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February 07, 2012

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The Making of a Sesame Street Comic

By Mark Magner


Ed. Note: Mark Magner is a Design Director at Sesame Workshop. His team released a new comic strip today in conjunction with the release of our newest home video, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!” Mark wanted to take a few moments to tell you just how he and his creative team go about conceiving of and creating a comic strip.

Our mission here at Sesame Workshop is always at the forefront of our mind. We want to educate children, to prepare them for school, to help them better understand the world and each other. We want them to think, dream and discover, to reach their highest potential. Sesame Street‘s home videos are already effective tools for helping and inspiring children. Alicia Durand, who handles public relations for Sesame Street, approached the creative team about creating some activity or artwork to accompany the release of the home videos, and we were excited by this new challenge.

For the first video, “Bye Bye Pacifier,” Diana Leto, an artist who creates visuals for everything from our apparel to style guides to web elements, and I created spoofs of old propaganda posters, which were a big hit. The second video released was “Iron Monster,” and because of its cartoonish nature Evan Cheng, associate art director of character design, created a comic strip that would parody the story in the video, another idea that proved popular.

We realized that comic strips were the perfect way to connect parents and children while encouraging literacy. That’s why we’ve created another comic strip for our newest home video release, “Elmo’s World: Favorite Things!”

We start our process by watching the Sesame Street home video that we plan to feature in the comic strip. We choose a section of the video that lends itself well to a comic strip, and then discuss how to tell the story in a few frames. We decided it would be fun to spoof a famous comic strip. In this instance, a spoof of Calvin and Hobbes worked perfectly. The layout and design pays homage to Bill Watterson, the author of the comic, and features dinosaurs, a perennial favorite of Calvin’s.

At this point, Evan Cheng starts to sketch out his ideas using pencil on paper. Evan does several small sketches until he knows what the final comic strip will look like. Evan then sketches the final illustration, refining each frame to tell the story. Evan scans his final artwork into Photoshop and passes the file onto Diana Leto.

Diana takes Evan’s illustrations and digitally applies color, texture and halftones to the artwork, bringing it to life. In this instance, the color palette and texture was chosen with the style and tone of Calvin and Hobbes in mind. Using Photoshop, Diana layers the color and textures, fine tuning the look until it’s perfect.

We always work to ensure children engage with a story or a lesson in as many mediums as possible. That’s why, in addition to the home video and comic strip, Diana also created a coloring activity based on the comic. Our hope is that, if the child watches the video, uses the coloring activity and is read the comic strip by their parents, they’ll not only have lots of fun but they’ll learn a little something too.

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