Writing and Foundation Team Up in Comics Collaboration

Departments at VFS are constantly looking for ways to spur collaborative experiences for students, in and out of the classroom.

Projects like the interdepartmental Comic Book Collaboration between the Writing for Film & Television and Foundation Visual Art & Design programs has been quite successful, both as an opportunity for students to broaden their skill sets and as a way to make important contacts that may be called upon after graduation.

This initiative was spearheaded by Writing instructor Kesley Kirvan who recognized the student demand in both programs to learn more about the process of creating comics.

As a self-described “comic book geek” who originally became a writer because of his love for the form, Kelsey helped develop a course that would allow the more visually-minded Foundation students to work together with the narrative-centric Writing students.

Goals of the Project

“What we wanted to do was integrate visual communication with written communication,” says Kelsey. “And that has a lot of benefits outside of just writing for comics. It teaches the Writing students how to, in a very concrete form, express visual ideas using words, and it teaches the Foundation students how to communicate ideas through visual information.”

“We’ve had some really good successes with it. My personal favourite part of it, as a Co-Editor with [Foundation instructor] Chad Costen, is when I see an anthology volume that is something that would make me stop in a comics store and pick it up and flip through it. And we’re getting stuff that is that cool.”

Chad admits that, compared to Kelsey, he wasn’t as well-versed in comics, but that he is a “die-hard Spider-Man fan” and has been drawing for as long as he can remember.

“I think our hope was that, through setting out to make an anthology collection in each term with very different and original stories,” says Chad, “the students would learn to develop their writing and drawing skills (respectively) and end up producing something that would really show off their combined talents.”

How it All Comes Together

The process begins separately in the two departments. By the second class, the Writing students are pitching their story concepts to Foundation students in a speed-dating atmosphere. Foundation students respond to the ideas that speak to their interests, and for the next two classes, the writer-artist teams work to develop each story.

Each team creates a 4-5 page teaser, or “cold open” (to borrow an expression from television), and all the teasers are compiled into an anthology volume with every other team. Each department is currently looking at ways to get these anthologies out into the public world.

While the Foundation artists are working to finalize the visuals, the writers go on to write a full 22-page comic script for their own portfolio. The finished product will be used as a jumping off point for each student to delve into the comic industry after graduation.

The Student Perspective

Now VFS graduates, Paola Ferrari (Writing) and Jamie Mathieson (Foundation/current Classical Animation student) teamed up to create a graphic throwback to the Jack the Ripper tale. but with a twist.

“Jackie originated from a very simple idea,” says Paola. “What if Jack the Ripper was a woman? ‘Jackie’ is the story of a prostitute who’s driven by insanity after a violent attack from her fellow sisters in arms. Her story is told from the point of view of Max, a Scotland Yard detective who falls in love with her, not knowing that she is the killer he is hunting.”

“Working with Jamie was amazing. He’s the most talented artist I’ve ever met. He had a very clear idea of how Jackie should look, how the city should look, how the panels should be laid out to create that film noir atmosphere we were going for. After he presented me with – no joke – over 16 fully lined and coloured sketches after our first meeting, well, drafting the script was a piece of cake!”

“I have been reading comics from a very early age,” says Jamie. “When I met Paola, she had her vision set right away, but didn’t know how to translate that from the written word to visuals. I am studying to become a storyboard artist, and I have drawn many comics in my own time, so we were able to connect very well.”

The resulting comic (partially represented throughout this story) is a gruesome mystery that both can be proud of, and just one of many developed through this initiative. We’re looking forward to see the next batch!

Many thanks to Kelsey, Chad, Paola, and Jamie for their thoughts. We hope to see everyone’s work in a comic book store soon!

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