Cartoonist Jerzy Drozd has picked twenty-one rural and urban towns in Michigan where he knows people are having a tough time making ends meet. Drozd has been visiting those towns and offering comic-drawing workshops, free of charge, to the kids in those areas.
At the Northville District Library, 30 miles west of Detroit, cartoonist Drozd asks a room full of kids what they might do if they were in a grocery store and they wanted to get their parent’s attention.
“You get big, right? Yeah you get big because you want to be noticed.”
Drozd says that’s why panels are different sizes in comics. “Space equals emphasis. It means big it means important, it means notice me.”
The class brainstorms a few characters. They come up with Betty Boop and Tom from Tom & Jerry. The class also devises a simple plot. Drozd then assigns a specific action for each panel.
“Ok so here’s your challenge, my brilliant artists. Choose these six moments. You’re going to decide for yourself which moment takes the longest to happen. Is that going to be a big panel or a small panel?”
Drozd says this kind of thinking—about space and the way the story is laid out on the page—is sophisticated.
He says, “You have to learn about how to get your audience to make inferences about the characters. What you show, what you don’t show. It’s not just what they say. It’s not just what’s in the written word. It’s about how a character’s body language is portrayed, with a little turn of the lip or a certain kind of smile that communicates volume of information.”
Drozd is teaching these skills to kids in Michigan towns where people are struggling on the “Kids Read Comics Super Fun Tour.” Part of his tour is funded by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and full disclosure, Michigan Radio also gets funding from the council.
Comic writer Dan Mishkin is involved with the Kids Read Comics project. He says creating comics can help kids having a rough time because it gives them a sense of control and power over their own stories, as opposed to doing something like, bullying other kids.
7th grader Clare Ramsden cracks open a thick sketchbook filled with page after page of her artwork. She says she creates a new character every two days. Ramsden’s latest invention has magical powers, and is named “Scream.”
“She’s mainly quiet she never shows her eyes or hands she’s just kind of back there in the background.”
Ramsden says she’s proud of the stuff she draws and Jerzy Drozd says that’s what his workshop is all about, helping kids realize they can tell their stories, quite elegantly, with pictures.