TCRWP 2019 Writing Graphic Novels Institute

My new favorite TCRWP staff deveopers: Eric Hand and Hareem Atif Khan

If you are ever at TCRWP and have a chance to attend one of their workshops, DO!

I feel like I hit the jackpot because Eric was teaching about a medium he loves and has loved for years. He shared this page from “Eric the child’s” notebook where he drew covers. His comic book collection served as a perfect mentor text for his cover designs!


And Hareem is so organized and so clear in her instruction. Plus, she even dresses as a graphic novel writer!!


I treated myself to this mini-three day institute because my 6th graders LOVE the medium of graphic novels. And I knew if I learned more about this medium from my favorite place to learn (TCRWP), I would leave loving it too. And I did!!

How did they do it?

As with all learning at TCRWP, they explain the WHY so clearly. Then they guide me through the steps to do the work – in this case, how to read a graphic novel as a mentor text and then how to write my own graphic story.

* Our kids love this medium and as their teacher, I need to value what they like to read and write.
* Our 21st century world is so visual. As teachers, we need to empower our students to understand how to read visuals in order to be informed consumers.
* This medium is perfect for ELL learners due to the picture support.

Also, I learned the history of comics. I had no idea that in 1954 there was a Congressional Hearing which reported that comics were the cause of juvenile deliquency in the country and comics were considered evil and were banned and only something read underground. (No wonder as I attended school in the 70s, comics weren’t a thing.) Today, the medium is gaining acceptance but it is helpful to understand its history.

My Turn
Step 1: Immersion. LOTS of graphic novels of ALL levels were in the room to look at. I noticed the FEATURES in the graphic novel and then thought about So What? My t-chart listed features like sound words, close-ups, panels with text, speak bubbles, etc. I learned vocabulary like gutters and emanata (lines used to show emotions).

Step 2: Doodling!! Just as narrative writers get ideas by thinking of people, places and objects and the small moments related to those people, places and object, I was encouraged to just doodle to get ideas for a character and then doodle another and another. “See where the pencil takes you!”


Step 3: Story Arc ; Then I used all I know about the story arc and made a timeline of the events of my story. (This unit will be out in the Fall, 2019 and Eric and Hareem say it is meant for grades 4-8 at the end of the year. It is a perfect unit to try after the students have already had a narrative unit and now they can transfer the skills into a graphic novel medium.


Step 4: Book Map: Eric and Hareem taught me next to make a BOOK MAP. We used post-its and layed them out to see which 2 pages would face each other in the graphic novel booklet.

Step 5: Thumbnails: Then we sketched thumbnails of each page. On the thumbnail I got to pick how many panels and the size of the panels. I decided who was talking and what details to add to each panel.

Step 6: Drafting: Finally, I got blank paper and got to draft lightly in pencil and then go over using a black flair pen.


Because this institute was only 3 days, I got a taste of each step but still need to work on my finished product. However, I am proud of what I was able to produce!!

Eric also suggested 3 lens to use when having a conference with a graphic novel writer.
Lens 1 – Story Arc – Is there a challenge the character is trying to deal with? Is the resolution believable? Is the setting clear? Does the character change?

Lens 2 – Visual Story – Has the writer decided on number, shape and size of panels? Do decisions match the story? Are the characters distinguished? Would it help to zoom in or zoom out?

Lens 3 – Balloons – Can reader read the words in the speech bubbles? Is the writer using bolding to help reader know how to read the words? Does the font match the mood and tone? Are the balloons in the right order so the talking by characters is in the right order?

Tuesday’s Keynote was Francoise Mouly, the art director of The New Yorker, an iconic  magazine. WOW! She showed the process that a cover goes through. My favorite cover she showed was this:


I AM is grounded. I have is blowing in the wind. I DO shines brightly. What a cover!!

She also is the publisher of TOON books! Because of her, our students now have access to brilliantly crafted graphic books at four reading levels. Be sure to check out her TOON WEBSITE.


Tuesday ended with one of the Toon authors, Kevin McCloskey. He blogs HERE and can be found on twitter @kevinMcWho. He came dressed for the day!


He kindly signed my books and though I teach 6th grade, I plan to have my students read and make a book much like his for a younger audience so we can have fun being graphic novelist!

On Day 3, Eric showed how to do a read-aloud of a graphic novel using 300 Words, a short story in Comic Squad: Recess. Now I feel confident in replicating read-alouds using this medium. I just needed Eric to model it for me.

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I trained home to VA Wednesday evening with a bagful of new graphic novels to share with my students, with a new love for the medium of graphic novel/comics and with the confidence to keep writing my graphic story and guide my students to give it a try too.

It’s clear to me why my two new favorite TCRWP staff deveopers are Eric Hand and Hareem Atif Khan!