Local cartoonist teaches Bach students about storytelling

Artist Jerzy Drozd taught Bach third and fourth graders about the artistic elements of storytelling March 14.

–By Tara Cavanaugh

Bach Elementary students learned what gives comics their zip, boom and pow during a mini-lesson in the art of comic strip making yesterday.

Local graphic novel author and artist Jerzy Drozd taught 2nd through 5th graders the tricks of the trade in an hourlong presentation that was part of the school’s Reading Month celebration.

Learning about the art of making comics may seem a strange activity for Reading Month, but Bach media specialist Kathy Trudell said graphic novels can teach students about storytelling.

“Graphic novels right now are just so hot with the kids,” she said. “The pictures allow (students) what maybe the vocabulary doesn’t allow them to understand.”

Trudell, who asked Drozd to visit, said he could help students conceptualize how graphic novels are created.

“If you can draw a stick figure, you can make good comics,” Drozd told the students. “Just follow some simple rules of storytelling.”

Through a series of cartoon character examples, Drozd taught students how to tell a story through comics. The shape of a character’s head or body, for example, can show if he’s a hero or a villain. The kind of line in a speech bubble can express emotion, such as a jagged line with steep points expressing anger or shouts. Size plays a big role, too, he explained. Larger characters can seem scarier or more imposing, smaller characters weak or less powerful.

Then students got the chance to create their own five-panel comic that was related to a topic they were studying in class. The third and fourth graders, who are studying Michigan history, named characters Marquette and Champlain, which are also the names of Michigan cities. Drozd gave the two characters a conflict and location –fighting over the price of fur in France– and then inserted singer Justin Bieber to intervene. The story’s resolution was up to the students.

Students eagerly got to work, scribbling quickly on their clipboards. Some even consulted Drozd for his advice or asked him for his autograph.

Drozd, who has authored one graphic novel and is working on more, said comics can encourage students to understand different narrative structures. “People are beginning to understand the narrative function of the images themselves and that you’re writing with images,” he said.

Drozd also does freelance work and teaches classes at the Ann Arbor Art Center and the Ann Arbor District Library. Learn more about him here.

After learning about shape, color, size, pose and line, students made their own five-panel comic strip.

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