If you don’t think you can create the kind of detailed drawings you might see in some comic books, don’t worry. Creating comics is all about finding the style that’s right for you. You can make really complex drawings to tell your stories if you want, but simple illustrations are okay, too.
That is the great advice that Bill Zimmerman begins his new book Your Life in Comics: 100 Things for Guys to Write and Draw. Advice I wish I had heard as a teen creating comics.
Speaking of advice for teens (see what I did there?), Zimmerman has created an “explore the stuff going on in your life” handbook that could be used to get teen boys thinking about the good and bad stuff that makes up their lives. To me though that is a nice side benefit to what I really got out of the book.
I teach grade three in a rural Canadian community, but throughout North America, elementary and, I assume, middle and high schools are using the Traits of Writing to help guide students to better writing. These traits (like organization, conventions, sentence fluency) are packaged by different publishers with some different bells and whistles and they can be very useful. From this vantage point I see Your Life in Comics as a companion to the very first trait, IDEAS. The whole book is a celebration of all the things in your life, both real (an embarrassing moment) and imaginary (when aliens landed on earth). Practically every page in the book could be expanded and turned into a larger piece of writing, either for a comic project or traditional text assignment. The pages are incomplete, some encouraging writing, other drawing and others encourage both.
Tyler Page provided the illustrations for Your Life in Comics and he does a very nice job. He gives a professional look to the book without being too showy and out of reach for the boys using the book. I was halfway through it when I noticed how diverse the teens are. There is every nationality and body shape present, but not in a “hey, we need a ____ kid here” kid of way. It felt more natural than that to me.
Finally, I like the blank pages with the various panel layouts that readers can use to create their own comics. There are a LOT of pages available for downloading on Zimmerman’s website but there is only one of the blank panel pages. It would be nice for there to be more. Do note that Your Life in Comics is not a comic creating manual (there are a lot of great and not so great books out there for that: see Drawing Words and Writing Pictures as an example of a great one).
IDEAS. You can’t fool kids into learning – kids actually really like learning things (something that is sometimes forgotten in our cynicism), but they do want to learn in a way that they enjoy and value (who doesn’t?). Your Life in Comics: 100 Things for Guys to Write and Draw presents the trait of IDEAS in an interesting way which means that I highly recommend this book for upper elementary and beyond. Do me a favour. If you are an upper elementary or middle/high school teacher, look at that sample pages HERE and let me know if you think they appear useful to you. Thanks.