We are Comics

I am comics I’m Shawn Bowman, writer and artist.  On and off for the last 20 years I’ve worked with kid artists, writers and filmmakers, helping them create and promote their own work and dig deeper into the crafts they are passionate about. My kids and I are part of an amazing comic club which has met every Friday afternoon for the last seven years, over half the lives of some of the kids who’ve been regulars.  Our club is pretty evenly split between boy and girls, wildly talented people, funny and engaged- some of these kids will be making the comics we read ten years from now and their stories are already amazing. We will actively continue to support our fellow artists and creative medium which gives us super powers and secret lairs.  We will paint and draw and write, we will read and buy comics written by  and about people of all genders and races, we are comics now we are the faces of comics to come.


Alternate Realities

In our continuing explorations of story development- this Friday we took our favorite character and placed them in different eras of time. By shaking things up a bit we discovered that changing the context of action our comics are able to draw on key events in history for plot and subplot themes, cool new costume and prop ideas and even changes in character dialect. 2014-04-18 15.57.12

The other big exorcise we tried out for the afternoon was creating an alternate time line for the world.  As per usual this was hilarious and any one of the key events would make for an excellent comic or comic series.  The following is not a comprehensive list but our favorite moments in time that you may not have noticed…

400 AD- Angles and Saxons come to England, Hadrian builds a wall

500 AD- Cthulu begins plans on making you a sandwich, since he invented the sandwich, it should be called Cthulu

600 AD- The alien race we now call humans came to this planet and colonized

793 AD- Some people start dying off, other people get mad

1066 AD- Race of different aliens take over world and make humans slaves

1067 AD- Space becomes cool

1200 AD- Farts invented

1201 AD- Legos invented

1300 AD- A herd of kraken take over the world

1337 AD- Jerry met an alien and was sadly not historically recognized

1400 AD- Annika is recognized as a god

1450 AD- An artist made a painting or something

1492 AD- Columbus comes to America

1500 AD- Cavemen live again

1501 AD- They die

1502 AD- Due to dimensional rift a million vampires invade

1600 AD- Sudden skip in time it is now 5,000 AD

5001 AD- Time works out the kinks

1562 AD- Earl of Sandwich steals Cthulu’s idea

1865 AD- Lincoln assassinated by Plague Doctor

6000 AD- It was all just a dream, nothing ever happened

plague doctor

2014 off to a Kickin Start with Some Social Justice on the Side

Our 1st meet up of the year and we dove right into the deep end of the pool with a character and story building session based on a DIY game called 1000 Blank White Cards . We started out by cutting 5 index cards in half so each player starts with 10 blank cards, we added crazy titles to these, illustrations underneath and then the amount of  blessings or damage each card could do. Easy peasy, also hilarious.  Miles had one card where the player had to demand apple juice until someone gave them apple juice and all of Lucy’s cards started out with a sneeze.  I’ve enclosed a few of our favorite cards in the gallery below.  We’ll start next week out with playing a couple rounds of the game and adding more cards if we’d like then draw comics based on the game play.  It should be a great exercise since the characters will be facing odd challenges and some even being brought back from the dead.

Along with our drawing and comic creation over the last few weeks we’ve been having more serious conversations about the lack of diversity in comics and how characters of color and sexual orientation are portrayed.  A heavy subject for kids but something they’ve brought up themselves talking about quite a bit in other classes and ideas of justice in larger society which they are beginning to wrap their heads around.  We’ve invited a couple guest speakers in the comic industry to come in and visit with us in the next few weeks as this conversation continues.  I’m enclosing links to a couple great articles which I’ll be sharing with the kids as well looking at approaches to promoting equity.

Tom Heintjes wrote a fantastic article last year about Charles Schutz’s introduction of Franklin, an African American boy to the cast of Peanuts characters and how he was motivated to include based on conversations with an impassioned school teacher.  It’s a great read and I’m looking forward to sharing it with the club. Our future guest speaker, David Walker blogged a great story yesterday about one of the most important ways to affect change, financially.  It truly is something every industry understands, the power of the dollar, if we want to see a diverse group of artists creating our content, then we need to support them by buying and promoting their work.

drama1How comics are addressing sexual orientation also came up in our discussions.  Since our club has kids in a wide range of ages I tended to steer our conversations around sexuality into smaller group discussions.  Our middle-school girls are very eager to chat and the elementary boys are still really focused on blowing up alien planets.   How people are portrayed in comics is a pretty important subject though since mainstream comics continue  to depict women in hyper fantasized proportions with very little clothing, not to say men get off easy and their body shapes are also fantastical but the culture of misogyny within the history of comics is hard to sweep under the table.  Rather than getting weighed down   by examining all the injustices within our medium, I’d love to point out places where comics are doing it right.  Raina Telgemeir’s Drama is a beautiful coming of age story perfect for our middle school kids.  With a very diverse set of characters and a spunky young heroine a number of vingettes are interwoven including characters who are gay which help drive the plot forward into a very rich teen story.  The New York Times has a glowing review of the comic here. 1000  Blank cards1   1000 Blank cards2

Read all about it in the funny papers

“Crusaders humble Tigers with impressive defense”

As we’re finding out, great comic ideas come from almost anywhere.  We used the daily paper as inspiration for these exercises.  The sports pages turned out to be a hilarous rescouce for dynamic battle comics.  We had some great titles to choose from…The most popular headline was “Crusaders humble Tigers with impressive defense” as illustrated above by Miles.

“Warriors take control in the 1st half”

Colin decided to put his warriors inside a turtle shell, ask him about it!

Henry and Lucy both illustrated “Wins not revenge on Duck’s agenda”

Henry’s Comic
Lucy’s Ducks have big agenda

We also made comic illustrations from the world news.  The headlines were guideposts and of course the addition of extra characters/setting enhancement was encouraged.  The kids tackled a great moment in recent history, Sebastian Pinera’s innuguration ceremony as the new president of Chile was interrupted as a 6.9 magnitude earthquake rocked the the city. 

Xander’s interpretation of the event involved an alien invasion which was the cause of the earthquake, no word yet on the fate of the president after he boarded the mother ship.

Lucy is going for the literal and visual word play with this one, the country is shaped like a chili pepper and the president is an oaf rather than taking his “oath”, rock on Lucy!

Comic Makers show us how it’s done!

Hey welcome back everybody!  So fun to see our friends again!  Last week we did a few warm-up exercises to get back in the mood for making comics.  Everyone had an assignment to draw a character from different perspectives- facing forward, from underneath, above, extreme close-ups and more.  I’ve enclosed a number of examples-

We’ll be doing lots more exercises like this- I picked up a copy of Scott McCloud’s Making Comics today and plan on using it as a source book for a number of the activities we’ll be doing after school.  If you’d like to really stretch your skills as an artist and comics creator I’d also recommend reading Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.  Both books have a number of comic assignments as well as on-line components and activities.

The Center For Cartoon Studies has also put out a  new how-to comic book for kids which is very unconventional- Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics The book teaches by example, rather than walking you through specific steps of comic creation.  It could be read purely for the story, but a true comic adventurer will look at each page and panel and ask themselves, “why does this page work, what are they trying to teach me, how can I use this in my own comics?”  Speaking of the Center for Cartoon Studies, did you know our buddy Kevin is taking classes there?  Looks like he’s been very busy and has been keeping a blog of his work there.  You can check out his site here, it’s mostly OK for kids with a couple brief PG13 moments…

Another book we’ve just started digging into is James Gurney’s Imaginative Realism . It is a beautiful book and James gives lots of looks behind the scenes of how he comes up with images for his work like in the Dinotopia series.  If you order the book from him rather than the store he’ll inscribe a note to you, which we thought was pretty darn cool!  Gurney also keeps a blog which is packed with great drawing tips and resources for artists, also very fun to read!

Spring Reading

For the last few weeks I’ve been dragging around a big bag of comics, which we’ve been reading and drawing resources from, all the books came from the Multnomah County Library and is a great place to check out new stuff without spending all your allowance.   A number of the books either featured women heroes or were written or drawn by women.  I thought it would be handy to feature some of the books here, click on the link to find out where you can pick up a copy…  Let me know what you think of the books and the links, I’ll post a few more reviews and some of our art before the summer break.

wondergirlDC Teen Titans Spotlight on Wonder Girl    If you like mainstream action/adventure comic, this is a great place to start, traditional super heroes fighting crime and mythical heroes  with golden lassos. 





laughSince we’ve been looking a lot at how to draw characters, Superhero ABC is definitely worth looking into.  There are great faces and poses to choose from and each letter has a clever “super” personification.  If you’re looking for story ideas, you might want to write some histories for these guys, where does Goo Girl get her gumption, why is Volcano so gross?  Creator Bob McLeod has a fun website with downloads which a fun place to spend some time.





 Baby Mouse is really Fab!  And I think on Ramona’s greatest hits list.  Not only are there great stories, but the page layout is something young authors and illustrators can learn a lot from.  Some pages have lots of panels, on others there are none.  The pages are three color- black, white and pink, except this summer, when Baby Mouse comes out in Orange.  Creator, Jennifer Holm, has a fantastic website with educator guides for teachers and parents, a resource I’ll be looking into for next fall.


biker girl  Biker Girl is written by Misako Rocks and is the story of Aki “schoolgirl by day and bike hero by night”.  The illustrations are rooted in traditional manga style, but the story is about a very empowered young woman.  It’s a great book to study from if you are trying to develop your manga style or have a love for girls with goggles. (Who doesn’t?)  Misakos other books look great too, they all feature young women in off the wall adventures. Detective Jermain Vol. One looks especially good, and I hope to track it down this summer.



anancySpeaking of fancy pants girl detectives- the Nancy Drew Graphic Novels, by Paper Cutz are worth a once over.  The ink and coloring is especially nice and the characters have a very fresh feel.  The stories are updated though and fans of the “real” Nancy will come away disappointed.  Carolyn Keene’s writing may be a challenge for younger readers, but she had an excellent sense of pacing and dialog, many of these literary treats dissappear in the comic versions. 



chiggersIf your are in the mood for some GREAT writing, GREAT characters and OUTSTANDING comic illustration- I can’t recommend Chiggers enough.  The book is an Eisner award winner, the highest accolade in the comics world, and is not your average read.  It’s a coming of age story set at summer camp where a group of young girls are on the emotional highway to self discovery.  It’s definitely a graphic novel for our 5th and 6th grade readers and could be thought of as Jr. Chick Lit, though that would be selling it short.  Hope Larson’s website is lovely and has nice downloads, visit it here…


smile_200x300 While some books don’t make the leap to graphic novels well, Raina Telgermeir’s version of The Baby-Sitter’s Club is actually a huge improvement on the original.  Her illustrations radiate emotional energy with emotively drawn characters. She keeps her backgrounds simple and moves the story forward through lively discussions.  Raina was a guest at the Stumptown Comic fest last year and was lovely to visit with as some of you were lucky to find out. Raina is married to Dave Roman, who also does comics incluing Agnes Quill and the superfun Astronaut Elementary which is online and updated every Friday.







April Comic News

simone2Stumptown Comics Fest: 

Whoo hoo!  The fest opens up tomorrow morning at 10am and the kid’s workshop begins at 10:30 in the Idaho Room.  The Stumptown organizers have been kind enough to reserve 10 spaces for us, but I’d recommend showing up early (like as soon as the main doors open!) just to make sure we all get in- I expect the workshop will fill up entirely!  The workshop ends at 11:45, I know we’ll all want to do a bit of looking around, but thought it might be fun to meet up for lunch afterward, and compare our day.  If you can make it, we’ll meet up at the food court on the 3rd floor of the Lloyd Center Mall at 1pm.  Make sure to bring parents with you tomorrow as it’s a pretty big crowd and I’d hate to lose track of anyone.  

Tickets to get into Stumptown are $6, I’d recommend bringing cash to pay, I’m not sure that they offer a kid discount, but the workshop is free.  The Stumptown Website is www.stumptowncomics.com

PCPA Poster:

Thanks for your comic drawings our poster is on display along with the work of other fantastic Portland comic artists at the PCPA building 1111 SW Broadway, so you should head over and check it out especially if you’re heading over to the main library, art museum or historical society!  The exhibit will run through the end of the month

Free Comic Day:

One of the best days of the year is coming up quick, May 2nd, where local shops are giving out treats to you and publishers are making special books to celebrate… check out the link… http://www.freecomicbookday.com/

Kid Workshops:

The Sequential Arts Gallery on Broadway is putting on weekend kid workshops, Sundays this month then returning to a Saturday schedule- the classes are very reasonably priced and are coming from the very awesome folks who put together the Stumptown Fest, here’s a link to their site, though the workshop info isn’t listed at the moment…http://sequentialartgallery.com/wordpress/