Not Just For Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics


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This presentation, originally developed for DevLearn 2013, introduces comics as a flexible means of telling stories, simplifying concepts, and communicating information in a way that can really resonate with people. It’s a medium that’s becoming more and more acceptable to our learners and it’s a medium we as a community aren’t using nearly as often as we should be.

In this presentation, I talk about how you can consider using comics yourself, no matter what content you need to communicate.

First, I point out examples of the specific ways comics have been used for learning and communicating content, often with examples you can easily pick up from Amazon and read on your own.

Then I talk about some basics rules and tips to consider when you go about writing and drawing your own comics.

Finally, I touch on tools that everyone can use to handle the visual aspects of making comics. And yes, I realize that not everyone is a trained artist, so I discuss tools and ideas for every level of comfort with drawing, from tips for people who have been drawing for years to options for people who couldn't draw a stick figure if their life depended on it.

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  • Welcome to Not Just For Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics. If you’re looking for a practical session that going to explore what ways you can use comics for learning and how specifically you can create your own, regardless of your drawing skill, then you’re in the right place.
  • Just out of curiosity, I’d like to start this session by getting a sense of what your experience is with comics.If you can, stand up.Now stay standing up if:You’ve ever read a comic or graphic novel of any form.If you’ve read one in the last10 years.How about in the last year.In the last month.Now stand (or stay standing) if you’d consider yourself a regular comic reader.(Make observation based on results)
  • What I want to tell you about now is why a medium like comics can be such a valuable tool for learning. And I thought I’d do that through telling you about my own history with comics. (cue animation)Now, I started out as a little kid who liked sci-fi and fantasy, but didn’t really know anything much about comics other than the ones in the newspaper. All this changed, though, when a friend of my father happened to hand me down a random stack of comics. (cue animation)He didn’t know anything about comics himself. He just found them and thought that I might like them simply because I was a kid. Now, you could end up with a lot of junk in a random stack of comics, but in one of the best fortuitous flukes in the world, this “random stack” just HAPPENED to contain (cue animation)the Dark Phoenix Saga: a long-running storyline in X-Men that’s considered one of the very best examples of compelling storytelling in comics from it’s era. I couldn’t have had a better introduction to comics if someone had planned this on purpose. I was blown away by how engaging the story was. It was from this first exposure that I learned this first lesson of comics.
  • 1st lesson of comics: Despite their fluffy appearance, they can (in the right hands) tell stories that are emotionally powerful and deeply complex.
  • So I kept reading North American comics on and off for years, discovering quite quickly that not all comics were as good as the first stories I initially got hooked on. Then, as a teenager, I got exposed to a whole other type of comics: Japanese comics, or “manga”.(cue animation)I was amazed at the myriad of genres of comics that came out of Japan. These comics weren’t just geared at kids. (cue animation)They were geared at every possible audience because, unlike North America, people in that market don’t stop reading comics when they get older. Because of this, manga covers stories from adventure tales for little kids to slice of life comics geared towards older business people.And so I learned my second lesson about comics.
  • 2nd lesson of comics: They don’t just have to be about superheroes.
  • In addition, I discovered the Japan has a history of using comics for learning. Seriously: in Japan you can get comics that teach you math, science, and even languages.When I looked hard enough, I was also able to find a small but established selection of English comics that do this as well.(cue animation)These ranged from the old Classics Illustrated series that turned classic literature into comics to more recent additions, such as the graphic novel adaptation of the well-known business book 5 Dysfunctions of a Team or Scott McCloud’s series of graphic novels that analyze and explain the comics format itself.With the discovery of these books I learned my third lesson about comics.
  • 3rd lesson of comics: You can, surprisingly enough, actually learn things from them.
  • As I got into my twenties I started exploring indie comics and web comics. Little did I know that once you got outside of the world of Marvel and DC, there was a wide variety of storytelling happening here in North America too. I found immersive comic biographies and autobiographies like Maus and Persepolis, snarky but informative comics on English grammar from The Oatmeal, comics that managed to both simplify and crack jokes about complex concepts from science like XKCD…
  • And even comics that experiment with what a comic even is like Dinosaur Comics.Hilariously enough, Dinosaur Comics uses the exact same clip art images and layout for every single comic, changing only the text content, and yet has managed to stay entertaining for the nearly 10 years it’s been running.This broad spectrum of stories and forms of comics that I found led me to my next comics lesson.
  • 4th lesson of comics: This medium is way more flexible than you might have initially thought.
  • Finally, I’ve seen the general perception of comics, as well as comics culture itself, change substantially since I was a kid. (cue animation)When I first got into comics, mainstream media typically thought of comics as a niche market for nerds and geeks. If you liked comics, the idea was that you were a socially awkward, socially isolated dork who probably lived in his parent’s basement.
  • But in the past few years the public perception of comics has changed drastically. For instance, the Marvel superhero movies have been making ridiculous amount of money. Last year’s Avengers made 1.5 BILLION dollars worldwide. According to Box Office Mojo, that number makes it the third highest grossing movie of all time. That money isn’t just coming in from comic fans.What’s one of the most popular cable television shows right now? Why, The Walking Dead. A series based on a long running comic. When I was a kid you’d be lucky if a standard bookstore carried more than a seemingly random handful of graphic novels. Now these stores actually have entire sections devoted to comics.It’s time to admit my last lesson of comics…
  • 5th lesson of comics: This is a medium that isn’t just for a niche market anymore.Mainstream culture is growing more and more accepting of comics.
  • So what does that mean to all of you in the room with me today? It means comics are a flexible means of telling stories, simplifying concepts, and communicating information in a way that can really resonate with people. It’s a medium that’s becoming more and more acceptable to our learners and it’s a medium we as a community aren’t using nearly as often as we should be.
  • So, for the rest of this presentation, I’m going to talk about how you can consider using comics yourself, and we’re going to look at this topic broadly so it can apply to all of you. First, I’m going to point out examples of the specific ways comics have been used for learning and communicating content,often with examples you can easily pick up from Amazon and read on your own. Then I’m going to talk about some basics rules and tips to consider when you go about writing and drawing your own comics. Finally, I’m going to touch on tools that everyone here can use to handle the visual aspects of making comics. And yes, I realize that not everyone here is a trained artist, so we’ll discuss tools and ideas for every level of comfort with drawing, from tips for people who have been drawing for years to options for people who couldn't draw a stick figure if their life depended on it.
  • Examples: What are others doing?To get you started thinking about the ways you can consider using comics, I thought we’d start by looking at some of the situations in which existing comics are being used to teach or communicate information.
  • One of the best uses for comics in training is to simplify existing content. Moving something that’s all text to the comics format allows you to let visuals do some of the heavy lifting instead of having to communicate all your points with just words. This means you can actually trim down your content as you shift some of the text information to images. This is also great for concepts that work better as images. For instance, it could take you the better part of a page to vividly describe a messy workspace with text, but you could make the exact same impact with a single image. It’s more concise, plus it’s a huge time saver for your audience.In addition, the very format of comics encourages you to sleek down your content to the core concepts. Each page takes a great deal of time and effort to create, so there’s a massive cost if your content runs long. Also, comics just look odd when they’re textbox after textbox of dense information. To make a comic work, you’ll find you’ll need to give your content a severe edit, letting only the main ideas stay so that the comic itself doesn’t look overcrowded with text or run for far too many pages.A great example of a comic that simplifies an existing work is The Long Tail comic adaptation. The book version of The Long Tail is a fascinating, but long, read. The comic version is a whopping 208 pages shorter, yet manages to communicate the same core content. Yes, it leaves out a lot of the depth of the book, but if what you need is the main ideas of the book then it does a spectacular job of summarizing it for you.
  • Another example is the comic adaptation of the business book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In this case this adaptation takes a book about advice on leading successful teams and translates it into a fictional narrative about a dysfunctional team and the manager that’s trying to improve it. The book has good content, but is admittedly a bit of a dry read. The comic version, though, is engaging and entertaining. Plus, by shifting the format from advice to a story, you get a better sense of how to use the advice with real teams and real people.So, in short, you should definitely consider using comics in situations where you need to condense dense content, ground it in real life, or add some life to content that’s valuable but boring as it currently exists.
  • Another time you might want to consider using comics is if you need to provide step-by-step instructions for a process or procedure. For instance, you may have your own complicated relationship with Ikea, but chances are you have an easier time following their illustrated assembly manuals than you would written instructions. Plus, the images give you instant feedback. If you complete a step and your Billy bookshelf doesn’t look like the one in the next step, you know you did something wrong.Another place you’ve likely seen step-by-step instructions like this is airplane safety cards. In a few short panels you know exactly what to do if, say you need to exit the airplane via that terrifying looking slide exit.I’ve just mentioned two examples of step-by-step comic tutorials that both avoid using text. Now, this isn’t a requirement of this type of comic, but it’s something to consider if you have the same concerns that airlines and Ikea do: that you want your content to be understood by anyone, regardless of what language they speak. Think about it: an airline needs to give safety instructions quickly, but can’t possibly put a safety card in every possible language into each seat pocket. Ikea, on the other hand, uses this technique to save money. It allows them to drastically reduce translation costs and avoid printing manuals in multiple languages.So, if you need to display step-by-step instructions that loan themselves better to images than text, or if you need to reach a broad audience who speak a number of languages, using comics is a great option for you.
  • A comic doesn’t just have to repackage existing material for it to be effective for learning. Some of the best examples of training using comics involves content that was developed specifically for the medium.In the area of obvious choices we have Scott McCloud’s books on comics, such as Understanding Comics. Using comics as a means to teaching about comics is just smart.
  • Then there are textbooks like The Manga Guide To series I mentioned earlier or the graphic novel “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko”, a career guide. Both of these comics turn what could be dry content into a narrative, using images and story to simplify and explain through example. In some cases books don’t just need to be additional materials: they could actually replace a traditional textbook entirely.There are also short-form comics that do a fantastic job of teaching information. For example, the webcomic The Oatmeal has done a number of comics outlining grammar rules and how to follow them. This sounds like something that would be terrifyingly dull, and yet it’s entirely entertaining. The snappy writing, saucy examples, and hilarious accompanying illustrations make seemingly boring grammar rules both easy to understand and memorable enough to make the content stick.In short, if you have to create a textbook-like document, consider comics as an alternative to the traditional text and images.
  • Because comics lend themselves well to storytelling, they can be a compelling way to talk about biographies and history. Comics like Maus and Persepolis are not only excellent examples of how comics lend themselves well to telling a personal story, but they’re also examples of work that’s had more mainstream success than other genres of comics. Because of relatively famous books like this, your average, non-comic reading audience may be more accepting of comics that tell a real life narrative. If you think your audience may be resistant to comics for learning, starting with personal history comics can be a way to ease them into the idea.Obviously these examples show how comics can tell a personal story, but that’s not the only way you can use narrative comics. Consider using them to tell the history of your company, the history of a product, of the history of process, the history of a mindset. Basically, for any topic you might consider using a timeline for. If you’ve got the time to create it, a comic can be much more compelling than a line with dots and a handful of facts.
  • Finally, comics are fantastic for illustrating scenarios, examples, and case studies. Sure, text can get the job done fast and cheap, but it’s not always particularly immersive. Video, on the other hand, does an excellent job of immersing the viewer in the scenario, but often costs a lot to produce something that looks professional. Comics are a nice balance of the two: cost and time effective like text but also better at capturing the actual experience like video.My examples for this section are actually from real workplaces. I mentioned on Twitter that I was looking at comics for learning and I got not one, but two great examples from friends. Hooray for crowdsourcing!The example on the screen right now was made by Will Chinda at Healthesystems. This is one of a series of “HR quick tips” comics that he used to illustrate and address management HR issues. The series all resembles the example you see here: a few quick panels illustrating examples of what to do (and sometimes what NOT to do) and then a few additional text tips that expand on the topic. These comics originally began their life as videos, which were well-received but time-intensive to produce. He eventually switched to comics, which drastically reduced production time and made it easy enough that new tips could be produced on a regular basis. In addition, he found the comics format was easier for busy managers to fit into their already packed day, increasing the likelihood that they’d actually pay attention to the message.
  • My other example is from Andrew Jacobs. He was looking for a simple way to illustrate new workplace competencies. Things like competencies can often seem theoretical and not particularly grounded in reality, so he decided to use a series of comics to show what each of these new competencies looked like in the real workplace. These comics helped take a vague competency, such as “integrity”, and show what on Earth “acting with integrity” specifically means in this context.So those are some examples of the types of information comics loan themselves well to covering. Are there any questions before we move on?
  • So let’s say you’re going to make a comic: what do you need to know before you get started?
  • We’ll begin with checking out tips for your planning stages. First up, remember that people havepreconceived notions about comics. Depending on your audience you may have people who already like comics and are going to be pretty open to seeing them used to teach content. You may also, though, have people that see comics and immediately think they’re too childlike to be useful for training. Try to get a sense of your audience ahead of time and work around their existing beliefs about comics. If you get the former group, you can move ahead easily. If you get the latter group, though, you may need to adjust your comics to use more of a realistic look and feel (so they don’t resemble kids comics) and ease people into their use slowly.
  • One of the very best things you can do if you’re thinking of using comics in your work is to simply read a wide variety of existing comics and learn from them. Think about it: how can you possibly use a medium well if you don’t know it.I’m not saying you can’t begin using comics for learning unless you regularly attend ComicCon and own your own authentic Batman costume. You just need to have had exposure to a variety of comics so you can get ideas for what your comic should be. No matter what kind of comic you’re planning on making, I highly recommend picking up Scott McCloud’s graphic novels on comics. Two are examinations of comics as a medium and one is an actual manual on how to write and draw comics. All are great starting points.When you know what type of comic you want to create, try reading existing comics in that genre. For instance, if you wanted to make a comic that functioned as a textbook, then reading comics like “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko” or “The Manga Guide To…” series can help you think about what works (and doesn’t work) in comics that have the same goals as yours.If you’re looking to get started with comics, there are a number of good resources out there to guide you along the way. To start, try your local comic book store. If you find a good one, the staff will be happy to use their knowledge to help you find the types of comics you’re looking for. Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought this…” recommendations for comics are also pretty decent, so if you have one comic that’s working for you you can use it to find similar books. Finally, there are great comic review sites like “Webcomics Worth Wreading” which can also help you sift through the wide variety of comics out there and help find something that’s right for you.
  • Next up, you’ll want to start planning the look and feel of your comic. Make sure that you don’t just go with your whims. Align the style of your comic with the needs of the audience and the needs of the content. A mismatch can actually sabotage your content. Imagine a serious comic about workplace harassment done in an overly comedic style. People just won’t take it as seriously as they need to. Or maybe you’re making a lighthearted comic for kids. A gritty, Sin City look probably isn’t a good fit.
  • Another thing that’s good to decide on early is the length and format of your comic. A comic is made of one or more panels, or individual windows holding content. Different formats of comics typically use a different number of panels. Do you need a single panel for a single concept of joke? A traditional strip comic that has three to four panels that allows for a short snippet of a story? A longer multi-panel comic for a more complicated tale? Figure out which will work best for your content before you start writing.
  • That said, keep in mind you can play with the volume of your panels. A single panel can be great for a quick joke, but it can also be fantastic for a data-heavy infographic like this one.
  • If you’re planning on creating a character-driven comic, particularly one that has a long or reoccurring storyline, it’s smart to put together character profiles for each main character. Each profile serves as a snapshot of the character’s main traits, history, and overall personality. They can also outline what their role is in your comic’s plot.Putting together character sheets will help you plan out who each character is before you start scripting, which will help you build more believable characters and write them so they act consistently. They’ll also help keep you from accidentally contradicting your character details as your comic goes on.
  • Now let’s look at actually getting started on writing. While you may be tempted to jump directly to drawing, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort if you start by writing a script first. It’s not terribly time consuming to make changes and edits to a text script. It’s substantially more work to make those same edits to a drawn comic.So how do you write a comic script? Why, the exact same way you’d write a video script or play. Write out the general setting descriptions, dialogue, and actions the characters should take. As you write this out you’ll likely develop a rough sense of the panels you’ll need and what you want them to look like. Jot down these descriptions in your script as well.Remember: perfect scripts rarely spring fully formed from anyone’s head. Take your time and know that you’ll likely need to do more than a few revisions and edits to get it right. Comic scripts have to walk a very fine line between not so many details that the reader feels you don’t trust them to be able to follow along, but not so few details that they can’t figure out what’s going on. Keep editing and reworking until you find that balance.
  • One of the best pieces of comic writing advice is actually common for any writing a great play, novel, or movie script as well: show, don’t tell.So what does that actually mean? Well, here’s an example. What’s more interesting in a movie: a narrator merely telling you a character has a compulsive shoplifting habit or actually watching the character shoplifting regularly? Chances are you picked the second option. That’s because it’s typically more engaging and interesting to view how actions, details, or character traits play out rather than just be told these things are the case. Being directly told things is often boring and sometimes even condescending (what, you think the audience is too daft to figure it out on their own). It also isn’t typically how we’re used to learning information about people or situations in real life.There will be times where you’ll need to include direct explanations, particularly if your comic is directly teaching about concepts or processes. For all other times, though, choose to show instead of tell whenever possible.
  • Another great general writing tip: don’t get too attached to an idea. As you start writing out your comics you’ll likely have several ideas that sound good at first but don’t seem work in the final product. Don’t be afraid to let go of ideas that just aren’t doing what you need them to. Sure, this sounds easy to do now, but it’s much harder to do, say, when you’ve invested hours of time in building out a scenario idea that just doesn’t ring true no matter how many times you rewrite it. At some point you need to step back and do the hard work of assessing if throwing even more time at a dysfunctional idea is actually more work than scraping it and coming up with another plan. You know what can really help in this situation? Running your broken idea past another co-worker or industry friend. Sometimes it’s easier for someone with little to no emotional attachment to the script to pick out the ideas that just need to be trashed.
  • And, as always, remember: your comic needs to communicate a clear and concise story. Keep your story simple, easy to follow, and to the point. Sometimes this can be tricky to check when you’re knee deep in the story. This is another great time to bring in the handy outside opinion. Give the script to a friend or co-worker who’s unfamiliar with the content. Can they follow what’s happening in the script? If yes, then you’re good. If not, it’s time to re-examine what you wrote and edit for clarity.
  • Now let’s get to what’s either, depending on your comfort level with art, the most or least fun part: the visuals. The following tips are great if you’ll be creating the comic visuals yourself, but they’re also worth knowing about even if you’re only writing the script.Before you start creating the final art, it will save you a bunch of time if you storyboard it out with thumbnails first. Thumbnails are just small, quick drawings of what each panel should roughly look like. They don’t need to be beautiful. They just need to help you quickly feel out the layout of your comic and then test your ideas on how everything should fit in each panel and page. Much like my point about scripting, this is another step that will help you save massive amounts of effort later on in the drawing process. This is also the point where some of your layout ideas from the script will have their make or break moments. Chances are some of the ideas you had on the page won’t work as well drawn out. Use the thumbnails to help you work out the rough spots and find the layout that works best.
  • While you’re storyboarding, you’ll be setting up the panel reading order: the layout that indicates to your reader the order the panels should be read in. While this is easy in one panel or short strip comics, it can be more tricky in longer form comics.Panel order is something that, as a regular comics reader, becomes instinctual. For people new to comics, though, it can sometimes be a bit mystifying. Always remember that panel and text box order should flow from the top of the page to the bottom in the direction your comic’s language is read. Left to right for English. Right to left for Japanese.(cue animation)For instance, here’s the panel order for this layout if it was a comic in English. Make sure in your thumbnails that the layout you choose makes it crystal clear to your reader what order your panels should be read in. The newer your audience is to comics, the less experimental you want to be with your panel layout.
  • If you’re looking for ways to communicate in comics, don’t forget that this medium has a great shorthand language that even non-comic readers are usually aware of: comic effects. Things like speech bubbles, thought bubbles, and sound effects quickly signal a concept or idea to your audience. Use them strategically to get your ideas across. It’s important to note, though, that a little bit of sound effects goes a long way. Consider using them more as seasoning than the main dish.
  • We talked about clarity in the writing stage, but it’s also important to check for clarity in the visuals of your comic as well. What seems perfectly obvious to you, the comic creator, may not be so clear to others. And very few things will do more to pull a reader out of a comics than being confused about what exactly is happening. Do regular checks to make sure your actions are perfectly clear to the reader. This is another great time to have your friendly neighbourhood uninvolved peer or friend check over your work. If they look at your drawings and think a character is holding a banana when it’s supposed to be a gun, that’s a sign that you need to tweak your visuals.
  • This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. Make sure your characters each look noticeably different. It’s really frustrating as a comic reader to try and keep a bunch of new characters straight in your head when some of them look like the exact same character design with only a few tiny differences, like the guys on the screen here. Real human beings don’t all look like clones of each other, so if all your characters look like the same person wearing a bunch of different wigs, go back to the drawing board with them.
  • At some point you’ll need to choose the font for your comic’s text. If you’re doing this on your computer, chances are you’re going to look through your default fonts and at least briefly toy with the idea of using Comics Sans. I mean, the font has the word “comic” right there in the name, doesn’t it.Whatever you do, don’t pick that font. It’s not considered particularly well-designed and there are much better, more polished options out there that are much closer to the actual lettering used in comics. And they only take a few minutes of work to be able to use. We’ll talk more about them later.
  • If you’ve ever gotten into design you’ve probably heard of “respecting the whitespace”. At its most basic, this is the concept of not cramming too much stuff into the areas you’re designing, Instead, you leave enough space between each design element for it to breathe: the aforementioned “whitespace”.This is an idea you want to use in comics as well. Don’t be like the example on the screen here. Avoid cramming too much text into a text bubble, too many text bubbles into an area, or too much imagery into a panel. Crowded panels are hard to read, look cluttered, and indicate to the reader that you haven’t figured out how to edit down your work properly. (cue animation)What you want to do is this. Use the minimum amount of information in a panel to really get your point across. Trust that, if you’ve done your job right, the audience understands what you’re trying to say.
  • Finally, you need to think about how you display your characters and settings in your panels. Sure, you could always show them at the same size from the same angle all the time, but that’s not particularly engaging to look at. Instead, imagine that your panels are like a movie and you’re the one running the camera. Movies don’t keep the camera in the same place for the whole time. They instead use a variety of angles, wide shots, and close ups to increase visual interest and tension. This is a technique that works wonders for comics as well.So those are some basic tips to get you started. Do we have any questions before we move on?
  • Okay, we’ve got the basic tips down pat. Now let’s finish off by looking at the actual tools and options you have for creating your comic visuals. Like I mentioned earlier, we’re going to travel the full spectrum of options here, running from “There is no way I can draw this thing at all” to “I am so ready to do this thing myself”.So let’s start from the “no drawing skills” option and work our way up.
  • If drawing or even laying out images isn’t your thing, then you should consider hiring a professional artist to draw the comic for you. You provide the script, they provide the visuals. If you don’t have any internal resources that can do this, then this will be the pricey part of your project. A quick online search indicates that freelance comic artists charge around $75-150 per page, and that the average comic artist may only be able to produce 10-40 finished comic pages per month, depending on their workload and drawing speed.Finding a niche resource like this can also be time intensive. Start by reaching out to graphic artists and other 3rd parties you’ve worked with in the past to see if this is a service they offer or can recommend someone. If that doesn’t lead to any results, try posting a job call on professional artist websites like Deviantart. Much like posting a job opening, you’ll likely have to sift through a lot of replies before you find the right artist, so build in time for the selection process.
  • Now, let’s say you’re not comfortable with drawing your comic, but are comfortable with a camera. You can always drop the idea of using drawings and simply use great photographs as your images. For this example all I did was take some existing photos, imported them into PowerPoint, and then added my text boxes and thought bubble. With a decent camera and some volunteer cast members, this can be a quick and affordable solution.
  • Taking this one step further, you can take existing photos andmanipulate them to look more comic-like using apps and software like ComicBook! and Comic Life. Software like this includes great prebuilt panel layouts, text bubbles, sound effects, and headings that you simply drag and drop into place. They also have filters that can be used to make photographs look more like traditional comic art. All these features make the process of putting together a professional-looking comic quite simple. Software like this is, thankfully, quite inexpensive. The ComicBook! App is only $1.99. Comic Life has a basic iOS app for $4.99 and a more in-depth version for computers that costs $30. Not bad at all!
  • Another good option if you’re not an artist yourself is to use webservices such as BitStrips to create characters and strips. Bitstrips allows you to create your own custom characters, add them to prerendered backgrounds, and then quickly drop in your text. What makes this service stand out from clip art is the fact that you can do an amazing amount of custom character poses and expressions. Characters can do full 360 rotations, every joint on them is movable, and things like hand positions and facial expressions can be customized to a surprisingly detailed degree. This is a perfect option if you know in your head what you want your comic to look like, but just don’t have the skills to translate your ideas into actual drawings.
  • If you feel even somewhat comfortable with your art skills, you can always consider drawing the comic yourself. Even people with limited drawing skills can still create decent comics as long and they keep everything simple.If you’re just getting your feet wet, start by looking at examples of simply-drawn comics. Take XKCD: it’s entirely stick people, yet still works. You might also want to look at techniques like visual notetaking, also known as sketchnoting. Sketchnoting techniques are simple enough that even non-artists can get comfortable with them and the final results are essentially a type of comic.As for tools, you can start low-tech with just paper, pencil, and pen. That said, there are some fantastic tech-based tools that can help polish the look and feel of your work. Basic drawing apps do quite a bit to tidy up what you draw and have great features for erasing, undoing and redoing your work, making edits effortless. If you’re planning on drawing on a tablet, I highly recommend picking up a stylus for drawing. My pick for best bang for your buck? The relatively inexpensive JotPro. It has this great little stabilizing foot at the end, which makes it quite easy to draw stable lines, and it’s only about $30.
  • For those of you who have finely tuned art skills, you can always consider using the same digital drawing tools professional comic artists use. Photoshop is a particularly popular choice, and might be something you already own. If you don’t already have Photoshop and need something that’s a bit more budget-friendly, then you may want to consider Manga Studio instead. Unlike Photoshop, it’s a niche product that focuses specifically on creating comics. If that’s all you need, though, it’s perfect. Plus, it’s substantially cheaper than Photoshop. A standard copy retails for $80, but it’s reasonably easy to find on sale (currently it’s about $48).
  • Now let’s look at fonts. Remember how I told you there are better options than Comic Sans? Well, this is how you can find them.What you want to do is acquire new fonts to add to your computer’s font library. That’s what I did for this presentation. I used a great free typeface calledKomika and it only took me a whopping 10 minutes to find the font, download it, and install it on my computer.If you’re looking for free typefaces, try FontSquirrel ( The selection is quite good and the price is right. If you’ve got a budget and want more selection, then MyFonts ( is a great option for paid typefaces. Finding comic-style typefaces is easy on both. All you have to do is go to the comic font category or tag, browse through your options, and pick the one you like best.
  • So that’s our quick look at comics for learning. Before we move on to questions I’d just like to note that I’ve created a webpage with a bunch of additional resources for you to use. It includes links to the comics, websites, and services I discussed in this presentation, plus a few others I thought you’d enjoy. It also includes this slide deck and my speakers notes.
  • Not Just For Superheroes: Exploring Learning Through Comics

    1. 1. Session 406 Bianca Woods @eGeeking #DevLearn Not Just For superheroes! Exploring learning through comics
    2. 2. When was the last time YOU read a comic?
    3. 3. My History with Comics…
    4. 4. 1st lesson of comics They can (in the right hands) tell emotionally powerful stories
    5. 5. …finding manga… Photo Credit:
    6. 6. 2nd lesson of comics They don’t just have to be about superheroes
    7. 7. and guess what?!
    8. 8. 3rd lesson of comics You can actually learn things from them!
    9. 9. A wide variety of genres The Oatmeal Maus xkcd
    10. 10. A wide variety of genres Dinosaur Comics
    11. 11. 4th lesson of comics This medium is much more flexible than you might think
    12. 12. Changing perceptions Worst… slide… EVER! Photo Credit:
    13. 13. Changing perceptions
    14. 14. 5th lesson of comics Mainstream culture is growing more and more accepting of comics
    15. 15. So what does this all mean to YOU?
    16. 16. Today we’ll talk about…
    17. 17. #DevLearn Examples! What are others already doing?
    18. 18. Non-fiction narratives
    19. 19. Are you asking the right questions? In each of the interviews below, determine which is the correct, legal question. When you’re done, scroll to the bottom to learn the solution.
    20. 20. #DevLearn Tips & Tricks! What you need to know about making comics!
    21. 21. People have preconceived notions about comics PLanning
    22. 22. XKCD Stick figures The Manga Guide to… Manga The Long Tail More Realistic
    23. 23. Decide on your comic format Strip Short story/scene Single Panel One moment Many panels Longer story PLanning
    24. 24. • • • • • • • She’s a highly experienced project manager. She’s incredibly uncomfortable with asking for help, even if she needs it. She generally is calm and composed, even under stress. She has fantastic attention to detail. She’s quite open to sharing details about her work, but doesn’t open up about her personal life often. She’s been less enthusiastic about her job lately, but hasn’t talked to anyone about why this is. She’s a lifelong learner, and often takes classes and goes to seminars in her spare time.
    25. 25. Photo Credit:
    26. 26. Tell Show
    27. 27. First this happened… then this… and, oh yeah… I forgot that this guy was involved… then another thing happened… oh wait, this happened too (it’s important)… and then….
    28. 28. 2 1 3 4 5 6
    29. 29. Comic Sans
    30. 30. #DevLearn Tools! What you can use to actually create a comic
    31. 31. Hire an artist! Photo Credit:
    32. 32. Use photographs! I wish I knew why this group doesn’t trust each other? What happened before I got here? Nate was excited about the promotion, but knew it would be a challenge to get this group to start seeing themselves as a team. Nate spent the next few weeks talking with the team and trying to get to the bottom of the problem.
    33. 33. Comic Book! Use a comics app! Comic Life
    34. 34. Use websites to help! Bitstrips
    35. 35. Draw your own! I think I need to… Paper It starts with the customer thinking… Oh no! I have to… Then they evaluate their options based on the following piece of information Jot Pro
    36. 36. Use Software! Manga Studio Photoshop super cheap! You might already have it!
    37. 37. Non-default fonts! komika This typeface is called You can get new fonts from
    38. 38. Additional resources @eGeeking