The phrase goes that we have one great love of our lives. We’ll I’ve been lucky enough to have two: teaching and comics. I’ve loved comics from the moment I picked up my first copy of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. I was enthralled by the rich characters, the fast-paced storytelling and the incredible art. My second love is the classroom. I teach high school English in South Central Los Angeles, one of the most turbulent neighborhoods in the world, where the sound of a bullet is as regular as the chirping of a bird. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, because these are the kids that need teachers the most, and I would know. I was one of them.
As a nerdy kid from the westside of Detroit, I’ve seen the effects of extreme poverty and the violent desperation that can grow in people. Thus, I want to do everything I can to help my students succeed and escape the violence of their neighborhood. Just as comics helped me escape my own. In my childhood, my favorite superheroes were Marvel’s Spider-Man and Milestone’s Static. I read their adventures as a getaway from the depravity around me, and reading those comics helped inspire a passion for reading and writing, which eventually led to my going to college and getting out of the “hood”. Yet, I couldn’t in good conscience just leave everyone else behind, so I became a teacher.
As a teacher, I aim to inspire my students to seek opportunities in higher education and the creative arts. Despite all the gang violence and drugs in South LA, there’s something else there: avid comic book fans. Many students at my school are huge fans of comic books, video games, and anime. Strolling through the lunch yard, you’ll spot a Spider-Man shirt, some kid’s playing Pokemon, and, of course, the ever-popular debate of who would win between Goku and Superman. Yet, there is one thing that’s hard to find; comic book stories featuring characters like them from their neighborhoods.
I was lucky to have Spider-Man, but I was blessed to have Static. Spider-Man helped get me into comics, which developed a passion for the written word. However, it was Static that showed me that the hurdles of my neighborhood could be overcome. In Dwayne McDuffie’s Static, I saw a hero who looked like me, and dealt with many of the same problems I was dealing with as a young man in Detroit. When people told me I couldn’t go to college, I used the courage Static gave me to rise above the doubt; however, my students don’t have that.
I’ve placed comics in front of my students, and seen them struggle to relate to characters that have nothing in common with them. Characters who don’t look like them, who come from a two-parent household, who don’t have to worry about the dangers of their neighborhood, or if there’ll be food in the fridge when they get home at night. This inspired me to do something to help change that, and I decided to start by making comics featuring characters of color from South Central LA.
It took some time to craft a solid plot, but once I had it, I sat down at a laptop and wrote the story. Then I hired a local artist, Wade Velazquez, to draw the comic. When it was all said and done, I created the comic fantasy series, Elvish. This comic features a nerdy kid, Justin, from South LA, who gets bullied and picked on until a group of Elvish warriors arrive to tell him he’s the reincarnation of their greatest warrior, and they need his help to defeat an oncoming evil.
Once the book was drawn and inked, I had it lettered and immediately showed it to my students. The book was only in black and white, but I couldn’t be bothered to wait for color. I wanted to share this work with them as soon as possible. As my students read the comic, their faces lit up at the story and the characters that reminded them of their community. Using this as inspiration, I began self-publishing Elvish and traveling to comic shows to share this comic with other people that love diverse storytelling.
Currently, I still make comics with my students in mind, but now I try to make them for students in other communities as well. I just launched a Kickstarter for a Pokemon/Smash Bros Melee-inspired comic called Broken. Broken asks the question, “What if you were in the game?” The book features a young boy, Patrick, competing in an augmented reality game with his video game character, Erin, to battle people around the world, all the while supporting his struggling family. It takes place in a futuristic version of San Pedro, California, and features characters of Asian, Black, White, and Latino descent.
I want to make comics like the ones that inspired me. Comics we can relate to, which will help inspire us to overcome the obstacles in our lives
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