The audience of this article is teachers that might want to integrate a comic book writing session into their language arts class.
Captioner – A simple easy to use site that’s adds captions to your graphic files including photos. I have used this site a great deal for my blog for several reasons. The upload speed is relatively high. The site is very user friendly. You have some special graphic effect stamps such as “pow”, “whoosh”, “smooch” (a lip stick kiss), that you can add to your picture. There are also party, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Santa hat stamps that you can add to your graphic. You can add as many as four speech balloons at the same time and that’s all you really need.
Chogger – On January 6, 2012 I tried to access this site several times without success! These attempts were done both at my home computer and work computer so I think the problem is not on my end but on the sites end. Site problems are fatal to teachers since you start to lose student interest when this happens.
Comic Master-This site that takes you through the steps of creating a comic book. You get a selection of panel layouts that you can attach to a page. You then get a selection of backgrounds and finally a selection of characters. You can save the comic book online but not to your computer and you have to sign up to do this. You can print the comic book created. More like a comic book video game than a real comic book creator. The art style of the characters and backgrounds is not going to excite my college students in Thailand. The art style is cartoony super hero. Using a Japanese style would excite them but not this sort of art. Also, American students who like DC and Marvel are not going to find this cartoony art very interesting either. The superheroes are not “kawaii” and not Western either. I think most young people using this program will soon get bored but the program might be good for one writing class.
Comix – Comix bills itself as a comic book creator for preschoolers. Ironically, this site has one of the least user friendly interfaces! You have to, according to their own on-screen directions, “first click and drag” but you end up dragging the object all over the place before figuring out how to deposit objects or text bubbles. The object is deposited in a particular location when the cursor leaves the page field! I am pretty computer savvy but it took me a good ten minutes to figure out how the heck to use this feature. I haven’t seen this way of moving objects around in any graphic program before and hope never to see it again! The site comes with around 200 pre-existing art objects such as animals that the user can deposit and they are kind of cute but old fashioned. Students of the millennium generation, Generation Y, are very cartoon savvy and will find the graphics boring. I suppose this is the “preschool” part of the program.
You can draw your own art or use some pre-existing art which you can move around but which is very limited in scope. You don’t save a in a normal manner but download your picture! As anyone reading this article knows downloading means the picture can end up in any number of folders on your computer rather than place you want the file to end up. Given that preschoolers might be using this program at a day care or whatever, this means they will have to spend time being frustrated while they look for their picture on someone else’s computer. I guess they are assuming that preschoolers are very computer literate. I have used Captioner with young students with great success I wouldn’t even use Comix with adults due to its awkward interface and saving options.
Mai’Nada– Mai’Nada is a very crude sketching program and not really a comic book creator. I see almost no advantage to this program over any sort of draw or paint program. There are some excellent free online draw/paint programs that are much more powerful than this site and this may be the subject of a future article. You get three panels and you can save your art online but panels are pretty easy to make with a draw/paint program and you can save the results as a jpeg. The draw tools provided are very limited and do not produce very good results.
MakeBeliefsComix.com – This would be a good site for younger users. You get a cast of about 20 preexisting cartoon characters that are not Simpsons characters but characters in that style! This art style will be popular with many students just as the Simpsons show is popular with many students. This is in contrast to the slightly similar Comic Book Creator which uses a rather odd super hero art style that’s not really anime or super hero but something that’s hard to define. You can add thought and word balloons. A separate area allows you to add many cartoon objects. You are limited to a three panel cartoon strip which can be printed or emailed but not saved as a jpeg, etc. If you could save the three panels then you could copy and paste them into a Word document and make a proper comic book this save limitation is unfortunate.
MarvelKids.com’s Create Your Own Comic – On January 6, 2012 I tried to access this site several times without success! These attempts were done both at my home computer and work computer so I think the problem is not on my end but on the sites end. If you click on the comic icon at the Marvel Kids site then the icon moves but nothing happened! Perhaps the site is being updated and temporarily out of order but a teacher is advised to check out any site they will use in class just before class.
Strip Generator – Strip Generator is almost a clone of MakeBeliefsComix.com. You get pre-existing characters, preexisting objects, and you can add speech, thought and title bubbles. However, I really like the art style. The art style is very different from MakeBeliefsComix and is similar to the style you see in designer toys from Hong Kong and Japan. The people and beings, animals mostly, cartoons use a minimalistic style that I prefer to the Simpsons style of MakeBeliefsComic.com. I do think my students will prefer the MakeBeliefsComic.com style but I could be wrong and will definitely do some research comparing the two sites. You could use one site one day and the other site the next day and there would be a huge transfer of computer and language arts skills. As is the case with many of the sites reviewed, you can print the results and save online, if you sign up, but the user cannot save the results to their computer!
Super Action Comic Maker – A third site that is similar to Strip Generator and MakeBeliefsComic.com. The pre-existing characters are more standard US type superhero characters. You get six panels instead of three panels. However, the site has less editing options. Students can print but not save their products to their computer. I think the editing tools are going to matter less to students than the type of pre-existing art they can play with. Students who like Simpsons style art will prefer MakeBeliefsComix.com. Students who like Western super heroes will prefer this site.
SuperLame! – SuperLame is similar to Captioner except its better. You have background and border options that you do not have with Captioner and the interface is slightly more user-friendly. The interface of Super Lame has more pizzaz than the interface of Captioner. You can add as many text balloons as you want versus the four text balloon limit of Captioner.
ToonLet – This is a very interesting site that has user created “art packs”. This means that ToonLet is a constantly improving site. You do have to sign up do anything on this site! The art packs mean you can make a vast array of characters and objects using a recipe i.e. bits and pieces of art packs that other users have created. This is by far the most powerful site reviewed in this article but the power does come at the expense of some user friendliness as is almost always the case with computer programs. You can save your strip online or embed the strip on your blog.
Witty Comics – Similar to Strip Generator, MakeBeliefsComic.com and Super Action Comic Maker but uses much more adult and photo-realistic backgrounds and is an office scenario. You cannot move the character around, change angles, etc. I think most students will become bored with this site. There is a certain surrealistic element to the site since you have many users doing different things with very limited elements. A little bit like René Margritte with his apples. The site is well named since many of the results are witty as in The New Yorker witty. I actually know a teacher who uses The New Yorker in his English as second language (ESL) classes and I have noticed that 90% of the students are sound asleep within 20 minutes so I do not recommend going this route.
I think the sites reviewed would be good for a class session or two but the technical limitations of the sites would make it very difficult for a student to make a real comic book. Even making a 3-6 panel comic strip of any creative depth is difficult due to import limitations of the sites reviewed and output limitations that limit editing. The closest thing to a real comic book not strip creator is ComicMaster but does such a poor job of taking you through this process that the more limited programs that only make 3-6 panel strips are actually better.
ToonLet is the more interesting and powerful program of this type and, again because of the user generated art packs, may evolve into a really powerful comic creator! If your students are computer savvy then I would recommend they use ToonLet and my own experience is that students nowadays are much, much more computer savvy than we realize! I would recommend ToonLet for older students and perhaps Strip Generator for younger students.
I have used the down loadable commercial program Comic Life and my college ESL students made fotonovels as part of a class project. The students were able to create some remarkable products and none of the sites reviewed could do this sort of major project. Part of my interest in free online sites was to find a replacement for Comic Life but such a replacement was not found.
In the past I have told fellow teachers there is probably a free online program option that can act as a substitute for almost any commercial down loadable software program out there but this is one category of software that is the exception to my common assertion.
SuperLame! is the best caption only free online program. The following is a two hour lesson you can do with a caption site in a computer lab:
1) Have students download pictures in a category from the internet and caption the photos
2) The students then share what they have created and many students who are otherwise shy will talk more than usual.
3) The teacher may or may not have the students vote for the best captioned picture and give an award to that student.
This sort of caption lesson is a very motivational exercise that the millennium generation loves. If you are going to do a lot of captioning for personal uses as I do then I would suggest downloading and buying CaptionIt! as I have done.
Some posts I have created with CaptionIt are:
I have access to pretty good internet services but uploading several photos to Captioner does take a lot of time versus using CaptionIt! installed on your computer.
More comic book articles on this blog at:
WereVerse Universe Baby!