As a comics scholar and an instructor who often teaches comics, I was delighted to digitally attend this year’s Teaching and Learning with Comics panel at the San Diego Comic-Con@Home event. (Big ups to the SDCC for facilitating such an engaging set of panels so seamlessly during this pandemic!) This panel’s lovely and lively moderators include Peter Carlson (of Green Dot Public Schools), Susan Kirtley (of Portland State University), and Antero Garcia (of Stanford University). The panelists include Nick Sousanis (Unflattening), Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), David F. Walker (Naomi), and Brian Michael Bendis (Naomi). Due to the pandemic, this panel takes place in three distinct “conversations” between two panel moderators and each respective creator (Walker and Bendis appear together, having both worked on Naomi.), rather than in standard “panel” format. Though I do think that these four creators might have had a lively, engaging conversation were they able to be in the same space together, I commend all involved for putting together a great panel despite those challenges.
For me, the biggest takeaway from Sousanis is his push to use comics in the classroom (and, I think he would extend this to include our own independent learning) as a mode of thinking, rather than only as a site of artistic production. Throughout the conversation, he details his use of comics exercises in the classroom, noting that he tends to begin with a grid exercise which has the main use value of allowing his students– regardless of whether they imagine themselves to be artists or not– to notice the number of aesthetic and spatial decisions they’ve made in the work, even, perhaps, while doubting their own ability at making comics. Overall, Sousanis speaks to comics as a liberatory philosophy and process at once.
I came in to Ebony Flowers’ conversation unaware of her work, and came away having ordered a copy of Hot Comb. Flowers speaks directly to the pragmatics of teaching comics and describes some of her most useful methods: getting her students past the idea of “I can’t” by both urging them to create self-portraits using very simple shapes, and by demonstrating her own quick-sketch self-portraits to them. She highlights that drawing fast in an important skill to cultivate for comics creators, making that hurdle (“I can’t”) an important one to get over. By way of demonstrating the kinds of self-portraiture she aims her students to produce (She names some tendencies that she urges new creators to get over, such as drawing figures from the back, or hiding hands in pockets– two things that I do in my own journaling, which me listen even closer to her encouragements.), she shows off a self-portrait series called “Discarded Masks” that she’s been working on throughout the lockdown. I immediately fell in love with her style, and say this: Come to hear what Ebony Flowers has to say about teaching comics and stay to see some rad examples of her work.
The third and final conversation on this panel is split between David. F Walker and Brian Michael Bendis, both of whom are lively and fun enough that I could recommend this portion of the talk on that merit alone. David F. Walker’s main contribution to the overall theme of pedagogy and comics is one borne out of his own learning: He’s currently engaged in a project that involves re-reading the works of creators who inspire him and of generations past in order to re-absorb himself in the light and greatness of those works. Brian Michael Bendis takes a more practical approach, describing the course that he and Walker teach together as filling in the holes in his own training as an artist, including the philosophy side of production, but also those details like what materials to use.
Overall, this panel is engaging, and provides many lessons on teaching– and teaching with–comics. Viewers who may have missed the panel when it aired can still watch in on ComicCon’s YouTube channel.