Using comics drawing approach with young people can help facilitators diversify the way they address certain topics or exercises. The use of drawings, visual dialogue and the creation of a sequence of actions can support youth to communicate more and connect with topics in a deeper way. Creating a story with visual elements allows young people to express themselves through a story without the need to be “good at drawing” or “good at writing”, since everyone can learn the basics and tell stories in a simple way. The method can be engaging for students that prefer different learning styles and like to use multiple senses at the same time.
There are several ways to incorporate comics drawing and narratives into different types of activities and around different topics. Here you can find an activity used as an introduction and “getting to know each other” exercise.
A small magazine will be built collaboratively between the group, with a funny profile drawing on the cover and a world of personal sharings on its pages. Participants will use their creativity and storytelling abilities to create and share little each others’ stories and personal characteristics. This exercise can be used as a first move on their “getting to know each other” adventure.
Target groups: People of all ages, backgrounds and skills, with or without drawing experience
Group size: Minimum – 2 people, maximum – 30 people. Ideal – between 15 to 20.
Time: For the ideal number of people, around 40 minutes.
- Prepare the instructions on how to fold the “zineBook” (little magazine). You can find an image or a video.
- You need one sheet of plain A4 paper per participant, preferably white, at least one marker per person and a few scissors.
Step by Step Instructions
- Gather the group in a sitting circle (around a table or not) and invite everyone to take a sheet of A4 paper and fold a [maga]Zine following the visual instructions and demonstration.
- When Zines are folded, inform everyone that we are going to, collectively, build our portraits on the cover page.
- Each person should have a marker and we can start.
- Ask everyone to write their name on the centre bottom of the cover, and leave some space for a portrait drawing on the top.
- Turn on some chill and happy playlist to set the mood and start with the instructions on how to build the portrait.
- Invite everyone to exchange the Zines with the person sitting on their right (anti-clockwise rotation). This rotation will happen at every round, for each detail of the portrait.
- After that, participants can start drawing the portrait of the person to whom the zine belongs:
- 1st round: the shape of the face
- 2nd round: eyes
- 3rd round: lips
- 4th round: nose
- 5th round: hair
Note: You can add as many rounds as you want. The last one can be “everything else that you think is missing”.
- When the portraits are done, everyone gets their ZineBooks back with a nice co-drawn portrait on the cover. This warms up and breaks the ice in the group.
- After that, the participants are invited to make two circles of people (inner and outer circle) and sit face to face with someone in the circle.
- Now each pair will have the chance to get to know each other and have a guided 1:1 conversation.
- Starting each 1:1 conversation round, participants exchange Zines with the person sitting in front of them and the facilitator informs what is the topic of the first talk.
- Each round can last between 2 to 5 minutes.
- After each round, each pair should draw a summary of what the other person was telling them.
- At the end of each round, they get their Zines back and give them to the next conversation partner. Every time a topic is finished, the inner or outer circle moves one space left or right (facilitator decides) so that new pairs are formed for another 2 to 5 minutes of conversation.
- Repeat the rounds up to 6 times, since you have 6 pages on each Zine.
- The questions for the conversations may be about: likes, dislikes, friends and family, pets, hobbies, cultures, experiences, volunteering, if you could choose a superpower what would it be, personal strengths and weaknesses, dream adventure, learning goals and expectations, contributions for the group, emotions, etc.
- Following the 1:1 moments, after the zine is completed, you can call the group to a bigger circle and invite them to share some curiosities about each other.
- After the activity, the Zines may be shared in a common space, so everyone can get to know their colleagues better after the activity.
We suggest to follow up this activity with teambuilding exercises.
Reflection & evaluation
Even though this is a small intro activity, it makes sense to do a small reflection after. It can be, for example, focused on communication: What was easy, what was difficult for you? Was there something that was hard to communicate? Why? Can you name 1 small thing that you realized and can use in your personal or professional life?
Tips on how to adapt the method for the diverse target group
You can adapt the questions to different types of groups and guide them in different directions according to the general goal of the project (bigger picture).
Also, take into consideration if someone needs any adaptations to use markers or to sit comfortably at the table.
You can adapt the level of the music or choose not to have it in your activity depending on the sound sensitivity levels of the group or any person in particular.
Tips on why and how drawing or including comics in other non-formal education activities
Comics are a type of art where a story is portrait through visual storytelling and where graphic elements and illustrations can be combined with words, guiding you from the beginning to the end. They have a specific language and all their elements make it a rich format to introduce in non-formal learning settings, because one can explore the format, the drawings, the colours, the words and the speech indication according to the topic or objective of the session. In addition, comics are usually entertaining and fun, may be used to summarize a topic or initiate a discussion, or even as a structured way for participants to present the stories they want to tell. It is extremely versatile and can be introduced in almost every topic, with the added value that in the absence of words, the same story can be “read” by people that don’t speak the same language.
For the online version, I recommend you replace the “room” with an online meeting room where there is a possibility of “breakout rooms” (e.g. Zoom).
In addition, it is important to replace the “paper sheet” with an online board, where you can create the canvas for each student profile. The activity can go from a “magaZine” to an “online social media profile” where you have drawings to tell more about each participant. I recommend using “Miro” board and preparing the canvas beforehand. Also, instructions should be prepared in advance according to the adaptations.
Other examples, how to use comics in youth work
- We can use comics to support discussions and help participants to develop critical thinking about a particular issue or situation. For example, if you are tackling any issues related to environmental sustainability, you can introduce the topics using a comic (instead of a presentation, a movie or a text). It has a simple language (visual or written), and different types of learners’ can adapt to it and interpret the message in their preferred ways. During the discussion you can add to the topic of the comic and suggest a reflection about the storyline, the colours used, the sequence, etc. In addition, participants can add to the story and create new pages, adding their suggestions on how to be more sustainable on their daily lives.
- Another use for the comics method is the proposal to create them ourselves! And the beauty of it is that the creation of comics doesn’t require anyone to be “good at drawing”, because the focus point is to create a story and have it shared. For example, if you are talking about leadership skills and want to introduce leaders from around the world, you can invite them to do some research and create a comic page about the one that inspired them the most. When creating the comic, they will have to make choices, create a story line and learn how to “sell” their story to a specific audience.
Tips for facilitator/ leader
When choosing the questions for the 1:1 discussions, find a balance between straightforward questions (like “what is your favourite animal?”) and elaborate questions. I recommend a crescendo on complexity and level of dept for questions.
In addition, you can also personalize the type of question to the topic of your training/activity (bigger picture), and already sparkle some interesting conversations.
Additional resources/ further information
This activity is an adaptation from an applied activity at the Erasmus+ project ComEdu, 2021.
You can find more information about the use of Comics for Education here.
This article was written by Beatriz Branco, Team MAIS, for the EduLabs project, 2023. Revised by Anita Silva (Team Mais), team ANEV.