Creative Art Works Gives Middle School Students a Chance to Tell their Own Stories through an After-school Cartooning Class. 


In the space of one year, sixth-graders experience a flood of emotional, social and intellectual changes. These young people need a safe and productive way to talk about what’s going on in their world. In CAW’s Cartooning class at Isaac Newton Middle School, implemented in collaboration with Citizen Schools, Teaching Artist Tom Palmer is providing that outlet by teaching the basics of story telling.

We start with the classic joke structure, because it is the essence of a story reduced to the fewest steps possible. Think of any four-panel comic strip – the elements are always the same – situation, set-up, surprise and comeback. If you can tell a gag, you can tell a story. A story is like a joke with a much longer setup.
— CAW Teaching Artist Tom Palmer

The types of stories depend a lot on who the storyteller is. Boys tend to be interested in action, adventure and fantasy, while girls tend to be much more rooted in the real world. For example, Gerard is creating a fictional world filled with all sorts of imaginary creatures. In contrast, girls are more likely to write stories about fitting in or being accepted by the other girls in her school.

Over the past three weeks, students in Tom’s class have become thoroughly engrossed in their work. When the class first started, students tended to be rowdy after a full day of academic work, but now they settle down much more quickly and are more engaged and productive. Tom credits this change in behavior to the inherently interesting nature of the task they are doing.

Kids at this age want to tell their own stories. This class gives them the skills and the opportunity to do that.
— Tom Palmer

Every one of our after-school programs ends with a culminating event where the participants display what they have created and talk about it to teachers, peers and family. This is one more opportunity for self-expression and a chance for kids to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Our partner at Citizen Schools call these culminating events a “Wow!”

 All students in the Isaac Newton after-school cartooning class will contribute stories to a bound comic anthology.

All the students in the cartooning class will contribute stories that will be collected into a bound anthology or "zine."  We will feature some of our favorite contributions on our blog and other social media platforms. 

As a veteran of the “indy” comic world, Tom has been putting his own thoughts on paper for decades. He is one of nine cartoonists who create the collaborative, all-age, comic book, Cartozia Tales. You can explore this quirky fantasy world at Cartozia.com. Tom publishes under the pen-name Tom Motley.