Our year long writing goal was to motivate children to write for intrinsic purposes. We noticed the children’s passion for graphic novels and observed them making their own comics in Free Inquiry Time and at home. The children were often taking graphic novels out of the library. As we were reworking our units of study for writing we decided to develop a graphic novel unit, which complemented our year long unit about illustrations. The children agreed this was a very good idea. This was not an easy option, writing graphic novels is a complex process and mentally challenging.
The children wrote down everything they knew about graphic novels. We had a pile of books in the class which we had curated with our librarian Katy Vance, who came to our planning meetings. The books sat for a few days in a big basket, the children were desperate to read them. Once we gave them the books they quickly took them off and started discussing them. We read the graphic novels out loud and the children read them to each other.
We watched this video about graphic novels so the children could see the complex process involved in making a final product. We asked them whether they felt they could sustain this amount of effort. The resounding answer was YES!
The whole thing is interesting, the process starts at 1.36
The children have had an idea folder for most of the year. They developed this after watching a video about an author of the month, Oliver Jeffers, who shared his creative process. We believe in giving children time to doodle and draw. High quality ideas need time to grow and develop. We can not expect children to suddenly be creative and develop high quality pieces.
The children quickly developed a story line because their idea folder was full of ideas. Some children brought in ideas they developed at home.
The most surprising part of the process for the children was writing the story before they drew it. We gave the children an A3 piece of paper and asked them to use a graphic organizer they had used twice before. The sequence Brainframe had three boxes: the setting and problem, trying to solve the problem and solving the problem. The children then added to their basic outline using: descriptive, emotion and sound words shown as circles coming off the boxes.
Throughout this process we meet as a class and had daily minilessons where we taught the conventions used in this format, these included: panels (the boxes the action takes place in), gutters (the space between the panels), speech and thought balloons, sound affects and captions (show, time, place and events). We used the work of published authors as examples. The children also found examples to share.
On a spare piece of the BrainFrame the children developed their characters drawing how they: moved, felt and dressed.
This was the draft of the final piece. This proved quite challenging for the children as they had to use their visual spatial skills. The children added perspective and movement to their drawings.Working out how to fit in the panels, the characters, captions and speech. The hardest part of writing a graphic novel is being succinct. It is hard to write less! The primary method of conveying meaning comes through the characters using speech to tell the story. The captions also need to be concise and tell the story or indicate time. The children inventively drew clocks to track time. The piece was edited by the child, a peer and a teacher.
The final piece penciling, inking and coloring
The final part of the process was to reproduce the graphic novel with no errors. They then reedited the work and inked over the drawing, adding backgrounds and color. The children found it easy to convey emotion through color as they had explored this in art class with Aaron Reed. The children also needed perfect spelling and lettering. This meant rewriting words, retrying spellings and getting the letter size correct. We used A3 paper as these are younger children who are learning to write. One child developed a ‘think paper’ to practice spelling, handwriting and developing characters expressions in a consistent form. We liked this idea so much we added it to our planner.
This was a highly challenging undertaking for the children. They had to persist with the process and redraft in three different forms, yet they kept going. They often sustained their concentration for 50 minutes when writing. We hope the children keep writing their own graphic novels. They show every sign of doing so.
Excellent books for teaching graphic novels
MUST HAVE Adventures in Cartooning James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost
Adventures in Cartooning Characters in Action James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Fredrick-Frost
Understanding Comics By Scott McCloud (A more academic book, only if you are geeky)
Published texts we used to mentor the children
|The Big Wet Balloon By Liniers
Bean Dog and Nugget The Ball Charise
Little Mouse gets Ready Jeff Smith
Otto’s Orange Day By Jay Lynch & Frank Cammuso
Benny and Penny The Big NO-NO! By Geoffrey Hayes
Mr Badger and Mrs badger #1 The Meeting Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet (simple at children’s level)
The Zoo Book Ariel Cohn Aron Nels Steinke (very simple at kids level)
Mr Wuffles By David Weisner
Hippopotomister John Patrick Green
|Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons Agnes Rosenstiehl
Luke on the Loose By Harry Bliss
Benny and Penny in Just Pretend Geoffrey Hayes
Mr Badger and Mrs badger #3 What A Team Brigitte Luciani Eve Tharlet
Tippy and the Night Parade Lilli Carre
Bird Cat Dog Lee Nordling & Meritxell Bosch
Squish Game on! Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm
Stinky Eleanor Davis
Try an adult graphic novel for yourself
Zoe’s pick of adult graphic novels, they are a little dark. If you want something lighter and fun go and ask Katy Vance in the library
Persepolis Marjane Saprati Growing up with the rise of the Islamic state in Iran
Maus Art Spielman’s Recount of growing up with holocaust survivors and relationship with parents, heartrendingly wonderful. Very manageable.
Blanket Craig Thompson Coming of age in an evangelical family and first love
Watchmen Allan Moore I love Moore, but this could blow your brains, it is highly complex panels, but is is BRILLIANT, more like a traditional comic
V for Vendetta Allan Moore, More doable, excellent story
Batman The Dark Knight Returns Frank Miller The dark side of Batman, exquisite illustrations. It made me love Batman graphic novels. Dark and moody, flawed hero.