I have the feeling I'm really going against the spirit of blogging by writing three time-sensitive posts all at once. I shall fix this in future posts...just as long as I don't ever need to start "twittering."
Week three started with me bringing in some of my own work as well as all of my cartooning supplies. I wanted to show the students where all of the background work was headed. I briefly explained to them my creative process: brainstorming, sketching out thumbnails, penciling out all the panels and gutters, then penciling in all the scenes, characters, and speech bubbles, and finally going back through and inking in the finished piece with a brush or quill. Five minutes later, I passed out a guided brainstorming packet to get them started on the process themselves.
I decided to start with the premise "two ants find a crumb" and framed the process in the form of "things to ask yourself."
Here is a transcript of the packet:
1.) About the crumb: What is my crumb made of? Is it a type of food or something else like play dough? How big is it? How heavy is it? What shape is it? What color is it? Does it smell? How does it taste?
2.) About the ants: How many legs do my ants have? What shape are their bodies? What do their eyes look like? Are they wearing shoes? Are they wearing sunglasses or hats or neck ties? Are they the same size or is one ant bigger than the other? What are their personalities like? Is one ant mean? Is one ant nice? Are the ants brave?
3.) About the setting: Where do my ants find the crumb? Inside? Outside? In the grass? In the cushions of a couch? On a kitchen counter? On the sidewalk? On a picnic blanket?
4.) About what happens: What do my ants do with the crumb? Do they discuss it together? Do they try to lift it? Do they climb on it? Do they fight over it? Do they try to take a bite of it? Do they shape it into something? Where do the ants take the crumb? Do they make it where they are going? Does something happen to them and the crumb on the way?
Throughout the packet, I gave them space to both write and draw their answers to the questions, and, at the end, I gave them six "thumb nails" to fill in with an outline of the story.
This exercise worked well. By focusing on the crumb and ants early on, the setting and plot both fell into place easily. I know I've used the word sophistication already, but that's exactly what many of the thumb nails the students sketched had: the stories sprang to life based upon how the characteristics of the ants would cause them to react to the crumb. Here are just a few examples: A pair of hippie ants shared a steak crumb in a fancy Parisian restaurant, a Mexican ant and a scared ant came across rat poison in a grandfather clock and fed it to an unsuspecting (and by the last thumbnail dead) rat, brother ants fought over the crumb until one began to cry and they decided to share it, one exceptionally resourceful ant melted the crumb down and used it to power his rocket ship and spend the rest of the thumbnails going on outer-space adventures. As you can see, some made more sense than others, but overall most every student had a creative story to tell. And these are just examples from the Third Grade.
With fifteen minutes remaining in class, I handed out a blank version of the packet and told the students they would be brainstorming their own practice comic before we started the final ones. I only gave them two rules: no more than two characters and one object. Forty-five minutes a week doesn't allow for graphic novels and despite my desire for quantity in ideas in the brainstorming phase, I wanted to began the process of self-editing so that the students could produce a concise, yet satisfying comic by the end of the session.
In week four, I plan to allow them fifteen more minutes to brainstorm their practice comic, and then I am going to hand out pre-made panels for them to pencil in the comic. Were it not for the time crunch, I would have liked to allow them to be more creative with the panel shapes and sizes, but there's plenty of time for that when they do their final comics. Frankie already acquired thin black markers for me so if the students finish early they'll be able to go over their pencil with ink. I hope that even though I'm giving the students so much time to work on only one thing they'll still be able to stay focused. I think I'll have them discuss their comic with a partner every ten minutes or so to help them check and see if it makes sense and to keep the in-between talking to a minimum.
I was also thinking of handing out a pop quiz just to keep them on their toes.