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Good Neighbors - Art Way Alliance

(Good Neighbors is a new column featuring groups and individuals in the game, comic, and cosplay industries that are helping their communities. Check back monthly for more stories about inspiring geeks.)

Since 2013, Art Way Alliance has been teaching comic art, writing, and marketing to kids who would otherwise not have direct access to instructors, materials, and other like-minded individuals. I've seen them in action at a few cons now, incredible artists showing excited youngsters how to make their wildest flights of fantasy into pictures and words. Communications coordinator Sierra Dangerfield-Harris provided insight into the group's mission and future:

How did Artway Alliance get started?

Art Way Alliance was founded in January 2013 by Eric Suggs Jr, who wanted to provide students of all ages with the opportunities and experiences to acquaint them with media arts procedures and techniques that focus primarily on animation and comic book creation. Our ultimate goal is to utilize a beloved medium for educational purposes while helping children discover lifelong passions and interesting professions. Our first event was a Pre-Super Bowl Madden Tournament in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where we held a Marvel v. Capcom 3 Video Game Tournament and had published comic book artist Chris Pyrate instruct children on how to draw certain characters. From there, we have grown into a consortium of established and emerging comic book, animation, and gaming artists who devote their time to instructing children on how to properly develop their amazing ideas.

Why comic book/mangas in particular?

The desire to introduce students, particularly children from underserved populations, with comic books and manga stemmed from a realization that many of our friends, despite having the talent and imagination, were discouraged from creating superheroes and other comic books characters in their youth. Instead of dismissing children’s imagination, Eric wanted to use the mediums that children gravitate toward to educate them in various subjects and introduce them to careers in media arts.

How do classes usually run? Whats your most popular program?

Our classes utilize children’s interests to teach them both character design and story development in addition to educational lessons. We’ve hosted a number of panels and workshops at various conventions. At these events, our more popular programs involve having kids use three different words to create a cohesive and original character. Teaching children how to make a three panel comic strip has been incredibly popular for both our small workshops and after school programs.

We also partner with other nonprofits, schools, and libraries to provide programming that teaches kids character development while incorporating what they are learning in school. For example, when the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in partnership with the Laurel Historical Society hosted a summer camp that taught participants the science of sports, they recruited us to teach children how to design their own sports character along with a corresponding sports drink.

You've been to a number of events - does the comic community seem receptive/supportive?

The comic community has been really receptive. We have been blessed to find a myriad of creators who are willing to take time out of their busy schedule to teach these children. Additionally, we’ve encountered many Convention owners and/or participants who are excited to find out that we exist. Just as important, we have developed a great relationship with teachers and librarians who understand the importance of comic books and animation in the classroom or library setting.

Whats your favorite part of working with the kids?

They have the best imaginations! A lot of our artists have been impressed with the stories their students have created. Additionally, seeing a student understand a concept, whether it be how to correctly panel a story or learn what makes a character a villain has been incredibly rewarding. When a child comes back with their own drawings and shows off their progress to our artists, it definitely creates an unparalleled sense of pride and joy.

Anything you'd like to add?

One class that we want to highlight in particular is a week long class called the Power of Panels. Art Way Alliance has partnered with our local 4-H in Prince George’s County, Maryland, to host this event. This class will be held during Spring Break April 2 - 6, 2018, for students aged 10 to 18 years old. Participants will learn how to successfully utilize panels to depict crucial storytelling elements like scale, pace, and flow with artist Keir Lyles. As a final project, students will use STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to create their own dynamic and interesting comics. Please visit our site for more information.

Also, we ask that people support the artists who make our classes such a success. You can find their information on the Artist page of our site.

Art Way Alliance is continually adding new events and classes to our website. Please sign up for our newsletter and support! Additionally, check out Art Way Alliance at AwesomeCon this month! "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Mr. Rodgers

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