A Sneak Peek At The Comic Book MOOC Get a Grasp
Get a Grasp! A Primer Course for Getting Your Comic Started, which starts March 23, is another example of a MOOC offered by an independent organization, in this case a nonprofit called Making Comics (dotcom) devoted to developing free teaching resources. Charlie Chung from from Class Central recently spoke with Patrick Yurick, CEO of Making Comics (dotCom) and one of the instructors of Get a Grasp, to get a preview, and he generously developed this article for MOOC News and Reviews. Below is a transcript of their conversation about the upcoming comic book MOOC. -Editor
What is your personal background and what is MakingComics (dotCom)?
I went to graphic design school and decided to become an art educator. For the last five years, I worked at High Tech High [in San Deigo, CA], and developed an after-school comic book project where kids in the 9-12th grade self-published comics. We went around the country presenting and selling at comic conventions. This really blew my mind, because I had kind of given up on making comic books at that point, but working with that group of kids made me want to do it. I also formed a studio in San Diego called Little Fish Comic Books Studio, which was an educational center for making comics with people of all ages.
I ended up leaving there and started Making Comics (dotCom), which creates all of its content for free, and we are in the process of registering as a nonprofit organization. I’ve been really inspired by the fact that art education can be up to par in a third-world country that has an internet connection, because of CK12, an offshoot of Wikipedia that provides high quality K-12 textbooks worldwide. At Making Comics (dotCom), we’re trying to improve education and the comic book industry by getting more people into making comics. I have a team of people that are working with me just to give away free stuff. The site is never going to have advertising on it, and we are never going to charge for content.
What inspired you while teaching kids how to make comics?
Just their passion toward learning. Also, working with kids is really cool because they don’t have a concept of what is and isn’t possible. It is so radically ridiculous what is possible and what is not possible. They will say something like “It’s impossible for me to get up before 7am!” But for them it’s not impossible to create a 40-page comic book — that’s easy. It was so amazing to be around that because every time I was telling them something, I also had to look within myself and ask, “Am I telling them something I know to be true or something I just believe to be true?” To stay ahead of where they were, I had to start living the advice that I was giving. And that was really energizing. I’ve done a lot of things in the last five years that I wouldn’t have done if I had not worked with a group of kids that were pushing me.
How have comics changed over the past 5-10 years?
When I was growing up, there was an industry that monopolized the way that a comic could be successful. With the internet, it is so much easier. Even though there were guys creating comics on the internet in 1995, it used to be harder because you had to figure out how to make a website, and you didn’t know how people were going to find your website . . . there were a lot of ifs. But now we have social media. I can make a website on Tumblr to dispense a comic in under 30 minutes. Because everybody’s having an equal playing field, we’re really having to look, for the first time in like 50 years, at what is quality and how does it rise to the top. And that’s really interesting to me, because success is no longer defined by who gets published and go through the big industry machine and are part of the distribution houses. Now it’s defined by a multitude of factors.
Patrick Yurick on the role of comics in society
“We also have an entire history of Western civilization that has kept us from believing that we all are artists. It is of my belief that all human beings are artists, and we have a basic right to be taught how to be better artists.”
Why did you decide to start a comic book MOOC?
I just finished working on a MOOC two weeks ago called the New School Creation MOOC. It was a course designated for people who were creating their own schools. I spent a year on it, and it was really exciting. I was halfway through the MOOC and I thought: “I have to make a MOOC for myself!”
By the way, I think the initial craze of the MOOC space race was a little bit silly, honestly. I really think a lot of the designers were disappointed that there was this huge fad of joining a MOOC, and then the drop-out rates were insane. What I’ve been talking about with the Google Education team is how important these smaller MOOCs are for generating real results. Google created CourseBuilder for people like me — who have really good ideas for courses, and now we can teach them.
I consider this to be Web 3.0. In Web 1.0 we had just communication, and in Web 2.0 we had organization, but now we’re talking about learning. And there was no way to assess learning on the internet before this kind of responsive web platform came along. I think we’re still at the tip of the iceberg on it. The last three years of MOOCs are like classrooms. But we’re showing some people MOOCs are a platform that can create highly collaborative meaningful learning communities.
What is the goal of the MOOC and how will it be structured?
Get a Grasp MOOC is a primer course for getting your comic started. The premise behind the course is to cover the checklist of items you need to do before starting work: you need to create a schedule, map out your characters, write your outline, have an elevator pitch. You are not actually creating comics for this Get a Grasp MOOC, it is around organizing ideas.
The course is four weeks, and there will be some exciting assignments each week. Week 1 is writing an outline or pitch. There are two different audiences: first are people who want to work for one of the big two, Marvel or DC. We’re covering them with formal pitch writing. For the independent creator, we’re calling it an outline. Students will need to fit an elevator pitch into a Twitter tweet.
Week 2 is going to be world building, either using Google sketchup or Google maps, where you are drawing a map of the world your characters are going to be inhabiting. Also they will be grabbing imagery and making a Pinterest board of reference images. The students will share this with others in G+ community as the course is progressing.
Week 3 is going to be looking at how to schedule work and how to set goals that are reasonable, and to map out the entire project.
Then in Week 4, they are presenting it, using Google presentation software and YouTube. Each week we’ll have experts from the field come in from the field via Google Hangouts on Air. We also have a partnership with a blog called 13th Dimension that will pick exemplary student work and talk about it each week.
Also, I am a certified art educator, and all of the course content will be in line with the national standards for visual art education, for grades 8-12. If a high school student wanted to get credit, their art teacher can reach out to me, and we could probably make an arrangement for them to get course completion credit for doing the MOOC.
How much time and expense did it take to create a MOOC?
To develop the New School Creation MOOC, it took a year, and required twice as much of my time as I estimated. Inversely, I was able to create this Get a Grasp MOOC in under a week. From the concept, to the syllabus, to throwing the website up on the Google CourseBuilder platform. Everything we use has been free. We are a nonprofit, we have no donors yet, and no grants yet, so we have to operate on a little-to-nothing budget until we can attract some investors. I have had to pay maybe $30 for the amount of traffic on the CourseBuilder site. If, hypothetically, we were to get 100,000-200,000 people sign up, it would cost more for the site and for using our MailChimp email system.
But artists are used to getting the short end of the stick. I know hundreds of people who do art like I do — and educators also — who don’t get paid much. So we can’t think, “Well it’s not possible to do this.” You just can’t give up.
If you are able to continue making MOOCs, what will be next for Making Comics (dotCom)?
I want to cover everything it takes to make a comic. Get a Grasp is only the tip of the iceberg. I think the next steps would be: script writing & thumbnailing, penciling, inking, composition, page layout & design, packaging & printing and economics. This would be a series of MOOCs.
Christina Blanch, who is offering the Super MOOC that explores social issues through comics, and I are good friends, and we are thinking about teaming up to do a Kickstarter to fund these MOOCs. We need more capital to pay somebody to do some of this work for us, or to allow us to take time away from other paying work to do this.
I think that the new generation of comic creators is going to need something like Making Comics (dotCom) that isn’t about selling books, but about maintaining a certain standard of quality that people can trust. That’s what we’re hoping for with our nonprofit.