Image source: Denver Comic Con
It may not have taken comics to teach me to read (as a latchkey kid, sometimes Piers Anthony and Robert Heinlein were my best friends after school), but when I found comics, they opened up reading for me in a pretty big way, adding a back catalog of decades of fictional continuity to chase down and absorb as I fell into the worlds of Spider-Man, Batman, and uh, "Warriors of Plasm."
Colorado-based Comic Book Classroom is hoping to do the same for poor and needy kids in the community, using comics as an end run to promote literacy and storytelling to help young readers develop problem-solving skills in their everyday lives. CBC is on the ground at Denver Comic Con, where proceeds from each ticket will be used to fund the program while several workshops throughout the weekend will give some of the younger comic fans out there a chance to learn how to tell stories sequentially.
When you walk through the doors of the Colorado Convention Center, the first thing that greets you is a literal gateway to comics: inside the Comic Book Classroom Corral, several children were seated around tables littered with drawing and craft materials. One little boy was doodling away furiously as an adult looked on, while at another table, another little boy was using beads and paper to make his own blinged-up My Little Pony character.
The small-ish area (remember, space is somewhat limited at the fledgeling Denver Comic Con), accommodated not only the kids seated at the six tables lined up in two rows in the center of the corral, but also two lines of comic creators and animators' tables which ringed the outside of the area. This allowed kids to walk up and meet kids' comics pros like "Molly Danger" creator Jamal Igle or "Young Justice" producer Greg Wiseman (who'd stepped away from his table by the time I got there late yesterday afternoon). The corral's not the only presence of CBC during the show: they're also hosting several panels/workshops during Denver Comic Con based around some of the fundamentals of comic storytelling (Saturday offers sessions on creating comic book characters as well as a costume parade).
A convention rep put a copy of the Comic Book Classroom learning materials in my hands: a thick packet containing lesson plans and details about how the program handles accreditation while also laying out some of the aims of getting kids to sit down and talk about comics. At its core, the program plans to promote literacy via "a free comic book based curriculum which improves literacy and art skills, increases student achievement, and personal awareness" through a 4-12 week course (I'm cribbing all of this from the brochure).
The sample curriculum in the packet breaks down the fundamentals of comics for the new readers targeted by the program: from the definition of a "graphic novel" (early in the program, students are taught a basic comic book vocabulary) to the way individual panels can break down the story into moments. It's a respectable effort to develop storytelling skills among those who might not have the opportunity (or inclination) to discover reading, which is exciting to me having been a kid who largely discovered reading (and comics) on his own.
Normally, I'd recommend heading over to an organization's site to learn more about it, but right now, the landing page for Comic Book Classroom is simply a space for the organization to solicit donations (all links at the bottom of the page loop back around to the "giving" page). Hopefully, in the coming days, the CBC can update their online presence and make a stronger impression on newcomers. In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on Comic Book Classroom and bring you more developments about this admirable cause in the coming days.