Free Online Comic Book Creators – Why And Which Ones? by Adam Rivett
Mr Crawley would bore us to tears with his knowledge of how they make baked beans during Geography lessons. Ms Hitchkins was somewhat of a “free-spirit” and most days involved some form of interpretive dance, art, music or more candles than health and safety now allows. The flamboyant Mrs Simpson made us poor Year 1s sing the flipping register every day giving her an opportunity to recapture the operatic career she missed out on!
Like it or not, these oddly passionate teachers have had an effect on me. I remember them and their lessons.
So, what personal passion do I inflict upon my pupils? Easy, but hopefully my “infliction” (or my affliction, as my wife has actually called it) has a real use the in classroom.
On this site there are several of us who are passionate about comics. Whether you think this is geeky, out of your comfort zone or a world full of tight spandex and delusional childhood fantasies of heroism, it doesn’t matter. Use comics and cartoon strips with kids and they get engaged and think you’re cool! They’re exposed to this medium more than you think: countless cartoons, magazines, websites and anything with a speech bubble. If some of the bestselling comic books are adaptations of Shakespeare and Conan Doyle, it’s got to be worth a look, right?
Below are a few of the free online comic creators that I’ve found and used. As well as the engagement factor, each can be used to support the teaching and learning of:
- Rules of speech
- Sentence types
Other suggestions include using these creators to explore:
- Description of setting
- Story structure (anyone tried an 8-Box story in comics form?)
- Pace (the more pictures and detail on a comic book page the slower the story)
- Impact on reader with suspense
- Stories within stories
- Paragraphing (with changes of setting and time signalled by new chapters or pages of a comic book)
- Any visual literacy technique you’ve ever used
Marvel – Super Hero Squad – Create Your Own Comic
The engagement factor here, particular for Primary, is incomparable as you have access to a lot of the characters seen in countless comics, magazines, films and, particularly the Super Hero Squad Show television show. Everyone has heard of one at least Marvel character, and here you can manipulate the best of them. It is very easy to use, has dozens of options and looks great. On a more literary front, you could highlight the way different characters speak through font, speech bubble and size and the backgrounds are detailed enough to spark a useful discussion around describing setting through senses.
- Incredibly easy to use
- Short comic strip or 22-page comic book option
- Multiple options for page layouts
- Around 150 backgrounds that you can manipulate
- Around 50 characters in different poses that you can manipulate
- Objects to add to panels
- 18 different speech and thought bubbles to manipulate
- 48 onomatopoeic sound effects to also manipulate
- Several different fonts
- Easy options to download as PDFs and Print
Myths And Legends Story Creator 2
Use this if you’re teaching myths and legends and need character ideas, settings and a real sense for the genre. There are far more versatile backgrounds, characters and objects here, but (a slight warning) the creator itself is less straightforward to use than Marvel with less on-screen instructions. It does include a tool for narrative boxes though, in which pupils could easily add their descriptions of settings, characters and actions as well as speech. The option to upload the pupils’ own artwork to type over is one of my favourite features and could increase ownership and engagement massively.
- Traditional story board layout (picture at top, writing at the bottom)
- 6 chapters with up to images per chapter
- 150 clipart backgrounds
- Literally hundreds of characters to use
- Hundreds of objects (including buildings and moving images)
- 16 speech and narrative boxes to choose from
- You can upload your own picture as a background
- Save and load comics online by signing up to website
- Easy print and download options
This is a designated KS3 resource. So say the people at the National Schools Partnership but I’d argue that the limited number layouts, characters and backgrounds would turn off KS3 pupils straightaway. They might like the stylistic qualities of the site but it is so small you are much better off using the one I suggest below.
- Straightforward to use
- 4 layout options
- 6 backgrounds, 4 characters in about a dozen different poses and some objects
- Characters are superhero based but less cartoony and more angular than Marvel’s
- Speech and thought bubbles
- Caption/narrative boxes
- An option to play different styles of music (Hip Hop, Heavy Metal and something called Hard House) whilst you work. Delightfully distracting!
- Easy print, save and load options if you register
It is worth noting straightaway that you have to sign up and pay to use the full tools on Pixton. A free “Fun” account allows you access to all the useful tools but it is one per email address. You can get a 30-day free trial for a school though, which gives you an online activation code. It’s worth it once you’ve done it, but have a play first. A down side for Pixton is that the page layouts aren’t great but the ability to move and manipulate characters massively makes up for this. I got a cowboy, wearing a skew-whiff tie, to wink and tilt his head at me! First time that’s happened for sure! This poseable element is stunning, allowing for all manner of different character interaction and expression. I’d fully exploit this tool for character work, dialogue, back story and emotion. Here, you’ve got a comic creator that could be tweaked to tell any modern day story.
- 8 options for layout
- 150 characters (including animals)
- Poseable characters! This is huge as you can convey action and emotion much better.
- Speech bubbles to manipulate
- Categorised props, lots of them
- Around 60 backgrounds you can zoom in on
- How To videos for independent learning
- You can post your completed comics on the site for everyone to see
- Online competitions may encourage further use of the creator at home
Each of these is easy to use and probably easier for the pupils. For Primary I’d always use Marvel for its familiarity and accessibility. Out of the options here, Secondary pupils should use Pixton.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a starting point to get you using these tools to enhance teaching and learning. So try it and see if, years from now, you’re up there with Mr Crawley, Miss Hitchkin and Mrs Simpson in terms of memorable teachers.
Thanks Adam. Very useful. I shall trial Marvel, for sure, with children.
Fantastic resources. We’re already using a comic program in school but I love the Marvel one. Will definately give it a go with my class. Thanks!
I really enjoyed this review. I myself have used the Marvel comic tool with year 6 pupils and the motivation and engagement was like a torrent of a hurricane spinning towards me (and that was just the girls!) I will definitely try the others! Thanks for the info Adam.