Creating Narrative in Comics

with Aubrey Hirsch

creating narrative in comics

May 17, 2023
8 Weeks


Deepen your understanding of storytelling with sequential art in this 8-week, online class. Join writer and comics artist Aubrey Hirsch as she breaks down the important components of compelling comics and discover how you can integrate them into your own work. Aubrey Hirsch has made comics for Vox, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, The Nib, and many other outlets. She’ll use her experience and expertise to guide you on your journey in graphic narratives. Each week will focus on a different element of craft to help take your comics to the next level. We’ll combine generative writing and drawing prompts with discussions on craft and workshops of your own comics-in-progress.

In this class, we’ll identify main goals of comics artists and talk about the fundamentals of using art as communication. We’ll look at graphic stories and essays as well as comics journalism to give you better access to multiple pathways for creation. Together, we’ll look at examples from a wide and diverse group of comics creators to discover what works and why. We’ll also carefully read and discuss your own comics in the context of a supportive workshop environment. The class will end with a practical discussion on submitting and publishing to launch you into the next chapter of your comics journey!

This workshop is for anyone with an interest in comics, and no special equipment is required. This class is designed to be accessible to beginners, but will also deepen the skills and understanding of more experienced comics artists.

Learning Goals:

  • Deepen your understanding of the fundamentals of sequential art
  • Learn how to turn your ideas into compelling visual stories, essay or reported pieces
  • Grow your skills as a reader for craft and as an editor of your peers’ work
  • Strengthen your revision practice
  • Understand how to find markets for your comics, how to pitch ideas to editors, and how to prepare and submit your work for publication

Writing Goals:

  • Write two new, finished comics
  • Generate drafts and ideas for future graphic narratives
  • Develop your revision skills with feedback from your peers

Zoom Schedule:

Tuesdays 7-9pm ET. The first call is on Tuesday, May 23rd.

Each class will start with a generative comics exercise, move into a craft discussion of published work, a short break, and then the second half of each class will focus on workshopping each others’ work.

A weekly syllabus, giving a quick summary of the areas of focus for the week and the weekly writing assignment

Weekly Syllabus:

Week 1: Introductions and Expectations: Telling Stories with Sequential Art

We’ll identify the main goals of creating successful comics, review and discuss some examples together, and jumpstart our brains with several generative comics exercises designed to help us spark ideas and get to know each other!

Homework: Write a short, four-panel comic about something that obsesses you.

Week 2: Know Your Genre: Stories, Essays and Reporting

This week we’ll look at graphic stories and essays as well as some examples of comics journalism to help us understand and define the goals of different genres of visual storytelling.

Homework: Expand your horizons by writing a short piece in a genre you wouldn’t normally choose.

Week 3: Use Your Words: The Power of Language in Comics

A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but that doesn’t mean we should be careless with our panel text! We’ll look closely at the language of comics and talk about how we can create stunning text that stands up to our images.

Homework: Create a comic that centers language.

Week 4: Who’s Who: Developing Character

We’ll talk about how to create memorable and identifiable characters, draw them consistently and help our readers relate to the heroes of our comics.

Homework: Create a 4-panel diary comic from the point of view of a fictional character.

Week 5: Putting Yourself on the Map: Places and Backgrounds

This week is all about setting. We’ll talk about how to bring a place to life, whether it’s an uncharted planet, or the corner of your bedroom. We’ll also discuss ways to make visually compelling backgrounds that highlight your panel art without overshadowing it.

Homework: Create a 5-panel “zoom” comic that starts big or small and zooms in or out to give your reader a strong sense of place.

Week 6: Lost in Space: Layout in Visual Storytelling

We’ll look at a variety of comic layouts from different artists, talk about flow and readability and how to work with and against the expectations of your reader when building your thumbnails.

Homework: Create a one-page comic with at least three different panel shapes and sizes.

Week 7: What It All Means: Developing Theme

How do comics artists put all the pieces together to create something that stays with you long after you’ve exited the work? We’ll talk about how to give your words and images lasting power.

Homework: Create a “silent” comic that tells a story without any words at all.

Week 8: Publishing and Submitting: A Practical Discussion

This week we’ll finish up workshops and leave ample time for an in-depth Q & A about pitching comics, writing cover letters, querying agents, finding markets for your work and submitting comics. I’m also happy to talk about process, digital art, coming up with ideas and anything else that’s on your mind!

Course type:

Student Feedback for Aubrey Hirsch:

When I taught with Aubrey at the University of Pittsburgh, we’d occasionally talk about the writing assignments we were giving our students. Aubrey’s assignments were always so imaginative and fun. I often stole them, and they were always big hits. Students loved and got a ton out of them. I’ve seen her give craft lectures and talks at conferences, and I often found myself wishing I could take a class with her. Even after I published a couple books. Robert Yune (author of Eighty Days of Sunlight and Impossible Children)

Aubrey’s workshops not only enlivened my work and my spirit, they gave me tangible, usable tools that I have been able to incorporate into my daily creative practice. She has the unique ability to encourage imagination and to help a writer learn how to deploy their imagination out there in the “writing world.” I think of prompts and feedback from Aubrey every time I sit down to write, and I find that my writing—and my whole self, really—is better having had her as a guide. Mike McClelland (author of Gay Zoo Day)

The environment that Professor Hirsch fostered led to more trust and risk-taking than I had experienced in most of my courses, but my greatest takeaway was watching how she encouraged, guided, corrected and refined us all. I realize she was teaching us by example how to do the same, as the expectation was that we were supposed to be growing because of one another, rather than alongside. Nick Barletta

May 17, 2023
8 Weeks


aubrey hirsch headshot


Aubrey Hirsch is a writer and illustrator living in New York. Her stories, essays, and comics have appeared in The New York TimesVoxTIME MagazineAmerican Short FictionBlack Warrior ReviewThe RumpusThe Nib and elsewhere. Aubrey is the author of a short story collection, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, and a flash fiction chapbook, This Will Be His Legacy.

Aubrey also teaches writing classes online and in person. She has taught in BA and MFA programs at Oberlin College, The University of Pittsburgh, Colorado College, Georgia College and State University, and Chatham University.

Aubrey is the recipient of a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature, an individual artist award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, the Daehler Fellowship in Creative Writing from The Colorado College, and The Meek Award for Graphic Nonfiction from The Florida Review.