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August 10, 2009

Imagine This


As a child, raised under what we politely call “underprivileged” circumstances, I was remarkably blessed. Infused with artistic goals and dreams, I was repeatedly introduced to talented actors, illustrators, cartoonists, musicians, and dancers. At first, they came to me via films in neighborhood movie theaters, and on a 13" black-and-white TV screen.

But then I started meeting them as performers who visited schools and community events through various programs. I also wound up in a few public school classes with children whose parents were performers I’d seen at one time or another. And finally, these gifted individuals randomly appeared in the crowds of pedestrians that roam the streets of New York City, my hometown.
Not being the shy type, I almost always spoke to them, not to acquire autographs, or to gush…too much. I was more interested in gaining information, insight, behind-the-scenes peeks as to what it was like to perform and create entertainment magic.
Those who were friendly and opened their souls shared tidbits of their experiences, and I can honestly say it influenced many of the decisions I made as a young man pursuing a career in the arts.
See, that’s how it works—we, the adults, share our stories and skills and passion for our professions with the young, and sometimes, somehow, we inspire or enable them to shoot for their own goals. We help them dream of possibilities beyond what they know at that moment in time.
So naturally that’s what I (and many others) have tried to do within this world we call comics and graphic novels. Not only to entertain and amaze, but also to fire the imagination of our readers, and in the case of children—to help them visualize themselves accomplishing something wonderful in the future. Not as spectators, but as active participants—creating or discovering things; deciphering not only ancient languages to unearth some fantastic treasure, but active readers decoding everyday information that will enable them to be more productive for themselves and their communities.
Reed Richards would not be the phenomenal scientific genius he is if he could not read. He and Tony Stark, John Henry Irons, Peter Parker, and others have used their academic skills to help lift them to the status of superhero.
Storm, Barbara Gordon, and Jan Pym often call on their scholastically acquired skills and knowledge to aid them in their battles against criminal and extraterrestrial threats.
Writers and illustrators cannot conjure up most of the tales they tell without those very same basic skills. How do you write about Greek and Norse gods if you know nothing about them? How do you factor the speed that the Flash or Quicksilver have to run in an attempt to overtake a bullet if you have no knowledge of math or physics?
Or to reflect the attitude of those who are simply in this business for the sake of making money—how many books can you sell to a public that does not read?
So, my view on this matter is simple: Comics can both entertain and educate. It’s an organic process that kids have experienced for decades without being fully conscious of the benefits. The efforts I have made as a storyteller, a teaching artist, and the founder of the Kids’ Comic Con reflect this equation.

What we do in this medium affects the masses, and many of them are children and young adults still trying to figure out where they fit in this world. Let’s be aware of that, as we pluck more gems from the mines of our imagination and place them on the block for sale.