Common Sense Review
Updated September 2013

Comic Master

Limited options hinder learning potential in amusing comic creator
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Common Sense Rating 2
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 2
Pros
The site encourages kids to be creative and use verbal, written, and visual presentation skills to create a narrative.
Cons
Kids may get bored quickly with repetitive options; students can't personalize many elements or easily share their work with teachers or friends.
Bottom Line
While it can help reinforce storytelling, language, and other skills, the site's limited options weaken its appeal and learning potential.
Erin Brereton
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 2
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

Kids can create a cool narrative comic, and the intuitive drag-and-drop tool is easy to use. Energetic explanations pop up as your cursor rolls over design options; sounds play as you add elements.

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

Storytelling, creativity, and other skills are fun to practice. Kids also can design layouts and manipulate images. The tool itself doesn't provide direct lessons, so feedback is up to teachers.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Additional educator resources include lesson plans that can help teachers structure tool use to emphasize key concepts. The site also provides links to supplementary graphic-novel-use websites.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

A link to a site created by the London-based National Schools Partnership educational resource organization contains more educator tools. You can access a graphic novel guide, plus blogging, music, sports, film, and other resources.

There's a PDF with background on using graphic novels in the classroom to employ words, images, and sounds to transform existing text into a more dynamic, expressive presentation format. You can also access detailed lesson plans that encourage discussion, planning, and creating a graphic novel script, and accurately conveying information. Teachers are also referred to www.teachingcomics.org, sponsored by the two-year Center for Cartoon Studies program, for an archive of original cartoon art, industry news, and additional graphic novel use ideas.

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What's It Like?

Comic Master is a website that provides kids the tools to design a graphic novel. Kids can't customize their comics with uploaded photos or other personalized elements, but they can drag and drop pre-determined options onto a page, then select backgrounds for each panel. Choose from several superhero characters in a variety of poses, insert about a dozen props, and add dialogue bubbles and captions. When finished, kids can either save their work and edit it later, or print it out to share. 

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Is It Good For Learning?

You can use Comic Master to emphasize several key skills, including language use, writing, storytelling, self-expression and reading. Kids'll get experience using techniques to engage an audience, present information, and tailor language to reflect meaning. However, the site has a few drawbacks. Comic Master and its accompanying educator resources were made for U.K. students, so U.S.-based teachers may initially be unsure whether the lesson plans could relate to their curriculum.

Also, the tool unfortunately doesn't offer endless design options; kids may not find enough elements to want to use it more than once or twice. They can alter image size and placement, but they can't upload their own photos. In addition, some of the special effects -- action words that make a sound when added to a panel -- lose much of their luster when the page is printed out. Additionally, printing individual pages seems to be the best way to share a graphic novel with family or friends; there's no way to share online; which is surprising. Plus, users can't really flip through the entire graphic novel they've created to get the full narrative.

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See how teachers are using Comic Master