Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday's Focus Group

This is just something fun I thought I'd do here from time to time. As some of you know, I teach a class on comics and cartooning at a couple of different middle schools here in west Seattle. The kids lay out and pencil and ink their own pages and I collate them into a 'zine that we publish every five or six weeks.

They work at different speeds, as you might expect. So I usually bring a big pile of trade paperback comics with me so the students who finish early have something to look at. They're mine, so they reflect my tastes, overall; but I do try to take as diverse a group of books with me as possible, and it endlessly fascinates me what catches their eye... because I always guess wrong. Always. It's really weird to me what my students will actually latch on to, as opposed to what I THINK they'll be interested in. So I thought I'd list a few recent hits here, along with the comments the kids made to me in class. Today's reviewers are Madeline and Sam, who both finished their strips early this week and as a result spent a lot of time immersed in the trade paperback pile. The little biographical introductions are from the "About the Creators" page we put in the back of our own class 'zine.

We'll start with Mad. Madeline Robison is 12 years old as of November 25th, and her favorite cartoon is "Garfield." She has been playing the violin for the last four years and also is quite a singer.

Madeline was very curious about DC Elseworlds, so I brought in a pile of them. The one that really caught her eye was this one.

Maybe it's the jodphurs. Who knows what the hell kids are into these days?

She was absolutely mesmerized by JLA: Age of Wonder, more than any others I brought in, even Superman: Speeding Bullets or Superman: Red Son, which were big hits last year.

"I like the art," Madeline said. "It's elegant."

It is indeed elegant. Craig Russell does elegant better than anyone else in comics, I think. It also has more roles for the ladies than the others, which may have something to do with it as roo. This was a nice little miniseries that I'd recommend as well, actually, though it probably won't get collected any time soon. I imagine you could pick it up pretty cheap at a con somewhere if you had a mind to.

Elseworlds are the most obvious manifestation of this phenomenon, but I've noticed that the kids rarely embrace anything completely new. They are more interested in familiar things, but turned a little sideways. Take our next example.

My kids love this cover.

I have been getting a lot of Doom Patrol questions ever since the Teen Titans cartoon aired the DP episodes. Madeline glomped on to this when I brought it in, read through it in a single sitting, and then announced, "This is just MESSED UP." Pause. "Why isn't Beast Boy in it?"

I admitted that I didn't know. But the more I think about it, the more the idea of a Grant Morrison Beast Boy series for Vertigo tickles me.

Sam is also a big reader. Here is his bio:

Sam Guzzardo reads Naruto, Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and Fox Trot. He is a little strange, he admits, and likes Star Wars, cats, pizza, video games, and reading. Sam is 13 years old.

Sam is, in fact, probably the most well-read geek in my classes: the Dork Side is strong in this one. He really likes DC and Marvel history, and seeing the source material for things that show up in the animated cartoons. As a result, he really dug this one....

Where's John Stewart?

Actually, Traitor is a popular book with a great many of my students. It's just exactly the right size and the right accessibility for them, and it's a nice overview of the Green Lantern concept. Despite the thrashing around DC was doing for the last decade or so ducking this fact, I have noticed over my years teaching that the idea of the Green Lantern Corps is still a really powerful one among my students; unlike most adult fans, the kids don't seem to really care all that much who's wearing the ring. They latch on to the basic concept, a group of chosen people in a secret galactic brotherhood, each with a magic ring that makes anything they can think of materialize out of thin air. Hell, put it that way and I'm excited about it again myself. What's not to love there?

Sam is also very into the collections of the original monthly Teen Titans books, or, as he puts it, "the REAL ones." The girls in my classes also devour any Titans books I bring in. Interestingly, they snoot the Teen Titans Go! books done in the animated style -- those are "kid stuff." They love the show -- they all watch it -- but for reading, they want the source material. If DC reprinted the Wolfman/Perez run in cheap digests and got them into a Barnes & Noble, I'm telling you, they wouldn't be able to keep 'em on the shelves.

Don't EVEN try to push off any of that Ameri-Manga crap on us.

Sam is a big Geoff Johns fan, period. Interestingly -- well, to me -- Sam also really digs Geoff Johns' spiritual godfather when it comes to continuity, Roy Thomas. He grabbed the Conan Saga books practically out of my hand when I brought in a bunch of quarter-bin stuff and donated books to give the students at our Christmas party.

Sam digs continuity and pseudohistory, by Crom!

Really, though, the two books that are the single biggest hits among my students, all of them across the board at every school I go to, aren't from Marvel or DC. I can't even single out any particular student as especially liking these because they ALL do. Here they are:

Brandon CRUSHES Marvel and DC in the west Seattle middle school market.

This one, The Stereos: in The Garage by Brandon Hanvey, would have to rank first. Here's why: It's about kids their age or a little older. It's about rock music. It's about not getting along with parents or teachers. It's about your friends being the only ones who REALLY understand you. And it's funny. And the art style is incredibly accessible.

Of all the books I have ever brought in to class to show my students, this is the only one they RE-read. Over and over. When Brandon comes up here for Emerald City, he'll be a rock star.

They also like this one:

Sorry, I couldn't find a bigger image.

Tom Beland's 100 Stories, collecting the weekly newspaper strip "True Story Swear To God." It's probably the closest thing to a Garfield-style, strip-collection-format, mass-market paperback I have in the pile, and I think the students like that familiarity. That gets them to pick it up, and once they read it, they are in love. This is a very funny book, and my students love funny books. Note to comics publishers -- funny stuff would sell if you put it out there where REGULAR, non-fan people would find it. You don't see it from big publishers but indies are all over the funnybone and those are the ones that my students (not to mention my fellow instructors at the art studio) are most likely to pick up and flip through.

Anyway. There are others but I think that's a pretty fair overview of the ones they've been grabbing the last few weeks. Thanks to Sam and Madeline and all the other kids in my classes for letting me use them in the column.

See you next week.

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Anonymous Matthew Allen Smith said...

"I like the art," Madeline said. "It's elegant."

Give the girl a gold star, she's hit the nail right on the head there. I didnt work that out till I was in my late teens, and theres no way I would have been able to put it over so elequently.

2/11/2006 03:28:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Cool idea, Greg. But next time, I'd like to see the kids write full reviews themselves.

2/11/2006 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Erech said...

Further, I'd like to see what the little fellows are drawing, you should post some of the better examples sometime.

I went to Garfield HS in my 11th/12th year and was already pretty heavy into drawing at that point, but would have loved to have access to a class like this. Kudos, for the good work, sir.

2/11/2006 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay Potts said...

Greg, I teach a comics illustration class to middle school and high school age kids at the Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County here in South Carolina. They're very responsive to the exercises, but I have a hard time focusing them on completing a story. Do you have them do comic strips or short stories? Do you give them a topic or just let them do whatever sort of story they want? I would be glad to learn more about your instruction techniques.

If you have time, drop me an e-mail at


2/11/2006 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger --Greg Hatcher said...

Jay, a more detailed e-mail will go out to you later today, but I can tell you right now the single biggest incentive I have to wave at them to make them finish is ACTUAL PUBLICATION AND DEADLINES. It's a real zine, we do a print run of anywhere from 40-100 books depending on which school it is, and a special zine for the Emerald City Convention that we attend as exhibitors every year. The books go out to the school, a couple of local coffee shops, and Zanadu Comics here in Seattle. The only real hurdle is at the beginning of the year when the newer kids drag a little, the ones who haven't seen their own work in print yet. Once that happens, they're unstoppable.

Great idea about getting the kids to do their own reviews. I'll make that happen -- that's actually a great class time-killer for the early-finishers, too.

I'll try and get a page scan or two up with those guest reviews, too, but in the meantime for those who went to the San Diego Comic-Con last year, Sam got a pin-up into the program book, you'll find it on page 53. (We actually had three of mine in last year's book, Mike and Marisa got in too.)

2/11/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

It is good to see the diversity of todays comics is appreciated by the younger audience. I wish there had been more "young adult" or "all ages" indy stuff out in my preteen and teen years. All we had was the crappy Black and White explosion in the 80's...

2/11/2006 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Good stuff, Greg. Thanks!

And thanks to Madeline and Sam, as well.

2/11/2006 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the writer of JLA: AGE OF WONDER, I should point out that P. Craig Russell only did breakdowns for the book - that is, he did the panel layouts and basic compositions, while his studio mate Galen Showman did the full pencil and ink art over his breakdowns for both books.

Other than that, I agree: both Craig and Galen are very elegant artists.

Adi Tantimedh

2/12/2006 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

Hee. Greg's class signed and did sketches in one of their self-produced comics for me a couple years back. I think I still have 'em somewhere. Some of my favorite comics that I own.

2/14/2006 12:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Kiki said...

Just as a comparison, I work in an elementary library. The comics K-6 have gone nuts over have been Sonic, the new Power Pack, Waid's JLA: Year One, Simonson's Thor, Dark Horse's Godzilla, Scooby-Doo, Busiek's Spider-Man, and Batman Animated Adventures. While we have female Sonic and Power Pack fans, W.I.T.C.H and Peach Fuzz are the books that have been MEGA popular with the girls.

2/14/2006 09:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Brandon Hanvey said...

Thanks for the shout out, Greg. I hope ECCC doesn't overwhelm me.

2/14/2006 08:46:00 PM  
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