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Comics in your Curriculum: an Interview with Richard Jenkins
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Interview by Scott Tingley, August 05, 2009

Teachers are always on the lookout for new resources – easy to use, quality resources that will engage the kids and get them excited about their work that is. Richard Jenkins and Debra Detamore have created just such a resource – Comics in your Curriculum . Mr. Jenkins has agreed to talk with us about it.

Comics in the Classroom – Scott Tingley: Thank you for answering a few questions for us Mr. Jenkins.

Richard Jenkins: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CitC: Tell us a bit about your career up to the creation of your new book.

RJ: After I graduated from art school in 1994, I began pursuing publication of my comic book projects. In 1996, I teamed up with writers Phil Amara, Tim McCarney, & Mike Russo to create the Sky Ape comic book series. I worked as the illustrator for the series, designing the characters, visualizing the sets, storyboarding the unique and hilarious scripts that they wrote, and illustrating the final pages for the comics. 1997 marked the first issue of the series. To date, we've created four graphic novels with this flying gorilla.

In 1997 I also began working as an artist-in-residence, or Teaching Artist. I began sharing my knowledge of, experience with, and passion for comics with students in classrooms. Throughout Oklahoma , Arkansas , and Utah I taught students and teachers how to create their own original characters and comics. I knew how to make comics, but I was less sure just how to teach them. So, I looked to the classroom teachers with whom I worked. I would often ask them; are these steps making sense to you? are there any parts of this process that you think need improvement? is this something that you think that you could replicate? Gradually, I was able to refine my comics lesson to a well tested formula with a high degree of success for the students and teachers.

CitC: Tell us about your new book, Comics in Your Curriculum . What made you decide to do this comic lesson plan book for teachers? Also, you worked on this book with Debra Detamore – who brought what to the project?

RJ: As both my comics and teaching career were developing, two people suggested that I put my cartooning lessons down in book form. The first an old friend, the second was Debra Detamore. I was a guest artist in her classroom when we first met. I said that I would do it if she helped. She agreed. So, in the following three years we put our ideas together, with my core cartooning-lesson and began creating variations and additions to it. I brought the core knowledge of the artistic process to the book while Debra brought the deeper knowledge of what teachers needed.

CitC: You have everything a teacher might want in this book: National Standards (the descriptors for the standards are useful for teachers, like me, that teach outside the US since they are similar to outcomes in other curriculums); Rubrics (very nice!); Handouts that summarize the key points for the students; an outline of what comics actually are and how they work (which helps establish the proper terms for things like Panels ); and blank comic templates.

I don't have much of a question here…. It is unlike any other comic making handbooks I have seen, so talk about the process for putting a book like this together.

JR: Early in my teaching career, in addition to learning from the teachers, I would also look for books that taught kids how to create comics. Looking for more tips on how I could teach them. Most of these books showed how to create "comic-type" characters, but no tools on creating the story, panel layout or, any of the fundamental tools that are necessary to create comics.

I believed that this information would be valuable to teachers. So, I decided that I was going to create a book that would provide all of the things I saw missing. Things like: An accurate vocabulary; a clear definition of comics' function and a storytelling art form (rather than a genre); a clear sequence of steps through which a student can visualize, write, and create a comic; blank panel temples for the teacher to copy; and so on.

Debra and I knew that schoolteachers needed more than just the creative aspect of comics. So she showed me what a lesson plan looked like. What rubrics looked like.

We began spring boarding lesson plan ideas back and forth. We would pick which lessons we wanted to write, and then we edited each other's work. The rubrics were probably the most difficult to create. It's hard to quantify art, to simply boil it down to a number. But rubrics are a vital tool for teachers, and necessary if we want this book to be of use to the instructors. Debra, having far more experience with rubrics than I, did more of the work on these rubrics. It was also Debra's idea to include the connections to the National Education Standards in the lessons as well.

CitC: Your set of lessons that show step-by-step how to create a comic is pretty thorough, and I know they will work since it is almost exactly what I have taught students over the past 3-4 years since I got into this world myself (with a lot of trial and error – lots and lots of error). But you didn't stop there – you have a few Math, Social Studies, Science and Technology / Research lessons as well.

Why so broad? Why not just stick to making comics ?

JR: In my teaching career, I've met many people who did not have a well-informed perception of the form and function of comics. I wanted to change that. And I wanted to clarify that comics is a medium not a genre, and can include things other than super heroes. For instance you could do a comic about the revolutionary war, or do a book report in comic form. Fundamentally, Comics in Your Curriculum is an "arts integration" book. This book is intended for, not art teachers, rather classroom teachers. We set out to give teachers an adaptable tool through which they can further engage their students in their learning; such as learning about the food chain or fractions. Like other art forms, (music, drama, or painting) comics can be employed to engage students in their learning. These comics-integrated lessons also provide an additional way for students to interact with the content knowledge and to express their knowledge of that content.

CitC: I have been asked this question on numerous occasions, and I have my own answer but: Why Comics? Why bother?

RJ: First, comics have a wide and strong appeal to children. This appeal makes comics an ideal way to engage kids in their learning. Second, comics is a dual discipline art form. It is both visual and verbal. Image and text. The images are in sequence. The text is juxtaposed to the images. There are an infinite number of connections between comics, language arts, and visual arts. Comics contain a wealth of educational possibilities, for the creative and perceptive teacher.

CitC: Is a teacher that uses comics in his / her classroom just trying to trick the kids into learning?

RJ: Aren't all teachers trying to "trick" kids into learning? I didn't care about mollusks when I was in the fourth grade, but Mrs. Horn sure found a way for me to get interested. In the many classrooms which I have visited, and teachers whom I've seen working, the most effective teachers are intellectual sponges. They are insatiably curious. They KNOW their curriculum. They KNOW their students, and are constantly searching for ways to engage them in their learning. In short, good teachers are lifelong learners. Comics is simply one of many tools which a teacher can make use of in their daily lessons.

CitC: Any final things you would like to inform the readers about? What are you working on now?

RJ: Sure. I was recently selected as a Teaching Artist Fellow for VSA arts. And currently I am working on several short story comics for anthologies, and beginning work on my serialized graphic novel, Toil.

CitC: Thank you for your time.

The publisher's website is piecesoflearning.com , and you can order the book HERE



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