Comic Book Dice: A Sequential Storytelling Game

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 in Parkes, New South Wales, 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:

In the simplest form of Panel Lottery, I get people to draw an image featuring one, two, or all three of these characters on a sheet of paper. The characters can be anywhere, doing anything, with any prop; they can have speech bubbles or thought bubbles like a comic strip. I encourage people to fill the page, and I give them just 75 seconds to draw the image. When that time is up, I put them in small groups of five or so, and give those groups three minutes to assemble a story from their individual images. They then tell their story to the other participants.

In the “Comic Book Dice” version, players draw six different scenarios featuring the characters on each face of their cube. (It’s effectively a single frame from a comic book). 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 arranged to tell a story. The team then presents their story 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, columns, 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 posts “Immersive Play in the 21st Century”, “Stepping Into The Story”, and “Always Blow On The Pea“.

There are more great comic creation activities in Louie Stowell’s Write and Draw Your Own Comics, on which I was a consultant. And Louie’s book goes great in tandem with Neill Cameron’s How To Make Awesome Comics, available now.

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