Graphic Fiction Display
On display on the main level of ODY are comics created by students in John Woods’ Graphic Fiction Workshop. Dr. Woods describes these comics as the culminating project for the class, a project to create a twelve page mini-comic that the students wrote, drew, and published. “I don’t insist on any particular tools. You can use photocopiers, scanners. I tell them go and photo copy.” “You have to publish and you have to print to understand the medium and understand how visual grammar works.” Visual grammar is a central concept to Dr. Woods’ course. It is the idea that we are communicating a grammar and vocabulary through drawing, through knowing what is understood and not understood, what is filled in and what is gaps. Visual grammar is a sense of what you draw and don’t draw, and understanding how the story telling in the gutters (the spaces between comic panels) works.
The students had free reign on the subject matter for the stories. (For those students who find that daunting Dr. Woods says, “Ask me for constraints, and I’ll give them to you.”) The subject matter in the comics ranged from characters dealing with depression, to a man befriending a space alien who needed to use a telephone. Likewise the range of media the students choose to work with was quite varied, from china markers to a student who composed her comic entirely on an Android phone. While one of the students came to the class with an interest in and experience with watercolor painting, none of the students had much experience drawing. “The best drafts-people are not necessarily the best cartoonists. It’s the people who are understanding what they are communicating who are the best cartoonists.”
On working with the class as an English class Dr. Woods reflected, “That’s what is so cool about this project, St. Lawrence let me teach this as a creative writing course, St. Lawrence understood that comics can be taught as a fourth or fifth literary genre. My fiction class and my comics class overlap quite a lot. I’ve got someone like Lynda Barry in mind. She’s broken down barriers by writing comics, by writing novels, memoirs, teaching… my instinct is to dismiss genre distinctions as limiting. When I hear the term ‘graphic novels,’ I want to say, “What’s wrong with ‘comics?’” Then I realize that graphic novel is shorthand to people that it’s something else, and I believe that I got a more diverse group of students by conceptualizing and calling the course graphic fiction.”