Lake Erie Ink Workshops Let Young Writers Flex Their Creative Muscles

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Kids' Comic Con 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-320-4757.

The fourth annual Kids' Comic Con takes place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Lake Erie Ink in Cleveland Heights. This "kids only" convention includes workshops with professional artists and writers from Northeast Ohio. The event is for kids 8 to 18, but younger writers may attend with an accompanying adult. Speaking of adults, you're welcome if accompanied by a kid or with a teacher ID. Of course, costumes are highly encouraged.

"It's a unique event for kids in Northeast Ohio," says Lake Erie Ink co-founder Cynthia Larsen. "Unlike the stereotypical comic con, which is a pretty commercial event with quick opportunities to meet comic creators and stars, our comic con is — shh — more like a symposium of workshops with comic creators. But 'Con' sounds cooler than symposium or conference. That means kids can spend an hour interacting with and learning from an artist or writer.

"For the kids," Larsen continues, "the attractions are listening to awesome guests sharing their skills and getting encouragement from them as they create new work. It's meeting other kids who love comics the way they do. It's making an action character out of modeling clay and then drawing a comic about it in the free drawing space. For me, the main attraction is watching so many kids following their own path of learning, really soaking up the ideas presented, constantly drawing as they listen. It's looking over their shoulders as they create new work to show each other."

Guests include professional writers and illustrators, including Eisner & Harvey Award-nominated comic book writer Marc Sumerak, and Jake Kelly and John G., creators of The Lake Erie Monster.

"I have attended the Lake Erie Ink Kids Comic Con as a guest for the past few years, and it's always amazing to see how much enthusiasm this group has for helping kids express their creativity," explains Marc Sumerak. "I'm a native Clevelander, so it's wonderful to have the opportunity to give back to the local comics scene and help kids discover the same joy that I had when I was their age."

Northeast Ohio is a breeding ground for legendary cartoonists and comic artists. Artists and writers from the region include Calvin and Hobbes' Bill Watterson, Marvel Entertainment's Brian Michael Bendis, the internationally acclaimed John "Derf" Backderf, American Splendor's Harvey Pekar, as well as collaborators Gary Dumm and Zap Comix's Robert Crumb.

"One of the more important elements of the one-day Comic Con is that it is part of our ongoing work incorporating comics into the basic curriculum we teach, both in our programs offered here at Lake Erie Ink (where we run two weeks of Comic Camp each summer), and in the programming we provide to schools and other youth-serving organizations," says Lake Erie Ink co-founder Amy Rosenbluth. "Comics teach the basics of storytelling — character, setting, plot and conflict — and do so in an engaging way. Many of the kids we work with, who may be reluctant to put their thoughts down on paper in a story or poem, will work on a multiple-page comic that expresses the same information, just in a different form. And comics is one of those projects that youth of all ages will respond to."

Beyond the comics themselves, Rosenbluth and Larsen connect comics to the Common Core and Ohio's standardized testing. Larsen has developed a rich and thoughtful set of lesson plans, using comics to teach creative expression across the curriculum.

"Obviously, narrative writing can be taught through comics," Larsen says. "The Common Core writing standards expect kids to be able to write events in sequence, with transitional phrases, and a comic is really a storyboard, a great plan for any kind of narrative. The other two main types of writing emphasized in the Common Core are informational and argumentative, and I've had great success using comics with both. Teachers often lament the fact that their students have trouble putting things into their own words. The Internet makes it so easy to grab a fact and throw it into a project without really understanding it. If you take one fact you have learned about a topic and have to translate that into a comic panel with images, characters, captions and word balloons, you really begin to own the information because you are re-interpreting that information for others."

Lunch will be sold onsite, or guests are welcome to bring their own.

As for retail ops, Larsen says, "We do have an Artists' Alley where our guest artists can sell their books and artwork, and we have lots of giveaways thanks to Blick Art Store and Carol and John's Comic Book Shop. Mac's Backs will offer a selection of graphic novels for kids and Imaginary Worlds will have a table of comic books for sale."

Kids' Comic Con 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-320-4757.

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