Saturday's Super Special Sneak Preview!

It's that time again -- when we take a look at some preview pages from the most important comic book of the year!

Well, of my year, anyway. This is the promotional ashcan comic my cartooning students put together as a giveaway for the various shows and events we attend throughout the school year.

The primary venue for this book, of course, is the Emerald City Con, but we jumped it forward in the schedule a bit so as to have it ready for Comixtravaganza at the library, as well.

The cover is a remarkably collaborative effort. Since we do one book for both middle schools each logo is represented. This year I had a brain wave and decided to have a contest for each class comic's logo design, that we'd then use throughout the school year. The kids voted on the one they liked the best. David won the Aki Kurose contest -- their book is called Sketch, and that's his lettering and design. Connor is responsible for Madison's Doodle Inc. I set the rest of the type and laid it out on a blank page, and then Pazuzu and Dasha from Madison took the cover assignment. I told them, "Find a way to bring it together visually somehow, so it's a cohesive unit, part of a larger illustration." So Pazuzu did loose pencils of the girl in the hammock and the thought balloon, and then Dasha did finishes and inked it.

We do have a new school this year. I will spare you the tale of the bureaucratic nightmare that led to us closing up shop at Denny Middle School after so many years, but I have to admit it was invigorating to launch a new program at a new school. The rookie class at Aki Kurose Middle School is really a good bunch, and though the group is smaller than the Madison class, they are rapidly turning into a tight, professional group of studio artists; it hasn't taken them long to pick up a rhythm and a solid work ethic at all. I have to say the support from the school at large, the student body and staff, has been amazing. Much more even than the veteran crew at Madison across town, the Aki kids really get to enjoy the rewards of being in print. They are actually developing a following and the new copies of their regular Sketch zine are much sought after when we drop them by the office on publication day.

The assignment for the giveaway book never changes. Every year it's simply this: "One page. Introduce yourself." They can be serious, they can be funny, they can tell the truth or they can lie, I don't care -- but each kid gets a page to say whatever he or she wants, as long as it in some way represents them.

So we'll start with some Aki pages. Here's Erick.

Erick is the younger brother of David, who designed the logo. David is much better in terms of draftsmanship, but he is not terribly original -- he tends to crib things from videogames and so forth, I constantly have to hammer at him to do something original. But originality is never a problem with Erick. What pleases me most about Erick is that he almost quit at one point because he felt that since he couldn't draw as well as David, it was a waste of his time. But once he realized it was more about storytelling than drawing, he had a breakthrough. Now he's unstoppable.

This is Carlos, probably the funniest kid at Aki.

Carlos is a bit of a smartass but he fell so completely in love with the comics form, once he realized he could really do this, that he really buckled down and got serious. Again, not much with the drawing, but look at how he's trying to use the page, he's hitting everything I ask for -- he sets the scene, he uses different points of view in different panels, he is trying to portray light and shadow and varies his ink line. You really have to see it to believe it, the way it transforms a kid who has been saying he "can't draw" once he sees what the tricks of the trade do for his page. Now Carlos is leaning into it as hard as Erick; his epic serial "Sparkman" is about a guy who is caught in a lightning storm and gets electrical powers, and then has to decide if he's going to be good or evil.

Lynn is one of the few girls who signed up at Aki.

It's mostly boys at Aki (unlike Madison, which is usually an estrogen festival.) As you can see, Lynn is occasionally feeling a little overpowered by all the guy energy in the room. But she is one of the kids who was just waiting for a venue -- the first day of class she showed me sketchbooks filled with her strips. Lynn is very quiet and shy and prefers just to sit and draw, but the finished pages are always so beautiful that on publication day she owns the room. It's bringing her out of her shell a bit to see her work so admired by the others.

Denny, below, is probably technically the best of the Aki class.

He's extraordinarily gifted, but also amazingly slow. Denny is very self-deprecating, as you can see; but really his problem is perfectionism. His pencils look like John Cassaday or somebody like that. And he works at about Cassaday's speed, I think. His workaround for this page was to come up with a design that required almost no drawing, so he wouldn't fuss over it for weeks.

And here are some of the Madison pages.

Gavin, you may recall from our trip to Seattle Center, recounted here.

He is quite a celebrity in class for having gotten to talk to Eric Trautmann, "the Halo guy!" The Halo Sourcebook that Mr. Trautmann autographed for him (with the inscription, "Keep up the good work!") rides with him everywhere, it's almost talismanic. (Eric, if you're reading this, please know that you really, really inspired this kid. And he in turn is lighting a fire under all his friends to keep up with him. It's amazing.)

Lindon, as usual, has turned in a beautifiully-rendered page with occasionally subversive content.

I let myself get trapped here; the kids are always after me for permission to swear in their comics. Actually, they just badger me about permission to swear, period. And Lindon, especially, has a terrible potty mouth.

My dilemma is that I have some difficulties in that area myself (I occasionally have let fly with dammit or what the hell are you doing) and, well, I have always felt that I shouldn't ever have a double standard about these things. If kids think you are being a hypocrite, they stop listening to you, and in middle school, it's all about picking your battles.

So we cut a deal. I told them, "At least try to keep it to what you get on network television. But NOT cable." I figure that's at least a defensible standard if someone administrative gets their panties in a bunch.

As a result, you are seeing more profanity and violence in the Madison comics this year. All I have to say is, take it up with Standards & Practices at the networks, because they're the ones that lowered the bar.

Alexa, especially, took that ball and ran with it.

She's really not a sociopath. She's just showing off that she can draw John Woo action and not get in trouble for it. Also, Lindon helped with inks and she is not about to hide her light under a bushel, as you can see.

Dasha is new this year but she's another one that came in with pounds of sketches.

For the promo book I tell the kids a pinup is acceptable, as long as it's still words and pictures. Dasha is a bit random in her layouts, which is why I had given her all that instruction about the cover needing to be a cohesive unit. Really I think her heart is in poster design. But she is learning the comics idiom and slowly coming to appreciate it, I think.

Nina's another one that tends to think more in terms of poster design.

Sometimes I think she's channeling all those late 60's rock promo psychedelic poster guys: it kills her that we can't print in color. The black that you see all over this page is actually red, there's black fine-line rendering under that, but the camera saw it as all black. I warned her that might happen, but she shrugged and said, "I wanted to color it." I wish I'd been able to at least shoot a screen of it so as to preserve her rendering, but there just wasn't time.

Ian's a Madison veteran. He is a born cartoonist.

He's one of mine that never is going to draw well, but he has an instinctive grasp of the comics form, he's all about storytelling. And note, again, that he is really trying to stretch himself with changing point of view and varying his ink line to portray light and shadow. But Ian's really more of a writer, his stories tend to be very thoroughly and tightly plotted.

And from the cuteness corner -- all the girls at this table collaborate, they often will ink each other and do one another's backgrounds and so on, and they are all adorable. It's like a little mini-studio.

Here's Andrea:

And Darienne:

And Kat:

All of them sit together and I daresay these three pages got swapped around quite a bit as they were working. No way really to tell who did what, after the initial layout.

It's weird -- I always LET them work studio-style if they want to, but some years they refuse and other years the class really embraces it. I never can tell what the determining factor is. But this year we have a lot of kids discovering the joys of working in an assembly line. Which brings me to Shane.

Shane works primarily as an inker, he's working with three other kids at the moment, I think. But he took a break to do this page all on his own. He's very mild-mannered and studious, which is what makes the punchline work. Normally I might have a call from the boss about this page, but Shane is so gentle everyone knows he's being silly.

Tiffany is another of mine you may remember from earlier columns -- she took a break from her epic Tamora Pierce adaptation to do this page for us. We put Ms. Pierce on the mailing list and Tiffany always makes sure to sign it to her, which I think is delightful. I'm not even allowed to look at it, it's private correspondence, she says. But Tiffany's another one who's really been inspired by the pro interest. (Bless you again for that, Tammy. It makes a huge difference. I hope you know that.)

So that's the preview. If you come see us at the Emerald City Con you can have one of the books for your very own, and I imagine you can get it signed if you play your cards right.

And in the meantime, I'll see you next week.

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