Friday, July 3, 2009

Outcomes assessement #1

Last week I attended the Graphic Novel Intensive class at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon. Perhaps because I am currently working on the program review committee at my own college, I thought I would explore the class through what we would call the "key assessments" -- the primary assignments that illustrate the focus of the instruction. (During the trip home, I posted a more impressionistic response, which can be found under Four-Color Ma in the sidebar.)

Here's the class webpage, here's the syllabus and here's one bit of background: the class met from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm each day, with a working lunch at noon and a presentation from a guest professional at 4:15. Ellen Forney, Seattle cartoon diva and part-time instructor at the Cornish College of the Arts, taught the morning sessions from Monday through Thursday, and Dan Duford, Portland artist and PNCA staff instructor, taught the afternoon sessions and facilitated the all-day workshops on Friday and Saturday.

Frankly, most of the students felt that we were taking two separate classes; the class activities and learning sequence didn't demonstrate a lot of coordination between the two instructors or their respective content. Each section was useful and valuable, but I think there were some futile attempts to reconcile the mornings and afternoons before we all gave in and just accepted each on its own terms. Whether this disconnect was a bug or a feature is unknown.

I'll post an analysis of one major assignment each Friday.

Dan's first exercise in narrative structure: (In-class, day one.) After some class discussion on the narrative potential of sequential images and how comics present shifts in voice and time, the class was given this task: on five separate small cards or slips of paper, illustrate five significant moments from your life. We had 20 minutes. I eventually chose bungee-jumping, filming an episode of my TV show, visiting Stonehenge, bicycling in The Netherlands, and getting shot at chasing a shoplifter, and made my little stand-alone panels.

Then we were told to write down on a slip of paper five important moments from history, to exchange slips with someone else, and to similarly illustrate the new moments. We had another 20 minutes. The list I got from my classmate read: JFK assassinated, Antoinette beheaded, Archduke shot, Sputnik launched, and Indo-Pak partition. These images were in some ways more of a challenge, but in other ways easier to express:

Once we had ten panels, as it were, we put them together as we chose - randomly, chronologically, arbitrarily, whatever - and posted them on the wall to make a single ten-panel strip. I put each set in chronological order and then alternated them, and it looked like this:

We then looked to see what narratives arose from the juxtapositions of the diverse images - did the thread of a story manifest in the sequence of images? In the case of my images, the comments from the students crowded around eventually coalesced into a reading of some kind of spy story, a globe-trotting assassin telling all in a memoir.

The point of the exercise was to experiment with ways that narrative is delivered by sequential art. The results seemed to be less about developing techniques to apply to storytelling and more about coming to better understand how an audience responds to a sequence like this - what kind of order we try to impose on the images to have it make sense. A sensitivity to this is, of course, useful to any cartoonist, so while the activity was not directly about methods, the ideas that arose certainly inform them.

Secondarily, the activity became about how fast an illustration "reads" - that is, how quickly it communicates its content. In the case of my panels, for example, the "road trip on bike through Holland" read instantly, as did "Sputnik being launched." While this was not the primary focus of the exercise, our review of each other's work was instructive regarding use of common and effective symbols, such as employing car fenders and a high hat to set the early 20th century time frame of the Sarajevo panel.

This is the first in a series of analyses of exercises and activities from the Graphic Novel Intensive class at PNCA.

Number 2 is here.
Number 3 is here.
Number 4 is here.
Number 5 is here.
Number 6 is here.
Number 7 is here.

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