826 Valencia field trip

Since I’ve moved to San Francisco I have been volunteering as a cartoonist at 826 Valencia, a local non-profit writers workshop for kids. It’s a lot of fun, and doesn’t feel like work at all.

Usually there will be 4 or more volunteers working these field trips, a story leader, a typist, an illustrator, and a Mr. (or Mrs.) Blue. The groups consist of 10-30 middle school kids.

What happens is the kids all come in, grab a nametag and a seat then the story leader will walk them through the basics of creating a story and ask the kids to create a main character, then a setting, then a conflict.

Occasionally the story leader will check in with the Blue character by yelling up the ladder towards Mr. Blue’s office. The kids never see Mr. Blue, all they know is that he’s the mean old publisher at 826, who hates kids but needs a new book published right away.

The typist keeps the story up to date on a big projector for all the kids to read. Whenever the typist makes a mistake, the kids make the “hand of shame” and tell them how to correct the error.

As an artist, my job is to illustrate each page of the story as it is being created. This is pretty harrowing on the first page, because I really don’t know what I should be drawing until they are already halfway through page one. Characters and scenes change often, so I have to work very quickly to finish my first page right when they finish theirs.

After the first page is written and a title for the story is created, I roll up my first drawing and hand it to a volunteer that will present it to the “hand of doom” that reaches out from behind a curtain in the back of the room. Each panel I do is about 3 feet by 2 feet and usually is created in about 20 minutes.

A typical story will be 2 pages of text, and 2 pages of art, followed by a blank ending and back cover. The class writes their own endings and bios, and get a picture to glue to the back cover.

The books are all then presented to Mr. Blue to approve of.

Here is the most recent book I illustrated, the class was from Harvey Milk Middle School.