Friday, 9 November 2012

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

It was an honour to be invited as keynote speakers at the National Literacy Network Meeting last week. We spoke to over 70 delegates, including representatives from local authorities, librarians and teachers, who had gathered for the day at Stirling University to discuss literacy and how to make reading more accessible. The day was organised by an incredibly dynamic team from Education Scotland, whom we'd like to thank. Our talk was broadcast live on the GLOW network and everyone in attendance received a signed copy of our Louis - Red Letter Day graphic novel.

So we started the day with a 40 minute talk: Comics in the Classroom. We discussed graphic novels, our own Louis books and the creative process, our author visits to schools and libraries and experiences with different age groups. It was great to have this opportunity to spread the word about comics and graphic novels and to encourage their use in education.

During the break we had the pleasure of discussing ideas further with several interested attendees, and it was remarked that some 10 years ago, we wouldn't even have dreamt of comics being on the education agenda. But in recent years things have really changed, and more and more educators are recognising that comics are a great way to get the attention of the younger generations.

Indeed, as our culture has become increasingly visual, it is perhaps understandable that graphic novels have gained more attention. And recent years have seen a proliferation of comics, graphic novels and manga, with the boundaries of the medium being pushed ever further. Now there is a wide variety of work in different genres for young adults, adults and children. Graphic novel adaptations of plays, novels and novellas are increasingly being used in the classroom context.

Our comic adaptation of Edwin Morgan's poem The First Men on Mercury, commissioned by ASLS, is widely used around the world in a variety of educational contexts. (A pdf version of the comic, and some teacher's notes, can be downloaded free here.)

Comics are a great way to encourage children and young people to read - while some might see reading as a chore, they won't think twice about reading a comic. And it's not only because they don't have as many words: they are a truly dynamic, versatile, and exciting medium which stimulates the mind. The interaction of words and pictures in rhythmic sequences takes reading to another level.

Whatever their age, children love to make their own comics, something we see first hand, without exception, every time we do workshops in schools.

Comics are great too for reluctant readers: we've been told by teachers that some pupils have written more during our workshops in the classroom, making their own comic, than in the entire year! They begin to overcome a barrier.

But of course comics aren't just for kids and reluctant readers, and since our beginnings we have been striving to help erode preconceptions. Comics are an art form in their own right and can be as worthy as any piece of literature or work of art. 

On this level, graphic novels can be used in further education, as a way to explore ideas and concepts such as aesthetics, design and philosophy. We had the pleasure recently of talking at the Advanced Higher Creative Writing Conference in Edinburgh to a group of really bright, sparkly and interested pupils, and also visited Glasgow School of Art to discuss comics and graphic novels with a group of interested students from a variety of educational backgrounds across the arts.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Illustrations for ipad Game for Kelvingrove Museum

We've just completed artwork for an ipad game for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The Ancient Egypt themed game, Book of the Dead: Afterlife, is currently on display at the museum as part of the Pharaoh: King of Egypt touring exhibition from the British Museum, as well as in the permanent exhibition on Ancient Egypt. Here are a couple of images from the game:

Main screen of the game

One of the pop-up screen elements

Working on this game was amazing, and working with Kelvingrove Museum was fantastic! Ancient Egypt is a fascinating subject so it was difficult not to get excited by the theme of the game. We were really inspired visiting the permanent exhibition.

It was also the first time we'd worked on an ipad game, and that was very refreshing. For this type of work we had to keep in mind at all time that functionality is key and that design must always serve this purpose, as all the different elements are interactive and work in different combinations. This is something that doesn't normally come into play when creating book or web illustrations, and is completely different from the separate dynamics of sequential art and visual storytelling. It's been great fun, and we'd love to do more of this kind of work!

Here are a couple of roughs we made in the early stages of the project. The mummy had to be removed to be replaced by a sarcophagus as the exhibition is mummy-free. Although we had been looking forward to doing final artwork on the mummy, we really enjoyed doing the intricate coffin too. The mummy will find its way into another drawing at some point, we’re sure!

Unused rough
Final rough

We had the pleasure of attending the launch and preview of the exhibition and of seeing the game in situ for the first time last Friday. And the Pharaoh: King of Egypt exhibiton, which will be on for the next few months, is absolutely brilliant (we were especially impressed by the giant wooden sculpture - but we are not allowed to post a picture of it, so if you are in Glasgow you'll have to go and see it for yourselves!).

Arriving at Kelvingrove Museum by night
The ipad game in situ

Night of the launch, courtesy of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Facebook page