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Friday, May 30, 2008

A Visual Change

For the past several years, I’ve presented at the Young Authors, Young Artists Conference in Rochester, MN. The event, sponsored by the Southeast Service Cooperative, is a gathering of 800 talented, energetic, and artistic fourth through sixth graders from schools in southeastern Minnesota. My presentation, “Creating Graphic Novels,” discusses the steps involved in creating graphic stories.

Initially, when the event was called the Southeast Young Writers Conference, my presentation was about poetry. After I wrote my first graphic novel, Matthew Henson: Arctic Explorer, on the cusp of the recent graphic novel boom, I switched to my current presentation. After all, these students are the same age as I was when I first delved into comics. I brought in samples of each step involved in the creation of a graphic novel, from my outline and script to the storyboards, inks, and final colors, and discussed the reasons and importance of each of these steps. And I always ended the presentation with an activity where we’d create and share
a one-page comic. At first, few students really understood what a graphic novel was, and usually only a handful hands would raise when asked if they read graphic novels, but the final activity was always a hit.

A lot has changed, visually, over the years. I now show art from my Eek and Ack books. The name of the conference has evolved to include “Young Artists”, and there are nearly as many art sessions as there are writing ones. In each of my eight presentations, nearly all the students raised theirs hands when asked if they read graphic novels. Young readers get the idea of telling a story through pictures, and understand the concept of sequential art. And they can’t get enough. They’re also excited to create their own comic stories and learn the art of storytelling through illustrations. During my most recent presentations, I was continually asked, “Is it time to draw yet?” “Can we start drawing now?”

It thrills me, as an author of graphic novels, knowing that they are not only getting kids more excited about reading, but they are also animating their creative talents. Graphic novels can cultivate reading skills as well as energize artistic ones.

--Blake A. Hoena
Production Manager, Stone Arch Books
and author of the Eek and Ack series

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