Teaching: drafting comics, the roles of words and images

This is part of a series on how I teach non-arty students to make comics.

So, you’re making a comic… you have a story idea, and some sketches of characters. But what next? How do you take what you are accustomed to writing in words, and make it into a comic with words and pictures? Or, how do you get students to DRAFT something with words and images?

Before drafting our comics, we read the “Show and Tell” chapter of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.  This book is used often in writing classes that want to be “hip” and “now”, which is funny because I read it in high school and am now 36 years old. something in that area. Nevertheless, McCloud’s explanation of different word and image relationships is wonderful. In class, we boil the array McCloud gives down to 3 to focus on: Duospecific, Parallel, and Interdependent.

Duospecific words and images repeat each other. As an artist and author, you want to avoid duospecific word and image relationships because they are (1) inefficient – you can get twice as much story out of the real estate of a panel if the words do different work from the images and (2) boring – we can see the picture. You don’t need to tell the audience the same thing twice.

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.35.20 AM


Parallel words and images seem unrelated.  The fun thing about parallel word and image relationships is, our brains  ASSUME they go together, so we will make a story out of them if we can.

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.34.54 AM


Interdependent word and image relationships are the most commonly used- the words tell us part of the story, the image, another. They work hand in hand.

Screen shot 2014-05-20 at 11.42.58 AM

We see interdependent word and image relationships all the time, in comics but also movies, tv, ads, blogs, etc. But it’s really hard for most of us to actually create them. I ask students to come up with words for this sequence from McCloud’s chapter- but to AVOID a DUOSPECIFIC sequence, and instead use a PARALLEL or INTERDEPENDENT one. It’s harder than it looks! Many students want to describe the picture they are looking at. We continue this exercise by drawing a short series of panels, and then handing it off for someone else to add words to. (I’ll post on that activity later. It’s a good one.)


Understanding that words and images can SHARE the storytelling work is key to drafting a comic. Some folks can tell stories with words and pictures naturally while doodling and writing simultaneously. But many students either don’t think in pictures, or are so comfortable with the thought of an “essay” being typed or written in words, it helps them to write the story first, and then highlight with text what can be an image and what can be text.

Here’s a small part of a highlighted write up:

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 10.42.01 PM

From this, you can draft a comic. We know what can be a picture, and what can be text. Here’s an example draft, with some notes on what can be improved in the final version.

comic draft

I’d be interested in hearing how other teachers go about teaching the drafting process of making a comic. What steps do you use? What problems have you found good solutions for?



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