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Another Sunday field trip

by  in Comic News Comment
Another Sunday field trip

Well, that was just a lot of fun.

We did another field trip for the Cartooning Class today. The big show for us every year is Emerald City, and the school actually pays for that one. (We’ll have a space in Artist’s Alley again this year, we got the okay for that a couple of weeks ago.)

But we also try to go to the Seattle Comic-Card Show when it shows up at Seattle Center twice a year. These are tiny little one-day affairs, held in a couple of the exhibition rooms over by Key Arena, and they are not really much more than an artist’s signing at one end of a dealer’s room. But it’s a great place for the kids to get a look at real working comics artists, and get a sense of comics as a community: more often than not, these shows are a gathering of the tribe for Pacific Northwest comics folk. Generally the way the shows are put together is they’ll bring in a couple of names from out of town as headliners, and then get the local gang of comics pros to come fill out the artist’s area.

The nice thing about this for us is that my students have absolutely no interest in the headliners, more often than not; they are much more fascinated simply by the process of making comics. Just getting to talk to a professional about how they work and watch them sketch, or even just paging through a portfolio of page originals… for my students, that’s Disneyland. And it’s quite a boost for the local small-press folks, too.

The arrangement I make with the kids works like this: “The school’s not paying for this one, but if you want to go, Mrs. Hatcher and I will be there at one and we’ll take you around and introduce you to the artists. The show goes all day and you can show up any time, but the guided tour’s at one.”

We had quite a few show up: Samantha, Ciara, Aja, and Emily from Denny Middle School, and Anna from Madison. Aja and Emily are getting to be old hands at this — Aja has been working fiercely on her page layouts ever since meeting Gail Simone and Roberta Gregory at last year’s Emerald City (I don’t think Gail has any idea what fearsome determination she unleashed in Aja when she looked through Aja’s sketchbook and told her she was talented and should “keep it up.”) And Emily is into it because Aja’s into it and they’re best friends, but she has been getting very good as well, just from being forced to try and keep up.

Julie was our designated photographer. Once again our camera’s batteries were on life support, but she did get a few good shots, and here they are.

That’s Kathleen Webb, who’s been doing Betty and Veronica and other Archie work for years. Seeing Kathleen’s name on the guest list was the main reason I pushed the show so hard in class. She’s local, just a half-hour’s drive out of town, and she is never less than wonderful with my students: not one of them went home empty-handed, she made sure everyone got a signed comic or a sketch or something. What’s more, she does comics for girls, and since my classes are roughly three-quarters filled with girl students, that made Kathleen the headliner of this show as far as my cartooning class was concerned.

Those aren’t her pages she’s posing with, they’re actually Samantha’s. Since it’s so early in the school year we don’t have printed books yet (first issue goes to press this Wednesday) but I did have a bunch of the kids’ page originals in the “Done” file to take to the printshop and on an impulse I brought them along, since invariably the professionals want to see the kids’ artwork. This turned out to be a really good idea, the pros were every bit as fascinated by the student pages as the students were by the professional ones.

Here’s Samantha with the art for her first story ever, “Mouse in the House.” The lady on her left is her mother, who’s trying to persuade her to let Kathleen look at the pages. Sam is terribly shy and rarely speaks above a whisper, and it was hard for her to comprehend that Kathleen really, truly, wanted to look at what she drew. Sam’s new this year and still has this charming aura of amazed awe and disbelief that we’re really doing this, we’re actually making comics. Her draftsmanship is a little rough around the edges but she has an amazing grasp of the comics page idiom for an eleven-year-old. Her first pages ever, and she was already experimenting with layouts, letting word balloons and figures occasionally break the panel border and things like that; as well as instantly understanding the need to change the point of view from panel-to-panel and to vary her line weight when she’s inking. The learning curve from the page she’s holding in this photo to the pin-up Kathleen is posing with up above was extraordinary, it was what looked like a year’s worth of improvement in about a week and a half. I wish I had better scans of these pages to show you all.

 

Here’s Aja (dark-haired) and Emily (blonde) at Kathleen’s table. Aja is the most determined kid I’ve ever seen in fourteen years of teaching, she is going to goddammit DO THIS FOR REAL someday. Sadly, we didn’t have any of her new pages today (she takes them home and works on them every night, and she forgot them today) but I did have a couple of the zines from last year and Aja’s work in those was good enough to get Quenton Shaw from QEW Publishing to sit up a little straighter.  He glanced up at Aja and said, “You want to do romance manga?”

“Yes sir,” Aja said, glowing.

“Well, you keep it up. Good storytelling here. It’s all about storytelling.”

“See, it’s not just me that says that, Aja,” I said, laughing.

Quenton’s been a good friend to us at local shows over the years, ever since he was working with Committed Comics. Always has time for the kids and always willing to talk about how it’s done.

There’s Emily again, still talking to Kathleen. I’m next to her, a little distracted because Ciara’s wandered off. My students can be divided into two groups, really — those who want to create comics and those who just like being around comics. Ciara had just discovered quarter boxes and was busy spending every last cent she had on them. Julie caught this one of her looking like she’d accidentally stumbled into the promised land. All those comics. All for sale.

 

I suspect that the reason Ciara didn’t hear Julie telling her to look at the camera was because she was too distracted by the golden glow and angel chorus that appeared when she saw those quarter boxes. (Don’t ask me about that copy of Cable she’s holding, it’s news to me. I thought she was a shoujo manga fan like all the other girls.)

Karl Kesel was our out-of-town headliner this time, and the funny thing was that none of the girls could be bothered to talk to him at all. They wanted to talk to Kathleen and Quenton. (I, on the other hand, was thrilled to get a chance to talk to Mr. Kesel. I’m a big fan of his work, especially on the FF. Damn kids don’t know what they’re missing.) Anyway, he and I had a nice chat, he was delighted by the whole idea of the class and did us a wonderful sketch for our class scrapbook: a cheery Ben Grimm saying, 1) If you can see it in your head already, it’s always easier to draw it! 2) If you’re not happy with what you draw, that’s good! But don’t let that discourage you! Always try to get better!

I should add that one of the reasons I like to get the kids to the local shows is that it’s a great entry point for parents too. Suddenly they grasp that this is a real thing for their child, there are actual adults that do this work professionally, and seeing a comics pro drop everything to make time for their kid is one of the best things that can happen to our class credibility. (It’s an enormous help at budget-proposal time.) Here you can see Anna and her mother. Anna’s mom was really struggling to understand the whole thing, she had absolutely no point of reference at all. I don’t think she’d ever laid eyes on a comic book before.

God only knows what Anna had to do to get her mother to bring her today, but it was time well spent. Kathleen Webb, bless her, actually wrote her out a list of comics she thought would be enjoyable for Anna that they could look for. Whereupon they went off to the dealer area to search them out.

We had a close call at one of the quarter boxes, when Anna pulled out an issue of the Catwoman Year One mini from 1987 and her mother said, “Oh, there’s a comic book about Catwoman?” and Julie dived in to grab it, hastily pointing out the FOR MATURE AUDIENCES label on it. I have a whole rant about how familiar characters who have cartoons and toys really shouldn’t be starring in Mature Audiences titles about taking revenge on a pimp, and this kind of close call is why… but I’ll spare you since I got most of it out of my system chatting with Heidi Meeley from Comics Fairplay and her husband Jim. It was great fun meeting them and we’re looking forward to getting to hang out with them a little more at Emerald City.

We did get in a little shopping of our own. I found some issues of Savage Sword I’d been after… the second run of Roy Thomas stories is my current collector hunt, from #190 on through to the end of the title with #235.

 

Those are damn hard to find and it’s probably going to be another decade before Dark Horse even considers collecting them, assuming they still have the license. It’s one of those collector quests I like to pick at when I’m at a show. I am more of a reader than a collector, but I do have enough of the OCD completist impulse to enjoy the hunt.

And I found another wonderful old Gold Key Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, featuring the demented stories of the Giolitti studio.

It really is Irwin Allen done with a Fellini sensibility. Even if I didn’t have an irrational love for the adventures of the Seaview I think I’d still love these books, just because they are so damn weird.

And Julie found something for herself, too. My wife loves Peanuts — when we go to Comic-Con in San Diego she practically camps out at the Schulz museum booth — and she enjoys tracking down the old Gold Key books.

I got interested in these myself after she found the first one a year or two ago. In the early 60’s, Schulz took on an assistant, a fellow named Dale Hale — you’ll find out more about him here — and Hale was the one who actually produced Peanuts comic book stories for Dell/Gold Key. As far as I know this was the only time Schulz let anyone else draw Peanuts comics for print. The stories are fun and very much in the spirit of the original strip. I have to believe that they were produced in the studio with Schulz’ blessing at least, he had to have signed off on them… but they’re NOT Schulz, the sensibility isn’t quite as bleak, there’s more of a sitcom vibe. There were only about ten or twelve issues of these books published by Gold Key, and today Julie acquired her third.

So that was our day at the show. Many, many thanks to all the pros who were so gracious and giving of their time — you have no idea how much it means to these kids, those girls got a year’s worth of energy out of the few minutes you gave them today.

 See you next week.

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