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Honors class creates graphic chain novel for final project

 
 Kelly Kirk, left, Black Hills State University instructor of history, and Dr. Abigail Domagall, assistant professor of geology, read through a graphic novel created by a BHSU honors class.
 
A group of Black Hills State University honors students collaborated to create a final project where each student developed a chapter of a graphic novel titled "Blondie and the WereBear Slayer" - an adaptation of the well-known fairytale "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."
A group of Black Hills State University honors students collaborated to create a final project where each student developed a chapter of a graphic novel. Throughout the course, the students gained insight into the process of writing and illustrating a graphic novel and working through the publishing process as well as the need for a cohesive relationship between writer and artist.

The honor students, most of whom had very little knowledge of graphic novel, created a final project titled “Blondie and the WereBear Slayer” – an adaptation of the well-known fairytale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The students had only the previous student’s chapter to work from as they developed their portion.

Using the concept known as a narrative corpse was the idea of Gina Gibson, assistant professor of digital media, and Dr. Courtney Huse-Wika, assistant professor of English, who co-taught the honors course. The class created a narrative chain with each student crafting a chapter of the graphic novel using only a few paragraphs from the previous installment as a guide, Gibson said. The end project was a surprise to everyone, including Gibson and Huse-Wika.

The story was written in 10 days, one chapter a day. The rest of the semester was spent reading and analyzing graphic novels. “We spent the first half of the semester studying graphic novels for what they said and how they said it, both visually and through storytelling, and we pushed the students to understand why they connected with certain texts and their messages,” Huse-Wika said. “This gave them the tools they needed for the narrative corpse to help uncover their own perspective and how they wanted to share it with their readers.” She added that the course was a great lesson in critical thinking, writing and visual analysis.

The students, who first read the final version during a revealing earlier this spring, said they found the course to be challenging but fun.

“I hope to incorporate graphic novels in my future classroom,” said Myranda Mattke, an education major from Huron.

Carissa Hauck from Belle Fourche noted that she now has a deeper appreciation for what goes into creating a graphic novel.

For the honors class version, Gibson and Huse-Wika gave the students 45 minutes of collaborative time to determine the basic bones of the story such as main characters, themes and conflicts. During that time, the students decided to create a unique twist on the popular fairy tale and chose one distinguishing feature of each character so they would be identifiable in the graphic panels.

“This was essential because we knew each student would have his/her own graphic style, and no two panels would be similar,” Huse-Wika said.

The students were responsible for not only the writing of their particular chapter but also the visuals. Both professors said they were impressed with the final 10-page novel especially since the majority of the students have little background in graphic design.

“(The novel) turned out so well. I’m so proud of them,” Gibson said. “It was a very rigorous class. The students were reading a graphic novel a week at the beginning and did several analyses along the way.”

The professors even brought Jim Hardison, author of the graphic novel “The Helm,” to the BHSU campus for a presentation.  “He gave the students insight into the process of writing and illustrating a graphic novel and working through the publishing process,” Huse-Wika said. “Most helpful was his lecture about character creation, development and the keys to a successful story.”

His novel was also one that created the most debate among the class, both for its ending and its treatment of women, she said. “The ambiguous ending means that the novel can be read as a somewhat traditional superhero or about a psychotic murderer, and the students had a great time debating this over the semester.”

The students also had many discussions over the portrayal of women in the book. “During the question and answer section of his visit, Jim Hardison led students in a compelling discussion of both of these issues,” Huse-Wika said.

Both Gibson and Huse-Wika said they would be interested in co-teaching another graphic novel course noting that it is a great way to illustrate the cohesive relationship needed between writer and artist.

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