PCS September: Side B

I worked this all out last August, but it never made it online! Here are some thoughts I had after reflecting on a series of library workshops that I did at several branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

I’d like to talk to you a little about doing comics workshops with teens. If you’re like me, you can sometimes get a little bottled up in your art practice. You find yourself in artistic ruts that you just can’t seem to get out of for weeks. You want to be writing, drawing, sequencing, but nothing comes…

One way that I’ve found to reinvigorate my personal art practice during times like that is to teach workshops with teens. In the longterm, working with their raw talents helps me to find new perspectives in my comics making practice. At the end of the day, they just want to have fun.

Whenever I organize activities for them and they aren’t excited to engage I take note. There’s something missing from the activity. Their lack of engagement is likely due to me not thinking about the activity in a holistic enough of a way. What is it missing? Is it a sense of purpose? Is it spontaneity? Is it too confusing? Is it too collaborative?

When I figure out what these essential elements are I often realize that they are missing from my regular comics making. Whether it’s blindly collaborating, drawing from life in silly ways, or just using color at every step of the way,I hop to it and do two things. First, I plan out new and improved lesson plans and then I start a new SHORT comics project that folds in that essential element.

With a little patience, the joy comes back to my comics and the classroom.

During the month of August I led a weekly comics workshop with Teens at several branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. It was a blast.

As part of this months updates from the Salon, you’ve received a PDF copy of the zine that we collected highlights of our work in. It is called, The Cosmic Comics Lab. You can read our zine by downloading the attached PDF at the bottom of this page. It’s goofy, full of lots of energy and lots of learning by young comics makers from all over the city of Pittsburgh.

One of the activities that students enjoyed the most and lost themselves in was adapting songs they liked to the comics page. I got this idea from advice that Pittsburgh’s talented Sophie Goldstein gave to comics makers online:

I really want to tell stories with my art but I’m having trouble getting started. Can you give me some advice about how you start a comic?

I would suggest starting small with a one to six-page story. A lot of cartoonists begin by doing autobio comics but really you can do anything with comics–movie reviews, journalism, fairytale adaptations, &c. I think adaptations can be really great because the story is worked out and you can focus on the mechanics of storytelling.

Students often struggle when they are asked to come up with an idea for a story that will work on a single or a couple of pages out of the blue. Her advice got some wheels turning in my head and I was inspired to have teens use songs as jumping off points for their comics. Working in this way, we could focus on the mechanics of comics communication.

We printed out the lyrics of the songs and then figured out what sections of the songs would make for good comics pages. The song functioned as a loose script that they could fall back on when they felt a little lost. It wasn’t a tight narrative script, though, which meant that they could do ANYTHING with their panels so long as they found ways to fold the images around the song.

Because the students got to choose the songs they worked on they felt invested in the process and wanted to see the comics to completion.

Here are some glimpses at their processes


I will be leading more comics workshops this Summer, in libraries and DAILY at a summer camp. Who knows what we’ll get up to!


PCS: September – Side A

Daunted and Freed by the Script

Every month I’ve been putting together a recap of the Comics Salon happenings for supporters of the Comics Salon Patreon. I’d like to start sharing those thoughts here with you. Let me know what you think, comes to mind while you read in the comments. If you’d like to support the ongoing efforts of the Pittsburgh Comics Salon, take a look at the Patreon page I’ve set up. Be a patron of the arts in Pittsburgh, whydontcha?

The goal of the salon is to build solidarity, get new conversations started between cartoonists and comics makers in the area and to push the frontiers of comics making in an intimate and welcoming setting here in Pittsburgh, PA.

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August saw Allison Strejlau, take the floor to lead an exercise in the handling of translating a tight comedy script to rough pencils. Allison has been the series illustrator for Boom!Studios‘ Regular Show comics and illustrates for Papercutz’ Nickelodeon Magazine Breadwinners series, and has had work with the Adventure Time and Uncle Grandpa comics from KaBoom!Studios. Oof, has she got comedy and narrative chops! The idea here was to give local comics makers a very structured comics prompt where they were primarily encouraged to flex their visual sequencing muscle.

The structure that one usually gets when working a work-for-hire artist can be daunting and hard to describe. Nevertheless for some cartoonists this can be an extremely freeing comics making opportunity. The “what” of the comic is already determined by the writers. The comics maker then gets to focus exclusively on the “how” of the comic. We wanted the Salon to have experience with this mode of creation.

The page that was handled happened to be the page that Allison had to draw when she applied to the open call to be the main artist on the series for BOOM! Comics.

Allison explained the demeanors of the characters Rigby and Muscle Man but did not give away what the characters looked like in the series. As a result, the characters look similar, but vastly different from page to page. It was funny to see everyone’s reaction when Allison revealed that Rigby was a racoon!

The nuts and bolts of this exercise revolved around how the panels would sit on the comics page. How many panels in the first tier? How about the second and third tiers? Seven panels on a page provided an interesting challenge in that it asked the tiers of the page to have unequal numbers of panels. The meter of the page would therefore have to deal with that AND be sure to provide a good rhythm for the visual gags.

This was Allison’s final page. For BOOM!

Be sure to compare the convergences between the pages made during the Salon and Allison’s inks. Take note of where comics makers put the three tiers and which tiers they clumped together. What effect does that have on the reading experience? What differences do you notice from comic to comic?

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Needless to say, a great time was had.

P.S. Check out these pages made with children using the same script. The children who made these pages were aware of what the characters looked like.