Yesterday in Olympia

The week before is invariably an ordeal, but the Olympia Comics Festival is worth it. It has become the high point of the year for both Cartooning and Young Authors.

Because I'm exhausted, I am just going to run the pictures and tell you about our day.

The high school contingent all had bailed out on me the day before-- by the luck of the draw, they are all seniors this semester, and are in a frenzy of panic over their last week of high school bearing down on them like a freight train. Dimpal had a band concert, Symphony had a college orientation, Fowssiya had a history final on Monday she was not ready for, and I forget what Iman and Jonathan's reasons were. It's a damn shame because the book they just put out is one of the best we've done for that program.

I'd suggested they dig a little deeper this time and good God, they opened a vein. Fowssiya and Iman did several pieces about hate and bigotry-- here's the spoken-word performance that went viral at school within a day of being up on the net, and this was pretty typical. Jonathan did a remarkable memoir about coming out at sixteen, Fowssiya talked about her trip to Africa to meet her family and what she learned there, and so on. Personal stuff. It was kind of the last hurrah.

That's Jonathan's art on the cover-- self portrait. I love that it looks sort of torn between delight and terror, because that, he assures us, is basically what coming out is like. The Oly crowd would have EATEN IT UP, but needs must and all that; the rule is always "school comes first."

So that left the middle-school kids to carry the load. Here you can see Sam, Cooper, Teya, Willoweve, and Sophia.

This was a first show for Cooper and Sam, but they acclimated quickly, and Willow especially was great at coaching our newcomers. ("I love being at the table but I have to remember everybody should get a turn," she told me a little wistfully at one point.) They were on the bus with me; and after hearing rave reviews of our last two table experiences from his wife, Sophia's dad also came along, which was tremendously helpful to me because Julie had to stay home. We have both been clobbered with a miserable cold and apparently are doomed to continue trading it back and forth for week after week, and yesterday was her turn. So I was glad to have the extra help. It's always special when parents come along who've never really seen the class convention machine in action before, and yesterday the kids did us proud.

Here's the view from our table.

And another, looking past Willoweve and Teya. You can see our next-door neighbor, a soft-spoken Olympia artist named Timothy Murphy.

He was very nice, and blessedly, extremely tolerant of our mayhem. As I usually do, I bought a couple of zines off him as a thank-you for his patience, and Sophia bought some as well. They're really cool; he's got sort of an Edward Gorey, whimsical-horror thing going on.

Another cartooning student of mine, Joseph, drove down with his family. This was nice because, until this event, his family had no real grasp of how much he loves this stuff and how much comics mean to him. He is painfully shy and has a hard time talking to people, so he has generally opted out of doing cons with the class. Nevertheless, on paper he is unstoppable; he is one of my most prolific young cartoonists and I had thought it was a shame he was missing the show part of the experience. He is about to go on to high school where there's no program like this one, and this was his last chance to table with the class. That finally persuaded him-- well that and the fact that the girls had been giving him the full-court press about it in class.

Even so, it was hard for him to even be at the table at first... until he sold a book and signed his first autograph. Then he was fine. That's him on the end having the greatest day of his life.

His dad was awed and delighted at the entire show, and kept saying how amazingly talented everyone was. I sent him over to Mark Monlux, knowing his books would delight the whole family. "And if you buy one, he'll draw you in your favorite movie," I told him.

"Really?" He was thunderstruck. It hadn't quite hit him that artists will sketch for people. "Do you think he could do Back to the Future?"

"You can't stump Monlux," I assured him. "He did Road House for me and Howl's Moving Castle for my TA."

He raced over to Mark's table, with Joseph's brothers and sisters in tow. Here they all are watching Mark do his thing with awe and wonder.

I think they bought both books. I am sorry I didn't get a picture of the sketch, but it was hilarious-- Joseph's dad, looking terrified, seated next to a manic Doc Brown in the DeLorean.

Joseph, meanwhile, was happy just to sit at our table and draw. Most of the kids were. Sophia was the only one really out and around-- she had discovered that exhibitors would trade zines with her and she was having the time of her life. She did go to Peter Bagge's panel, which pleased both me and her father. "I always like it when actual Learning takes place at these things," I told him.

As for me, I hardly circulated at all; mostly hung out at the table and prayed my supply of cough drops would hold out. Even at that I got to see lots of familiar faces. Here's Casey Silver from 80% Studios who was so helpful getting the class into Hometown Heroes in April.

He looked at our display and suddenly burst out laughing. I had no idea what was so funny... The kids, over the course of a show, tend to churn out sketches like factories and often they'll end up propped up over the official display items. I assumed it was one of those. It wasn't until I got up an hour or so later that I discovered the drawing that had set him off.


I suppose I should explain. A couple of weeks earlier, Sophia had been playing with an idea for a strip where she would depict all of her classmates as animals and she had been polling them to choose what animal each one should be. They all chorused that she should do me as one too, and so I was questioned about my animal identity.

"An aging walrus," I had told her. "Grumpy. With a bad flipper."

This delighted them. As for the comment, it comes from my usual response when I tell a kid to stop doing something-- usually rocking back on the stools, some sort of safety thing like that-- and protests are shut down with: "I don't care. The rules are the rules. Whine all you want, the tears of children nourish my black heart."

And now it had been immortalized. I drew myself up to my full height and snarled in my most dangerous voice, "Who is responsible for this?"

Instantly, none daring to speak, Willow, Sophia, Cooper, and Teya all turned as one and pointed at Sam. Sam shrank down and flushed to the roots of his hair.

"Looks like everyone's throwing you under the bus, Sam. Is this true? You drew this?"

He turned even redder and nodded.

"I see." I gave it another moment, then relented. "Well, here, then." I peeled a five out of my wallet and gave it to him. "I guess it's mine now. Nice job."

"Really?" He couldn't believe it.

"Really. You earned it. Mrs. Hatcher will love this. She will laugh and laugh and laugh."

She did, too. But the best part of the story is this-- Sam considered it another moment, then put the five in the donation bucket.

"You don't have to do that," I told him. "That's yours. Books are for the class fund. Sketches are all you."

"I want to," he said stoutly, and that was that.

They did circulate a little, later in the day. Sam, Joseph, and Sophia all contributed to the jam poster the Festival had going in the corner, another phenomenon Joseph's dad marveled over.

"This is amazing," he kept saying. "Next year I think we are going to come just to come, this is great."

We actually did a fair amount of business... the kids really brought it. And Olympia is very supportive, especially of Young Authors.

This woman here bought an anthology and a couple of the zines. She was, it turned out, a fellow exhibitor, and when I saw her later I thanked her for supporting the program. She said, "They're awesome! I actually started reading the anthology and oh my God, I can't even. It's great."

That was pretty much our day. Joseph eventually left with his family, his father thanking me profusely. The rest of us, since we had leftover money even after covering the table fees and gassing up the bus, decided to blow the remaining funds we'd raised by going out to dinner. They earned it. We found a congenial pizza place a couple of blocks from the show and the kids all dug in.

I was exhausted but they were all high on their day and plotting a group project for over the summer, a round-robin collaboration between Young Authors and Cartooning. Sophia's dad and I just leaned back and watched, enjoying it. They were energized. Over the years, one of the unexpected consequences of having my students publish and table at shows is this-- it's very team-building. "It's such a solitary thing usually, making stories," I explained to Sophia's father. "This is a chance to do it with people."

"I can see that," he said, looking at his daughter at the other end of the table, who was going a mile a minute with Willow and Teya about plot and backstory.

We'll see if the book actually happens. But with this crew it might. At any rate, it was a great day.

We do have one more event this year. Sunday, the 12th, we are returning to Barnes and Noble in west Seattle to be part of their B-fest Teen Book Festival. We're doing some kind of a panel thing at two PM-- not sure yet what it's going to look like, still talking to the store people and conferring with my students, but I know we'll have some of our books. If you are in town you should come check us out.

Everyone else, I'll see you next week.

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