Stories for the visual generation

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Comic Life de luxe edition

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Comic Life is remarkable software. It challenges, teaches, intrigues and motivates students. It won't intimidate teachers and it can be used in most subject areas. What more should you expect?

It enables you to take digital images and turn them into comic strips which you can then print or convert into web pages. Like much Apple software it is easy to use and produces polished results. The average student will assess it as cool and use it in a couple of minutes. The average teacher will be amazed at how intuitive it is and think of many uses.

Initially the program presents you with a blank page and two panels. The panel at the top contains comic strip layouts and the bottom panel shows what is in your photo library.

Creating a comic strip is simple: drag the layout you want to use on to the page and then drag the photos over the panels you want to use them in.

The next thing is to drag and drop the captions - speech or thought-bubbles - and type in the words and create the special effects. The exciting part is that by using filters you can make the images look as though you have drawn them. You can transform them into black and white, make them grainy or overlay with individual colours.

The real joy is that the program is useful right across the curriculum.

Experience in schools that have used it so far is that its motivation factor is very high. Children who are loath to write lose their reluctance when they start to construct their stories. Thinking visually for this generation is very important and this software encourages pupils to do so.

I have seen this used in primary and secondary schools. In history, Mussolini's rise and fall was skewered in a strip; in science, the sequence of growth was notated; in media work, the strips were used to prepare storyboards; in technology, astounding instruction booklets were created; in foreign languages, all the captions and the speech were in the target language.

Anyone who thinks that turning to comic strips will trivialise subjects only has to look at Art Spiegelman's Maus. In that comic strip the Holocaust is meditated on most movingly in a similar way to the techniques that Orwell used in Animal Farm.

Comic Life opens new avenues of creativity. You can arm children with a digital camera and this program and send them out to create a story. If you are a bit light on digital cameras you can ask them to find images on the internet. Instead of the labour of creating plasticine animations you can tell the story simply in frames and bubbles.

If there is any justice, this program will win lots of awards and children will get to use this rather than much of the dreary tosh that gets lauded each January and ends up in the store cupboard by Easter.

Last but not least, the bad news for many of you - Windows schools will not be able to use this software as it is Apple Mac OS X only.

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