Tagged: Teaching comics

Marc Alan Fishman: Head of the Class

Unshaven Comics has offered me too many moments of pure Trump-level pride. Selling hundreds of copies more than our friends at various comic cons through the sheer force of Kyle’s will. Breaking bread with industry legends. Seeing Stan Lee be escorted by Playboy models so he could roast the great John Romita while giving an award to his son. But none may be greater and pride-filling than officially teaching our first “Comic Book 101” class for our local park district.

In the not-too-distant-past, we’d offered a one day workshop for local kids through a small gallery. For a few hours, we broke down how comics are made and then sorta turned the kids loose to aimlessly draw and ask us questions. It was quaint. But we had bigger dreams.

After a fruitful meeting with our local Parks and Rec manager of classes, we pitched something far more comprehensive. A pair of two-hour classes where the entire process of comic book creation is explored in-depth, with interactive lessons at every step. They were elated. We were excited, and parents were notified

Smash cut to a week ago, when 18 smiling children (and one very curious and excited adult) showed up, bristling with energy.

Matt and I presented a worksheet packet of our own design as we walked through our creative process. From the conceptualization phase — where pie and coffee meet monkeys and robots — straight through to outlining plot, thumbnailing a page, and penciling. Our class ranged in age from 8 to 14 or 15 (and the one lone 57-year old), but everyone shared a common love of the medium; even if their actual knowledge of the form was in its infancy.

What struck me beyond any other point during class, came when Matt and I made rounds to speak to each student about their idea they wanted to draw. My expectations of simple “Captain Amazing beats up Doctor Weird Beard” were decimated by complex and deeply-imagined universes of characters. Our students regaled us with winding plots and characters they’d had in their heads, just awaiting an opportunity to burst out on to the page.

And while we had some fights to draw out, I was astounded to hear several students describe heady, dialogue-driven pieces. Fathers taunting their sons to join their evil legions, party-girls dealing with their poor life-choices, and students and teachers connecting over bully problems. To hear the breadth of ideas being explored really made me appreciate that our little group cared more about the narrative than learning how to render the perfect punch.

As the students worked on their turnarounds for their characters, I overheard their conversations. Civil War came up, and lively chatter about it ensued. It hit me like a splash page: this generation is literally growing up in the golden era of comics going mainstream. They have over a dozen perfectly adapted comic stories as multi-billion-dollar movie franchises. Between cartoons, they also have live-action dramas on multiple networks that draw directly from the pulp and paper. And now, in their backyard, a pair of indie comic creators are breaking down the process of building a page from soup to nuts. A golden era, indeed.

Teachers often comment on how the kids really teach them. I can say without a doubt just how true an adage that is. As we let kids loose after the first class completed, I could see their energy as they showed their moms and dads the work they completed. One parent stepped over to me, smiling ear to ear, before ushering his son out of the classroom.

“So… is this every week?”

One day, sir. One day.

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.


Marc Alan Fishman: Silly Consumers… Comics Are For Kids!

Watch_mr._wizardThe evening on which I am writing this article (Tuesday, the 14th), marks the third year I’ve been an “Artist In Action” for a small program run by a local elementary school. The day finds me giving a presentation (alongside two other fine artists) on how I make art via the computer, in 20-minute blocks, for every class in the school. The kids themselves range from kindergarten through 5th grade. Their teachers range from fully interested in what I’m presenting, to completely happy they don’t have to do much more than tell Billy to stay seated for an hour. It’s a long day, all things considered. But suffice to say: it’s a soul-satisfying experience that I hope will continue for years to come.

As in years past, I’ve actually felt a bit embarrassed. Next to oil painters, and collage artists… my work has often felt sub-par or perhaps juvenile. And my techniques – which include lightboxing (“Your mother’s a tracer!”), flatting (“Because good boys and girls know how to stay in between the lines!”) and other tricks of the Comic Book trade (“What? That’s not a filter!”) – leave the real artists often scoffing under huffy breath over my end-product. Yet today, my two adjoining artists were technophiles in their own right. A sculptor with work experience in Auto-CAD, and a collage / multi-media artist who squeed at the very mention of a GoPro. It was a breath of fresh air knowing that only three years into the program, the message to the children was not of the Luddite bible. But I digress.

The largest lesson I took away from the day hit me early in one of my presentations. Ever the eager-beaver, and teacher-pleaser, this year I came prepared with a take-home lesson for all the kids. I included an assignment sheet asking children to make their own six-panel strip, and included the simple steps Unshaven Comics takes in producing our own work. I also included the page with the panels (just-in-case), as well as a sheet for coloring (just-in-case the assignment wasn’t their speed). The unmitigated glee hit me after this exchange:

Me: Kids! Since you’ve been so attentive and awesome here today, I have a gift for you.

Kids: *Gasp!*

Me: Homework!

Kids: Boo! Noooo! Why! Awwwww!

Me: The homework is to draw your own comic!

Kids: *Undecipherable cheers, hoops, hollers, and genuine joy*

Watching the kids throw their arms up in cheers over the idea that they could make a comic was something that at first my snarky brain could not process. Certainly these video-game addicted ne’er-do-wells could give two poops about making a hand-drawn comic! But nay, in fact there they sat – Indian style, of course – all buzzing and humming over who would collaborate with who on this story or that. Shortly after, their questions came at lightning pace.

How do we start? Where do we start? Can it be about Pokemon? And with my cheeks literally in pain over the unyielding smile, I told them the truth: Start anywhere you want, just write out what you think is exciting, scary, funny, or cool. And yes, it absolutely can be about Pokemon. It took several minutes to calm them down. And with that, the presentation ended, and the next group sat down ready to figure out why their friends were high-fiving and jumping off the walls.

It’s here of course I have to take a step back. In the eyes and minds of children, comics represent infinite possibilities. Long before printer quotas, direct market subsidized pricing models, future IP copyright options, online distribution platforms, or dreaded convention travel and table costs amortization ledgers, there truly is imagination at the heart of our industry. There, amongst two-dozen ten-year olds, comics were an opportunity to collaborate, and entertain. And to their teachers, comics were an opportunity to converge lessons on writing, observation, comprehension, and visual communication into a single assignment.

As I left the school for the day, I saw several teachers lining up at the copy machine; it was all I could do not to fist pump the air like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.