Of Art and Identity

Nov. 13, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Next Tuesday, the 19th of November, I will be traveling to Durham to The Montessori School of Raleigh Middle School where I have been kindly invited to visit with with teacher Julie Ruble’s seventh-grade class and talk comics.

Not comics in the sense of superheroes and such, but more in terms of an exploration of the medium of sequential art in relation to the execution of works that take root in that of a more personal and socially engaging regard.

As part of the students’ current project titled “Project Identity” the class just finished reading the realistic fiction young adult novel, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” written by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Ellen Forney.

The book focuses on Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the reservation to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Based on the author’s own experiences and coupled with drawings that reflect the character’s art in a variety of styles, the book chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

The engaging work is not only entertaining but a thought provoking read as it focuses on racism, cultural clashes and how different identity features (race, socioeconomic level, gender, age, etc.) can change one’s experience in the world.

The seventh-graders are set to begin research themselves on how people with varying identities experience life in America and, using that knowledge, illustrate their own story in comic form.

Be it a political comic to make people really think or the depiction of “Real” vs. “Ideal” in a day in the life of someone different; the project is designed to get the students to step outside their own mindset and see things from the point of view of someone else.

Having heard of my interest in Sequential Art from our mutual friend, Nathan Miracle, teacher Julie Ruble contacted me online last week.

She felt having me interact with the students would be a great opportunity for them as they began planning their overall concepts.

I am very much so looking forward to meeting Julie and her class and hope to offer some helpful advice to this group of very progressive students that will come in handy when they begin to eventually illustrate their stories.

With a focus on the use of different art styles and a look at the endless variety of approach one can take when cartooning, I would like to show the students the uniqueness of the art form itself and how it relies on the personal expression of each artist to educate, entertain and inspire others.

To say the least, I am humbled and very flattered by the invitation to be involved in such a project.

There is also equal excitement on a personal level.

It was in middle school where I first truly began to realize that one could spend the rest of their life creating art. It was important realizations made at that time of my life that guided me through high school, college and to this very day.

I continue to make new ones, almost daily, and find constant inspiration through a longing to learn and discover more of what I’m capable of accomplishing as an artist.

Being asked to talk to a class of middle school students for an hour may seem simple to most, but for me... it is an experience I’m looking forward to learning a lot from.