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New Comics Day

by  in Comic News Comment
New Comics Day

No, not Wednesday at my local retailer. This particular “New Comics Day” is actually a much bigger deal in our household; it’s the one we have at school when the first issue from this fall’s new Cartooning Class rolls out.

This is easily the hardest classroom comics anthology to produce all year, for a simple reason; most of our new kids have to learn what exactly what it is we’re doing. There are about a zillion technical things that go into designing a comics page that my sixth-grade newcomers have never given serious thought to until they are in this class, and it can be a steep learning curve for them, even if they can already draw well.

Especially since the basics don’t change, whether you’re a twelve-year-old kid doing a ‘zine in an afterschool arts class or a big-name artist doing the new issue of Superman for DC. It’s a crash course in things like what happens when you vary the weight of an ink line, or how the shape of a panel can affect how people read, or– often the steepest hurdle for our new kids– changing the point of view from panel to panel while keeping your characters visually consistent. There are story things too, but the vast majority of our students come in with a very clear idea of what they want to do; their issue is always how to get it to work on paper.

What amazes and delights me, year after year, is how hard the kids work at this. I don’t think any other program at my school elicits the kind of fierce determination to get it right I always see from the whole room. Sure, there are probably individual kids in the drama club or on the basketball team who are as passionate as my budding artists, but I don’t think those activities get the across-the-board devotion from the entire class that I generally see in Cartooning. Even my more raucous ‘problem’ kids, when it comes right down to it, are committed to getting it done, and done right, by deadline day.

Of course they don’t always make it. It’s all new to them, and after all, most of them are only twelve. But, by God, it’s not because they’re not trying.

I backed into the publishing part of the program by accident, really; originally, I just wanted the class to have some kind of final project where all the lessons would combine, and an anthology ‘zine seemed like the natural thing to do.

But over the last eighteen years, doing the ‘zines has become the engine that drives the entire enterprise. I sort of knew this would happen from my own days putting out ‘zines and stuff when I was in high school– it’s why I wanted to try it in class– but even today, entering year eighteen, I’m always a little shocked at how it lights the students up to see the books in print, and it hits me all over again what a great gig this is.

A lot of it is that they all love to crack each other up. Kids do collaborate sometimes, but more often the publication of the book is the first time each student gets to see what everyone else has been doing.

Just for fun, I thought I’d print a few pages from our inaugural issue this week. I haven’t done this in a while and I think this is one of the better freshman efforts we’ve had the last few years.

Hina and Amy collaborated on the cover. And Cal designed the logo for this year.

I used to typeset the logo myself but it was kind of boring and it occurred to me to make a class project out of it. Whoever is interested submits a design and then the kids vote; voting is blind, strictly on merit. Cal’s was the clear winner.

Cal also did the frame for the inside front cover’s jam.

I honestly don’t know who all did what, other than Cal designing it and doing the drawing of the astonished magician. I know that Josh, Jude, Oscar, and Jacob all contributed.

Here’s Oscar’s two-pager.

The drawing’s really not there, obviously, but look at how hard he’s trying to give me what I ask for. He’s changing the point of view, he’s put some thought into the logo design, he has a real story. The drawing will come with practice, I think. He’s already on fire now that he’s seen what some of his colleagues are doing.

On the other end of the spectrum, here’s Malaika. Malaika was really stuck on story– writing is not in her wheelhouse at all– and I suggested she do a ‘list’ comic, a springboard idea that usually seems to unstick a kid that can’t think of anything. “It’s just words and pictures, a comic doesn’t have to be fiction. Why not just illustrate something like, oh, five things you did last week, or ten things you hope never happen in class? Like that, you know, a list with pictures.”

So she went with that, and I tell you, she slaved over this. She really struggled with things like making sure the camera tripod was separate from the background, and that the swimming shot looked like it was in a pool. We talked a LOT about perspective and line weight and point of view, and as you can see, Malaika really took it to heart. I think we’re going to see some extraordinary work from her by the end of the school year.

Here’s Josh, one of our veterans. This is his second year in Cartooning and he’s getting much more ambitious. Again, Josh is not much on draftsmanship but he has a much better grasp this year of how a comics page works, and what it’s supposed to do. I was really pleased with what a clear narrative he’s got here and the storytelling’s all in the art. That’s always the hard part. Draftsmanship and polish are much easier, you can get those with practice.

This is a big leap forward. Josh usually has done silly non-linear humor things in the past — last year I think his biggest hit was a sort of loony fight strip called “Pie vs. Pi” — so this grim post-apocalypse thing is a whole new chapter for him. The gritty Heston-in-THE-OMEGA-MAN vibe cracks me up, as does the title. (I told him that he should call part two “Shoot the Zombies, They Are Still Bad,” which made him laugh.)

Lots of my kids do food-based characters; I don’t know why, it’s a middle-school thing. Here, Hina combines all sorts of typical 6th-grade ideas into a one-stop strip.

You’ve got unicorns, a science accident with mutation, and, of course, a hunk of cheese. (Someone should do a learned paper on how often cheese comes up as a concept or a character in 6th-grade creative efforts.) It tickles me that Hina, who is a sweet little Asian girl, has that whole EC Comics rough-justice vibe here with the rotten thieving unicorn getting what’s coming to him.

Here’s another story about things not ending well for our hero, from Henry.

Henry’s another one of mine who got hold of the concept of the comics page idiom right away, and so now it’s mostly going to be about fixing up the drawing. I suspect this will improve rapidly with practice.

Amy is another sweet little Asian girl with an antic sense of humor she rarely shows in class but that blossoms on the page. This was her first offering.

As you can see, she’s really enchanted with the idea of changing the narrative point of view; once I showed her the concept Amy became intoxicated with the possibilities. Here’s another strip she did that literally is built around that idea.

Simple, I know, but seeing little Amy get so excited about the idea of making comics and the wonder of all the different ways you can play with a page layout to get an effect has become one of my favorite parts of the classroom day.

This one just makes me laugh. Jack discovered a clever work-around for his inability to draw people– he did a strip with hardly any people in it.

He did meet me halfway by giving the stick-like arms and legs a little bit of weight. Persuading the new kids to make the leap from stick figures to actual three-dimensional rendering, no matter how simple, is often very difficult, so I’m always pleased to see kids like Jack trying to get out of their comfort zone.

And finally, here’s Cal. Sometimes I get a kid who’s already so good that you mostly just get out of his way.

Cal is really, really good for someone who’s, well, twelve. He had almost everything from the moment he sat down– it’s mostly just going to be refining and getting him to un-learn some of the sloppier drawing habits he’s developed. (In particular, getting him to slow down, and work a little harder at doing backgrounds.) Even so, I’ve seen less polished efforts from small-press guys tabling at APE. Considering how well this first one turned out, I’m really interested to see where Cal is in the spring, a few issues down the road.

So there you have it. A sampling from the class of 2012. With the first one out and done now, I can relax a little. Because from this point on, the rest of the year’s on rails. Now that the kids have had a taste of actual publication, there’s no holding them back; it took us five weeks to get this first one done, and they are planning to go to press again with #52 in eleven days. They’re on fire now. They’re a really fun, diverse group this year, as well. I think we’re going to see some great stuff from them in the coming months.

Of course, as my aide Katrina always reminds me, I say that every year. And I have to admit that yeah, I probably do.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

See you next week.

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