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Purdue University Galleries and Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette invite entries for “Alien Invasion Epic,” a Living Graphic Novel. The project will be a science fiction tale assembled as a graphic novel from submissions of staged photographs.

Submissions will be due by Thursday, October 31, 2013.
Interested participants are invited to send staged photographs depicting scenes from an alien invasion story of their imagining. The order and layout of the larger novel will be determined by the editors, who will use as many submitted images as possible to assemble a multi-faceted story, possibly including stories-within-a-story and other plotting techniques.

You know you’ve got a weird side that wants to make a bizarro image for this story!  Make it – throw it in the mix.  Go to the Alien Invasion Epic page to read about the project and download the entry form!

Where we’ve been… #6. Greenfield Central Junior High, 8th grade

We decided to explore a separate “prompt” for the 8th grade group at Greenfield Central.  YES – we pulled off two of these things in one day and lived to tell about it!

We led off by projecting images from previous LGN projects.  This seemed to give the students a better overall vision for what was about to happen and got them into the mindset to visualize scenes from their own story (which was yet to come).

Steve and Morgan then led the group through a series of improvisational games:

  1. a storytelling game where each student told one sentence of an add-on story, based upon what had come before them
  2. a “freeze” game where the students would each perform various movements and gestures in turn and would then be asked to freeze and hold a pose – the rest of the group was then asked to tell the story of that person’s actions
  3. and then a variation on the freeze game, wherein the students chose costumes from the instructor’s supplies and were asked to create a character based upon the outfit – then the students were asked to interact and freeze, leading to mini stories and essentially “live storyboarding” for the tale they were about to develop.


Eventually, the costuming prompt brought about an amalgam of doctors, circus performers and people being haunted, which was developed into the story of evil scientists conducting macabre experiments on a troupe of circus performers.  The photography for this story was limited to the theatre stage and the costume props on hand.  The simplification of setting kept the group aligned to one story and purpose, as opposed to the fracturing that had occurred during the morning session.  In addition to the unified group dynamic, there were fewer students involved (19) which made it easier to focus their attention to the singular tale.

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All in all, this was a very successful session and, with the addition of some nifty Photoshop effects, resulted in one of the most imaginative and graphic LGNs to date.

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Download the store of “Circus Avengers: The Night of Reckoning” here!

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Where we’ve been… #5. Greenfield Central Junior High School, 7th grade

With the NEA grant under our arms, the LGN team began to plan a year’s worth of activities to fulfill the project’s aims, as well as seeking out educators interested in taking the project out for a spin.

Spring of 2012 took the Living Graphic Novel team to Greenfield Central Junior High School (Greenfield, IN) to conduct two LGN workshops on the same day, one with 7th grade art students and one with 8th grade art students, all working with art instructor Sandy Hall.  Our thinking was to explore different “prompts” or approaches to instigating the creative process with each group and see where they led us.


Morgan Reitmeyer conducted a review of favorite super powers and superhero names with the 7th grade group.  As it was first thing in the morning, and these were middle school young people not terribly fond of morning, this activity took a little more time than we anticipated.  But it DID result in some fascinating ideas, including a ninja who was a neutral figure (neither fully good nor evil), the name “Halo Swagger” (which may be the best superhero name ever), and the idea of two camps of super-powered beings being quarantined because their fighting was having an adverse reaction on the community.

With a framework to build upon, the group then split into three subgroups and, with the LGN facilitators’ help, alternately worked on costuming, scouting interesting locations within the school building for the photo shoot, and writing out/storyboarding the tale.  We discovered that by separating the facilitators, we were forced to rely on sometimes contradictory information passed on to us by the separate groups of students.  A certain degree of avoidable confusion resulted, and this continued through the eventual photo shoot itself.  Students were sometimes following conflicting story lines in communicating to us what was needed from particular rooms and shoots, and we think their confusion revealed itself in some frustration with the process.

We determined later that the number of students (34) was probably greater than we should have attempted, and the amount of time we had (about 2.5 hours) was not adequate for all the voices that needed to be heard and coordinated in this project.  BUT that all falls into the category of “live and learn”… AND we did come up with a pretty interesting tale when all was said and done!


You can share in the tale of “The Supers in Indiana Town” here.  Enjoy!

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Where we’ve been… #4. NEA grant!

In the fall of 2011, Purdue Galleries became the beneficiary of an Arts Education in American Communities grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, to “fund a series of approximately 4-5 Living Graphic Novel workshops in a variety of formats” and to document the resulting projects with Flip video cameras and a dedicated website.  (Hence the pages you’re currently reading.)  We also wanted to “promote the activity to educators and arts presenters through presentations at conferences,” all in order to make the case that LGN is a very viable and very popular learning experience for young people that expands their creative processes by emphasizing literacy, writing skills, creativity and artistic design.

Our proposal stated, “Possibilities for workshops include: 5-day in-school residencies, weekend community call out projects, and short (2-3 hour) day workshops.  Approaches and themes will include: books of original stories developed by participants, place-based stories based upon the site of the workshop (historical museums, etc.), story performances rather than book compositions, and pre-existing stories developed visually through workshops.”

In truth, the hope was to explore as many possibilities for the application of the LGN idea as possible, with the ones listed above and any others possible included for consideration.  As you will see with posts yet to come, we fully succeeded in our quest for variety, and we’ve continued to grow the idea to encompass more than we originally dreamed…

The support of the NEA was crucial to getting word out about our little LGN brain storm and bringing it more fully to fruition.  In the process, we hope the activity has contributed to the many young minds and eyes with whom we’ve worked and that its effects will continue to grow towards creative and responsive experiences across the country.  The Living Graphic Novel team is eternally grateful for the generosity and support of the staff at the National Endowment for the Arts!


More to come.

Alien Invasion Epic!

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Oh, we hope you’re ready to play along with this one…

Purdue Galleries and Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette announce today that we are inviting entries for a national Living Graphic Novel.  Alien Invasion Epic (operating title) will be a science fiction tale assembled as a graphic novel from national submissions of staged photographs. Interested participants are invited to send staged photographs depicting scenes from an alien invasion story of their imagining. The order and layout of the larger novel will be determined by the editors, who will use as many submitted images as possible to assemble a multi-faceted story, possibly including stories-within-a-story and other plotting techniques.

This is a national opportunity for creative minds and eyes to throw in together and see what kind of a story-assemblage of weird, beautiful, scary and inspiring images may result.

Go to our Alien Invasion Epic page to read more about the project, download the Entry Form, and view our preview trailer!  And start making your plans to create an alien invasion-inspired image to add to our graphic novel!

Where we’ve been… 3. Old Jail Museum

In summer 2010, Steve and I were invited to present a Living Graphic Novel workshop for the Summer Art Camp participants at the Old Jail Museum in Crawfordsville, Indiana.  (IF you’ve never been to the Rotary Jail Museum and Tannenbaum Cultural Center as it’s now called, you owe it to yourself to make the trip – great old jail facility – somewhat spooky, museum and art center.)

In another of our two hour sessions, we worked with four groups of young people to explore some of the lore from the active days of the Old Jail and created short comics to illustrate their takes on the stories.  With nothing but white t-shirts the campers were instructed to where for the day, black tape, construction paper, and the limitless visual possibilities presented by the beautiful architecture of the Old Jail (including real jail cells), we were able to shoot imagery for a series of 4 short stories that were later crafted into a graphic novel.   The vivid tales included the Coal Chute Escape, the story of Peg Leg, and the imagined entrapment of the Finger Cuffs.


The resulting graphic novel is a sepia toned testament to the museum’s rich history and of course to the creative talents of the area’s young people!

It’s also a great example of:
1. how much can be accomplished with the LGN project in a very short amount of time and
2. the possibilities lent to story telling by an inspirational site visit – creepy stone facades, high window cornices, basement gear works, neglected coal shafts and old jail cells.


You can download and read the Tales from the Old Jail here.
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Where we’ve been… 2. Tipton Elementary

Once we’d completed ArtGirl and thought we might actually have a “thing” in Living Graphic Novel, we took on a project with the support of two regional arts organizations in May 2010.  And this one really showed us the potential for LGN as an outreach and education tool utilizing the creative arts.

Through a grant from the Tippecanoe Arts Federation Artist in Residence program, funded by JP Morgan Chase, we were able to present “The Mysterious Murky Water and the Poacher Problem,” a Living Graphic Novel created by students in Mrs. Shari Cottingham’s 3rd grade class at Tipton Community School, Tipton, Indiana.  The presenters were once again Steven Koehler of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette and Craig Martin of Purdue University Galleries, and we were joined for the first time by Morgan Reitmeyer of Words on the Go.

Mrs. Cottingham’s students had each studied a species of endangered animal throughout the 2009-2010 school year, which provided the impetus for this story. These kids knew their animals backwards and forwards and in all detail.  And the teacher’s request was that we somehow create a story that would involve all 19 endangered animals!  A daunting task – or so we thought.

In the span of five classroom visits (7.5 hours total), with the assistance of the Living Graphic Novel team, the class imagined a story involving each of their 19 endangered animals, wrote and storyboarded the narrative, painted set backdrops, costumed, staged and photographed “frames” from their story. These images were later developed in Photoshop into a graphic novel-style presentation, complete with narrative boxes and text balloons by Morgan.

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The project began with separate groups working with each of the presenters on interactive theatre games to watch, listen and imagine stories in a group, word games to assemble random “Creative Corpse” story lines*, and creative imagining of a world with these 19 endangered animals, where the challenges of survival would bring them together for a common purpose.  (*this being our first foray with elementary students, we noted a particular proclivity among 3rd graders towards “unicorns” and “poop.”  Just sayin’.)

Later the students rotated between costuming each of their characters with materials from Civic Theatre’s supplies, storyboarding the script so we could visualize the progression of scenes and know what we had to photograph, and painting large backdrops for our sets.  The kids were great collaborators and got the work done quickly, with a lot of silliness, laughs and learning filling the session!

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Eventually came the big shoot – and with it the magic of theatrical storytelling.  Each student took great pride in getting costumed and helping prepare the sets.  And each took acting prompts very well, allowing Steve to pull emotional responses for the purposes of the story.  Key was the lighting, which transformed the school’s fluoresced community room into darkened and dramatic ocean and jungle settings.


After Morgan assembled the visual story, with some Photoshop magic thrown in, Steve and I were able to return to Tipton as triumphant heroes and present to the class the story they wrote and starred in.  To finish it off, a Tipton printer made copies for each of the students, the LGN team, and the school library.

The complete Living Graphic Novel “The Mysterious Murky Water and the Poacher Problem” is available here!

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Where we’ve been… 1. Art Girl

Let’s document where we’ve been, shall we?  As we begin a new adventure (see info on our “Alien Invasion Epic”), it seems fitting to rewind and review where the Living Graphic Novel project has been.

In 2009, managing director of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette Steven Koehler approached me about a possible tie-in for an upcoming One Great Read event.  The book that year in Lafayette-West Lafayette was “Persepolis,” a graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi.  Civic Theatre had traditionally presented education programs in support of One Great Read, but Steve was unsure how to approach a comic-style book in a theatrical setting.  My suggestion was to act out the frames and pages of the book, like paintings that have been posed with live actors and recreated through the tableaux vivant method.  Dress them as characters, light them dramatically, frame them and tell a progressive story through posed images.  It could work…

We decided to put out a call for volunteers, find a place where we could spread out and find some inspiration, pull together some costumes and painting supplies… and see what happened.  We met on a Saturday at Imagination Station in Lafayette.  The intention was to stage a few representative frames/panels and leave it at that.  Those were the instructions we gave, as we only had 2 hours…

When I looked up, a group of volunteers led by a Purdue University doctoral candidate, Morgan Reitmeyer, had drafted sketches and storyboarded a full story – the tale of “Art Girl.”  And off we went.

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Over the course of those two hours, we found the spontaneous inspiration to craft costumes, sketch out backgrounds, splash light dramatically and record the proceedings on the fly.

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We also got a glimpse of the potential of this “Living Graphic Novel” thing – the potential for silliness and drama and storytelling and, perhaps most importantly, the intersection of the arts, in theatre, visual arts and language arts.

The final version of the story of Art Girl is available here!