Ed Catto: Teaching The Teacher at the Bergen Arts Festival
Each year, Bergen (County New Jersey) Community College is the site for the Bergen Teen Arts Festival. This impressive event invites outstanding high school students to participate in a daylong celebration of creativity, youth and the arts. It’s packed full of live performances – music, theater and more. An art exhibit showcases impressive drawing, painting and sculpting talent. The Festival offers more creative workshops than any student could ever attend in one day.
And the weather gods must support it, because it always seems to be held on a gorgeous, sunny day.
Evan Cooper, the Teen Arts Administrator is a focused and supportive guy with a great skill for setting the stage and then letting the students and teachers shine. Three years ago, Evan, along with creative writing expert Jim O’Rourke, recruited me to teach a class on creating graphic novels.
It’s been a fantastic experience. For my part, I try to distill some of my best (art) life lessons, learned from the likes of everyone from Scott McCloud to Joe Kubert to all my own art teachers. My goal is to help spark an interest in kids for the art form of comics. We have a lot fun in these classes, and if you’ll allow me to brag, they are always SRO.
Newsflash – they don’t really need me. They already get it. They’ve already earned their pilots licenses, or are in the process. I’m just the airport runway.
So, in fact, as the teacher, I have the opportunity to learn a lot in these classes. Here are some of this year’s observations:
Manga is a Second Language to Many – If you attended the Book Expo and talked with bookstore retailers, they might have told you that the Manga craze (i.e. Japanese Comics) is dead. That’s not what I saw at all. So many of today’s high school students, presumably having enjoyed manga in their formative years, love this style and love to express themselves in this style.
Today’s Cool Kids – Years ago, when I was in high school, I made the mistake of wearing Batman apparel and was mocked (by one of the school’s prettiest blondes, no less) for my absurd, immature pop culture tastes. Today it’s so much the opposite. This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who’s been paying attention, but it’s still just incredible to me.
In each of the three classes I taught that day, there were one or two kids who wore superhero shirts and they were instantly the experts. They’d talk about the recent Captain America: Civil War movie, or Steve Ditko or digital comics or AMC’s new Preacher series. They knew their stuff and everyone respected them.
Lots of Talent – These kids were good! One student had already had his work accepted onto ComiXology’s Submit program (click here for more details) there was such a wide range of imagination and creativity.
What a day! Can’t we just fast-forward to the near future when these kids are published and see what they have to say?