#DigiWriMo: Time to Make the Comics

(I had written this to be posted yesterday but the horrific events in Paris stopped me in my tracks. A post about comics did not seem appropriate. Forgive me if it still isn’t time. — Kevin)

I had to take a day off on Friday for a doctor’s appointment (my eyes are good) and as we wound down our theme of visual for Digital Writing Month with two posts about comics and graphic stories, I decided to use some of my time at home to try different platforms to make different comics in between working on some other projects. This comic making coincides with some of the work that Terry Elliott is doing for Digital Writing Month around composing with various media, and his focus on comics.

First, I used Dave’s Awesome Rage Maker Comic site to present a commentary on what happens when an administrator pops into a classroom, expecting traditional writing, only to find students engaged in making comics. Yes, this has happened to me.

comics from an adminstrators view

Second, I received a wonderful letter from my friend, Susan, as part of the CLMOOC and Beyond Postcard Project. She sent more than a note. She sent along three cool, crazy characters, and one had a speech bubble asking to be put into a comic. So …. I used my Comics Head app (I have the premium app but this is link to free one) to create this one.

Susan Sends Me Creatures

Third, I went into Stripgenerator to make this comic. I find myself thinking about characters in my comics thinking of me, the writer, and what they would think. I’ve done some variations on this before. But here, I was making fun of the fact that I can’t really draw and rely instead on prefab characters from platforms and apps.

existential comic angst

How about you? Wanna try your hand at a comic? Or how about just a caption for a comic? I’ve been sharing this comic across spaces this weekend and asking folks to come up with the caption, as a sort of riff off the back page of The New Yorker.

Caption This Comic

Add your caption to the comment bin here.

Peace (in the frame)

What’s Really Important: The Unofficial CV Activity

The “gearing up and getting ready” stage for Digital Writing Month is underway … with a sort of teaser, pre-writing activity in which we are encouraging folks to create an “unofficial CV/Resume” of what is really important. The title of the post is important: Your Story, Your Terms.

The whole idea is try to turn the act of making CV with its narrow focus on our world of work on its head … by tapping into various modes and mediums, and using those elements to better express the person you are, in your own terms.

Here’s mine, in comic form:

Kevin's Unofficial CV Comic

What will your Unofficial CV look like? Come share it within and beyond Digital Writing Month.

Peace (outside the frame),

#4TDW Blog Carnival: Why (Digital) Comics Matter

(This post is for a blog carnival about digital writing, as part of the Virtual Conference on Digital Writing)
My Meandering Mind and MeA few years ago, I had one of those “aha” moments that forever changed my perception of young readers and writers. I had entered the local comic book store with my son, with the intention of joining something known as 24-Hour Comic Day. It is an event that challenges people to write a 24 frame comic in a 24 hour period.

My oldest son was into making comics, and I was curious. I also came armed with some ideas of my own, telling the story of my relationship with my brother in Brothers on Ice. I was expecting a few people to gather for the event.

What I witnessed, instead, was a book store that was nearly wall-to-wall writers and illustrators, sitting and standing in every place possible. And nearly all of them were young people. And many of these writers were boys, the very demographic of young learners that I often had trouble reaching as readers in my classroom.

Yet here they were, writing for hours at a time, collaborating with others, sharing work and gathering feedback. It was as if I had stumbled upon some secret writer’s society, and perhaps that what it was.

When we think of Connected Learning principles, finding your niche and interest remains front and center, and for many young people, writing comics and reading graphic novels hits that vein.

The question was, how do I bring that passion for making and writing into my classroom? And, I wondered, was there a way to fuse technology and digital literacies with comics? This seemed like it could be a natural fit, given the elements of comics as a medium of literacy, with its use of:

  • partnership between image and words
  • inferential thinking and writing with narrative gaps
  • sequential versus non-sequential storytelling
  • visual representation of ideas
  • collaboration of writer and artist

This began a journey, still unfolding, in which I first worked with students at a digital writing camp around webcomics for a few years, and then moved the concept into my classroom. Since then, making comics and its digital cousin, webcomics, have become a regular activity for my students. From writing prompts to text analysis to collaborative retelling of stories, comics are a common medium for us.  We don’t always go digital, either. Sometimes, it works best to let the young artists create off the screen. Here is one page from a class paper comic that was part of our discussions around the reading of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. Homer Figg comic

Still, the digital does provide for interesting possibilities. We also use webcomics for a project at the start of the year, where students explain their aspirations for the future. This Dream Scenes project is a natural fit for comics.

Dream Scenes 2015

What affordances do webcomics, with their digital nature, have over regular comics? Scott McCloud dove into this issue in great detail in his Reinventing Comics book (a follow up to his now-classic Understanding Comics tome, which is like a bible for comic lovers). Interestingly, McCloud wrote this book in 2000, just on the cusp of the real digital revolution. Still, his insights into possibilities were prescient.

Whether by choosing a path, revealing a hidden window, or zooming in on a detail, there are countless ways to interact with sequential art in a digital environment. Most important, the mere act of “reading” — moving through — digital comics should be a deeply interactive experience … Comics in a digital environment will remain a still life — but a still life we explore dynamically.” (McCloud, Reinventing Comics, page 229)

Webcomics as disruptive narrative

A few ideas about the possibilities of digital comics stand out for me:

  • One has choice to use art within a comic system or draw your own;
  • There are no limits to numbers of frames/pages;
  • Other media — hyperlinks, videos, etc. — can be embedded into webcomics;
  • Publishing and sharing is often a click of a button away — an audience is close;
  • Collaborative features are often built into webcomic sites;
  • Comments and feedback are often part of the system.

Want to examine a possibility of the webcomic world? Check out Randall Monroe’s xkcd webcomic, where Monroe regularly experiments with the possibilities of webcomics along with traditional comics. His piece — Click and Drag — is one example of how he is pushing the edges of possibilities. As the title implies, you click and move through a comic that goes on and on and on, telling a narrative outside the frame.

It doesn’t end there, though. Because Monroe has a large audience, they began to take his comic and remix it and crowdsource elements of it together. Check out the wiki page about the comic. See a map that someone built to represent the entire comic. Venture into a more zoomable remix of the comic to get a better sense of scale.

I also adhere to the notion of “write alongside students” and that includes “make comics alongside students,” as evidenced by a few comic series that I have done over the years. The most prominent was a regular comic strip about the so called “digital divide” between students and teachers that I named Boolean Squared, and which ran on the website of our regional newspaper for two years before I retired the idea.


If you are seeking more resources around bringing comics into your classroom, feel free to use anything I have gathered at my Comics in the Classroom website, which I share with teachers on a regular basis.

Go ahead. Start a panel. Who knows where it will bring you.

Peace (in the frames),

PS — as I writing this piece, Edutopia put together a “Five Minute Film Festival” on the use of comics in the classroom.

Graphic Novel Review: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales

My fifth grade son let the first book in Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales  that I brought home from the library sit around for a few weeks. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the historical perspective, or the dense pages of graphics and text. I thought the title alone — One Dead Spy — would draw him in.

Then, he picked it up and wouldn’t put it down.

Soon, we were ordering the second book from the library — Big Bad Ironclad — and now he is clamoring for more from writer/illustrator Nathan Hale (yes, that’s his name) who writes his graphic novels with Nathan Hale (the figure from history) in the lead role, trying to stave off his execution as a spy by weaving out stories of history. It’s more lighthearted than that seems, I realize, even though Hale (the writer) chooses some pretty, eh, interesting stories to tell (the Donner Party, the start of the Civil War, etc).

But, the stories from history are alive and enriched by Hale’s use of the graphic novel medium, effectively using history as the springboard for some fascinating storytelling. Each page is rich with humor and information, and packed with drawings. These are truly novels, in graphic form.

There’s also a cool Q/A with Hale about making comics.

And Hale has started making some videos about the making of the books, which are pretty nifty.

Peace (in the tales),

At Middleweb: Connected Reading with Connected Learners

Connected Reading review comic

Over at Middleweb, I reviewed a new book about “connected reading” by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks. They push our thinking about the ways that Connected Learning principles can take root with adolescent readers.

It is a thoughtful book that looks at classroom practice and the ways in which Turner and Hicks were doing the “connected reading” even as they were writing the book itself. (I am sucker for that kind of reflective writing)

Read the review of Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World 

The comic I share above was my way of putting connected reading practice into reality, as I mapped out how I came to review the book and then am asking readers at Middleweb to extend the conversation even further.

You can do the same.

Peace (in the read),

Both Sides of the Telescope: MetaWriting and MetaComic

Last week, I started to work on a sort of meta-comic because comic creation has been on my mind — both for a guest blog post I have submitted for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing and for the upcoming Digital Writing Month in November.

I began with this:

Eat the Words

And then ended with this:

I wanted to explore if I could use one comic platform and then pull back the lens a bit, and show how one comic was part of a larger comic and idea, and then those were part an even larger idea, and so on.

I was shooting for the idea that inspiration comes from all different places, and different platforms change the way we create things. And in the end, well, I don’t always know where ideas come from. I just know, the string is getting pulled.

The lens was pulled back, showing ever expanding views of the comic in creation.

I put that comic project aside when I got caught up in some other things, but a post by my friend Terry Elliott, inspired by friend Ian O’Byrne, entitled 140 is Dead, 14o is Dead! Long Live the 140! caught my eye, as Terry writes about how Twitter changes the way we write. In doing so, he played around with editing and revision, moving from a wide view of writing to something smaller and confined.

Terry writes: “I think in the end that Twitter has made me a different kind of writer.  Perhaps it makes me better because I need to reconsider and edit based upon a simple set of initial conditions, fairly rigid editorial guidelines like the 140 character limit. Perhaps it makes me better because it makes me write more then less then more again like the exercise above until I get it right enough.”

The lens was pulled in, showing ever narrowing views of the writing in creation.

It struck me that Terry and I were looking at each other through either end of the compositional telescope — him, with his writing; me, with my comic.

What I wondered was, where do we meet in the middle? Maybe the telescope is the world, and this blog post in the place where his view meets my view.

Peace (in the view of the world),

Playing a Global Game of Comic Strip Panel Lottery

I Dream in AnalogI came across a new comic maker (Thanks, Maha, for the tweet!) that seemed worth checking out. It is called Fun Palace Comic Maker, and is part of a larger Fun Palace group that is doing intriguing work around the arts and science and more.

The options at Fun Palace Comic Maker are fairly limited — you can’t adjust the number of panels, or resize the art, or add your own art. But the limitations are part of the charm, and this narrow element of choice is at the heart of the rationale of the site, which is built along the lines of a “panel lottery.” (See Scott McCloud’s Five Card Nancy game)

The comic maker site was conceived by Matt Finch, and you can read an interesting interview with him over at Comics Grid about his intentions and thinking behind the Fun Palace Comic Maker idea. It also sounds as if there are more innovations to the site coming down the road.

Finch notes, in that interview at Comics Grid:

Making an online game was as much about reaching an international audience as exploring the digital medium in itself – “the world’s largest game of Panel Lottery” – but it also let us do things that you can’t achieve with pen and paper, or cut-up comics on a desktop. — Mike Finch

Still, for what it is at this point, it was fun to create something quickly (although, when I tried it on my iPad, my comic crashed on me … I had to move to the desktop), and when you “submit” your final comic, the site sends it off to a companion Tumblr site for archiving. I like that collaborative publishing piece of Fun Palace.

I made my small comic on the theme of digital writing because that is on my mind these days with the approach of Digital Writing Month in November (more on that in the next few days).

Peace (at play),

Students, Meet Calvin and Hobbes

I guess I fulfilled my duty yesterday in my role as arbitrator of fine literature as I pulled out some classic Calvin and Hobbes comic strips to use as texts for lessons around writing and formatting dialogue (this is always an issue with my sixth graders.)

I did a little informal polling, too. I asked, how many have heard or read Calvin and Hobbes? I teach four classes, of about 80 sixth graders, and only seven students TOTAL raised their hands in response. The rest had never seen nor heard of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

What a travesty!

And one that I quickly remedied, as first I gave an overview of the classic comic strip and then introduced all of the main characters to them, and then each student received a page with three Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, and began the task of rewriting the dialogue as a short vignette, using proper formatting.

The best part of the lesson?

The giggles and the sharing of the comics with neighbors (every student got three different comics on their page) and those who asked, Where can I get a collection of these comics to read for myself? (I have some, of course, but my sons would get angry at me for taking them into school. Our Calvin and Hobbes books are read all the time in my house.) Maybe a new generation of Calvin and Hobbes fans is being born right now after a little taste of goodness and mischief and imagination.

Mr. Watterson, you’re very welcome.

Which reminds me: I have yet to watch the documentary — Dear Mr. Watterson — on Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes, and I know it is on Netflix. I might need to do a little viewing this weekend.

Peace (in the panel),

Slice of Life: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

(This is a piece for Slice of Life, a weekly community writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers.)


I found this in my email bin this morning, and I was quite happy. You see, I have started to contribute each month to support a few artists that I like via Patreon, which is a crowdsourcing site that puts into practice something I like to believe in: your audience will not only find you if you do creative things, but they will also help support you in order to support your art. (I did a book review last week on Cory Doctorow’s book — Information Doesn’t Want to be Free — in which this idea was a central tenet of how artists can survive, and thrive, in the digital age.)

At Patreon, I pitch in a dollar each month to support a few folk — including Audrey Watters and her insightful pieces about education and technology; David Finkle, and his work on creating comics about teaching called Mr. Fitz; and Dave Kellett, whose Sheldon comics I love to read every day for their wit and humor. It was Dave who sent out some free ebook gifts as thanks to his supporters. Audrey and David Finkle often send out material that we get to see first, or works in progress.

A dollar doesn’t sound like much, but if a lot of people pitch in a dollar, it can make the difference between an artist making art or flipping pancakes for a living. Kellett, for example, wanted to remove advertising from his website for Sheldon, and so the Patreon campaign is designed to replace the income from ads through direct support from fans.

I was happy to support Sheldon Comics even without the ebooks but now … now, I need to get these on my iPad for pleasure reading …

Peace (in the giving and in the receiving),