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Creating Comic Books

Students' Cartoons With A Message Tap Into Drawing, Writing, Storytelling, Leadership Skills

May 23, 2005

Seventh-grader Kozani Medina is known as a quiet, hardworking student at Fox Middle School in Hartford. But after creating a comic book called "Jimmy's Turning Point," she's also being called an artist and storyteller.

Kozani, 14, is one of 20 students in the after-school program at Fox Middle who learned to write, design and illustrate comic books in The Comic Book Project, an arts-based literacy initiative developed at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York. It is sponsored locally by The Children's Aid Society and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

"I like to draw - that's my hobby, and the story just popped into my head," Kozani said.

Youths in 10 cities, including about 250 students in after-school programs at Fox, Quirk, Bellizzi, and Hartford Magnet middle schools and Burr School in Hartford, wrote comic books about leadership for The Comic Book Project this year. The finished comic books will be displayed on a website, and the best one from each of the 10 cities will be published and distributed nationally by Dark Horse Comics in a book entitled "We, The Leaders."

The Hartford students' comic books will be on display until May 31 at Immanuel Congregational Church's Fellowship Hall, 10 Woodland St., Hartford, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibit is free and open to the public. For information call 860-527-8121. Examples of the students' comic books can be viewed online at www.ComicBookProject.org

Michael Bitz, the educational researcher who founded The Comic Book Project, said it provides a creative way for kids to make art and write at the same time. Though this is the debut year for the project in Hartford, in previous years students in cities such as Cleveland and New York have written comic books around themes such as conflict resolution and environmental awareness. About 10,000 students are participating this year, and Bitz hopes to expand to the West Coast soon.

Kozani's comic book, which she said was inspired by a relative who turned his life around after using drugs, was selected to be published from Hartford. At a reception honoring all the student participants, Andrew Serrao, the principal at Fox Middle, told Kozani she was "a star," and promised to hang a framed copy of her comic book in his office.

"My story is about a boy named Jimmy who must choose between two paths - going to school, or smoking, doing drugs and hanging out with a gang," Kozani said. Jimmy chooses the wrong path, but his friends help him realize his mistake, and he becomes a leader when he apologizes to them.

Bellizzi Middle School sixth-grader Laquan White, 13, who plays on his school basketball team, and draws and writes poems about basketball in his spare time, wrote a comic book called "Leaders."

"Basketball is my sport, so I wrote about things you have to work on to be a leader, like offense, defense, dribbling and shooting," Laquan said. Being a leader in basketball also means helping other kids, he said.

Eighth-grader Victor Rivera, 15, wrote his comic book "Uncle Archie and Scrapy" during the Quirk Middle after-school program.

"It's about a mouse whose friends dare him to go and take a picture of a cat," Victor said. The mouse gets the picture, but he is also chased and scared by the cat before his uncle rescues him.

"The lesson is that you have to lead people, not be led by people," Victor said.

Aldwin Allen, coordinator of the after-school program at Fox Middle for Catholic Charities, said even the students who don't complete their comic books benefit from the skills they learn during The Comic Book Project.

"Everyone learns basic drawing techniques, how to convey emotion through art and how to use point of view to tell a story," Allen said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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