WITS Lesson: Turn a Video Conference Grid into Superhero Comics
May 1, 2020
Talk about taking creative constraints and turning them into inspiration! At the end of April, WITS writer David Lasky shared this exciting lesson prompt during a WITS meeting. He guided SAL staff members and fellow Writers-in-Residence through the creation of list poems, as the team looked at everyone’s faces through Zoom, and contemplated what we treasured about each person—what their “superpower” was.
It was such a nice meditation: to form a list poem of “superhero” qualities, which, in a comics lesson, could also be illustrated. David showed us an example he’d prepared from a still frame from our most recent Local Voices reading, which you can watch on Facebook here.
David kindly gave us permission to share that prompt below, in case you want to try your own hand at it as a gift for friends and colleagues. For more example texts, David recommends taking a look at Julie Doucet’s drawings of her friends in her collection Long Time Relationship or Alex Gross’s superhero paintings.
By David Lasky, WITS Writer-in-Residence
For this prompt, we’re going to write a list poem, and then make it into a “List Comic” page of superheroes. Our visual starting point is the grid of faces you see during a Zoom conference—make sure your screen is in “Grid” mode. The first thing we want to do is take a picture of our screens; there should be a “print screen” button on your keyboards, or you can take a screenshot of your desktop image. Paste the screen grab into Word, Paint, or similar document where you will be able to look at it as you write.
Being in social isolation, our feelings about people have gone through changes. We miss our friends, miss shaking hands and hugging. We have time to stop and think how grateful we are for friends, family, and all the different people in our lives. We’re going to reach into these feelings and pull out little thoughts about people we know, or maybe barely know. And we will use our imaginations, too! Let’s take a few seconds and look at each other’s faces on the grid of your video conference screen. Think about the things you value about these people.
Then, one by one, you’ll write a short line about each person you see. My suggestion for this exercise is to write down that person’s secret superpower. You will want to look at your screenshot while you write (and make sure you save a copy!). Don’t take too long; write quickly. You’re telegraphing a fact or insight about the person with just a few words—or, maybe just a single word. Maybe what you write is a statement you imagine the person would say as a superhero, written in quotation marks. Think along the lines of gratitude you feel, or something about this person that makes you smile. Imagine their secret superpower, hidden talent, or an unknown aspect of their life.
Next: come up with a title that unites most or all of what you’ve written (e.g. “The New Superpowers,” “Poets League of America,” etc.). Write your title at the top of the list. On your own, create a one- or two-page comic out of this poem. Re-draw the video conference grid from the screen-grab you saved. Don’t worry about capturing likenesses, unless that is important to your poem comic. Add superhero masks for fun, or to disguise the identities of the people if privacy is a concern. You may want to abandon the people in the screenshot completely and draw from your imagination, or riff on vintage photos, or create faces with cut-and-paste collage, for example. Add the words you wrote in a caption box, above or below their image. Or, if it is a statement, place it in a speech bubble, or a thought bubble.
David Lasky is the co-author of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel, Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, but he is better known to children as the guy who colored Cece Bell’s awesome graphic novel, El Deafo, a Newbery Honor Book. He teaches comics at numerous venues in the Seattle area, including Hugo House and Coyote Central.