Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Storyteller Without Words: Creating a graphic novel

Gods' Man, a wordless graphic novel, was created by the American artist Lynd Ward in 1929. A graphic novel is a novel told in comic book form. 

The pictures in a graphic novel are not mere illustrations of the written word. The are the key to the unfolding ideas, emotions and plot. In a graphic novel, the images are primary and the words, if they exist at all, are secondary.

Lynd Ward crafted this story exclusively from hand carved black and white woodblock  prints. In other words, he drew each picture on a piece of wood, carved out the parts that would remain white, rolled black ink onto each panel and created prints. 

When viewed in order, these images tell the story of an artist's life.

Look at the story below. Write a summary of the plot. Then answer the following questions in full sentences:

Does the story have a moral? 

Would you have made the same decisions that the main character made?

Why do you think Lynd Ward created this story?

Does this story remind you of any other stories you know about? These could include movies, TV shows or books you have read.

Pick a story you are familiar with  that reminds you of this one and tell me a few ways that the stories are similar.

A word about composition

Why are these panels so important? 

The poster below hangs over the drawing board of every single comic book artist at Marvel Studios. It serves as a reminder that each image must convey the story in the most engaging way possible.

To see these images more closely, right click on them and open them in a new window.

Revised version by  the artist
 Rafael Kayanan
In 2010 Rafael Kayanan looked through Wally Wood's extensive comic book archive, selected classic examples of each of these compositions and created a new version of the '22 frames', using Wood's own work. 

Below is a film adaptation of the 22 panels.

Wally Wood was born in 1927 and his famous panels were not circulated around Marvel Studios until the 1970's. 

Lynd Ward's book, Gods' Man, was first published in 1929, when Wally Wood was only two years old. Yet many of the compositional devices Wood used are evident in Ward's book. Go back and take a second look at the book. Can you find any examples of the 22 frames?

If you are one of my students at Perth Amboy High School and are having trouble viewing the PDF of Gods' Man, 

A word about plots and characters. 
 To see the graphics below, right click on the image and open them in new tabs.

The graphics above list character archetypes typically found in most stories. 

After studying them, identify the archetypes that most closely match each character in the story Gods' Man. 

Now it is time to create your own 
graphic novel. 

Before you start, take a look at some storyboard portfolios of professional animators:

What you are going to notice is a lot of their stuff isn’t polished or perfect. They are more concerned with telling their story and getting it onto paper. They’ll polish it later. They’re not afraid to show their pencil tests and half finished work because the main thing they are showcasing is their ability to work through and develop an idea.

When a student applies to art school, colleges look for their ability to work through and develop ideas. Polished work is important too but they also want to see pages from your sketchbooks.

When you submit a portfolio to the College Board for AP credit, they want to see your process. The way you develop an original idea is as important to them as the completed artwork you create. 

How do contemporary comic book artists and animators showcase their ability to develop ideas? Take a look:

Why is it so important for high school students to look at artwork that is not polished or finished? 

Most students feel overwhelmed when their teacher tells them to make up their own story. They think it will be too hard.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, you tell all sorts of stories all the time in your daily life without even realizing it. So, how do you begin using your natural storytelling abilities to make art?

 Plan out a story with a beginning middle and end. Just start making stuff up.

Throw every single bad and frustrating experience that you can think of at your hero. Get them to the lowest point possible where everything is going wrong.

Who helps them? Who gives them advice? How do they survive? What do they learn? Are they an unlikely hero like Harry Potter (nerdy with broken glasses and bad clothing)?
How do you make them initially come across as ordinary?

What makes writing so difficult is that your audience will only start to care about your character if they identify with them.

As we watch (or read), a good story draws us in. We become the character.

How do storytellers accomplish this? The best way to identify with a character is to

1) see them at first as ‘ordinary’, ‘flawed’ ‘like me’

2) to watch them experience everything going horribly wrong

Who helps them? 

Gives them advice?  

How can you put a little bit of yourself into the character?

 How can you translate your personal struggles into this story while still writing a piece of fiction?

 Picasso once said that "Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth." and he was completely correct. In every piece of good fiction there is an element of truth that makes it relatable.

Create as if you are writing in an imaginary diary. Create as if nobody will ever see your work. Write as if you are not completely sure how the story will end.

Don't worry about safe, comfortable or happy endings. Banksy once said that art should "Disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed."

Think of this story as a combination of your favorite video game, your favorite movie and that one book that you read once, growing up, that actually made you like reading.

Just start creating based on what interests you and see what comes out.

It’s going to be difficult at first, because you are going to like your hero, but don’t go too easy on them. Take them out of their comfort zone. That uncertainty is what keeps the audience coming back for more.

If you are one of my students at Perth Amboy High School, use the Storyboard That Website to help you get started. Remember, you must log in using my teacher account and then create your own username and password. This will give you unlimited access to the website. 

If you are not comfortable drawing and would like to focus at first on plot and composition, use the graphics from the website to help you tell your story.

If you are preparing a portfolio for art school, wish to become a professional artist or are planning to take AP Studio art as a senior, use your own drawings and photographs to tell your story.

Post updates of your progress in Google Classroom twice a week so that I can check on your progress and give you constructive criticism. 


The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck by 
Rodolphe Töpffer was the first graphic novel every published in the United States, in 1842. 

Rodolphe Töpffer, a Swiss cartoonist, is known as the father of the modern comic book. The book was first published in his native Switzerland in 1837. 

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