The Day – Middle schoolers create comics at spring break workshop in East Lyme

East Lyme — Instead of sitting on the couch playing video games like Minecraft and watching YouTube videos during their spring break week, tweens learned how to create comic illustrations depicting themselves doing activities like these as part of a drawing exercise.

Eleven middle schoolers signed up to learn the art of comics from author, illustrator, educator and Niantic resident Jason Deeble. He created the picture book “Sir Ryan’s Quest,” which was published in April 2009 by Roaring Book Press, and Monster Haiku, a daily webcomic featuring child-sized monsters written entirely in haiku, a form of short poetry that originated in Japan.

The three-day workshop began on Tuesday and runs until Thursday at the East Lyme Public Library, 39 Society Road, Niantic.

“I want to have my own story to look at, look back at, and improve,” fifth grader MacKenzie Perry said when Deeble asked the kids what they hoped to learn from the program.

“I want to figure out how to make small little details,” she added. “Small little moments.”

The special workshop is the second installment in a series of three comics workshops the library began hosting in December 2021. Rebecca Scotka, the children’s librarian, said she had reached out to Deeble in early 2020 to lead a virtual illustration workshop for kids via Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic and it morphed into lessons about cartooning.

It was so well attended that Scotka reached out to Deeble again to lead this workshop after she applied for and won a competitive federal grant. This project was funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services — under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act and administered by the Connecticut State Library — as well as funds raised by East Lyme Public Library during its annual fund drive.

“I liked doing something for the middle schoolers because we have so much for the younger kids,” Scotka said. Graphic novels are one of the highest circulating items in the library, she noted, and most of the workshop registrants are “big graphic novel fans.”

She said she was surprised how often kids continue to check out books about cartoon characters Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes, which are classic comics from generations before the kids were born.

“With cartooning, the young adults are writing and making up stories. They’re learning about the beginning, middle and end of stories. That’s literacy,” Scotka added.

Deeble, 42, told the kids that the workshop’s goal was to “get you drawing and give you time to draw.” He led the kids in a quick doodle game that involved one person drawing three shapes and having their partner “see something that wasn’t there before and then complete the drawing.”

The middle schoolers also learned to draw timed self-portraits, with a focus on drawing with speed and making quick decisions on the most important elements to include. Deeble stressed that comic artists learn to draw fast because it could take years to complete a graphic novel.

“A graphic novel usually has a set sort of goal. It has a beginning, middle and end. Comics are like a series of different events. They’re not connected,” fifth grader Charlie Clancy said when Deeble asked if the kids knew the difference between comics and graphic novels. This was his second workshop of him with Deeble. He said he really liked making comics and meeting other people who also like making comics.

Deeble told the kids that by the end of the workshop they would each complete their own brief version of a graphic novel. If they wished, Scotka said, the kids’ work would be featured on the library’s website, eastlymepubliclibrary.org.

“I want to start my own graphic novel series,” seventh grader Bella Rahi said. This was precisely the reason she had registered for the workshop.

Others said they enjoyed learning and watching one another’s progress.

“I like being here doing comics, meeting new people and exchanging tips with people who have the same vibe and same interest as you,” eighth grader Jazz Deeble said.

“I saw some other people’s art before in December. It’s so cool to see it now — the development,” eighth grader Sapphire Mendoza said.

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