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!

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