Making Curriculum Pop

Comic Book Dice: Sequential Storytelling Activity

Comic Book Dice is a playful 3D adaptation of Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's 'Panel Lottery', a comic creation activity for all ages.

I first trialled this activity at a youth event for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila, Philippines, and subsequently ran it with high schoolers at Parkes Shire Library in Australia, hosts of the Central West Comics Fest.

You'll need cardboard cubes, drawing materials, and a picture featuring three character models. Abel and Madden use these figures:

Players draw a different scenario featuring one, two, or all three of these characters on each face of their cube. The characters can be anywhere, doing anything. Players can use speech balloons or thought bubbles.

Once the dice have been made, players get into teams of five and roll their cubes. The panels which land face-up have to be put in order to tell a story which the team then presents to the whole group. 

Teams can then be challenged to re-roll some or all of their dice; to swap dice with other teams; or even to write up the randomly generated sequence as a conventional comic strip. The game is simple enough for very young children to play, but Manila teens also used it to explore more serious consequences to actions, like injury or imprisonment:

The cubes also add the possibility of three-dimensional presentations. After playing the five-person version we had suggested, the players in Manila began presenting their cubes in different ways, such as stacking them into walls, cubes, and pyramids.

The game is simple and focuses on the sequential nature of comics. It's collaborative, with an opportunity for students to develop negotiation skills. Teams could even present alternate stories from the same dice roll.

Abel and Madden's model characters are unintimidating to draw, and the stories are presented verbally, so it's great for reluctant writers or artists. (We found that shy speakers were also reassured by the collaborative nature of the presentation, and that teams were keen to show off their work!). Australian kids who had surplus cubes drew their own complete six-part stories on the spares, which are now on show in their high school library.

Abel and Madden's 'Panel Lottery', itself inspired by Scott McCloud's game '5-Card Nancy', is available from the Drawing Words and Writing Pictures website.

For more on play-based and unpredictable learning activities, see my site The Signal in Transition.

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