Graphic novelist teaches young writers to think visually

By Bethany Knipp

Pens in their hands, 14 area teenagers have been learning how to tell stories in a workshop this week, exploring the possibilities as future writers. 

The students are gathered at the K-State’s Beach Museum of Art for the week-long Young Writers’ Workshop, where they learn about the craft, even from professional writers.

“It takes it from the abstract about thinking about writing to a very concrete thing of, ‘This is what a writer does, this is one of the many range of things you can do as a writer,’ which is exciting when you’re a young person,” said Katy Karlin, the workshop’s director and associate professor of English at Kansas State University.

Karlin said the students have learned how to write poetry, plots and interesting characters. Their eight-hour days are filled with writing activities, sharing their work and asking themselves questions about their stories.

On Wednesday, the group of students going into grades 8 through 10 learned how to write visually from graphic novelist Ande Parks of Baldwin City.

In addition to writing his own graphic novels, “Capote in Kansas,” “Union Station” and soon-to-be released “Ciudad,” Parks has drawn art for The Green Hornet comic series under the direction of actor and writer Kevin Smith and worked on various projects for almost 20 years for comic enterprises Dynamite Entertainment, DC Comics and Marvel Comics.

“There’s a lot of writing jobs these days that involve visual writing,” Parks said. “Whether it be TV or movies or videogames or comics or anything like that, it pays to think visually.”

Parks said thinking visually means to write in a way designed for the artist, such as not putting two actions in a comic book panel.

“They may say the character kicks this other guy and he does something else, not thinking about the fact that a comic panel is a static image and you’ve got to stick to one thing at a time,” Parks said. 

“People who don’t think visually at all when they work in a visual medium can end up asking for the impossible and make the artist solve problems they shouldn’t have to solve,” he said.

Parks talked to the students about his writing process — starting with a theme and creating scenes that are relevant to it, scrapping anything that’s not, and only working five hours a day with full concentration.

“When I write a script, I never ask for an image of a comic book that I can’t see in my head because I don’t feel like it’s fair to ask an artist to give me something that I can’t make work somehow,” he said.

The students in the Young Writers’ Workshop have not only been learning tips from Parks, but three other writers who came as guests for the workshop: Richard Pitts, a storyteller, drummer and director of the Wonder Workshop Children’s Museum in Manhattan; Natasha Ria El-Scari, a poet, writer, educator and native of Kansas City, Mo.; and Linda Rodriguez, a mystery writer and resident of Kansas City, Mo.

The students received individual attention from the guest writers as they brainstormed ideas and wrote stories.

Of course, they’ve been having fun while learning something they’re passionate about.

“I love the way that they help you strengthen your characters and make them out of the ordinary,” Zach Zoeller, 14, said. “That’s a lot of fun for me.”

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | The Manhattan Mercury, 318 North 5th Street, Manhattan, Kansas, 66502 | Copyright 2016