Mini Graphic Stories

Cover of 'Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on ...

Chris Ware’s graphic novel, ‘Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth’

Lesson Plan by
Amanda E. Gross

National Visual Art Standards:
1, 2, & 5
Cognitive, affective, & psychomotor skills
15 Sessions

[click to view my Character WorksheetStoryboard WorksheetRubricQuiz, and Comics Powerpoint]

Unit Title: Transformation

Unit Goal: Transformative events change and shape our lives, and are the focal subject of some artists’ work.
Lesson Title: My Transformation: a Mini Graphic Story
Lesson Goals: Some artists create graphic novels to depict their own transforming life stories through images and text.

Lesson Objectives:  As a result of instruction, students will be able to:

  • Depict a transformative event across at least 6 story frames, in a mini book form.
  • Follow instructions & work consistently & respectfully.
  • Storyboard an event & create a character.
  • Utilize the elements & principles of design through a chosen 2D medium.
  • Write a reflection about the project & participate in a critique of their own & peers’ work.

Vocabulary Words: Graphic novel, storyboard, transformation, sequence, character, line, color, shape, Harvey Pekar, Marjane Satrapi, Art Spiegelman

Visual References: 
Left to right: Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds, Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, my worksheets on Storyboarding & Character, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Guy Delisle’s Shenzen, Linda Barry’s Marlys, Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Many more graphic novels may be placed on tables, for inspiration. Additional visual resources include a PowerPoint, demonstrations, & board notes taken during class brainstorming sessions.

Instructional Support Materials: PowerPoint presentation, large selection of graphic novels on tables, laptop, “dongle” connector cord, projection screen, my Storyboard Worksheet & Character Worksheet, dry erase board with markers, Rubric, Quiz.

Additional Supplies: At least 3 sheets of heavyweight white paper per student (9”x12”), needle and thread to bind, rulers, sketchbooks, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, student’s 2D media of choice (colored pencils, H & B pencils, pen & ink, collage, paint, etc.)

Assessment Strategies: Group & individual discussions, final mini books, sketchbooks, observation during work times, final critique, written reflections.

Evaluation criteria / evidence of success: 

  • Student’s transformative story is autobiographical, shown in sequence, utilizes appropriate media, & is at least 6 story frames. Book is bound.
  • Student works consistently & relatively independently during class. All due dates are met, & materials are respected.
  • Student demonstrates knowledge of storyboarding & character depiction. Storyboard events are sequential & utilize appropriate number of frames. Student’s character represents her/him & is executed in an original style.
  • Student chooses an appropriate 2D medium to depict her/his story, which s/he handles competently. S/he then makes meaningful choices with line, color, value, contrast, balance, unity, etc.
  • Student’s reflection answers all prompt questions, is insightful, and utilizes good grammar and spelling skills. Student eagerly offers polite, thoughtful comments on his/her own and classmates’ mini graphic stories during a final critique.

Class Progression:
Days 1-4: 
1. Introduction of lesson & initial motivation:
Ask: Who has heard of a graphic novel or have read comics or graphic novels? What are they?
Explain: Graphic novels are a bit different than comics because they usually have more mature or heavier subject matter, & tend to be more introspective. Similarly, we’re going to document an experience from our lives through drawing.

2. Pass out Rubric with steps & criteria. Explain We’re going to make mini graphic novels, little illustrated stories, about a significant event in your life that changed you. We’ll do it step by step.
3. View PowerPoint and other visual resources. Discuss:

  • What elements did the artist use on this page or cover? (text, image, word bubble, symbol, scenery, character, border, etc.)
  • What does the artist’s style look like? What visual message does it convey?
  • Why did the artist create this work? (personal therapy, communicate to an audience, entertainment, etc.)
  • What design commonalities can you see in the various artists’ graphic novels?

4. In their sketchbooks, students consider the following: (If students are stuck for ideas, hold a group brainstorming session to encourage ideas & further scaffold the process)

  • Brainstorm events that have changed you as a person. Choose one event or story, & think about dividing it among 5-10 different scenes which show how you transformed.
  • Is the story or event personal, related to family, culture, friends, or an historical event? How did you change as a person, from beginning to end? How will you show this transformation graphically?

5. Demonstrate storyboarding & discuss sequence.
6. Explore: Pass out Storyboard Worksheets. Students should fill out at least 5 of the 10 squares with sketches depicting separate scenes (1 in each square) of their story or event. Characters may be represented by stick figures. Students consider:

  • Is there a clear transformation between the first and last square?
  • Did you include dialogue? Are the squares filled with interesting, balanced compositions?
  • Are characters seen from far away or close up?

If students are really stuck on the storyboarding ideas, give them the assignment of simply writing their story in paragraph form, translating the paragraph into a list of bullet points, and then inserting those bullet points into separate story board frames.

7. Pass out Character Worksheets.  In the first of the 2 boxes, students draw themselves – in pencil – facing front; in the second box, they draw themselves in profile.  They consider How do you want to portray yourself as a character in your own story? Will you look realistic or more like a cartoon?

8. Putting it all together:  Pass out 3 pages of Bristol paper to each student. Students fold them in half, to create 6 separate leaves.  On the inside of this “book,” students will plot out their storyboards in pencil, & then use a 2D media of their choice to depict their story of transformation.  They consider How will your choice of media communicate your intention?

Day 5: 

1. Learning about other visual elements of the graphic novel.  Students stand around table where graphic novels are laid out.  Discuss:

  • What types of lines do you see, how are lines used to communicate a mood?
  • How does the artist employ texture and color, borders and text boxes? Will line, texture, and color help convey your transformation story?
  • How will you use borders or text boxes? 

2. Students will add these elements to their storyboard and character worksheets.

Days 6-9: 

Work time: Students sketch out their ideas into their black white “books.”

Days 10-14: 

1. Students work on their “books” in their chosen media (acrylic paint, markers, Sharpie, pencil, ink, watercolor, collage, colored pencil, etc.)

2. Circulate to bind students’ books one at a time.

3. On day 12 or 13, take time to study for an in-class quiz.

Day 15: 

1. Reflection: Students take a written in-class Quiz.

2. Critique: Students arrange their desks in a circle, with their books on top.  Every few minutes, have students pass their books to the left, so that everyone sees their peers’ work.  Discuss some books in particular: those which students particularly enjoy, or those whose creators really utilized line, color, &/or shape to show mood and transformation.

3. Students complete a written reflection.

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