I was privileged to attend a three-hour graphic novel course last Tuesday night led by award-winning author David Robertson. I had read quite a number of his graphic novels before taking the course but after attending the workshop I wanted to read them all again because I learned so much about how to READ PICTURES. Each illustration is important and David carefully considers how each will look. Before a collaborative artist begins to create a page in a graphic novel of David’s, they read the lengthy and detailed notes David has written about each scene on the page. There may not be a single word of text on the page but David makes sure the pictures tell the whole story. When David is writing a book based on real historical events or people he does exhaustive research to make sure each scene in the graphic novel looks historically accurate.
I was a high school English teacher for many years and taught my students to look for foreshadowing, symbolism, theme, point of view, metaphor and all kinds of other literary devices in novels. I discovered David uses all these literary techniques too but they are primarily in the illustrations. David gave examples from his 7 Generations series of books to show those of us attending his workshop how he carefully structures his graphic novels.
I learned that sometimes he places images beside one another to compare and contrast them. For example, on one page he has two full-length panels side by side. One is of a husband and one is of his wife. The two have separated and are pursuing completely different life paths. Because of the way the illustrations are juxtapositioned it is easy to compare and contrast the divergent choices the two have made.
There is an amulet/necklace that appears again and again in the 7 Generations series. It serves as a symbol of strength.
David carefully considers how you will view each scene in a graphic novel. Will you see it from above or below? From the front, from the back? From far away or close up? The point of view is important.
Images can also serve as metaphors. In one scene a young man holds a photo of his father in a frame with broken glass because his relationship with his Dad is broken.
I could go on and on. I learned SO MUCH about graphic novels from David.
Enough to know that it would be tough to write a graphic novel. It is every bit as complicated and detailed an endeavor as writing a more traditional novel.
Enough to know that David Robertson is a very talented writer indeed.
Enough to know that we can’t just teach students how to read the written word critically, we need to teach them how to ‘read’ visual images critically as well.
Enough to know that I would encourage you to read David Robertson’s graphic novels too.