Comics & Graphic Essays

Genre Overview:

Task:

Communicate a brief story, message, or idea with a combination of words and pictures where the pictures do most of the talking.

Purposes:

  • To inform or educate your reader on an issue (graphic essays)
  • To entertain your reader or tell a story (comics)
  • To provide your opinion or persuade others (graphic essays)
  • To illustrate a “slice of life” (comics)

Audiences:

Depending on the content of your comic:

  • Anyone you wish to educate on the issue you write about
  • People who enjoy visual storytelling
  • Anyone who might connect with the “slice of life” you write about

Characteristics:

  • Comics and graphic essays are NOT just for artists or people who can draw- anyone can create comics and graphic essays!
  • The images do most of the story-telling work; text is extremely brief and is usually limited to dialogue or brief internal thoughts
  • Stories told via short comics may not have a beginning, middle, and end; they may be a snapshot or just one scene
  • It is best to have a full story written from start to finish before you create a comic. This helps you then decide what needs to happen visually in each frame of your comic, how many frames will be on one page, etc.
  • Remember – show, don’t tell. Let your pictures do the work here.
  • Because you have to keep your text short, play with word choice! Find and choose words that will pack the most punch when communicating your ideas.

Ways to Get Started:

  • Browse other comics for ideas (see below) on how to take a story and make it visual
  • Write a one-paragraph ‘essay’ giving your opinion on an issue, including some sort of example to back up your opinion. Then turn this into a graphic essay.
  • Write a one-paragraph memoir of something that has happened to you, and turn this into a graphic essay.

Common Ways to Publish:

  • Modern comics and graphic essays are usually published online, either through a social media platform like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or through the author’s blog or website.

Sites to Help Create Comics for People Who Don’t Enjoy Drawing:

Mentor Texts:

Comics:

  • How Do You Draw So Well?from Sarah’s Scribbles by Sarah Andersen – Sarah’s Scribbles is a popular online webcomic with a distinctive art style. In this one, Sarah addresses the age-old question of just how people get so darn good at art.
  • Just because you haven’t got it all figured out by Pictures in Boxes – A really great example of a “slice of life” comic where the picture tells the story. Also a great use of symbolism- what does the Rubix Cube represent?
  • Perfect by Grant Snyder and Jon Acuff – A “slice of life” comic on perfectionism getting in the way of progress. Notice how the text drives the images in this comic rather than the images driving the text- the images themselves do not tell the story here, and there is no progression through the frames; each image is doing its own thing.
  • My Comfort Zone by Justin Boyd – In contrast to Perfect, this comic is image-driven rather than text-driven. The images tell the story here, and the text simply adds character and clarifies what is happening.

Graphic Essays:

  • From His Corner, A Bodega Owner Watches Brooklyn Change by Mira Jacob – A graphic essay about how the world sometimes shifts around us.
  • Double Crossingsby Thi Bui and GB Tran – A collaborative graphic essay that uses a distinctive compare/ contrast structure to illustrate two different reactions to a shared situation. See if you can spot the differences in the two art styles. Consider why the artists chose the colors they used. How do those colors contribute to the two different tones in the writing? How do the tone differences add to the compare/ contrast structure? This essay was submitted to Hyphen magazine for an issue with the theme “Bittersweet.” As a follow up, you can read an interview with both authors here.
  • What is “Community Journalism?” by Jean Cochrane – A graphic essay in which Cochrane explains the premise of Community Journalism and contrasts it with traditional journalism. Published on the website of the City Bureau, which describes itself as a “#civicjournalism lab based on the South Side of Chicago.”
  • You Can Be a Patriot Without Loving America by Alex Graudins – A powerful argument essay in which Graudins argues that protest and patriotism are not mutually exclusive, and explores the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Pay attention to the symbolism in Graudins’ images, particularly the beach scene. Consider how Graudins uses allusion (references to famous people/ pop culture) to help build the argument.
  • A Graphic Interview of Cara Gormally by Edith Zimmerman – A completely different way to approach writing about an interview you have done. Consider what the change in medium/ form (comic instead of just text) adds to the piece.

Other Resources:

Interviews with Comic Authors

Read these to learn more about how the pros approach the writing process!

Comic-Writing Tips and How-Tos:

  • Wally Wood’s 22 Panels that Work – 22 suggestions for panels that will make your comic more visually interesting in parts where it feels like the story or text might be dragging a bit