Archive for Comics

Story Problems: Learning Narrative through Pictures

Posted in Writer Posts with tags , , , , on April 7, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Greg Stump, WITS Writer-in-Residence


Comic by Maya, a 1st grade student at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School.

As a teaching artist who helps students of all ages learn to make comics, I’m often fascinated by how a single lesson or exercise can be just as useful for the very young as it is for teens and adults. Short comic strip stories, humble though they may be, seem to be especially effective in teaching story structure to anyone. This is because all parts of the story (introducing a character in a setting; throwing a conflict/problem or disruptive event into the scenario; heightening the drama/tension; and resolving the matter as the character is restored/transformed) are not just visible, but adjacent to each other as well. In a comic, we can see all at once how the story ends and begins, or we can read it piecemeal or in reverse order — unlike text narratives, which are inflexibly linear, or movies, which can only show us one part of the story at a time.


Anyone who spends time with young children knows that they can tell stories even before they’re able to write them down, and this is never more evident to me than when teaching them comics. As a WITS writer-in-residence this year, I was very happy to get to teach the first graders at Broadview-Thomson, in part because it’s so much fun to see what little kids (who are still learning how to write) will come up with when asked to draw out their stories. The comic you see here, drawn by a first grader named Maya in Jeanne Medalia’s class, is a great example of how a simple six-panel comic can demonstrate both a solid grasp of narrative structure, and a delightful imagination to boot.


As the story begins in the first panel, our butterfly protagonist leisurely flaps past a flower. Suddenly, disaster: the butterfly collides into a tree (the “disruptive event”) in the second scene. The “rising action” in panels three and four show our hero laid out on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a hospital bed, where it lies miserable and injured. Fortunately, a nurse mends the butterfly’s damaged wing, and the comic ends much as it begins — with the butterfly in flight, only now with relief after having gone through a dramatic ordeal.


Again, this is a simple exercise, but the use of a vertical six-panel grid to tell a story in pictures can be quite powerful in getting kids — or anyone, really — to see, quite literally, that what makes a story engaging is how it introduces and resolves problems. And when assigned to students as young and creative as Maya, it leads to work that is as charming as it is instructive.



Turning History into Comics: David Lasky’s Visit to Washington Middle School

Posted in Author Visits with tags , , , , on February 24, 2015 by writersintheschools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate

The Oregon Trail seems to have been following me for most of my life. To some extent, I followed an urban version it, from growing up in the suburbs of Illinois, to attending college in Colorado, to eventually moving to Seattle. Like many others who grew up in the 1980s, my most memorable connection to the Trail was the hours I spent moving the massive pixels of my digital “family” and their wagon across Missouri and Nebraska, usually losing most of them to dysentery and typhoid before reaching Wyoming, in the video game I played during elementary school.

Those sicknesses and the existence of the wagons are most of what I can remember from what may or may not have been a history unit about the Trail –clearly not a very fruitful one. What made me realize this recently was not my own westward journey but a version of the Trail that took the form of a graphic novel, as it was projected before an audience of Washington Middle School students, by the artist and writer who created them, David Lasky.


David Lasky speaks to students at Washington Middle School.

It is not difficult to convince a room full of sixth graders to take a pause from the school day to think about comics. We expect comics to induce laughter or pull us into the drama that unfolds across their panels, both of which David Lasky’s comics and graphic novels do. However, the moment the artist started showing drawings from his and Frank Young’s book, Oregon Trail: The Road To Destiny, the library full of students fell especially silent. Apparently things have not changed since the 80s: kids still love the story of the Oregon Trail.


Pages from ‘Oregon Trail: The Road to Destiny,’ by Frank Young and David Lasky. Image from

As David went on to show them an advertisement from a more recent video game inspired by the Trail, he asked the students to point out parts of the image they thought might be historically inaccurate. A field of hands shot up instantly. One noticed how the wagon looked like it was moving too fast; David agreed and pointed out the way most people on the Trail walked beside the wagons rather than sitting in them. Another thought the horses pulling the wagon should actually be oxen; David confirmed this was indeed correct. Most often, students were bothered by the expressions on the travelers’ faces; these people were having too much fun to be enduring the laborious journey of the Trail. David wholeheartedly agreed.

Afterwards, David explained the reason he knew so much about the Oregon Trail was all of the research he puts behind his work. Once, he journeyed all the way to an obscure museum in Virginia, in order to see the belongings of the Carter family, which he used to illustrate the intricate details of his and Young’s more recent graphic novel, The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song. He pointed out the way a quilt he had seen became the background for a vivid panel that showed the family recording one of their most important hits. Images like that of the quilt, in which historical facts intersected with the creative mind of an artist so beautifully on the page, were the ones that will help us all remember history in the most meaningful ways.


Page from ‘The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song,’ by Frank Young and David Lasky. Image from

Smashing Expectations: Kyle Bolton Reads at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 17, 2014 by writersintheschools

By Erin Langner, WITS Program Associate 

When I think back to the week before winter break when I was in elementary school, I remember things like “mailing” cards to friends in other classrooms, a mess of a candy cane and its wrapper leaving my desk sticky for days, and extended periods of time spent bundling up and bundling down every time we went outside. Amidst the inevitable chaos and distractions that surround such a week in an elementary school, I would hardly expect to find a group of sixty fifth graders sitting quietly on the floor in the library, listening to someone read.


As unlikely as it seems, this was a real scene at WITS partner Broadview-Thomson K-8 School this week, when Seattle comic artist Kyle Bolton visited, to read from his brother Chris Bolton’s and his book, Smash, Book One: Trial By Fire. All eyes were on the author as he animated the story of a ten-year-old boy who finds himself bestowed with superhero powers using a thorough assortment of voices and sounds to match each action. Building up to a critical moment of realization, the entire library gasped when Kyle unveiled the final, “To be continued…” slide of his reading; the cliffhanger was severe, despite only hearing a small part of a story the Boltons have planned to fill five books.

The kids sitting around the lingering “To be continued…” slide did not see this as an end but as an opportunity. Their imaginations ignited, when Kyle invited questions, every third hand raised brought ideas for the next four Smash books. Methods for defeating villains, suggestions for co-conspirators, new narrative twists and potential wardrobe ideas were floated for consideration. While it is hard to know which directions the authors might find best suited for the next iterations of Smash, it was clear that no outside distractions were too much for this room full of story tellers, who found new suggestions to share through the end of the hour—ideas that I hope to run into again someday, when these creative students put their pencils to the paper and let the inspiration flow.