“Libraries need to understand literacy in the broadest sense – exploring all of the senses in the way kids and teens relate to the diverse services they have to offer.”
Posts tagged ‘Art’
As a writer with the shaky draftsmanship of a toddler on Red Bull, I tend to avoid discussing the visual aspect of comic book literature – this despite holding a Ph.D. which looked at the lives of many 20th century art historians!
I really struggled with art in high school. The only recognition a teacher ever showed for my artistic talents was at the age of 13, when I decorated the interior and exterior covers of my maths book with an epic stick-figure comic depicting the escapades of Jimmy Joe the Spew Surfer as he battled his way to a Ramones gig.
At the bottom of that week’s homework, Mr. O’Grady wrote: ‘7/10, some corrections to be made. Please kindly cover over the adventures of Jimmy Joe et al, or purchase a new exercise book.’ He then made me collect litter from the campus after school.
In this blog post, I want to redress the balance and hear artist-educators’ thoughts on using comics in the classroom. From the USA, we’re joined by acclaimed graphic novelist Jessica Abel, co-creator of the Drawing Words, Writing Pictures comics textbook. In London, Kel Winser works with children and young people creating Egyptian-themed superhero comics at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian archaeology, while Australian writer and illustrator Steve Axelsen runs workshops for young people in Western Sydney via the Westwords programme.
Today, Books and Adventures continues a series of posts exploring the use of comics in New Zealand education. You can find my New Zealand Education Gazette piece on the subject here.
A fine arts graduate turned tattooist, then comic book creator and novelist, the American Steve Malley was already a wandering soul before a tattoo commission from a Christchurch librarian drew him into the world of New Zealand comic book education.
Minnesota-born Steve abandoned a career as an artist in the US to develop his skills in tattooing, eventually taking his trade to a new home on the South Island of Aotearoa.
Steve wandered into educational work after doing a full sleeve tattoo on a librarian, as he told me over a pint on the outskirts of Christchurch’s quake-shattered Central Business District back in May.
‘Sometimes it felt like babysitting,’ comic book author Cody Pickrodt says of his days teaching in the California public school system. ‘There’s not enough money and not enough choice, when we need something more like a university, which caters to what the kids want to do.’
Cody is speaking to me in Café Grumpy, ‘a perfect café for comic book artists: big tables and not too loud.’ It’s located on a snowy streetcorner in Greenpoint, a world away from the West Coast schools where Cody first became involved in education. As an art teacher within the state, he would drive from school to school delivering sessions which increasingly came to focus on his first love, comic books. Returning to his native New York, Cody turned his passion into a profession as the leader of comic book workshops first for 3rd Ward, and then for Uproar Art.
Cody’s passion for comics in fact began in the city – specifically, in Chinatown. The young Cody’s Chinese-American mother took him on shopping trips where he developed a taste for Asian comic book imports.
‘I went from Disney comics straight to manga,’ Cody tells me. ‘I couldn’t read what they were saying at first, but the pictures told the story nonetheless. After a while, I even learned how to read Chinese, which after all is just another set of pictures. This was twenty years ago, well before the current popularity of manga today. And I actually learned something then, which I can’t say for the quality of manga that kids read today.’
Cody feels it’s vital to encourage a new generation even as Hollywood promotes comic adaptations from Spider-Man to Superman and Tamara Drewe to Scott Pilgrim. ‘It’s easy to forget that comics are actually on the wane. Graphic novel sales have dropped significantly in the last year. The boom in comics became a glut, and it’s only now that the industry is shrinking that there’s room to take creative chances. It’s a great time for young, original creators to jump on board.’
Cody has done his part to foster this new generation of talent among both students and teachers, having trained a new generation of instructors at 3rd Ward, including comics teacher Joanne Sherrow.
Now Cody’s workshops are available for all ages from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, via Max Goodman’s non-profit organization Uproar Art, featured last time on Books and Adventures.
Working around a simple 6-panel page format, Cody uses a variety of techniques and tricks to get creativity flowing among his classes. In one activity, students may pass their comic book to a partner between panels, creating a collaborative work.
‘These classes work with all ages from infant to adult,’ says Cody, although he’s particularly impressed by Kindergarteners, who he says ‘focus and really get into it’.
In common with Uproar’s director Max Goodman, Cody believes that many subjects can be taught via creative, practical art activities. The comic book form lends itself to almost any subject on the curriculum. And, taught in small groups – 6 students is the optimum number – Cody’s classes enable students to find their own creative impulses and express them through the comics medium.
Cody’s own journey from those Chinatown manga to his current output has been a painstaking one. Cody’s first comic book, Night Swim, boasting a 200 copy print run, was drawn, printed and individually assembled entirely by hand, prior to his experience using computers. Today his work, largely aimed at an adult audience, includes two concurrent narrative comics alongside countless cartoons, illustrations and the art project Men with Whom I Share the Same Height.
Cody works from a movie-style script, writing up to twelve issues in advance and creating thumbnails before moving on to a Zen-like drawing process. ‘It sounds odd, but I try not to think about drawing while I’m drawing. I’ll put on a movie or a listen to the news in the background, or just think about something else entirely, daydream even–anything to occupy that analytical part of my brain while I work. You achieve a purer line that way.’
Cody’s current series Francine Way, born during his studies for an BFA in Sequential Art, follows a teenage girl, interested in survivalism, who leaves her home for the nearby woods. Her illusions about a life of solitary freedom are shattered when she meets a feral boy, living rough in the wild, who may be linked to a series of violent and disturbing events in the town.
‘It’s a kind of Nancy Drew story with a twist,’ says Cody, ‘about an outsider girl who wants to find out who’s behind this mystery, but who also doesn’t want to jeopardize her friendship with this fellow outsider.’
More about Francine Way and Cody’s other work – some only suitable for adult readers – is available at http://codypickrodt.com/shop
In March, Cody will run a one-day parent and child workshop for Uproar Arts, sharing his expertise and giving families a taste of comic book creation. To find out more and get in touch with the Uproar team, visit http://www.uproarart.org/
>Never mind the nightlife and the skyscrapers, one of the most exciting things about New York is the commitment of the many artists and educators who serve their community through not-for-profit work. Over the coming weeks, Books and Adventures will be speaking to some of these American heroes striving to provide the best possible start for their city’s children.
Today we speak with Max Goodman. Max is a young artist and educator who, in 2009, founded Uproar Art, a Brooklyn-based non-profit organization which delivers weekend workshops and after-school classes to the local community. A talented jeweler in her own right, Max has assembled a team of artist-educators who offer courses on everything from recycled art to creating your own comic book.
Max is a dynamic and independent figure – she created her own first job in NYC by contacting 3rd Ward, who were advertising their own arts classes, and convincing them to take her on as an instructor! Although she had intended to teach in New York schools, the constraints of the system led her to found her own non-profit organization for arts education.
‘When I arrived in January 2009, there was a hiring freeze in the district,’ Max explains. ‘Founding Uproar Art gave me the chance to commit fully to my students without giving up my own art-making practice. It was a great way to give back to the young art-making community without sacrificing my own art.’
Max believes that an artist-educator who remains committed to their own practice can offer students new ways into learning, beyond the traditional classroom.
‘Pattern, rhythm and symmetry can all be used in art, but they’re concepts repeated in math and music. Working with paints and metals helps students understand chemistry in a way that a science textbook could only illustrate flatly on a page. Frequently, students who feel they cannot achieve in other subjects are able to find an outlet in the arts, and in this way art keeps students in school who otherwise might drop out.’
Max gives the example of an 8-year-old student who spoke no English when they first met: ‘Her eyes lit up when she was in my art room, because she could follow the visual examples and create a beautiful piece. She expressed herself without worrying about the boundaries of language. That kind of outlet is absolutely invaluable in our world of standardized tests and rubrics.’
We’ve discussed British educational assessment on Books and Adventures before, but Max’s comments highlight the issues raised by testing on this side of the Atlantic, where there is a move to regulate education at a more national level. Max is ambivalent about this move:
‘I believe that funding for education should be sourced and therefore equalized on the national level, but I do not think it’s reasonable to expect students everywhere to pass nationalized standardized tests. Individual communities understand the challenges facing their students, and should be afforded more local control over curriculum. A national curriculum should definitely be offered, but expecting students who speak English as a second language, or those with learning disabilities, to test the same as their peers is absolutely unproductive.’
As Max’s home patch in Brooklyn undergoes gentrification, wealth brings new opportunities and resources to the community – but it can also divide a neighborhood. On a recent visit to Bedford-Stuyvesant, I spoke with a local parent who decried the privileged do-gooders who parachuted in to a deprived area – but were free to leave the community’s problems behind at the end of the day.
Max’s team at Uproar Art are sensitive to these issues and committed to the place where they live: ‘We seek to ease tension and conflict – to make sure we’re serving the community that has existed before the influx of wealth as well as the newcomers.’
Wherever possible, Uproar Art offers free and low-cost workshops alongside their comprehensive range of classes. ‘Eventually, we’d like to be a resource for children with an interest in the arts who may not have the means or support to pursue it extra-curricularly, as well as for the students that have the support system in place. We’re hoping to offer sliding scale payments for classes over the coming year.’
Max’s ethical commitments extend to opposing the involvement of the private sector in public education: ‘I think no for-profit entities should be allowed to play any role in our educational system. When I was a student in the Philadelphia public school district, a for-profit company sought to take over our schools in order to use them as a fertile captive audience for advertising. Education is for the good of the students and of the society in general, and somebody seeking to profit from that loses sight of these moral truths.’
Uproar is on the cusp of finishing its incorporation process, which will enable it to accept grants for future projects – and Max’s team are already looking ahead to the months and years beyond.
‘Our first year of business has gone well: we’ve found many allies in the local community, and have been welcomed with open arms into local studios. In the coming year we’d really to work more directly with local schools. It’s time to start reaching out to the parts of the community that don’t have access to programs like ours.’
In the immediate future, Max is excited by launching her own workshop on Organic Sculpture in Lefferts Garden. It’s based in part on the work of Andy Goldsworthy, who makes temporary artwork from found items in the environment.
‘Before now it’s been difficult to find a location that parents and art studios were both comfortable allowing students to make nature based art, but I’m very excited to see what my 6-8 year old sculpture students discover in our own back yard. In addition to teaching Organic Sculpture we also offer a Recycled Art course. Because of our strong community focus we’re always looking for ways to blend art making and the environment, and luckily there’s no shortage of other environmentally friendly non-profits ready to partner with us – friends like Glenn Robinson at Bags for the People or Annie Novak of Rooftop Farms.
To find out more about Uproar Art and get in touch with Max and her team, visit http://www.uproarart.org/.