Word Ladder Comic Challenge

The Penn 24Hour Comic Jam

word ladder-What’s the connection between the things that make up a drawn panel and the story which it conveys? How can having the constraints of “what to draw” open up innovation in “what the story is about”?

This is a fun experiment straight out of Matt Madden and Jessica Abel’s “Mastering Comics” (the advanced version of the Abel-Madden textbook we will be using in our class). The goal is to create a series of short one-page comics using the elements of a word ladder in each panel. Cartoonists may work in small groups, but the point is to keep the word ladder as a single connective thread on each page while still balancing a narrative theme. Here’s how it’ll go:

Some discussion of how the process works as well as some examples will be given at the opening of the event. You’ll then be provided with a randomly chosen six-line word ladder (or, if you’d like, you may create one, even though randomness is often more creatively thrilling). Cartoonist will be given one hour for building a thumbnail (with text) for their word ladder while keeping the individual words a secret from others. We’ll then take you through the steps of laying out the page and its lettering and, possibly, show you some short cuts along the way. After that you’ll have the remaining time to create a finished page while we try to guess the words in your word ladder.

This experiment works best in short bursts, so we’ll be running them like time trials throughout the workshop. Cartoonists (or teams) wishing to register for this experiment should indicate their availability over the weekend so others can give it a try.


-beginner and above. This is a creativity exercise useful to writers and artists of all levels so, please, don’t feel hampered by lack of experience. There’s something to be learned here for anyone, even if it just shakes you out of old narrative habits.


-this experiment will be run in four-hour intervals over the weekend, so cartoonists can sign up to do as many of them as they wish. It’s also an excellent choice for people wishing to participate in the workshop off-site via an online connection.


-a selection of word ladders to choose from (though people are always encouraged to create something, randomness is a key component in keeping this experiment lively)

-access to a laptop and large format (11X17in) scanner that utilizes Comiclife and photoshop (some hands-on assistance provided in using each of these programs)

-Layout bond paper set to a six-panel grid for generating thumbnails


-11X17in bristol board for finished artwork

-inking materials that are comfortable to the cartoonist. All work for this experiment will be in black & white

-bringing your own sketchbook is particularly useful for this experiment, and I suggest it, but layout bond paper will be provided for those who need it

-a more detailed list of suggested materials, and how to keep it cheap, can be found here




image above from a “word ladder” comic by Kevin Raganit




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