Friday's Super Special Sneak Preview

Spring is here at last, and convention season looms before us. What does that mean? Why, it means that comics publishers are trampling each other trying to get their new books out in front of con-going fans, doubtless praying that said fans will be so impressed that they'll set the internet afire with buzz on the new book being the Next Big Thing.

Well, as luck would have it, I've got the Next Big Thing right here. This is the book that I just haven't been able to stop thinking about for the last month.

Well, okay, maybe it's not the Next Big Thing. But I assure you that getting the Cartooning Class' giveaway ashcan comic pulled together in time to have the books ready for the kids to have them at their table next weekend during Emerald City Comic-Con has consumed pretty much my every waking moment for the last couple of weeks. So I decided to spread the love around and share a few preview pages with you folks.

The cover, above, is a coveted assignment, since the convention book has a press run of over five hundred; compared to the usual 50 to 75 books we run for an issue of the regular zine, it's obviously the most widely-distributed thing we do all year. Getting the cover's a prestigious assignment and the kids really bicker over it.

Katrina begged for it all the way back in September and I agreed, but somehow, even with all that lead time, she still blew her deadline. So Alaina pulled it out at the last minute. (Yes, I am ruthless with the kids about deadlines, partly because I have to be -- our printing is generally donated. Friends let me borrow their shop's equipment after-hours, and late pages can result in my being up till all hours at the printshop trying to get the books stitched and trimmed, so as not to disappoint a classroom full of kids who are expecting new comics the next day. The other reason is because I try to get the students as close to the real thing as I can and understanding that "deadlines are deadlines, period," is part of that.)

Considering this was so last-minute -- Alaina blew this whole page out in less than an hour on press day, pencils and inks -- I thought she did a nice job. Alaina is very enamored of birds, as you can see, and takes great pride in her new budgie. I don't know where the pen name "Momo" came from. Pen names are a phase the kids seem to go through every year.

The convention ashcan book is a special gig. It's a little different than our regular comics; for the regular ones I am more lenient, the kids generally can do whatever story they want as long as it's original work and doesn't violate the school's obscenity standard.

But the con book is more rigidly defined. Everybody gets the same assignment: "Introduce yourself. One page." That's it. It can be serious, it can be funny, it can be the truth or a pack of lies. But the finished book ends up being a remarkable cross-section of the class, and it serves as a nice little snapshot of what the program's all about. The inside cover has a brief note from me explaining about the after-school arts program, and our annual convention-special comic has become a remarkable PR tool for ALL the after-school classes.

I uploaded a few sample pages here for you. Here's Sharon. She's new this year, and really quite adorable.

Probably my most sweet-natured student. Sharon is usually collaborating with Samantha on a strip... this is one of her rare solo efforts. (Watching the two of them work, most of the time, I can hardly tell the division of labor. It's like one artist with four hands.)

Lindon, on the other hand, is a real hellion. But I am very fond of her.

All my kids make me laugh but Lindon (pen name: "Miko") usually makes me laugh the hardest. My all-time favorite Lindon story is actually from LAST year's convention, on Sunday afternoon.

The day was winding down and I told Lindon and Danielle, "Take some of those books up to the freebie table, why don't you?"

"How come?" Danielle wanted to know.

"So people who don't come by our booth can still get one. Pass out a few to the crowd, even. You're here as professional artists, you're working this show, right? Well, that means promotion. Getting the word out. The marketing fairy's not going to do it for you." Truthfully, I just wanted the girls to run off a little energy. They were getting a bit bouncy for the booth. However, that was not the idea the girls instantly seized on.

Lindon leaped to her feet. "I'm the marketing fairy! I'm the marketing fairy! Woo hoo!"

Our friend Rin, who'd come to work the booth with us that year, snorted with giggles. "You're going to regret saying that," she murmured.

"Knew it was a mistake the second it was out of my mouth," I admitted.

In seconds the girls improvised a paper crown and wings and Lindon the Marketing Fairy was off to spread good cheer, and that year's ashcan, to all who crossed her path. "I'm the Marketing Fairy!" she announced to everyone as she handed the books out. "Feel the love!"

And she went bounding off down the aisles. Remember in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, when Daffy Duck would say "Whoo hoo! Whoo hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Hooo!" and go careening off into the distance? Lindon the Marketing Fairy moved a lot like that.

That happened to be right when Gail Simone and her husband came by to say hello. As we were chatting Lindon came bouncing back up -- really, 'bounce' is the word, she was like a human Super Ball. With a paper crown and wings. "Hello, I'm the Marketing Fairy!" she sang to Gail -- and then Lindon came to a sudden stop, and with the most perfect dignity you can imagine, explained, "Sorry. I'm just really excited to be here!"

"Well, I'm really excited to be here too," Gail told her, smothering a laugh. "Nothing to apologize for."

"Feeling the LOVE!" Lindon agreed, and roared off again.

For my money, it was the single funniest moment from last year's show. Even now I can get Rin to laugh just by saying "marketing fairy."

Here's Emily. Emily blossomed over the summer. Last year she did rather perfunctory page layouts and groused about having to do backgrounds and inking. Suddenly this year, though, she has really taken an interest.

I think a large part of it comes from the encouragement she and Aja got at last year's show from Gail, as well as from Roberta Gregory and several others. I know Ben and his wife Anne from Mad Sea Dog productions especially took time for them. If any of you helpful pros from last year see this, I assure you, the five or ten minutes you spent with those girls really ignited them. They slave over their pages now with a determination that borders on fearsome. They are going to do this, for REAL, some day.

And of course after last year's column everyone wants to know about Katrina. Yes, she's back, using the pen name "Yuki."

As you can see, Katrina is deeply In Love this year, which colors everything. Still not sure if she'll make it to the convention, before anyone asks. I certainly hope so. I mean, True Love is all very well, but Emerald City comes but once a year.

Here's Jamar. Jamar is one of FOUR boys, total, across three classes totaling some fifty students. (Don't tell ME "girls don't like comics.") Jamar seems determined to make up the gender shortfall all on his own -- the kid is a FACTORY.

He usually is good for eight or ten pages in each issue of the class book, but they tend to be sprawling and sparse. I am constantly badgering him to slow it down and think it through a little. Jamar would freehand all his pages with a Sharpie marker if I let him. A little discipline, though, and he'd be an editor's dream; never at a loss for ideas, his pages are always very clear and easy to read, and he gets done in a day what takes my other kids a week. A natural storyteller.

This is Jessica, who also returns from last year. She goes by the pen name "Crow." (I really have no idea where they get this. But suddenly, at one point in the school year, all the kids want pen names. This has happened every year I've taught this class for the last fourteen years and I have no idea why.)

Jessica was one of the few to heed my suggestion that their real names should be in there SOMEWHERE, just to make the parents happy. She claims to be not very good, but she really is when she wants to be; the difficulty isn't ability, just that Jessica is easily distracted. (Usually the distraction is Lindon, who protests, " But we only have the attention span of a goldfish!" when I chide them to get back to work.)

Rachel is a veteran. She started in elementary school, as one of my Alki Art Studio kids, and picked it right up in the AfterSchool program without missing a beat when she moved up to middle school.

Rachel works harder at crafting her pages than any of my kids, I think. She works very hard at design but really I think she is an inker at heart. She likes doing the finicky, finishing details and is fascinated by the techniques of light and shadow; especially figuring out the method of emphasizing different elements with contrast. Unlike most of my kids, I have to caution Rachel not to over-work a page. Usually the problem is getting them to slow down a little.

Amethyst is new to us this year. I've taught her... exactly nothing. She came in to class this good. Took to it like a duck to water. Mostly I just get out of her way.

Amethyst is very sweet-natured and soft-spoken; not shy, exactly, but focused. She's there to draw. She draws until it's time to go. The end. About once a month I answer a technical question for her, like whether it would be better to go with cross-hatching or stippling in this or that instance, and that's about it. Then on deadline day I get these gorgeous, professional-quality pages. I'm just proud to be able to give her an outlet... but that's all I can honestly take credit for.

That's a fair sampling. The book itself showcases twenty-six kids in all, most of whom will be taking turns manning our table at the convention. And if you come by our table at Emerald City Comic-Con, you can have a copy of our book for your very own. I daresay whichever of our young artists are on duty will happily sign one for you.

Always assuming I get them all printed and stitched in time...

See you next week. I hope.

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