So, you’ve read our blog on creativity in the classroom. You may have also figured out that your class has more than a few budding cartoonists and writers amongst its ranks. One of the best ways to encourage creativity among students (and adults) is to give them projects that match their interests. Comic books are an amazing medium for storytelling, satire, social commentary, and informative writing. For students of all ages, they’re often a great starting point that can lead to careers in writing and/or illustrating or just a lifelong love of books!
Start at the source
Like any art form, if you want to create something, study the greats. We’re lucky enough to live in a time where comic book stories are being told through cinema on what feels like a weekly basis. But there are even more great comic books out there beyond just the latest trending Batman or Marvel movie. Comic books have become a way for people to creatively reflect on real life in short stories. They can deliver harsh truths or poignant thoughts, while also maintaining a sense of humor.
The first comic, that is, a story printed as a comic book is commonly thought to be “The Adventures of Mr. Obidiah Oldbuck” way back in 1842! This also makes Mr. Oldbuck the oldest comic character, a full ninety-six years ahead of the world’s first superhero, Superman!
But comics aren’t just stories about superheroes. The basis of a good comic is a complementary combination of pictures and words, to tell a story or deliver a joke in a dynamic way. Comics are about movement and punchlines. Depending on what age your students are, and what sort of story you want them to tell, there are a few different choices for inspiration.
Famous American comic books
- Garfield: Garfield is a lazy, sarcastic, and food-loving cat who often gets into mischief with his owner, Jon Arbuckle, and his canine friend, Odie. Suitable for Elementary School students and older.
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin and Hobbes is a beloved comic strip about the imaginative and mischievous adventures of a young boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes, who is brought to life through Calvin’s imagination. One of the funniest and most beloved comics in American history, Calvin and Hobbes is suitable for elementary school students and older.
- Spider-Man: Spider-Man comics follow the superhero alter ego of high school student Peter Parker as he battles villains, balances his personal life, and learns the responsibility of his powers. Spider-Man was one of the first main characters to be a teenager, in a comic book designed for teenagers.
- Dilbert: Dilbert is a satirical comic strip that humorously depicts the absurdities of corporate culture and office life through the misadventures of its titular character, a hapless and put-upon engineer. Suitable for high school students or anybody who is a fan of “The Office”.
- The Far Side: The Far Side is a surreal and often bizarre comic strip that features twisted humor and clever observations on everyday life, animals, and human behavior. They’re often just single-panel comics, which means that the storyline is condensed to a single speech bubble describing what’s just occurred on the page. Suitable for middle school students and older.
- Superman, Batman, and other DC heroes: The tone of DC comics are generally more serious and dramatic, featuring dark and brooding heroes, complex storylines, and a focus on themes of justice, morality, and the human condition. Some DC storylines are suitable for elementary school students, but darker stories, often published as graphic novels like Frank Miller’s amazing 1987 The Dark Knight Returns or Carmine Infantino’s gripping but grotesque Animal Man comic should only be read by older students.
As with every piece of material you give to your students, you ought to read it before they do! If you’d like to find more specific recommendations on comic books to include in your curriculum, check out our blog on Comic Books for Kids.
Once you’ve established what the tone and style that your students’ comic book assignment is going to be, you’ll want them to start brainstorming their character design and storylines.
Unless you want to have your students design their panels from scratch, or do a DIY lesson on page layouts, you’ll want to find some templates. If you haven’t already, check out Kami’s library of great comic book templates!
Five funny ideas to get you started!
- The Adventures of Super Banana — A comic strip about a banana who gains superpowers and uses them to fight against food waste.
- The Silly Squad — A group of animals who get into all sorts of wacky hijinks and silly situations.
- The Time-Traveling Turtle — A turtle discovers a magical portal that allows him to travel through time and have wild adventures in different eras.
- The Epic Quest for Pizza — A group of friends go on a wild adventure to find the world’s best pizza, encountering all sorts of obstacles and challenges along the way.
- The Secret Life of Pets — A comic strip that explores what our furry friends get up to when we’re not around, with plenty of hilarious misunderstandings and misadventures.
No matter what you and your students decide on, there are sure to be some amazing creations coming out of your classroom. For those students who don’t like either drawing or writing, have them work in pairs and they can assign the tasks amongst themselves.
Comic books are a versatile, accessible, and enduring art form. There’s a reason they’ve been so popular for the last two hundred years!