Last Friday, a fourth grade class at PS 376 in Bushwick met with author/illustrator Alexander Stadler for the second of two workshops. Mr. Stadler is the author of the Julian Rodriguez graphic novel series, which the students had read previously. The class was openly excited to see Mr. Stadler and had their work from the last visit – drawings of characters they had created – at the ready. Mr. Stadler began by drawing a comic strip about Dracula on the class’s Smart Board. The students suggested the plot, and Mr. Stadler illustrated while demonstrating the many perspectives that can be used in each panel of a comic strip: there can be close ups of a character, a split panel indicating two different perspectives at the same time, and illustrations from a distance that show the entire scene.
Using the analogy of a Valentine’s Day box of chocolate, Mr. Stadler encouraged the students to use panels of different shapes and sizes. He pointed out that if every chocolate was exactly the same flavor and had the same appearance, the consumer would get bored quickly. However, having various kinds of candy throughout the box keeps the consumer guessing and eager for the next bite. Mr. Stadler showed the class that a comic is not so different from a box of chocolates: panels can be triangular, circular, small, or large. This doesn’t just keep the reader engaged – it is also more fun for the illustrator!
After this lesson, Mr. Stadler asked students to share some of the characters they had come up with, as well as the character’s nemesis and goals. One child’s example was a boy called Brian: his enemies were his parents and his goal was to obtain a certain video game despite his parents’ opposition. In fact, it was quite common for a character’s nemesis to be their parents! Mr. Stadler then passed out blank comic strips and gave the students plenty of time to fill in the panels with the stories they had written about their characters.
Using Sharpie and colored pencil, the students worked quietly and diligently on their comic strips. Mr. Stadler stopped the class occasionally to give tips about technique or giving texture to drawings using only black and white. As the class finished their work, Mr. Stadler made his way around the room, signing books and complimenting each child’s work – whether praising them for the colors they had chosen to use or their decision to divide a panel into smaller frames to give themselves more room, he gave each child his full attention. The finished comic strips told elaborate tales of characters ranging from space dogs to princesses, and the students had clearly taken Mr. Stadler’s advice about using a variety of panels into account: the class had created a deliciously unique assortment of chocolate.