Playing with Pixton Comics and Audio Layers

I’m reviewing the Pixton Webcomic site for some work that I am doing and want to see if the comic embeds OK here in my blog (if not, here is the direct link). I also used the interesting feature in Pixton that allows you to add sound to a comic. I used it for audio narration. I like that feature. (Hover your mouse over the text box and you will see the little flash icon for listening to sound).

Peace (on the strip),

Connect the Pop: Exploring Webcomics for the Classroom

Bitstrips for Schools1 Comics Creation & Critical Thinking: From Doctor Who to Bitstrips

Peter Gutierrez, over at Connect the Pop blog (part of the School Library Journal site), has been running an interesting series of posts in which he is interviewing the folks behind some of the more popular webcomic creation sites. Gutierrez, always thoughtful, is trying to explore how comic writing is different from traditional writing, and how webcomic platforms might allow entry into writing for some students through non-traditional transliterate ways.

He began with an interview with one of the founders of Bitstrips (and I use Bitstrips for Schools fairly regularly in my classroom). Bitstrip’s Shahan Panth explains where the idea for the site came from and how it connects to literacy.

I liked this observation from Shahan:

“Making a comic is not simple. You need to figure out the visual composition of each panel, the sequencing and pacing of your story, the body language and facial expression of each character in each shot. It’s a synthesis of so many different things, and for most kids, these are elements they haven’t had to think about before. Suddenly they find themselves in the role of comic auteur, responsible for considering and communicating every detail of a story.” — Shahan Panth, Bitstrips for Schools

Gutierrez also talked with my friend, Chris Wilson, of The Graphic Classroom (where I do reviews of graphic novels through a classroom lens), and Chris talked about the balance between students writing and reading traditional (paper-bound) comics and graphic stories, and digital platforms.

“Electronic comics creation is especially helpful for students who are not artistically inclined. In such a case, the differentiation of the online comic offers those students a chance to focus more on the story, characters, setting, plot and style more than the art. Online comics do not require expensive art supplies. Assuming the technology is readily available, students can create comics electronically as a way to demonstrate learning of any particular topic. Those can easily be shared on a teacher’s website. If technology standards are part of the objective, then online comics would be the way to go. I recommend varying the approach depending on the objective, class culture, student needs and resources.” Chris Wilson, The Graphic Classroom

The next interview was with Bill Zimmerman, whose Make Beliefs Comic site is a great way to introduce students to comic creation. The site is very simple to use, and has a translator built in for multiple languages. Bill also regularly posts a “rewriteable” comic that you can adapt right off his site, and then print out.

Bill notes that comics tap into the graphic culture that permeates the world of kids.

“All educators are desperately looking for ways to encourage youngsters to read and write and have discovered that comics, with their glorious drawings and the wonderful talk balloons that help move stories along, provide a vital resource to engage young people. We live in a very graphic society where children constantly see moving, comic images – sometimes on television and movies, sometimes on computer games. Kids feel very comfortable with these comic images and are hungry for more. ” — Bill Zimmerman, Make Beliefs Comics

MakeBeliefs Civil Rights 479x500 Comics Generators and Literacy: Edtech and Nontech Insights from Bill Zimmerman

I am really enjoying Peter’s exploration of comics, and look forward the next post.

Peace (in the frames),



The State of Webcomics and The Economist

There was an interesting article the other week in The Economist magazine (which we get at our home through some free subscription that some kid was selling as a fundraiser) that talked about the growth of Webcomics. It was pretty fascinating, as it showed another example of how the flexibility and individuality of the web as a publishing platform is chipping away, quickly, at newspapers and magazines (irony that I read it in a magazine but can share it online? yeah).

The article – entitled “Triumph of the Nerds” — notes that as the comic sections in many newspapers have remained predictable and stale, the quality of webcomics has pushed new limits. In my view, sometimes those webcomics work; sometimes, they don’t. What the article points out is how successful webcomic artists are using social media to nurture an audience, without the restraints of a publisher breathing down their neck, and to try new ideas, new approaches that might not otherwise work in a traditional format.

The article gives a nice historical overview of comics, too.

“Cartoons go way back before newspapers. They have their origins in the caricatures and illustrations of early modern Europe. In Renaissance Germany and Italy, woodcuts and mezzotint prints were used to add pictures to books. By the 18th century simple cartoons, or caricatures, circulated in London coffee shops, lampooning royalty, society and politicians. Popular engravers such as William Hogarth and James Gillray came up with tricks we now take for granted: speech bubbles to show dialogue and sequential panels to show time passing.” — Triumph of the Nerds, The Economist

And it reminds us of the present circumstances.

“The decline of newspapers and the rise of the internet have broken that system. Newspapers no longer have the money to pay big bucks to cartoonists, and the web means anybody can get published. Cartoonists who want to make their name no longer send sketches to syndicates or approach newspapers: they simply set up websites and spread the word on Twitter and Facebook. ” — Triumph of the Nerds, The Economist

And there is the warning note, too. Making a living as a webcomic artist is difficult and making a living off it … fraught with unknowns.

“This new world, in which humour spreads instantly and globally, threatens webcomic artists at the same time as it liberates them. Cartoons can spread around the web without crediting their creators; copyright thieves can sell unlicensed merchandise. Cartoonists need to be entrepreneurs, as well as artists. Online cartoons can be lucrative, but unlike working for a syndicate, they hardly provide stable work.” — Triumph of the Nerds

Peace (in the comics),


More Conversations with Anna: Acknowledging the Naysayers

This is part of an ongoing discussion across digital platforms, about digital writing, that I am having with my friend, Anna Smith at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. So far, we’ve exchanged video talks, and then screencasts, and now, I am inviting her to create a webcomic via Dan’s Awesome Ragemaker Comic.
The topic? How do we acknowledge the opposite view of our discussions: the fear that digital writing is not unique, or that it is bad for our students to be composing with digital tools and spending time on digital spaces? This stems from a long discussion I had with a parent the other day, who supported my work with technology but expressed worries, too. Those concerns echoed ones I have as a parent, too.
Here is mine:
Acknowledging the Naysayers
And as has been my custom, I created a webcomic reflection, with a little twist. I created Anna as a character and added her into my comic. I am hoping she is OK with that (I’m pretty certain she will be) and it will give me a chance in the future to do more reflections my talking to “her” in my webcomics.
Peace (in the discussion),

Ignite: David Lee Finkle – Question Things

Yesterday, I reviewed a comic strip collection from David Lee Finkle called Mr. Fitz, which makes fun of teaching and standardized testing and being with middle school kids all day. So, yeah, it was right up my alley. David Finkle presented in one of the NCTE Ignite sessions in Las Vegas, using comics as his presentation. I love his David explores with his students what we mean about “writing” and “reading.”
David’s key inquiry to explore with students: When Do Stories Matter?

Peace (in the frames),

Comic Book Review: Mr. Fitz vs. the Test Score Zombies

There’s a whole series of comic strips in this book in which David Lee Finkle, himself a teacher, envisions famous writers in history getting feedback on a standardized test, with Finkle using humorous anecdotes and famous phrases from each author as the punchline. It had me cracking up early, and often, even if it was a sort of literature-junky inside-joke kind of thing. That’s OK. In fact, this entire collection of comic strips from Finkle — Mr. Fitz vs. the Test Score Zombies — is aimed right at teachers who are struggling to keep their students engaged in the age of standardized testing.

Mr. Fitz is the lead character, a teacher in middle school with a crop of oddball students. There’s no main storyline here, except the ways in which Mr. Fitz motivates his students to be passionate about reading and writing, and the ways that his teaching style often runs into administrative roadblocks. (In one series of sketches, an educational consultant arrives to give “advice” but refuses to enter a classroom with real students.)

(from Finkle’s website)

I like that there is also a fair number of strips in which students are completely immersed in a book. Finkle really captures the intense attention that a good book can provide.

(from Finkle’s website)

While I personally still love a comic called Mr. Lowe (by Mark Pett, but the comic is now out of print) because it dealt with a new teacher in a challenging classroom, Mr. Fitz shows the veteran teaching trying to make sense of the changing landscape shaped more by the leaders at the top than the students in the classroom. Finkle captures those difficulties nicely, and puts it all in perspective.

Peace (in the strip),



Final Digital Writing Month Comic: Worlds Within Worlds

Today marks the last official day of Digital Writing Month, which has been quite an adventure. I’ll reflect more this weekend when I have time about the ways I tried to push some boundaries and take part in the activities, and what I think of it all. This morning, on the last day of the sharing, I have another meta-comic called Worlds Within Worlds. It echoes one I did earlier in the month, with ideas folded into ideas. But I think it captures a question that I often wonder about: how writing and ideas can take root in digital spaces, and remain there, in ways that are different from non-digital writing.

Worlds Within Worlds

Thanks for visiting during the month. I hope you tried out a few new things here and there, too.

Peace (outside the frames),


Digital Writing Month: No Net Access

This has been me this week, as our Internet has been down for three days. I’m writing now in a cafe during a pitstop to a conference, and while I am enjoying the downtime (and yes, we are doing plenty of reading), my ideas keep on needing a place to sit.


Peace (in the comic),