Common Sense Review
Updated August 2012

Comic Life

Creative tool for visual storytelling through comics
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • The Comic Life design tool includes drag-and-drop functionality to add elements.
  • User can choose themed background templates and design options.
  • The third version of Comic Life includes a text tool that lets users write out their comic script before designing it.
  • Dozens of background options range from photo album and road trip-themed designs to blank templates.
  • Kids can add dialogue in customizable captions.
Pros
Comic Life can help kids practice art, design, and storytelling skills.
Cons
It's difficult for kids to get feedback; the site doesn't make it easy for kids to share.
Bottom Line
Comic Life can help kids express themselves; but to learn about design, effective writing, and storytelling, they'll need adult input.
Erin Brereton
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

The design tools are fairly easy to use and provide plenty of options -- students will enjoy creating a visual version of a narrative story. Unfortunately, it's hard to share comics and get feedback.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 2

Though it doesn't provide much in the way of instruction, Comic Life has tools to create an environment for meaningful, kid-directed learning. The website forums can offer some peer evaluation.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 2

A blog offers at least one tip a month on using the program in schools. Additional resources, such as lesson plans, would help teachers convey concepts like storytelling, self-expression, and design.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers can use the Comic Life Application to help kids develop skills in storytelling, writing, language use, reading skills, and self-expression. More often than in the past, language arts curriculums are including graphic novels (like Maus or Persepolis) as required reading. Teachers could encourage students to apply their knowledge of this visual storytelling genre in creating their own graphic stories.

Comic Life will help budding artists work on design, layout, and other visual storytelling techniques. Students will also learn presentation skills, and they'll become more aware of their audience as they write and create comic strips.

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What's It Like?

Comiclife.com is the companion website for the desktop comic design application, Comic Life. The Comic Life application provides students with a quick, simple way to turn a story into a comic, with customizable options and pre-designed templates. Students can use many types of images -- either stock art, pictures they've drawn (using other programs), or image files stored on a computer's hard drive, or even snapshots from a computer's web-cam.

Once imported, students can arrange images to create a storyboard of sorts; they can then color-correct each image and apply filters. At any step of the way students can add dialogue text and captions to each frame. The website has a forum where students can post questions; once comics are complete, kids can easily share them by exporting to Facebook, or iPhoto, as well as many other sites and applications.

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Is It Good For Learning?

The Comic Life application is a great way for students to create their own comics and graphic-novel style narratives. The application's manufacturer, Plasq, hosts message boards on the comiclife.com site where users to discuss ideas and issues, as well as share links to finished creations. But surprisingly, few of Comic Life's users share their creations here -- possibly because the site won't let you post anything without registering, and there's a strict parent permission policy for kids under 13. Teachers and parents might want to help teens set up their profiles to make sure all possible privacy controls are set -- the message boards are pretty clean, but users have the option of listing images, their IM names, URLs, and other personal info.

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to safely share their creations with each other within the Comic Life application. Kids can't get feedback on how to improve their comics unless they upload them to the external Plasq site and post a link on the forums page. Not many kids do this, which is a shame. In sharing work, the potential for genuine learning is great; Comic Life -- and its adjoining website -- would do well to provide easier ways for aspiring cartoonists to share and learn as a community.

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