Cody Pickrodt – Comics in the classroom

This is one in a series of posts supporting my article in the curriculum supplement to New Zealand Education Gazette, out on June 18th. Find more resources, interviews and features on comics in education via my site’s comicsedu tag.

Cody Pickrodt is an American indie comics creator and educator who runs comic book workshops for Brooklyn kids through the non-profit organisation Uproar Art.

Poster for Chicago Alternative Comics Expo
Cody Pickrodt will be attending CAKE – Chicago’s Alternative Comics Expo – this weekend.
Image by Laura Park.

Cody joined me for an interview on my site back in February 2011, and features in my upcoming piece for the Gazette.

Today, Cody shares some of his top tips for getting students to create their own cartoons, comics and graphic narratives.


Telling stories with pictures is a natural thing. Prehistoric wall paintings in the Chauvet caves of Southern France are narratives. As you enter the cave and work your way into the interior, the story comes alive. Have you ever put together IKEA furniture? The assembly instructions supplied are step-by-step, forming a narrative. Stories are elaborate lessons, and comics, through sequential images and words, function as blueprints.


Comics are about making connections. When teaching a class, I conduct a series of exercises aimed at challenging the student’s imagination. In ‘the comics jam’, participants are supplied with a sheet of paper consisting of the standard six page layout. The first person draws something in the first panel, then passes it along to the next who continues the narrative and passes along just the same, and so forth. Usually, a theme or punch line is suggested to tie the piece together. In the end, the comics jam forces the participant to problem solve and cultivate his or her imagination. And more importantly, it brings people and ideas together.


Most students of comics have their own concept of personal style when they begin. Usually, this involves emulation of another artist they admire. I advocate reading your favorite authors and artists in earnest. What’s more, research them, find out who inspired them, and read those fellows too.


Comics speak visually – however, when students are preparing to construct stories, I encourage them to draft a script. Writing scripts prior to drawing provides a framework for the story and serves as backup to the narrative as whole. Writing in this manner works a portion of the brain that deals with abstraction, bridging the divide between the portion which handles the figurative nature of drawing. Not all comic creators work in this fashion, but I believe it is helpful for the mastery of craft.


Cartoons at their simplest offer easily recognizable features that relay expression and emotion. Think of the ubiquitous smiley face or “emoticons” like 🙂

We understand these simple marks represent emotional states. From there, we may reason the evolution of drawings into hieroglyphs, and further onward to an alphabet.

The melding of words and images create a type of storytelling that resonates with the human race on a visceral level. It has proven to be the most effective form of conveying information. Think of print ads: they are usually an image accompanied by text. Or children’s picture books: image and text on each page, and each successive page a development of the story. When armed forces air-drop leaflets into a foreign country, the propaganda therein is rendered as easy to read images in sequential order: comics. Using pictures to tell a story is part of cultural consciousness. What is film and television but a series of quickly moving sequential images?


Mythology is man’s way of understanding the world. Marvel Comics’ Thor, the god of thunder, is taken directly from Norse mythology. Superman is a combination of Moses of the Old Testament and Hercules. Heroes are archetypes with backgrounds as colorful and diverse as any culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in comics. The archetypal protagonist is our key to understanding ourselves as well as the world around us.

To find out more about Cody Pickrodt and his work, visit the Uproar Art website.

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