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Kids, Comics and A Literary Festival

Article by Scott Tingley, April 28, 2007.

All week in my town ( Moncton , New Brunswick ) there has been a literary festival going on called The Frye Festival (named after literary great, Northrup Frye). This year the festival put an emphasis on reaching out to youth and children with workshops and school visits by the attending authors. Lucky for me, as part of this focus they brought in some comic creators.

On Friday afternoon (April 27, 2007) I was lucky enough to observe a workshop put on by Emily Pohl-Weary for High School students. She is the writer of novels and of the independently published comic, Violet Miranda: Girl Pirate . She showed the students the process that a writer and artist team goes through to produce a comic, from the first idea to the final product ready for printing. She then had the students create a comic character; first by illustrating it and then by asking questions about the character. Questions like: What is something your character would do? Where would he sit if he walked into a diner? What is she carrying in her briefcase? All questions that made the students think about more than just the surface visual of their character. She then had volunteers come up and show their work using an LCD video projector. The students did some beautiful, well thought out work.

Then today (April 28, 2007), I had the opportunity to sit in on a two-man workshop for middle school kids, hosted by The United Bookstore / Reid's Newsstand, and put on by the French speaking Jimmy Beaulieu from Montreal and the English speaking Jeremy Tankard, currently out of Toronto. Jimmy is a self taught illustrator who self publishes his work within the Mécanique Générale collective of artists (I think I have that right), and Jeremy has done some comic work (including a piece in ADHouse's Project Superior) and has a new children's book out, called Grumpy Bird.

The afternoon was not meant to be a two-man show, but just the right number of kids showed up to allow them all to gather around a double table and work as a group instead of as two groups. Moncton is a bilingual city with some people only able to speak English, some only French, and a whole lot that speak both. I speak very little French and I was concerned, at first, with how much of Jimmy's presentation I and the English only kids were going to understand (and the same went for Jeremy with the French only attendees although I'm not sure if there were any French only kids). This soon stopped being a concern. Both men were sketching and talking with their hands to illustrate their points and when the focus was on one, the other would sum up the information with a couple of sentences in his own language. It soon looked like these guys worked together all the time instead of just meeting.

Both artists are very good (I have the sketches to prove it), but both stressed that doing good drawings in comics is not always important it can help, but telling a good story is more important. If using stick men is how you can best tell the story use stick figures. Getting bogged down in making a single image perfect can keep a comic from even getting started. Storytelling is the key. They also gave a lesson on inking something I had never seen before. They instructed the kids to be rough with the pencils lots of lines- it should not look polished. When inking the pencils you will find the best line to bring the drawing to life (I am paraphrasing a bit). They were instructed on a lot of other bits and pieces as they created their own comic page (Jeremy even brought professional comic boards!).

It was a great day, and a great week. Thanks to Mark from the United Book Store / Reid's Newstand for having me.



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