I'm done with teaching comics.
No, really, I'm finished -- as in, the five week course I taught over the summer on comic book scripting is now concluded.
I've mentioned here and there that I teach writing -- one of the places I do this is "in house," for the Disney
folks, who have very robust enrichment/education programs for their employees. I happily fell into one of these as
a creative writing teacher for one department running what amounts to an in-house community college, offering
evening classes in subjects ranging from photography to sculpture, public speaking to digital art, and more. I've
taught various aspects of writing over the years -- sometimes blanket "Creative writing," other times more
specific courses on "Writing for Teens and Children," "Science Fiction & Fantasy," and more.
We were looking for something that hadn't been done, or offered there yet, and I suggested comic book scripting,
almost as an afterthought.
This became a seized-upon, and well-received idea (though I later found out not everyone who wanted to take it
could -- will there be additional sections offered "down the road?" Stay tuned!), and the class was capped at
around a dozen, so in our two hours-a-week we could do some workshopping of sample script pages.
But therein lay the challenge -- I had some former students return, who'd been waiting for such a class, and a
bunch of new students (who'd been waiting for such a class!), divided between those who were, primarily artists
(and worked as such within Disney), and those who were writers.
But how to proceed?
In the fiction writing classes, aside from in-class exercises and writing prompts, people could bring in pages
each week and read sections of works-in-progress. The prose on the page, after all, were a "finished version"
of the story's form (revisions notwithstanding).
When I've taught script or playwriting, the writers still bring in pages, only with enough copies to "cast"
each new scene they've written. Thus they can hear the words spoken and reacted to -- not quite a "finished"
version of the story, but certainly a good way to give you a sense of whether your dialogue-driven tale is working, or not.
But what to do with comics?
If everyone had more time, then a couple of people each week could email their scenes to other participants,
and they could be workshopped in class. But I'm constantly losing "students" to business trips, last minute
meetings, etc. Sometimes their only "outside" creative time is in class itself.
So I had some in-class exercises -- blank comic strips and pages, where they could fill in the narration
panels and voice balloons (one series of which was provided by Nexus Graphica amigo Douglas Potter), and
learn pacing and "brevity" that way.
Another was to provide a blank comic script "form," covering two "finished" pages, where they could write
a "documentary" comic about their day at work (some of the artists in class worked by sketching out the drawings first).
And of course we studied and dissected both finished comics, and scripts to well-known series. But what to
do when people brought in pages?
Comic scripts don't really lead themselves to being read by an "ensemble," in part because so much is
visual -- even the way utterances are lettered, or narration is shaded, can affect your reading of the page
or panel (voice-over from another character? Oh! A "flashback" panel!, etc.)
You could bring in multiple copies, and have everyone read them there, and discuss it.
I tried versions of both these approaches -- breaking up the group into small teams, where each 2-3 people
could critique each other's scripts, then report back to the class as a whole on their colleague's stories.
For smaller groups (as I said, there were sessions were attendance was cut by other "work obligations"), we
tried having the writer reading their script pages, describing each panel, how it worked,
what happened in it (including dialogue), etc.
This sort of worked. We definitely got a sense of what each story was about, and were able to offer
suggestions and feedback, but I'm not sure we were always able to impart the feel of each project that way.
So I'm still learning -- how to be a comics teacher. The class room "modalities" for other types of writing
I get -- and how best to share work before it's finished, imparting a sense of what the writer wants, and means.
But comics -- before things are drawn, inked, laid out; well, I'm still looking for the most effective
way to impart that, outside the writer/artist or the writer/editor relationship, which are one-on-one,
and ideally, can develop for many years.
In a five week class, how do you justice to a comics idea that's still blocked out words on a page, and
present it to a group when you don't even have any roughed out art to go with it?
I'll keep tinkering with this when and if I do a ten-week version of the same course, on a non-"tryout"
basis. In the meantime, any suggestions from "Nexus nation" are welcome. (are we really a "nation?"
Nexus "coffee Klatch?")
As for what I'm teaching now, for the remainder of summer: memoir and essay writing, drawing on my years
as a journalist, and my last two prose efforts to appear in print: both essays, in larger anthologies.
Now -- to combine that with the comics writing...!