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Scott McCloud, Lynda Barry, JP Coovert, Raina Telgemeier
Our shelves at home are heavily stacked with comics and graphic novels, for both our kinder reader and our third-grader, plus all of our own collected lovingly over many years. I discovered after having children that reading them aloud is… not my favorite. The pacing, page design, all of it just wants and needs to go straight to your optic nerve. But I do my best for our youngest, who isn’t yet an independent reader, and he tolerates my poor voice-acting. Soon enough he’ll be able to enjoy the delight of full comics immersion on his own. I love this book format for kids because it’s approachable and it helps them to practice a variety of literacy skills and storytelling methods. AND, it’s a great format for kids to produce. The gist is pretty easy to pick up just from reading: pictures in boxes, with short blurbs of text, telling a story. But, there are also a few great references out there to help kids learn the mechanics of sequential art storytelling – here they are!
I have to start with Scott McCloud, the Guide Parent of sequential art formal analysis. And although this book is intended for a general audience, McCloud’s facial expression recipes and emotional intensity charts should be displayed in every preschool classroom. My employer and book-reviewing mentor, an author who has also published visual formats including a graphic novel, calls Making Comics the best how-to manual ever published. Older kids get a full course-worth of instruction from this book, and younger kids get a glimpse behind the curtain.
Lynda Barry is hands-down my favorite voice of creative encouragement. Besides her own narrative (and often autobiographical) works, she’s published several books about creative process, she teaches university classes, and she offers stand-alone workshops, so instruction is a familiar groove for her. Her whole thing is: we’re all born artists, everyone can draw, no bad drawings, stories emerge on the page. This book comes from her university course design, so it’s geared for a certain audience, but most of the exercises can be adapted for use with kids at home. Many of the exercises start with a simple drawing prompt or a reflection on something from your own life.
Both of the above books are geared toward a general audience, but in my opinion fall squarely in the category of useful-references-for-all. These next two are a bit like kid-optimized versions of the above.
Maker Comics: Draw a Comic, by JP Coovert, contains pretty much all the nuts and bolts of Scott McCloud’s book, and it does so with a simple background story that introduces each core concept. Each of the six chapters are framed like a project: Learning The Parts of a Comic; Planning A Comic Strip; Drawing Your Comic Strip; One-Sheet Comic; Printing Your One-Page Comic; Make Your Own Comic Book. This book alone is enough for kids to learn everything they need to make their own comics.
Share Your Smile is a guide to creating autobiographical comics by the author of my eldest’s favorite graphic novels. Using excerpts from four of the author’s books, Raina Telgemeier helps readers to explore the craft of storytelling. Each section of the book has a series of questions to get ideas flowing, brainstorming space to record ideas and sketches, and then sequential panels to create short comics. How wonderful to learn a craft from a creator you love!