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    Posted February 5, 2011 by
    West Point, New York
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Calling all cartoonists

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    Action-packed class teaches West Point youth the art of comic books


    By Mike Strasser


    WEST POINT, N.Y. -- "Deadline, deadline, deadline..." Victor Castro reminded the students more than once during the final session of the inaugural Intro to Comic Book Art class at the Youth Center on Friday.


    What started as studious concentration on Day One ended with unbridled creativity and it was up to the instructor to temper some of that enthusiasm to keep production on schedule. After all, the adventures of Super Mouse, Super Doughnut and Karate Kitty were still more than a few pencil strokes away from completion.


    From story development, lettering, penciling and inking, Castro compacted the fundamentals of comic book design into four action-packed classes throughout January, with another class starting this month.


    When Castro, a combat simulations specialist with the Department of Military Instruction, isn't instructing cadets, he said it's been a positive experience sharing his passion for comic book illustration with the 6th-12th graders of West Point.


    "I do enjoy this. Most of the time I feel privileged to be the one to be able to interact with the dependents of our West Point military personnel and that when they do get a chance to talk with their children they can breathe a little sigh of relief that their sons and daughters are really having fun and learning new things," Castro said.


    Even with the pressure of deadline looming, there were plenty of distractions for the artists-including a table full of free comics, courtesy of DC Comics, and one-on-one instruction from industry veteran Mark McKenna. In his 25-year career, McKenna has inked thousands of pages with many marquee superheroes to include Batman, the X-Men, Spider Man and the Justice League. McKenna worked his pen on several of the students' comics while offering advice to the class.


    "When you start drawing, you really should enjoy it and it should be something you like to draw," McKenna said. "You have to learn to draw your character from every angle ... sideways, backward, bending over. It's hard, unless you're drawing stick figures."


    As an inker, McKenna explained how his job adds layers and depth to the original artwork.


    "We work in foreground, mid ground and background," McKenna said. "As an inker, I'm responsible also for shadowing and depth. For example, if you assume the light source is above us, then you have to think how that affects the shadows on our heads."


    As the artists received assistance with inking, others were fine-tuning their drawing and adding dialogue and captions. Thirteen-year-old Warren Bias recreated a scene from "Empire Strikes Back" but drew square-head characters with a surprise ending. Warren enjoys art as a hobby, but finds it hard to draw people; thus, the square figured-Star Wars story.


    The origin of Karate Kitty was developed when Morgan DesOrneaux was in fourth grade. A few years later, the 13-year-old used this class to improve his artwork and tell the story of the feline superhero who escaped the scientists who gave him fighting powers.


    "The final products for these students were exceptional," Castro said. "They really grasped the concept of comic book development and now have the skill set to explore and develop their own books."


    While the students were completing their comics, Castro provided another experience familiar to artists and their fans-the comic book convention. A booth complete with comic books, posters and buttons allowed students to sit down, sign autographs and talk about their comics. Naturally, this added to the volume inside the classroom, which Kim Ambar, EDGE! Program director, said was normally subdued.


    "It's always been surprisingly quiet in class until today," Anbar said. "And today is not out-of-control loud, but they're excited to finish their projects. What I like is that they may be talking a lot now, but they're talking about their art. I'm pretty impressed by that actually. Victor Castro inspires that enthusiasm in them; he's just a great teacher."

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