Credit: Image courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
A good snapshot stops a moment from running away."
Few would argue anymore with the notion that comic strips and graphic novels can be high art. They not only get translated into film (Ghost World), but make it onto the walls of museums (Chris Ware at the Whitney Biennial). They often combine the pleasures of estimable literature with estimable art, wittily, sometimes beautifully, often provocatively. This lesson makes use of graphical form to illuminate Eudora Welty's “A Worn Path”. By rendering aspects of the story into carefully considered "comic strips," students learn to appreciate elements of characterization, setting, and plot in a manner that engages them actively in the production of meaning. The method highlights reading as the creative art it can be.
At the end of this lesson students will be able to
A short story's first pleasures for the reader come from the uncorrupted first read when the story comes bullet-like in its intensity, all whole and no parts. In the best of reading experiences, one gets immediately absorbed in the mind of character(s) and the details of time and place; and there is often the sense of being mid-story already from the first line, involved in something moving quickly and inevitably toward its resolution.
Additional pleasures, of course, come in the scrutiny of parts that leads to both a more profound understanding of content and an appreciation of form's role in meaning. The comic strip or graphic novel—often a sophisticated form of literary cartoon—can provide a set of tools for a particularly creative and visual approach to making sense of stories.
After some introduction to the craft of constructing graphic stories, this lesson will help students to identify important aspects of character, setting, and plot through visual representations of each. By re-figuring the story as graphic panels, students will make choices about what elements warrant highlighting and for what purposes. Writing explications of their graphic panels will provide students the opportunity to defend and explain their choices with textual evidence and thesis-driven arguments.
Begin by discussing the story by drawing out students' observations of character, setting, and plot. You may want to review those terms with the class before continuing with the activity. Try to get students to focus on the visual details accessible for each element. Go over the following questions with the class, asking students to make lists of the various story elements as they discuss them.
Before starting this activity, you may want to suggest that students take a look at the ReadWriteThink interactive comic vocabulary. Then discuss the different ways of combining text and imagery in a comic book panel. From least to most complex:
In class, you can ask students to frame a scene of their choosing from the story in one of these combinations of words and imagery. (You may want to use the frames provided in Worksheet 1 for this activity and the next.)
After experimenting with individual scenes, you may want to try something more ambitious. Again using the Student Worksheet, ask students to represent a complete aspect of the story or sequence of events through comic strips. They can choose between telling the story through a series of portraits of Phoenix at various stages in her journey, or through a broader selection of plot, highlighted with quoted passages. In either case, they should also be encouraged to fill in details of the setting as well. You can adjust your expectations of detail depending on the amount of time made available to students to work on this activity, both in and out of class. This is also a good small group activity that allows students to share their various talents in graphical and narrative storytelling in creative ways. Worksheet 2 will help students organize and plan their comic strip.
Students should be asked to write what their work in Activity 3 reveals about their understanding or appreciation of the story. Depending on the writing goals of the project, students can be required to defend their choices with textual evidence. A lesson about how to quote text smoothly and correctly could be incorporated at this stage.
Offer students some comics or graphic novels to read from this selected list of Comic Book resources at the University of Buffalo Library or elsewhere. Let them create some work of their own. Brainstorm story ideas in large or small groups or in pairs. Consider collaborations of student authors and student artists.
1-3 class periods