The Story Behind the “How To Make A Comic Book MOOC”

Reposted from Medium.com

In November 2015 Coursera granted the High Tech High Graduate School of Education & Making Comics Worldwide $10,000 to create a project oriented massive open online course based on a proposal I submitted in October. This may sound like a lot of money, but it isn’t. Last year I created a course that was half of the size and had roughly five times the budget called the “Learning Mindsets & Skills MOOC”. To be fair, the LMS MOOC was one that had a more content specialist involvement and multimedia generated for it (videos, podcasts, etc.). For the comic MOOC I was able to draw on a multitude of great readings & podcasts from within MakingComics.com and from outside of it — as well as my own exptertise as a comic book educator.


A page overview of the Comic Relief Project generated for the Buck Institute for Education.

This Comic MOOC was a choice I made because I felt that the course needed to exist. Last year I started worked on another labor of comic book education love called the “Comic Relief Project for the Buck Institute for Education (bie.org). The Comic Relief Project was created as a reaction to my own distaste for most introductory comic educational tools. In the past k-12 teachers have come to me, knowing me as the “comic book teacher guy”, and asked if they should invest the little money they have in their budgets into comic book automation programs like Comic Life. I would always say “NO!” Then a pause. And, then I wouldn’t have anything for them as an alternative except for long explanations about why “real” comics are hard to make. I so wanted to provide them with a comic creation resource that accurately leads students through the processes a professional comic creator would actually go through to create a comic.

The Comic Relief Project was that alternative.

The “How To Make A Comic Book” course was built from the work of the Comic Relief Project.

Man, I was glad that I had the work put into those tutorials and models for the Comic Relief project because without it I would have never been able to pull off this Comic MOOC. The budget alone only went into covering guest appearance fees (Thanks Mark, Eric, Caleb, & Christy), copywriting (Chris you are amazing!), set design (all shot at High Tech High Chula Vista), and videography (Helium Films is a godsend). But, it wasn’t just the budget that was difficult – it was also the timeframe the course needed to be created within. We received the money from Coursera in early December and the course needed to be done by the end of January. My team slaved over winter break to create a series of scripts for the 31 videos needed for the six weeks of course material

In the end I only was paid about $300 out of the $10k budget for the course. Like I said, this is a labor of love. I also want to say that I won’t get paid any more money for the course itself. The course certificate purchases are a part of the Coursera monetization — none of that money goes to me. In fact, each of the $49 paid for course certificates only goes into paying off the initial funding of the $10,000 granted by Coursera.

During the weekend of January 23rd, 2016, Mark & Chris flew in from out of town (Christy sadly didn’t make it). We spent the weekend constructing the set, rehearsing the material, eating, drinking, laughing and talking about the future of the comic book industry in my San Diego living room. It was amazing. On Sunday we all gathered and started the filming process. I sat across from comic industry giants as they explained to me, and the future students within the course, what was needed in creating their first comic. Once Mark, Eric, and Caleb left we got down to the real work and on Sunday & Monday we filmed 25 original films for the course.


Pictured (From left to right) Thierry Denis, Patrick Yurick, Rachel Beck, Caleb Cleveland, High Tech High Student Helper: Carolina, Eric Shanower, & Mark Waid.

I am really proud of this course. I love sharing comic book education with people. Comic creation is a literacy I believe we all have a right to. More than just being a fun craft, it is a communication tool. The industry that has sprung up around comic books has refined this communication process, of words and pictures, into a craft and I truly believe everyone should know, on some level, how to create a comic. This course is the culmination of everything I’ve learned about MOOCs working at High Tech High Graduate School of Education in combination with everything I know about teaching people how to make comic books. This is a solid course, and I hope that it will assist people in creating their first comic book as well as help teachers at a distance get a peek into the project based learning we do at High Tech High.

The coolest thing about this course, at least for me, is that it has the potential to be indefinitely available. In exactly three years time the videos used to create this course, along with all the course material, will be given back to us (High Tech & MakingComics.com) as the Coursera digitally exclusive ownership ends. At that time we will be able to release these videos as a series of courses on a multitude of free platforms like Youtube & Vimeo. This course can then educate new people in the comic education field for, theoretically, all time.

The course was created to feel like a television show that you would see on PBS we wanted to engage adults and kids at the same time in a way that was welcoming. When I was 15 I wanted something like this to exist, and there really wasn’t anything. Existing courses on comic creation are very complex and oriented towards an adult only audience and there really isn’t anything for people who have no idea how to make a comic (where to start, what kinds of materials, etc.). This course is for them. Furthermore, MOOC technology excites me because it allows us to create an educational entertainment medium that is truly interactive and can galvanize communities of action around concepts presented within the course — in real time.

The MOOC is going to be a part of a release of 14 other project centered courses by Coursera. Very exciting stuff. My hopes are that this course can be shared for generations to come. Our existing audience at MakingComics.com is one of semi to experienced comic-makers. This course isn’t for them exactly, this course is for those who have no idea where to start. This is the place to start.

Check out the course for yourself:


Check out the course press release.


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