Author helps kids find comic inspiration

  • Article by: HANNAH GRUBER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2010 - 5:27 PM

Comic book writer Mike Bullock visited Columbia Heights Public Library last week, teaching children how to write graphic novels.

Mike Bullock, a comic book writer, held a workshop at the Columbia Heights Public Library.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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Ghosts, fairies and spy dogs --oh, my.

Not quite what Mike Bullock, author of the comic book series "Lions, Tigers and Bears," might have dreamed up. But that's one of the things he likes most about working with children: Their unbridled creativity.

Bullock, 41, finished a two-day workshop last week at the Columbia Heights Public Library, where he taught elementary school-age children how to create a comic book or "graphic novel."

Twenty-eight students learned about the business, but their favorite part of the workshop was creating their own comics. There were a variety of subjects, such as ghosts fighting lightning monsters and a spy dog determined to stop an evil cat from taking over America.

"You'll find some of the kids are really dead on, and other times they have these crazy ideas that are a lot of fun but would never work practically," Bullock said.

Bullock has been writing comics professionally for six years, winning awards for "Lions, Tigers and Bears," his best-known series. In January, he signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to adapt the series into a movie with a producer whose recent projects include "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," Bullock said.

Since he started writing, he hasn't wanted the only doors he walked through to be those of a publisher. Now he ventures into schools to share his knowledge of the industry with children.

He was inspired by his own experience as a child. "When I was in second grade, we had a storybook writer who came to my school and told us how he created and published storybooks, and I was really fascinated," Bullock said.

He has been teaching his workshops on the comic book industry -- from creating the stories to the business of publishing -- since 2005, when he gave his first presentation at an elementary school in Arizona. He's organized a dozen workshops since then.

"I've gone into some schools, and teachers get them focused and motivated with only a few words. It's a gift," Bullock said. "I don't know if I have it, but it seems to work so far."

Since he moved to Vadnais Heights a year ago from Phoenix, Bullock has found the schools aren't as receptive here. But the Columbia Heights Library is.

"Graphic novels are a very hot item right now with teens," said Marsha Tubbs, the children's librarian. "I'm finding that, for the most part, the graphic novel format is checking out more frequently than the standard literature."

Drawing them in

While trying to draw more children into libraries, Tubbs has been looking for nontraditional means of grabbing their attention. With funding from a federal 21st Century grant with the Columbia Heights School District, Tubbs said she is given more freedom with her programming as long as it pertains to literature. In her 16 years as the children's librarian, she's found that children have been receptive to graphic novels.

"I think the kids really appreciate programs geared toward their interests," Tubbs said. "Kids have a lot of options, like softball and swimming, the more physical stuff. I think they also need options for the mental."

While some might argue that graphic novels don't stimulate learning as well as traditional literature does, Tubbs would disagree.

"Many graphic novels have vocabulary levels in the upper high school to maybe freshman or sophomore in college, but they appeal to kids because of the way they look," Tubbs said.

This isn't the first time that Tubbs has offered this type of programming. She's had a graphic novelist or two before at the library, but she ran into a small problem in this year's search -- the content was too mature.

"I was looking for someone a little bit younger, because these kids are a little bit more into the creativeness and don't mind getting a little silly in what they are doing," Tubbs said.

Bullock, whose comics typically appeal to 8- to 12-year-olds, turned out to be the perfect fit, Tubbs said.

"I believe elementary school is where imagination is at its best," Bullock said. "I really feel driven to help cultivate imagination in kids when they're at the most receptive age for such things."

Hannah Gruber • 612-673-4864

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