Tagged: Bergen Community College

Ed Catto: Teaching The Teacher at the Bergen Arts Festival

Teen Arts Students in Class

Teen Arts Freida CryingKids these days… they’re all irreverent slackers, consumed in the little bubbles of social media and self-absorption, right? Not so fast! That’s not what I just experienced at all.

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.

Teen Arts Superhero GuitarIt’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:

Teen Arts Student Manga SketchbookManga 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?

Ed Catto: Geek Culture – How Far We’ve Come!

Libarary 2

When I was a kid an ad in my local Pennysaver newspaper caught my eye. It was placed by a guy selling old comic books. In those pre-Internet days The Pennysaver was a weekly community newspaper that served as a want-ad compendium. As a young boy this particular ad was especially glorious because (1) I loved comics and (2) living a small town like Auburn, NY, I didn’t have a lot of ways to get old comics. Sure, occasionally we ordered by mail, but this was different.

IMG_1891One problem was that this seller lived on the “other side” of town. Way over on the bizarrely named Frazee Street. And Mom was very suspicious that there were sinister motives involved. The person placing the ad might have been luring young boys, like my pals and me, with the siren call of comics. After much discussion, I wore my mother down and she said she’d supervise a visit to this suspicious seller of old comic books.

The first visit was… fantastic! This collector had amazing stacks of all the old comics my neighborhood cohort and I had previously only dreamed about. We were eager to read Silver Age Marvels. To us, it was like finding buried treasure. And the collector (“a guy named Joe,” in fact) priced his wares fairly. His method was to charge us 60% of the stated value in the Passiac Book Center Guide Catalog. Yes, in those early days, the Overstreet Comic Book Guide was a mere babe in publishing years. Instead, the local gold standard by which to judge a comic’s worth was with the mimeographed and stapled pages of the Passiac Book Center Guide.

Library 3Well, Joe wasn’t an axe murderer and, in fact, over the years he,and his wife and kids became family friends. But it was a slow process for my mom to get over her maternal trepidation.

Now, contrast that story with the recent classes I’ve been teaching. I’ve been asked by local organizations – Bergen Community College and the Ridgewood Library – to teach courses on “How to Create a Graphic Novel.” That’s a fancy way of saying “Teach Kids to Make Comics.” These courses are tailored to high school, middle school and even elementary school kids. We review the basics and quickly shift to the creation stage with several short exercises. And you know what? These classes have been very close to full or SRO every time!

Spurred by a thirst and curiosity for pop culture and comics, kids want to know more and their parents want them to know more. And they are not intimidated. These kids want to fully engage and create their own stuff!

Some kids are talented in drawing and some are natural born storytellers. Some are a little shy, but typically even they are fully engaged by the last 10 minutes of class. In general, there’s not a lot of hesitation. In fact, so many of the students are eager to share their pop culture credentials with me. They want me to know that they know comics and graphic novels and plotlines from superhero TV shows and artists’ styles and Marvel Comics trivia. Way back when, I’d work hard to hide all that from my peers or teachers.

IMG_1896And at the recent classes in the local library, the staff trotted out many of their graphic novels to show to the class. And they sure knew their stuff. The library staff was vigorously promoting comics to the kids – cool stuff like the collected editions of the new Ms. Marvel comic and Scholastic’s Graphix books by Raina Telgemeir.

In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if librarians are the secret weapons on the front lines of Geek Culture – but that’s probably another thought for another column.

It was great to have parents drop off their kids to learn about comics. It was encouraging to see how passionate kids (of many ages) are about Geek Culture. And I think it would be cool to follow some of these kids and see if the spark that was lit turns into something more.

There you have it: community approved Geek Culture for all supported by all. We’ve come a long way from Frazee Street.