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Creativity through comics
Club unlocks imagination at Riverwatch
Riverwatch Middle students, from left, Sadhana Durbha, Hannah Kim, Shannon Xayara, and Elynna Chang work on labeling the sections of a comic book page that teacher Adam Collins shared with them during a recent Comic Book Club meeting at the school. - photo by Autumn McBride

Studying language arts isn’t just about the works of famous authors.

In the case of one campus club, it’s about language and art coming together in graphic novels, or comic books.

Riverwatch Middle School students in the Comic Book Creators’ Club meet once or twice a month after class to learn about the comic process, share ideas and work toward creating their own books.

The group is led by sixth-grade language arts teacher Adam Collins, who wore a Green Lantern shirt underneath a sweater, during a December meeting of the club.

The walls of the room are equally decorated in proclamations of students’ classwork and a testimony to a love of comics.

During his days as a fifth-grade teacher, Collins combined the two during a young author’s project. But when he moved to middle school, he had too many students to take on the task.

He formed the club three years ago to allow middle schoolers that opportunity rather than making it a requirement.

The group, which started with five or six members, has more than tripled in size. The split is nearly half girls and half boys.

The main purpose of the club is to bring together the interests and ideas of the students for an hour after school, Collins said.

“Most of that time, they are sharing their ideas about characters, about stories they want to write and about sketches,” he said.

Collins hopes that each student who stays in the club can produce something before leaving Riverwatch, whether on their own or by pairing up with others who have complementary talents.

Sixth-graders Shannon Xayaraj and Hannah Kim have teamed up to create their own manga, a Japanese style of comic book.

Xayaraj said she’s the artist, toner and inker, while Kim handles the writing.

They use the club meetings to work on concepts and do activities their teachers don’t allow.

“Here I can talk with most of my friends and I won’t get in trouble for drawing,” Xayaraj said.

Eighth-grader Vishwa Mudigonda, one of the club’s original members, said he also enjoys the freedom and creativity allowed during the group’s meetings.

“I’m not scared of saying anything,” Mudigonda said. “When you come here, everybody says, ‘Yeah, I like that too.’”

He worked on a drawing of a hero with numerous weapons during a recent club meeting, and noted that he’s seen several gains in his work since joining the group.

“I’ve improved my imagination, creation and made many developments in writing also,” Mudigonda said.

Collins said he’s found plenty of creativity in the members, but focusing those thoughts into concrete story ideas can be difficult. He encourages students to begin by spending time developing characters.

For one club member, that work paid off last year.

“Over the summer, he took his characters ... to Cartoon Network and he and his parents signed a developmental deal,” Collins said.

At the group’s last meeting, Collins took the process past ideas and began prepping the students on comic book production terms.

“Who can hear a thought balloon?” he said. “The reader and the person thinking.”

Only eighth-grader Sabrina Smith had another answer.

“Unless they’re mind readers or something,” she said.

While teachers are usually looking for the correct answer, Collins strayed from his teacher role for a moment, sounding more like a student himself.

“That’d be pretty cool,” he said.