Make Belief Comics

Recently, I was alerted to a new comic-making tool: Make Belief Comix. Here is a sample of what you can do:

Passing Notes

And here is a more thorough explanation from the creator of the site, Bill Zimmerman, who emailed me the following:

Dear reader,

I want to share with you news of my newest educational project and also
ask for your help to make it succeed.

I have launched a new web site — http:// www.makebeliefscomix.com
where children and adults can create their own comic strips.  They can
select from 15 fun characters with different moods  — happy, sad,
angry, worried – and write words for  blank talk and thought balloons
to make their characters talk and think.  There also are story ideas
and prompts to help users create graphic stories.

This site can be used by educators to teach language, reading and
writing skills, and also for students in English-as-a-Second-Language
programs to facilitate self-expression and storytelling, as well as
computer literacy. Some educational therapists use it with deaf and
autistic people to help them understand concepts and communicate.
Parents and children can create stories together, print them to create
comic books or email them to friends and family.  Others will find the
site a resource to be creative, calm down and have fun.

Because so many Spanish-speaking users asked us for the ability to
write their cartoons in Spanish as well as in English, we recently
upgraded the site to accept words written in Spanish, including
appropriate accent marks. This can be a useful tool for someone who is
learning Spanish as well as someone whose first language is Spanish.
In time, this feature will be extended to other languages.

I am hoping that you will share http://www.makebeliefscomix.com  with
your colleagues, teachers, students or readers of your publications and
resource lists.  The site is free with no advertising.  Any help you
might offer in getting word out about this project is very appreciated.
If you can suggest other people or groups whom I might contact to make
them aware of the site please send me their names, email addresses or
phone numbers.   Relevant Internet resource sharing groups would be
helpful, too.  It takes a community to build a useful resource like
this one.

As one who learned to read with comic books, I know that creating comic
strips can help people tap into their creativity and practice their
language and storytelling skills.  The site is free and stems from my
lifelong mission to create resources that help people find their voice
and express themselves. The concept for makebeliefscomix.com is derived
from my earlier books, Make Beliefs and Make Beliefs for Kids of All
Ages (which can be found on my other web site:
http://www.billztreasurechest.com).  A Make Beliefs interactive feature
appeared for 13 years on my syndicated Student Briefing Page for
Newsday, and in National Geographic’s World Magazine.

I hope you like http://www.makebeliefscomix.com and will use it in your
work and personal life.  Your feedback is welcome and very helpful.

With thanks and every good wish,

Bill Zimmerman
(wmz@aol.com)

Along with ToonDoo, which I was introduced to last semester, I am thinking about how I might use Make Belief Comix in my ENG 315 class this semester, so this was a timely email from Bill. Please contact him with questions.

Reflection on the “New Literacies” Workshops

Wow.

So, many things to think about based on Friday’s workshops, but first and foremost a hearty thanks to the 15 teachers who led these “new literacies” workshops:

There are multiple thoughts, and layers of thought, that I have about the day. First and foremost, this group did an outstanding job of dealing with the technology that was dealt to them in the computer labs on campus. Not that the labs were bad, but that there were some glitches here and there and one computer froze completely on the digital storytelling presenters, causing them to lose most of a collaborative project they were producing. There were minor glitches in scheduling and the like, but overall the day went smoothly and I thank everyone for their flexibility and patience.

Second, I am happy to report that over 50 teachers attended the seven sets of workshops. Now, this may not sound like a large number, but the fact that these teachers had to pre-register and also attend the Bright Ideas conference on Saturday meant that they were committing to a full weekend of PD. Given that Bright Ideas only had 250 total pre-registered people, that means that 20% of them chose to come to this set of workshops. To me, that is amazing. Last summer, we struggled to get even five people in each of our sessions on technology (part of that was timing, I am sure), but to have 50 show up in one day was incredible.

Which leads me to my next thought — this was the culmination of many years of work for our Writing Project. Having been a Lead Site from NWP’s Technology Initiative for the past three years, we were looking to really put into action a professional development model from all that we had learned (one of the primary goals of the grant). Last spring, when all of the lead sites met in San Francisco, the research group that NWP hired to evaluate the Tech Initiative had said that the data from our sites pointed to the fact that doing professional development related to technology was “both different and harder” than the already difficult task of delivering literacy PD. So, to see seven workshops, five of which were run by our own TCs, come to fruition last week made for a great culmination of our work. Of course, now we need to market these workshops more directly to schools, but that is on the horizon.

Another interesting part of the workshops came in my discussions with Rick and Mitch about the one that they led on graphic novels. I had originally planned for them to be in a computer lab, hoping that they might introduce participants to a program like Comic Life or any number of online comic creators. For a variety of good reasons — mainly that they had more to do in three hours than they could have reasonably accomplished in two days of PD — they decided not to use the computers. As Rick and I talked about the “technology” components of these workshops, I had to keep reminding myself that the focus, as always, is on literacy.

Thus, the “New Literacies” being part of the title and, as Knobel and Lankshear would argue, part of the mindset that one must take when engaging in these practices, even if they aren’t necessarily digital. Renee and Angie shared this quote from a recent Knobel and Lanskshear article that I think sums it up well. The authors argue that there is a new mindset that we have to adopt in the post-industrial world, one that recognizes the influence of technology at a deeper level than to just say, as the first mindset does, that things have only become more “technologized”:

For us, new literacies are informed by the second mindset and reflect the kinds of assumptions and values that define this second mindset. They do not have to involve the use of digitalelectronic apparatuses such as computers or the Internet, although they mostly do. They must however, be imbued with the second mindset.

Discussing New Literacies
Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear. Language Arts. Urbana: Sep 2006. Vol. 84, Iss. 1; p. 78 (9 pages)

Thus, as I think about Rick’s concern that I wanted them to use the computers despite all the ideas that they wanted to cover related to reading and writing comics, understanding visual literacy, and engaging reluctant students, I have to wonder how much we need to be talking about this new mindset first, technology second. Even with our best efforts to do so, I think that I may have been pushing the technology aspects of these workshops more than, perhaps, I should have. However, I think that everyone who presented (as I helped them prepare and talked to them during the day) did keep their attention on literacy practices. So, this is not to say that we did anything wrong, but more to say that we need to remain ever-conscious of how we frame these issues as we present more and more PD.

So, those are the thoughts for now. I hope more will come after I read some of the evaluations for the workshops and from any comments, questions, or ideas that come from all of you. Thanks to everyone who has written me about, helped facilitate, or actually attended these workshops. It was a great day, and I look forward to doing something like it again soon.

Notes on “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

Notes from another CCCC session that I found engaging. In this session, the presenter spent a good deal of time thinking about design from the standpoint of a writing teacher, and I found her angle on it informative. In particular, I found her categories of balance, unity, gestalt, and hierarchy a more nuanced way of talking about the Robin Williams principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. I hadn’t really thought about using Homestar Runner for a writing assignment, but now I might.

Here are some notes:

Chandra Lewis-Qualls – “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

  • Intro
    • How is identity created in online comics, analyzing with graphic design theories
    • Her subject position: I am a feminist rhetorician interested in visual design and communication, deeply immersed in gaming
  • Graphic Design
    • Mildred Friedman — “Graphic design is an art form that depends for its efficacy on the degree to which words and images communicate a coherent message.”
    • You get the effect of the intent based on what isn’t explicitly evident
  • Why Use Graphic Design?
    • By focusing on design strategies, we can discern alternate ways to shape idetity online
    • Graphic design has a longer history that visual rhetoric and insights from the field could prove valuable
    • It opens up conversations between academics and designers
  • 1964 “The First Things First Manifesto”
    • Graphic design has a long history of critique and wanted to point out the fact that design is not neutral and has value; they were pushing against the consumer and material aspects of graphic design and wanted to share their thoughts on it
  • New Media Analysis
    • Cheryl Ball has suggested that we need to analyze “the semiotic elements [of new media]”
    • New Media critics often look at five major design features and ignores the sub-texts of design
  • Graphic Design Components
    • Balance — controlling the negative space, creating visual interest
      • How are the elements arranged?
      • What effect does this have on the composition as a whole?
    • Unity — creating harmony with a color, shape, or typeface
      • What are the elements that create unity in this piece?
    • Gestalt — the combination of elements create an idea or message that isn’t explicit, but is an underlying argument in the design
      • What is the opinion underlying the design
    • Hierarchy — dominant element in the design of various levels of interest
      • How to create interest
  • Branding and Identity
    • Multiple experience with the product
    • Created through advertising, design, and media
    • A symbolic embodiment of the product
    • Creates associations and expectations
    • Includes explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, etc
  • Focus on web comics
    • Try to create an embodied experience for the characters
    • Homestar Runner.com
    • Irreverent surreal humor
    • Strongbad’s identity
    • Types answers to visitors and is very sarcastic
  • Using these concepts in class
    • How do you visually convey your identity online (ethos)
    • Freshmen create a MySpace page
    • Upper level students create a digital portfolio to represent their work