The Day – Middle school students create comics at a spring break workshop in East Lyme

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

Eleven middle schoolers signed up to learn the art of comics from Niantic’s author, illustrator, educator, and resident Jason Deble. He created the picture book “Sir Ryan’s Questwhich 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 originating in Japan.

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

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

“I want to figure out how to do little little details,” she added. “Little little moments.”

The special workshop is the second in a series of three comic book workshops the library began hosting in December 2021. Rebecca Scotka, the children’s librarian, said she contacted Deeble in early 2020 to leading a virtual illustration workshop for kids via Zoom during the coronavirus pandemic and it turned into lessons on cartooning.

It was so well attended that Scotka contacted Deeble again to conduct this workshop after applying for and winning 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 – together with funds raised by the East Lyme Public Library at its annual fundraiser.

“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 most widely circulated items in the library, she noted, and most workshop registrants are “big fan of graphic novels.”

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

“With comics, young adults write and invent stories. They learn the beginning, middle and end of stories. It’s literacy,” Scotka added.

Deeble, 42, told the children that the aim of the workshop was to “get you to draw and give you time to draw”. He led the children in a quick doodling game which involved one person drawing three shapes and asking their partner to “see something that wasn’t there before and then finish the drawing”.

The middle schoolers also learned how to draw timed self-portraits, with an emphasis on drawing quickly and making quick decisions about the most important elements to include. Deeble pointed out that comic artists learn to draw quickly because it can take years to complete a graphic novel.

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

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

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

Others said they enjoyed learning and watching each other’s progress.

“I love being here to do comics, meet new people, and swap tips with people who have the same vibe and interest as you do,” said eighth-grader Jazz Deeble.

“I’ve already seen other people’s art in December. It’s so cool to see it now – the development,” said eighth grader Sapphire Mendoza.

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