Graphic Novels: Melding Pictures with Stories

Haaken elbowed an enormous paperback book to the edge of his desk to make room for his sketch book. Bone, a graphic novel by Jeff Smith, is at least two inches thick and contains more than 1330 pages.

“It’s nine volumes packed into one giant book!” Haaken said. “I finished it and I’m halfway through reading it again.”Haaken said his own graphic novels are influenced by the style of Bone.

In describing the process of creating a graphic novel, Haaken said putting time into creating characters is key. “You put together a story line, figure out how the characters act, and their physical distinctions, and then create them,” he said. “You figure out how to make it clear and figure out the word/picture combinations. The picture does most of the work.”

One of Haaken’s characters is Loki, a very intelligent cat. He described the character as “low key”, but also known for his pranks and schemes. “Loki is Norwegian for prankster,” Haaken said.

Another character – Carl, the Scout – is essentially a square with a face. “He annoys people very easily,” Haaken laughed.

Haaken’s plot involves the ominous awakening of a beast. “A couple of friends in school have to defeat all of its evil minions that come out to attack them at night,” he said.

Lauren worked at finishing the final draft of her very first original graphic novel.

“I really only read graphic novels,” she said. “They’re easier to read – not as many words – and they’re funny! I decided to do this class because it interested me most. “

The plot of Lauren’s graphic novel is a combination of adventure and humor. “Two kids who get sucked up into space by a spaceship have to defeat an evil duckling,” she said. Luckily, the characters do end up victorious.

Lauren based her story on Captain Marvel plots. “I start generating ideas off Captain Marvel,” she said.

One thing she’s learned about writing graphic novels is “it has to make sense and it has to be in order.”

In the hallway, Emma, Olivia, and Shea worked amidst blackline sketches spread out on the floor around them.

Olivia said she used to draw comics, and thought the Graphic Novels class would help her get better. “We learn how to put stories together,” she said.

“I’m not a great artist but I’m kind of a writer,” said Emma. “It’s actually been working out okay. At first my people looked like giant blobs, but then they started to come together.”

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El Mercado: Día de Muertos In Living Color

Alia handled the tiny white skull delicately. “They are skulls for Day of the Dead,” she said. “You would make your own skull and you would give it to a friend or a family.”

The skulls, molded from sugar and glue, “are kind of like a Valentine,” Alia said. “They have something to remember their family. They would put it out for them.”

The Mexican tradition often involves a culinary version (sugar minus the glue). “There are ones that you can eat, but these kind stay longer,” Alia said. She painted her skull with colorful flowers.

Avery said the skulls are usually decorated in bright colors instead of dark and scary colors. Hers was festooned in feathers. “I chose feathers because I really like feathers and I’m making hair out them and glitter to make them shiny,” she said.

Millie’s skull featured long orange and yellow yarn hair plus a bit of bling. “I just tried to make it sparkly, so there is lots of glitter,” she said.

The name “Hagen” was written on the forehead of her sugar skull. “I made it for my teacher,” Millie said.

Theo said that instead of being scary, like Halloween, Dia de Muertos is a time to honor those who have died. “The skulls can be brought to a family of someone who died,” he said. “They put up pictures of them and their favorite food. They put the skulls around for decoration.”

Landon added: “They do things to turn the day into fun,” instead of being sad.

Landon was excited to share another craft with us. His rainbow painted hedgehog (or spikey porcupine) is an example of Oaxacan folk art wood carvings.

“It’s an alebrijes,” Landon said. “It’s a spiritual animal. If you die, he always saves your life.”

Landon said the carvings have the power to gain a special ability. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I hope they turn into propellers.” He pointed to the brightly colored spiky toothpicks sticking out of the back of his hedgehog.

To further the students’ Spanish language acquisition as well as introduce them to Latin cultures, the class is reading a book called La Pinata de Renata.

“This girl Renata gets a pinata…and she flies to different Spanish countries to explore them,” recounted Eden. (I missed the part about how getting the pinata results in travel, but maybe there was some magic involved?)

One thing she learned from the book is that the people in some Spanish-speaking countries eat octopus. “It’s very popular,” she said. “I really want to try it. It probably tastes like chicken.”

Eden was cutting out an image of a skeleton wearing an oversized flowery hat, another decoration for Day of the Dead. “I made it of my grandma and it’s for my grandma,” Eden said. She assures me that grandma is very much alive.

Written & Illustrated By…Future Famous Authors!

Penelope crouched over her paper, drawing intently. “It’s a thumbnail sketch,” she explained. “Illustrator means drawing pictures. We draw four different pictures for one page. We number them and then we choose which one we want for our page.”

In Written and Illustrated By, students create characters, a story, and detailed illustrations that result in a digital storybook. Penelope’s story involved a horse and pegasus, conflict, magic gold dust sprinkled by angels, and a happy ending full of lasting friendship.

“I love writing stories and I love drawing pictures. Almost everyday I draw pictures,” Penelope said. “I wrote about five stories in my school and read them to my class.”

The plot of Cooper’s “Robo versus Doctor Robot” was a far cry from flying horses and gold dust. “It’s a super hero and a bad guy robot fighting,” he said.

“Robo is a robot and he has lightening bolts on his head that shoot lightening as his super power,” Cooper continued. “He has jet boosters on his feet” that allow him to fly.

Cooper also worked on his initial sketches today. “Thumbnails is to practice the pictures and try to get them as good as you can.”

Eliana was in the middle of deciding which background to use for one of her illustrations. “I like the watercolor one because it looks more realistic.” She picked up her black paper cutout of an adorable dog and a white bathtub and placed them on the yellow and brown striped background.

Eliana chose to use multi-media forms for her illustrations. “I didn’t really want to do just color pencil, so I’m doing cutout paper, water colors, drawings,” she said.

Eliana’s story features three different dogs, all owned by the same owner at different times. “My antagonist is the only mean dog in the story,” she said.

Orange and red colored pencils rolled around Evan’s desk as he colored in an spaceship on fire. In “Eye Wars”, there is an invasion of space ships coming toward Earth. “Eye Warriors are fighting the invasion,” Evan explained. “They shot one down.” He pointed to his fiery ship. “Sometimes when they are shot down they come in like a meteor.”

The students use the software “Story Jumper” to create a digital storybook as the final version. Their text and illustrations can be uploaded onto pages. Not only can they digitally turn pages like a real book, but they can also record their voices reading the story. The stories can be shared digitally, or even purchased and printed out in book form.

Evie edited her story, “Jent’s Clue”, on the computer. “Wait, that’s supposed to say ‘fixated on’ the butterfly, not ‘saw’,” she said as she read a line about Benny. Benny, the two-year-old cat, “fixated on” a butterfly, ran into a tree, was knocked out, and taken to the veterinarian with friend, Jent. A fox on the next vet table scratched him in the eye, and later, after other adventures, Jent and Benny foil a burglary attempt at the museum, involving, of course, that mean-spirited fox.

Kaylani put finishing touches on her precious drawing of Stella the Turtle. “She finds a glass bottle that has a letter in it from a girl in California,” Kaylani said. The literate turtle and the girl become penpals, save money to visit each other, and have wonderful adventures in their respective home cities.

From Story to Stage: Making Stories Visible

“We’re choosing colors for our costumes,” Sam said, pawing through colorful fabric scraps piled on the Fabric Store table. “For our people in our plays.”

In Story to Stage, students choose favorite stories and transform them into a script and, ultimately, onto a stage. Sam’s story is from the novel, Wonder, and the two characters who will take his stage are Auggie and Summer.

Auggie, he decided, will wear a black sweatshirt and black pants. “I have to figure out what black to use for the sweater and which one for the pants,” he said, holding different swatches to his costume drawing of Auggie.

Summer, he said, “is wearing a pink shirt with peace on it. That’s what it said in the book, that she was wearing a peace shirt,” he clarified. “It didn’t say what color so I made it pink.”

Eavan copied her costume sketch onto poster-sized paper to display as part of the showcase of her work. “The fabric samples will get stapled to the side to show the costume plan,” she said.

Eavan’s story was from the book, Judy Moody, and the character she was costuming was Judy’s little brother. “His name is James, but everyone calls him Stink,” she said. Stink will be wearing a blue hoodie and black pants “because I like that color combination.”

Students begin by choosing a passage from a book that they would like to stage. “I already made the script,” Eavan said. “It’s a certain part in the book, my favorite part. Judy puts a rubber hand in the toilet. Stink thinks there’s someone in the toilet!”

Ilsa shows me her Director’s Notebook, a binder containing all of her work on the project. There are tabs for script, lighting, make up, costumes, props, staging, and even special effects and music.

Just like theater professionals, the students have to consider all aspects of production when creating their own stage. “Two girls got to be make-up models,” Ilsa said about learning stage make-up tricks. “They got make-up put on them to make them look different.”

The story that Ilsa will stage comes from the book, Darth Paper Strikes Back, and she named her script, “The End of Origami Yoda.” Her character, Origami Yoda, will not wear make-up, because he will be “super green” and look like paper, she said.

Lillian’s stage drawing is a cacophony of shapes and vibrant colors. “The book describes it as messy because it’s an art room,” she said. She pointed to a sad computer dripping spider webs in the corner of her drawing. “There’s not really a lot of computering so there are cobwebs on the computer!”

Gillian chose a book that mixes up the plots of traditional fairytales. Remember the “evil” queen from Snow White? It turns out she wasn’t really evil, she just had a traumatic experience that soured her personality. In Gillian’s script, “The Wishing Spell,” the evil queen has lost her true love and uses a wishing spell to try to free him from a mirror. Yes, that mirror.

“She tried to release the one in the mirror, but he died because he had been trapped in the mirror too long,” she recounted. “He started losing his human form and turning into the mirror.”

“Well,” she said nonchalantly, “That’s what happens when you’re stuck in a mirror too long!”

Patterns & Impressions: Language Arts

Looking at the world through a first grader’s eye reminds us of how much we miss in our environment. Students in Patterns and Impressions, Language Arts, found patterns everywhere in nature on Thursday.

“We are at Como Zoo looking at a lot of animals, like gorillas, zebras, giraffes,” Emmy explained. “Zebras take dust baths,” she said, showing me a drawing of the striped pattern she drew when observing the zebras. “We’re making observations about them,” she said. “Seeing spots, stripes…”

“…and dots!” chimed in Harper.

Pattern observations continued in the Pollinator tent, where Harper was on the look out for Fibonacci patterns. “I see one, two, three, four, and five petals on the flower,” she said, pointing to a bright yellow-ish, orange bloom. “Yes, that’s a Fibonacci!”

The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5…. The next number in the sequence is found by adding up the two numbers that come before it. “One plus 1 is 2, so 2 is a Fibonacci,” Harper said. “2 plus 3 equals 5, and 5 is a Fibonacci.”

Oliver peered through the mesh surrounding a garden looking for patterns among the pollinators. “I’m looking at the bees,” he said. “Yellow-black, yellow-black on the bee.”

Ceci sketched in her notebook. She recorded examples of patterns she found at the Zoo. Her sketch of a star flower showed “five Fibonacci”. She found patterns in a turtle’s shell as well. “He kind of had squares on his back.”

One sketch featured a stingray with lines around the outside of his body. “The stingray has little cuts,” Ceci pointed out. “There’s a big one and a little one, a big one and a little one, all the way around.”

Just a little reminder for all of us to open our eyes to the wonder all around, just like a first grader.