing skills, a few books may be useful: Mark Kistler, who I have written about before, distilled his engaging way of teaching drawing skills to children in his book, “Mark Kistlerʼs Draw Squad” (cheaply and easily found for sale online).  This fall a parent recommended “Adventures in Cartooning” and the “Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book” by Alexis Frederick-Frost, Andrew Arnold, and James Sturm—both books introduce the basic mechanics of comics to young readers and give them the chance to test them out.  All three books are rich with material and well thought out.

Below is a list of books that have been popular with this year’s Comic Book Storytelling students. An asterisk (*) denotes a great favorite. Please note: while I believe all of the books below have some value, not all are created equal or will appeal to everyone. Parents should also note that some of these stories directly deal with intense issues like friendship, or death. For this reason I highly recommend visiting a local library with your child, where books can be selected together and specialists are on hand to answer any specific questions.

Classics
* “Calvin and Hobbes” series, Bill Watterson
“Tintin” series, Hergé
“Moomin” series, Tove Jansson
* “Bone” series, Jeff Smith
“Astro Boy” series, Osamu Tezuka

New Favorites
“Little Vampire,” Joann Sfar
“Ghosts,” Raina Telgemeier
“Lumberjanes” series, Shannon Watters et al.
“Nimona,” Noelle Stevenson
“Hilo” series, Judd Winick
“Chi’s Sweet Home” series, Kanata Konami
* “Amulet” series, Kazu Kibuishi
“Zita the Spacegirl” series, Ben Hatke
* “Hilda” series, Luke Pearson
“Bird & Squirrel” series, James Burks
“My Little Pony” series, Katie Cook et al.

True Stories
“Sisters,” Raina Telgemeier
“Drama,” Raina Telgemeier
* “Smile,” Raina Telgemeier
* “El Deafo,” Cece Bell
* “Roller Girl,” Victoria Jamieson
* “Real Friends,” Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

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Mini-zine Madness

At the first meeting of Comic Book Storytelling class for 3rd/4th/5th graders this year, we made six-page mini-zines out of one computer-size sheet of paper.  Before anything else, we performed some simple “origami”: folding the pre-cut paper correctly seemed tricky at first, but students helped one another and soon we were all set.

Next, I showed them other examples of mini-zines made in similar ways, and I read mine, “Sam Scissors Hits the Street,” out loud:

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On a different sheet of paper I encouraged students to plan who their own starring character would be and what would transpire over the six pages. I also gave them a catch: whatever happened in their story, they had to draw a 3D-looking hole (which I demonstrated) on page two.

Some students followed my lead and had their hapless main character fall into a hole… only to discover treasure (not slime) within! Others drew things emerging from the abyss.

It was useful to have some added structure with certain caption panes already in place. See my template here: Comics Mini-zine 1 page template

It was a fun & creative beginning to a session that I hope is packed with more.

“Pencils ready?”

As I prepared to teach drawing comics to children for the first time last January, a friend told me about how as a girl she and her brother would run home after school to watch Captain Mark and his Secret City on TV. Mark Kistler, alias Captain Mark, is an educator who invites kids to practice key drawing concepts by leading them through quick-paced warm-ups and challenges. You can view his energetic approach at this video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgLeSe8pN3s. Kistler’s show (not least his jumpsuit) impressed me, but I wondered: wouldn’t students quickly lose interest in drawing overlapping soup can after overlapping soup can, or in creating flowerpots, cakes, and stools out of the same foreshortened circle? Still, I liked the approach enough and had no better ideas, so I tried it.

We practice drawing Secret City-inspired warm-ups at the start of every Comics class, now in its fourth session. To upper-elementary students aged 8-11, the skill of creating depth on a two-dimensional page is new. As we practiced foreshortening concepts related to depth (overlapping, shading, shadows, surface, contour, density, size), I saw that the repetition wasn’t boring, but useful. It breeds just the right amount of familiarity to complement the anticipation of “what will we make this week?” Thanks, Captain Mark.

The students and I share a passion for making comics. My job as teacher is to notice where their interests lie—expressive characters? witty punchlines? sprawling action epics?—and give them an uncomplicated framework in which to deepen their skills, and thereby deepen their passion. That is a learning process: it took three tries to get a worksheet about lettering to the point where it seemed useful to most of the class. You can see the progression below, as well as excellent work on the final worksheet by current student Lola L.:

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Attempts 1 and 2. Larger size here.
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Attempt 3, and Lola L.’s worksheet. Larger size here.

Captain Mark taught me that repeated practice of key concepts within a simple framework can be a springboard for great invention.