Dare You Enter…The House of Procrastination?

You can tell that there have been some boring meetings this week.

You can tell that there have been some boring meetings this week.

More importantly, though, is the discussion of my course content this week. You see, in a much less boring and more productive meeting, I established that I would be attempting a culminating project for the “Persepolis” unit that could only be described as ambitious. The idea is simple, but keeping it focused, on task, and moving forward in the necessary time frame is not unlike herding cats.

What’s the project? I’m glad you asked…the art related to it in a pretty tangential way.

You see…”Persepolis” was a basically autobiographical piece of work, despite being in sequential art form. It told the story of coming of age in war torn Iran, and the kinds of challenges, ordinary and extraordinary, that such a childhood entailed. My project is to divide the students into groups of four…a writer, penciller, inker, and letterer, and have them create their own semi autobiographical tales, of growing up in East Los Angeles. The goal is to put them together into an anthology, and have that printed as a Trade Paperback.

That’s what the art references…its a heavy handed call back to older anthology style horror comics like “Tales from the Crypt,” or DC Comics’ “House of Mystery.” Even the “Stockton Court” reference…that’s a location on our campus, where events take place. Not exactly the “House of Secrets,” but better than the “Upstairs Library.”

The problem with group work, always, is time management. It produces a more interesting project to have the cross pollination of ideas, but the price you pay for that richness of creativity is time crawling to a standstill. It’s not really the students’ fault…the impetus of any group given a task is to socialize, humans are social creatures. Still…with each class producing about 28 pages of material, for me to then digitize and process…there really aren’t any extensions. To meet the publication requirements, you have to actually make the deadline, kind of like the real world.

I’m two days out from my submission deadline at the time of this writing…which means I’ll have the entirety of today, and all of Friday, to hopefully watch the groups turn into an “assembly line” that turns pencils into inks, and then letters those effectively. It gives me real appreciation for the stresses that actual comic editors have, wondering if your artists will get things together in time.

It’s also hugely empowering, I hope. The idea that the students’ stories, their ideas and concerns, could actually see print, in a tangible, non-school format is pretty huge. When i was a student, the cartoons that I drew for the school newspaper on a monthly basis were that kind of empowerment….it went from my notepad to print, and was distributed to the whole school. I don’t know how much that matters to students today, or for that matter if they really grasp what we are trying to do. It’s one thing to hear “this will be a graphic novel, buy us, for us,” it’s quite another to have it sitting in front of you.

Today I need to explain inking to my classes, so I may very well ink the art from today as an example. As it is, I drew it with the project in mind, and am considering making it some sort of pre title page art, a bookplate, or some such. Having that, and the idea of anthologies in mind is why our hero is dressed in Cain’s gear from “House of Mystery” and “Sandman”…that, and seventies style clothes are fun to draw.

I’ll have a good idea by the end of today whether this project will be successful and excellent, or an example of what NOT to do to empower your students’ voices through writing and the exercise of free speech. Ideally, the “rally to completion” will start today…but the reality of student work is that it is most productive on the day that it is actually due.

Fingers crossed.

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