A few years back, I taught a course focusing on graphic memoirs. For their final assignment, students had to create their own graphic memoirs, either illustrating it or using picture and an app. The assignment went well, and I was thoroughly impressed with the products that the students produced. This semester, since I was teaching “Monsters, Race, and Comics,” I wanted to do a similar type of assignment. This time, however, students could choose between creating an illustrated graphic narrative or writing a script. As well, I gave them the option of working in pairs to complete the project. Along with the product, each student had to write a reflection essay about the decisions they made in the creation of the product and how the product connected with themes we discussed in class. Today, I want to share that project and some of the students’ products.
This is the assignment prompt I provided to students for the graphic narrative/script and the reflection paper. I did have a rubric for the reflection paper.
Over the course of this semester, we have used horror and comics as a lens to examine issues of race, xenophobia, sexism, history, and more through works such as Deathlok, Killadelphia, and The Low, Low Woods. You have seen how graphic narratives work to convey information through the juxtaposition of words and images, and how that juxtaposition leads us to thinking about various issues.
For this assignment, you will take what we have learned and create your own graphic narrative. You must think about and incorporate the themes we have examined over the course of the semester, and you need to consider the ways to construct and read a graphic narrative that we have discussed.
You have two options for this assignment:
One: You can write a five to ten-page script for a graphic narrative. If you choose this option, you need to break down each page and detail what you would want an illustrator to do for the page. On my blog, I have a five-page breakdown of how I’d want to do the opening for a graphic narrative adaptation of Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow. You can also find a wide variety of scripts at Comics Experience. You’ll notice that no two scripts are the same, but they have the same information: page layout, panel descriptions, narration, and dialogue. You must have these in some form on your script.
Two: You can illustrate a five to ten-page graphic narrative. If you choose this option, you are basically creating the finished comic. It will involve thinking about a script and laying the script out, but I will just grade you on the comic. I won’t grade the artwork, but I will grade the layout and narrative and the connection to themes we’ve discussed. You can find numerous programs online to help with comics layouts, and the one I used is called Comic Book. It’s on Apple products.
If you would like, you can partner up with someone in class. One person can do the script and one can do the illustrations. It will be collaborative, and each person will be graded separately. As well, each person must complete their own reflection essay as well.
Reflection on Graphic Narrative/Script:
Along with the graphic narrative/script, you must provide a 750–1000-word reflection that explains the narrative/script’s purpose, audience, and the rhetorical/artistic strategies. You must address how the graphic narrative/script relates to themes we have discussed over the course of the semester. This reflection will serve as an artistic statement to your project and provide readers with insight into why you made certain decisions during the creative process.
You must have two-three scholarly sources for the reflection as well. These sources will address themes and issues that your graphic narrative/script address. As well, you must break down one or two of the sequences/pages you create.
I am always scared about what types of products I’ll receive when I have assignments like this in my courses. That fear arises because I am asking students, in an English class, to do things that they have never done before. If a student has never read a graphic text, until this course, then they will have no idea, apart from our discussions in class, about how to even start thinking about creating a script or a completed short graphic narrative. Along with this, students typically expect to write essays in class, not a creative type project. Thus, they approach it tentatively because they are unsure about their own ability to complete the assignment due to a myriad of factors.
Inevitably, I had students who had no clue where to even begin with the project. Specifically, if they wanted to write a script, they did not know how to get started. To help with this, I shared one of my own scripts, a short script I wrote for a graphic adaptation of Frank Yerby’s novel The Foxes of Harrow, and I shared with them the scripts page at Comics Experience. We took time in class to walk these these examples as well, pointing out how the scripts correlated to the finished project. This process, along with breaking down panels and sequences from texts we looked at in the course, helped most of the students as they got started with their scripts.
Students projects ranged from realistic stories that reminded me in many of Jerry Craft’s New Kid to pieces that felt like extensions of text we read in class such as Carmen Maria Machado and Dani’s The Low, Low Woods. Students explored various themes from discussions of race to discussions of sexual assault and trauma. They pulled from the works we studied and from other avenues and created stories that impacted me as I graded them.
Ultimately, a few student groups decided to illustrate their stories, and over the next couple of posts I want to look at some of these, examining them in relation to how the products expand up the themes we discussed in the course but also how they fit within a broader context. I asked for students permission before sharing these, and they have allowed me to share parts of their work here. I hope you’ll join me as I look at some of their work. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on twitter @silaslapham.