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Visual Storytelling with Graphic Novels

Over the weekend I learned a LOT about graphic novels.  I mean, a LOT.  I didn’t know how popular they were, or how powerful they could be.  By the end of the day on Sunday, my head was spinning from all of the possibilities this genre has to offer, and a list of about 20 comics/graphic novels I need to get my hands on.

Graphic novels can be a powerful way to tell stories and educate people in a way that’s entertaining and accessible. All sorts of people can get into this genre, and they can be encountered in a variety of settings. There are whole graphic novel sections in popular book stores, and teachers are incorporating them more and more into their classroom practice.  The visual storytelling aspect has a ton of potential to draw people in and deliver information in a way that words can’t.  

My “teachers” this weekend were a group of young people and two published graphic novel writers. We got together to co-create some story concepts for a graphic novel series about mental health for a project we’ve been developing with a group called Crazy About Mental Health. The writers we’re working with, Sean Donaghey and Christopher Sweeney, feel passionate about creating stories about youth and mental health, and recognized that to get the right source material, they needed to engage with young people.

Over the course of the weekend, the youth bravely shared stories of their own struggles, discussed the various strengths and limitations of graphic novels, mapped out story and character concepts using journals, group brainstorming and dramatic play. They talked about what pieces of mental health information are important to tackle, and the ethics around how to do that in a way that is helpful and that strikes the correct tone. It was quite the weekend, and I could not believe how the stars aligned to get THIS particular group in the room to talk about THIS particular subject. It was magic. 

We’re in “Phase Two” of this project now - Chris and Sean left the Design Studio laden with torn-out journal pages and pictures and chart paper with story designs and sticky notes with ideas. This is the hard part. How on earth will they take this wealth of source material and start with just one story? I’m so glad I’m not the one that has to do that part.  

I’ll just be over here, reading some comics.