In a classroom at MyARTS East in Independence, superheroes of the future are taking shape. A group of teens are drawing and thinking of story lines for characters like Flamo, Star, Money Breaker and Ultra Guy. But what would a superhero be without a supervillain to fight? So the evil characters Stitches, Minions and Brainiac are on the drawing boards, too.
Perhaps someday they’ll battle it out with the fate of the universe at stake on the pages of a published comic book or in an animated video.
For now, though, they are sketches created during MyARTS’ latest eight-week, after-school comic book workshop for middle schoolers.
MyARTS -- Metropolitan Youth Arts & Technology for Students -- was established in 2006 with funding from COMBAT, the Community Based Anti-Drug Tax. It’s part of COMBAT’s prevention strategy and is based on studies showing that youths who participate in structured activities like arts programs are less likely to commit a crime later in life. MyARTS offers a variety of programs, from classes such as ceramics, screen printing and computer graphics to shows where the young artists offer their works for sale. It has two buildings, one in downtown Kansas City and one in Independence.
“Prevention is a key component of COMBAT,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders. “Helping young people to feel empowered and keeping them busy is a worthy goal.”
MyARTS classes and art supplies are free to participants. The kids come from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., three nights a week for eight weeks.
“This is a great example of how our community, through COMBAT, invests in youth and propels many of them to positive outcomes through art,” said Jean Peters Baker, Jackson County Prosecutor. “Our youth are our future and they can be better citizens with the life skills and training that MyARTs offers.”
When his mother first told 13-year-old Robert Wheeler, a seventh-grader at Pioneer Ridge Middle School in Independence, about the workshop, he didn’t want to come. “I had friends at home,” he said.
But now, he said, “I like coming here to be with my friends” in the class. It’s his second session.
Tanner Scogin, a 6th-grade student at James Bridger Middle School in Independence, echoed Robert’s sentiments. He’s been coming since the summer of 2014.
“I met a lot of people here,” Tanner said. “We’ve all become friends. We give each other ideas.”
The goal of each session is for the participants to create an original character. They work on drawing and then inking that character, after which they color or otherwise manipulate their artwork with a computer-graphics program. Their artwork is then compiled into a printed comic book, and each of them gets a copy to keep. In the past, students have also created papier-mache masks and standing folded-paper versions of their characters.
Cameron Guilfoil is himself a former MyARTS student who now has a graphic-design degree and works as an instructor in the program. He said one of the goals of the comic book workshop is to get the kids thinking about a career in the field. They can concentrate just on drawing, or take a dual author-illustrator track.
While several of the participants said -- and their drawings clearly showed -- that they were influenced by the Japanese anime/manga style, there was some banter about the good old American Marvel vs. D.C. comics rivalry.
“I like Marvel,” said Tanner. “I don’t like D.C. They cheated with Superman. He’s practically invincible. How is ‘Batman vs. Superman’ (the forthcoming movie) going to work?”
“Batman can have kryptonite bullets,” Isaiah replied.
“Where does he get the kryptonite?” Riley Baker asked.
“Other heroes have super powers or genetics,” said DeLaynie Shelton, the only girl in the class. “Batman just has muscles.”
“He has fear, and the death of his parents,” Isaiah Shelton said.
The conversation continued, discussing the relative powers of Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Spiderman and other classic comic book.
Isaiah Shelton said his hero, Flamo, emerged from a building fire missing his lower limbs and with a disfigured face, but with the ability to fly on a jet of flame. Isaiah and a friend collaborated on Money Breaker, who has a robot arm and a variety of weapons.
“I don’t really have a story behind Stitches yet,” Isaiah said. “What I have so far for him is, well, he was a monster … and he had four eyes. He got cut straight down his face, so he had to get that stitched up. And I guess he was really annoying, so someone stitched his mouth up … and he lived in an abandoned, creepy house in the forest.”
If Flamo, Stitches and the rest become famous comic book characters, their creators can thank MyARTS for help them getting started.