Making Your Own Graphic Novel
We cannot emphasize enough how fun and rewarding the experience of making The Phoenix Corps a reality has been...and how much work it took! Now that we have gone through the process once, we feel much better-equipped not only to go through it again, but also to guide others in doing so. The great news is that there are very small steps anyone can take toward making a graphic novel in the style of The Phoenix Corps. That is, a graphic novel one can learn from as well as enjoy. We see The Phoenix Corps as our first – and most certainly not last – step on a much longer and more adventurous journey!
We are actively looking for anyone passionate about this enterprise who wants to see this kind of work continue!
We welcome programmers, designers, learners, educators, scientists, researchers, artists, storytellers, and all passionate creators to reach out!
ENTRY POINT #1: historical archives
To us, the most fun and the most intellectually rewarding way to start creating small resources for your graphic novel is to research the original scientists, experiments, and publications behind what it is that you want people to learn. There are a few reasons for this. First, most of us do not know that history, and the history tends to be fascinating (scientifically and otherwise). Second, these historical archives can serve as a great stand-alone resource in a learning environment. Third, the history (what the scientists struggled with, how they presented their findings, and why they conducted their experiments the way they did) tends to inspire questions, revelations, and character choices.
entry point #2: learner conversations
Conversations between learners about a particular misconception, confusion, or any aspect of the material they get to learn is incredibly valuable. Especially if you have taught the material for multiple years, writing these exercises can be incredibly beneficial. Writing a conversation is radically different than writing prose. From a content standpoint, conversations can have dead ends (something that we tend to avoid in hyper-clear, hyper-logical textbook prose). From a learning standpoint, each character in a conversation needs to have a "take" on the material. Why does one learner have a particular misconception? When and how does it reveal itself in dialogue? These are not simple questions, and they do not generally come up when writing strict prose. Writing a conversation also requires characters. Along with a "take," the conversants need a "voice" (even if, in the beginning, just to delineate between them). These particular characters might not survive into the final draft, but the experimentation with different voices begins here. If done well, learners can see themselves in the conversation through the characters' reasoning, making these conversations a good learning resource (especially as a homework or discussion activity to identify the confusion and resolve it).
entry point #3: fascinating questions
The knowledge we teach has so far survived the test of time – the knowledge fascinated someone enough to create it and can inspire another today to dream with it. As we taught thermodynamics, wrote the script for the graphic novel, and especially as we read the original/historical papers, we would have conversations about some "big" questions in life. Writing these questions down and maybe even writing a conversation between characters about them can help explore themes and high-level motivations for eventual drama in a subsequent story. Something else these questions can help with is creating alternative or "what if?" scenarios for the way things are today. Ultimately, finding something that fascinates you specifically is what lends any eventual instructional approach or graphic novel personality.
entry point #4: intriguing characters
This was our first foray into graphic novel-style storytelling. Like film, graphic novels allow us to communicate a lot about characters that does not need to be explicitly pointed out in dialogue or in description. A character's body language or clothing embellishment can speak volumes about a character's motivation, personality, and history. Creating an intriguing character – someone who we feel a need to watch interact with the world – sets everything else in motion. What kind of a character engages with this material? Why? And what are the choices this character gets to make? Answers to these questions help flesh out characters, who then help flesh out stories.
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