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Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: A Review of a Very Useful Book
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Article by Scott Tingley, October 18, 2008

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Next week (I hope) I plan on beginning a fifteen week comic creating club to be held every Wednesday for the grade 3, 4 and 5 students at my school (I teach grade 3 at a small rural k-5 school). There will be a focused lesson with homework due at the next class, and if they want to be part of the club attendance is mandatory.

The first class will cover the basics - the "building blocks" of comics. We'll cover the terminology (panels, word balloons, splash pages, etc); we'll talk about the fact that you don't need to be able to draw well to create comics and comic strips; and we'll take part in a couple of art mini-lessons exploring action and panel layouts. That sounds like a lot for 45 minutes, but it will have to do.

The homework for week 1 is to draw a single panel "depicting a number of actions happening either in sequence or independently."

I didn't make any of this up on my own, however. I am adapting this lesson from a fairly new book called Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden . It is a pretty hefty book, manual really, designed to follow a "15-week college semester format" while being easily adapted to a longer or shorter timeframe. The authors recommend that their book be used from beginning to end in order - that this will give the user(s) the full benefit of the knowledge and skills found between its covers, but they also concede that a compressed curriculum might be necessary.

The lessons begin at the basics, as I mentioned above, and move on to making comic strips, penciling, lettering, inking, story structure, character development, etc. It is as comprehensive a comic creating handbook as I have seen.

Drawing Words was not created just for classroom use, but the authors stress the importance of community; especially a regularly meeting face to face community, but there are resources / websites available for creating a virtual online community. Their thinking is that you learn more and usually work harder at assignments when working as part of a group.

In my opinion, a high school teacher could pretty much teach the entire book (in a noon club or in the regular classroom setting if that was possible), and a middle school teacher could adapt most lessons to fit those students. Drawing Words was not written for 7 to 10 year olds, so I will have to do a fair bit of adapting, and I will likely have to skip some lessons, but I believe that I will be able to use much of this book with the kids in my club.

I will likely take more than 15 weeks (if the kids are interested) to get through this book, but it will be well worth it and I know that Drawing Words & Writing Pictures will improve the comic creating workshops that I occasionally give through my school district and through the local library system.

This review is a lot shorter than I thought it was going to be when I started, but what I said at the outset is true: I will let you know how it goes - I will keep you updated on how it is going with my kids.I sure hope some sign up!



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