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September 1, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Todd Kent

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Todd Kent is a writer and filmmaker from Dallas whose latest project is the documentary Comic Book Literacy. The film explores how comics are utilized in the classroom and features interviews with several creators and comics readers discussing how comics promote a love of reading. Here, Todd talks about his love of comics.

 

 
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel?
The first comic I ever read came free with the Sunday edition of the Dallas Times Herald. It was the promotional comic “The Uncanny X-Men at the State Fair of Texas.” The story involved Magneto visiting the State Fair of Texas to recruit a young mutant to the Brotherhood. The X-Men show up to stop him and proceed to have a wacky adventure involving corn dogs, the auto show, the Cotton Bowl, and other State Fair staples.
This was 1983 and I was probably 7 years old. I was only marginally knowledgeable of the X-Men but seeing these bizarre heroes involved in a superpowered battle at a place I had been to many times just blew my mind.
 
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
I enjoy the visual aspect as well as the serialized nature of the medium. I like going from panel to panel and month to month. Comics have a very energetic, active “feel” to them that is very distinct.
There’s also a culture that is unique to comics, more so than any other medium. It’s like an exclusive club that can be fun to be a part of. Although at times I worry that this sense of “culture” might ostracize potential readers or, even worse, educators who could use comics in the classroom. One of the goals of the documentary is to highlight the great potential of the medium and show that it can be as inclusive a medium as television, prose, etc.
 
Whose work do you admire?
Anyone who can balance engaging characters with long-form storytelling. There are certain writers that I follow from project to project: Terry Moore, Bill Willingham, Paul Dini, and Gail Simone, for example.
I also admire creators who can utilize the comic book medium for something other than traditional superhero storytelling.
 
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
These days, mainly just cookbooks, particularly anything by Alton Brown. It seems to be the only thing I have time for. I also try to pick up various travel/roadside culture books.
 
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
I’ve been slowly making the switch from monthly titles to trade paperbacks and then every Wednesday I wonder why I don’t have many titles in my weekly pull list. I enjoy the convenience of trade paperbacks but I also look forward to that “Wednesday feeling” you get when the new books arrive. I probably read 10–15 regular titles per month. I’ve never been able to get into manga. At least, not yet.
 
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
If you mean the comic book field, I’m not involved in it professionally. If you mean filmmaking in general, I started making documentaries in college and continue to do so today. It was only a matter of time before I combined by interest in filmmaking with my interest in comics.
 
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
I usually get polite smiles and nods and very few follow-up questions. I’m not sure why that is.
 
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
I have several long boxes of comics in the closet but I’ve never been a fan of the collector mentality. I don’t bag or board but I do crease, fold, and reread.
 
There are, however, specific issues that I was able to get signed by the creators that I interviewed for the film (Strangers in Paradise #8 signed by Terry Moore, Superman Adventures #5 signed by Scott McCloud, etc.). I doubt they have any monetary value but they have sentimental value and went right up on the wall.
 
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?
Any comic that’s worth reading over and over.