Recently, I came to work with a 9th grade English class who had just read the young adult novels, Speak and Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Both are books about learning to express yourself when everyone around you has already decided who you are. I was asked to help/inspire them to create a short comic based on the reading. I didn't want the students drawing plot points or quoting from the stories, I wanted their comics to deal with a bigger picture. I had to find a common theme.

I settled on the INVISIBLE PRISON. A phrase swiped from the culture blog, HiLoBrow with full credit to Joshua Glenn for creating this striking motif. As I understand it, the Invisible Prison appears when a character is overwhelmed by social, cultural or financial restrictions. It seemed to fit both Speak and Part-Time Indian. I presented the idea to the class and, without a formal definition, the kids immediately found a point of reference. They found something they wanted to say.

The results were mixed. Some were caught in plot tangles that muddled their work. While others, despite a good idea, were drained from the drawing. Comics take stamina, you know? A few of them, already versed in illustrative art, did great work. In the comics that came out of the project I saw lonely moments and yelling teachers, mean words and hashtags, messy bedrooms and wrong answers. I saw teenagers being honest.

One day, I walked into a room of 9th graders holding a lunchbox full of non-photo blue pencils and Micron Pens. I asked a class full of busy high school kids to take time of out of their lives to draw me their Invisible Prisons and they were cool enough to do it.

AuthorIra Marcks