Let's set off our characters on their own adventures

Published on: 09 April 2017 Author: Sarah McIntyre

The immensely talented and down right wonderful illustrator Sarah McIntyre, who's work includes Jampires and There's a Shark in the Park, became our fifteenth Writer in Residence back in 2017. In this blog Sarah asked, do you have ongoing plans to write your own story but never get around to it? Or do you make a brilliant start but then quickly fizzle out? Either way, she knows just the thing to help...

Sarah McIntyre's Comic Jam

Writing can be a torturous solitary activity, but it doesn't always have to be. Pulling in a friend to help can be one of the most exciting ways of introducing new elements into a story.

Last time I blogged about how inspiring it can be to draw pictures with other people. But writing stories with another person or in a group can be amazing, too. You can have a writing jam session and, just like in a jazz group jam session, no one knows exactly what will happen and everyone improvises. A Comic Jam is my favourite way to do this.

What's a Comic Jam, you ask?

It's a bit like a game of Consequences, and an exciting way to set your characters off on adventures of their own. The easiest way to start is to create a character.

BookTrust made this series of four videos with me, and the first video teaches you how to draw one of Sea Monkey from my book with Philip Reeve, Oliver and the Seawigs. You don't have to draw a monkey, you can invent any characters you like, but monkeys get up to all sorts of shenanigans, so it's a fun start.

Basic comic tips

To take part in a Comic Jam, you need some basic comic-making tips, so I go through them here. You can use these videos yourself, with your kids, or as a classroom exercise.

Time to comic jam

In this video, I set you off on the actual Comic Jam. Hold on to your hats!

And BookTrust convinced me to sing the Sea Monkey sea shanty, which you can use to round off your Comic Jam if you have a strong constitution.

I hope you have fun watching unexpected things happen to your story! Comic Jams are brilliant among adults in a pub, holiday gatherings with family where you don't want to sit around all afternoon watching telly, and I've even done it once with a large group outdoors.

Jampires and pugs

Since Comic Jams are all about creating things together, I thought I'd bring two of my fabulous co-authors onto the blog with me. The first is David O'Connell, and we've been Comic Jamming since 2007! (You can read one of our early Comic Jams, Airship, over on my website.)

Sarah McIntyre's Comic Jam

So, Dave, can you tell everyone: how did a Comic Jam inspire Jampires?

Sarah McIntyre and David O'ConnellPhoto by Dave Warren


'With Jampires, we could have taken the story down a very obvious route, and played on all the familiar vampire themes. But the improvisational nature of the Comic Jam meant we went off at all kinds of tangents, inspiring (and thwarting!) each other's plots and setups, and forcing us to be creative about the situations in which our characters found themselves that we hadn't foreseen at the start of the story, or even on the previous page!
'Our ideas got a thorough workout, both in plot form and visually. It also taught us how to work with each other and understand each other's creative process. The picture book might be a very different beast to the comic but it has some fundamental ideas that came directly from the jam.'

Thanks, Dave! You can read our original Jampires comic and read some more tips about running a Comic Jam over on the Jampires website!


And now let's turn to Philip Reeve, who's created four books with me, and made lots of comics on the side. Philip, shall we give them a little peek at how comics and Comic Jams play a part in our next book together? What can they look forward to?

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve


'They can look forward to ALL KINDS OF COMICS-BASED SHENANIGANS. There's a Comic Jam about Iris the Mermaid which we did together, there's a look at a day in the life of top space villain Lord Krull, there are lots of how-to-draw guides (like how to draw pugs, how to draw sea monkeys, how to draw circular mythical animals) and there are a bunch of comics where we drew the first panel for and then couldn't be bothered to finish because we're such Big Stars, so readers will have to fill the rest in themselves.'


Thanks, Dave and Philip! Let's make more comics!

Meet our latest Writer in Residence

Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Rashmi Sirdeshpande.

Find out more