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Youth Subcultures and Comics

Mary Sauvé developed this project to help her grade 9 students examine how word and image work together to construct meaning. The students learned to experiment with the affordances of each mode - what word can do that image cannot and vice versa - when constructing a narrative. The final comic production about youth subcultures allowed students to build intertextual knowledge by integrating research information about their subculture, knowledge of story structures and features, as well as the affordances of word and image into the production of their graphic narratives.



Since the students are going to be producing their own comics it is important that they have time to discover how comics and graphic novels communicate. During this time, the students:

  • read and talk about graphic novels 
  • examine aspects of visual language
  • read assigned chapters from Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics, or other resource material,  using a jigsaw strategy
  • make a synthesis of the key points in the assigned chapter 
  • are responsible for teaching these key points to their classmates

During group presentations of the important material in their chapter, the students create a comic illustrating what they have learned. For example, in chapter one we discover that a comic is sequential art so the first two panels have to demonstrate this understanding. Students continue to add at least one panel to their comic after each presentation. Their completed comic will include all of the key elements and aspects of visual language used in comics.

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with a graphic record of the visual elements used in comics. It will act as a reference document as they take what they have discovered during the immersion into text and apply it to their own comic.


During this phase of the project the students are expected to use what they had learned about elements of comic language from their earlier exploration as a reference. The students:

  • discuss the question "What is a subculture ?"
  • decide on the youth subculture they want to read about and study and do some preliminary research on the one they have chosen
  • read a novel from an approved list for background on the subculture of their choice 
  • refer back to the novel they are reading and their research to think about themes that could be illustrated in the comic, e.g. in Bohemian subculture, themes might include individual expression, freedom to live on one’s own terms and belonging to an artistic community
  • create individual mind maps representing their subculture and hand it in with a written reflection for approval before they begin to plan and draft their comic.
Mind map and reflection of Hippie subculture. 


  • begin to plan their comic by focusing on a theme from the subculture, a style associated with the subculture, and/or on developing characters who belong to the particular subculture.
  • Use their graphic of visual comic elements to make a rough drawing or storyboard of their comic that will show what the comic will look like, what panels they will draw, the way they will apply the codes and conventions etc. 


During the production of the comic the students can draw, or use a computer program such as Comic Life, to design and their own comic. Their storyboards are used to guide their production.

At this stage of the process students will continue to give and receive feedback on their comics. They decide on necessary revisions to make their comic clearer or more expressive or more detailed.


Students make final editing decisions to their draft based on feedback from peers and teacher.

Students add colour to their comics only after all revisions and edits to the content had been made.

A great teacher tip : Make two copies of the finished draft before the colour is added in case of any mistakes during the colouring.

A World of Darkness : Hippie Subculture


The production of a comic was one aspect of a larger unit of study about Youth SubCultures in Mary Sauvé’s class. You can find more information about the full project, as well as a list of novels and graphic novels used in the study and resources for evaluation.


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The grade 8 students in Andrew Adam's class used Comic Life and digital cameras to create their own info-comic on an issue of their choice. (...)