* the Comic Pack: printed activity sheets (available as a free, downloadable PDF on my website) (or the LICAF website)
* a classroom copy of Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit
* black pens for inking comics
* Pencils with erasers
* blank paper
* this video (commissioned by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival!):
If you can read Kevin and the Biscuit Bandit aloud to your class (Year 2+/Ages 6+) or have the children read it on their own (Year 3+/Ages 7+), that's great! I also do a little introductory reading to give the children ideas for their own story. These might give you ideas, too!
I show a little animation about how Philip Reeve and I are co-authors: we come up with story ideas together, then Philip writes and I illustrate, but we help each other out. Neither one of us is more important than the other - we're a Reeve & McIntyre team!
Extra tip: Anyone can be an author! The difference between being a wanna-be author and a real author is that the wanna-be gets ideas for stories and starts them, but the real author finishes them. If the children can finish creating a comic, they will be the authors of that comic!
One great way to start off a story is to read a book, pick some of the minor characters, then imagine they have their own adventure. In my first Kevin book with Philip, The Legend of Kevin, we introduce two guinea pigs named Neville and Beyoncé. They're not very important characters in the story about a flood, but they have a little side adventure off on their own:
A CRIME SCENE
Our heist story gives you a great chance to explain elements that might contribute to the children's writing and drawing: a crime scene, police evidence, motives and suspects. In our book (in a light-hearted way) we show the police at the scene of the crime - a biscuit burglary - who are examing the evidence of a massive pony-shaped hole in the supermarket ceiling. This forces the police to consider Kevin, the roly-poly flying pony, as the chief suspect. Everyone knows Kevin loves biscuits, so he has an obvious motive. But was it really Kevin... or has he been framed? Children may get inspiration for their story by the idea of one character looking guilty in the beginning of their own story, but the real culprit turning out to be someone else.
A STARTING POINT
Every story needs to start somewhere! Neville and Beyoncé start their adventure right at home, in their hutch, hatching their criminal plot.
The children are going to create their own story about these guinea pigs, so they need to be able to draw them. There's a step-by-step tutorial on the activity sheet, but I also lead them through drawing Neville and Beyoncé in the video. I've added big labels (Character Design, Plotting, etc) onto the video to alert you to each new section, and I also advise you when it might be good to pause the video and give the children extra time for their own work.
The children can plot Neville and Beyoncé's new heist at the same time as plotting their story! I'll walk them through the choices I've given in the activity sheet, and they can use my suggestions or make up their own. If they're using the sheet, they could circle their choices, and if they're using plain paper, they could write down their choices or draw them. (The simplified images of objects I've provided, such as a tank or wire cutters, will be useful image references later for their own drawings... even as a professional artist, I need to look at a picture of a tank to be able to draw it confidently!)
The best introduction to drawing comics is reading them; the more comics children read, the more familiar they'll be with the mechanics of how they work. But I give some quick vocabulary and advice on the basics:
Panels: the boxes often used to frame comics
Panel borders: the lines that go around the boxes
Narration: 'Meet Neville.' The voice of someone who is telling the story, not necessarily the voice of the characters.
Speech bubble: A useful balloon shape to show that a character is saying something in a normal voice. Be sure the tip of the speech bubble is pointing toward the mouth of the character speaking. If they're speaking very loudly or shouting, the bubble edges can be jagged. Top tip: write the words before drawing the bubble so it's easier to fit them in.
Thought bubble: When the character is thinking, the bubble looks like a puffy cloud, with a line of dots pointing toward the head of the person thinking.
Direction: English-language comics read left to right, top to bottom. (It might be worth looking at some comics together to demonstrate this to the children.)
Setting: Where are the characters? What's behind them? If it's the beginning of this story, we see the guinea pigs in their hutch, and we know this because in the background we can see perhaps the wire netting on the window and the shredded paper on the hutch's floor.
Zooming in and out: To add variation and dramatic effect, just like in filmmaking, we can get a close-up of a character so only a part of their face is filling the whole panel, or we can zoom way back for a long shot, so they're tiny in the panel and we see mostly their surroundings. Without guidance, children tend to draw medium shot panels, where their character's whole body mostly fills the panel. This is fine, but if they know they can do more, it can make the comics much more exciting. They can add an air of mystery if, say, a character is reaching out from the side of a panel and only their arm is visible. Or it can be funny if we suddenly zoom in on a character's confused expression. It's okay not to draw the character's whole bodies; treat the panel as though we're looking through a window at them, and sometimes perhaps only their heads (or feet!) will be sticking up from the window frame.
Sound effects: This can add more atmosphere, drama and humour to your comic. Here I show Neville making a 'sniff'. (Because it's a sound effect, I don't need to draw a speech bubble around it.) We can also draw lines radiating out from a character to show they're surprised, loud, scared, or hugely emoting in some way.
Texture and Tone: If we blacken/colour in some of the shapes or add textures, it make them feel more solid on the paper.
MAKING THE COMIC!
Older children may want to draw their own comic panels, but often younger children get bogged down with trying to create box shapes. I've created a template they can fill in so they don't have to worry about that. If they want, they can use more paper to make a longer comic, or draw their own panels on blank paper.
I very quickly go through the stages I use to make a comic. Not all comic artists use the same techniques, but these are fairly common:
These are the rough drafts of the comic, when I'm still trying to figure out where things will go on the paper and what I want the story to be about.
Once I roughly know where everything goes, I draw over the lines in pen. It's fine to draw right onto the pencil version and then erase the pencil lines, but I use a lightbox, so I don't have to erase. Holding the paper up against a window is way to do this when I don't have a lightbox.
Lettering is important; we need to write clearly enough, and not too small or light, for other people to be able to read what we're written. It's also good to think about reproduction: if you're going to make copies of the comic, very light pencil won't show up very well, whereas dark pen will stand out nicely.
Like film or theatre, comics is a medium. I included an animation in the video to show that it's possible to take story characters from one medium to another: from an illustrated book to a comic to an animation. Once the children have finished their comic, they could take their story to a different medium: a puppet show, a clay stop-motion animation, a song, a game, a play... there are so many options!
FURTHER ACTIVITY SHEETS
Thanks for joing me! I hope this material's useful to you, and I've provided more sheets on my website here, if you want to use them. I make activity sheets for all my books, so feel free to have a general browse of my website.
Huge thanks to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival for commissioning this video! And to all their sponsors that made this possible! You can find lots more great activities on the Little LICAF festival website and the page with my two workshops: this one and another where I lead a workshop in creating a Unicorn-themed comic book.
LICAF comic-reading octopus drawing by Gemma Correll