A lot of elements go into a simple comic book. There’s artwork, there’s editing — and most importantly, for the Filipino and Canadian comic writer J. Torres, there’s the script.
The award-winning author visited Unalaska’s schools and gave a presentation at the library last week, as part of a statewide tour.
Archie, Batman, Teen Titans: J. Torres has worked on some of the most famous comic book series out there.
But Torres told kids and parents that the big-name books are no sweat, compared to the challenge of dreaming up his own comics. That’s because he need artists to help bring his stories to life:
Torres: “If I put, ‘Panel one: Batman flies through a window,’ I’m done! The artist doesn’t have to get me to describe who Batman is and what he looks like, right? But if I say, ‘Rufus is standing on the doorstep of his grandmother’s house,’ the artist is going to say, ‘Who the heck is Rufus?’ So I have to describe Rufus and what the grandmother’s house looks like.”
Rufus is the hero of “Bigfoot Boy,” a comic Torres wrote for younger readers. Rufus is an average kid who find a magical amulet. When he puts it on, he can transform into a Sasquatch.
Torres says “Bigfoot Boy” is his favorite comic, and he wanted to do share it in Unalaska.
Torres was in town on the Alaska Spirit of Reading tour, which brings authors to the state every year. After Unalaska, he’d be off to Sitka and Juneau to visit schools and hold public readings.
Torres: “Usually, when an author does a reading, he or she stands here and reads from the book.”
But comic books are visual. And besides, Torres doesn’t draw them. He writes them — the stories, the dialogue, everything down to the sound effects in each panel.
So he decided to do things a little differently. He invited the children in the audience to read the words he wrote, which were projected on a screen.
Torres: “Almost like doing a play. So okay, who’s going to play Rufus for me? You! Okay, come on up, Ethan.”
In the first chapter, Rufus — played by volunteer Ethan Iszler — gets sent to stay with his grandmother. His parents drop him off in the unfamiliar neighborhood as birds chirp in the background:
Children: “Tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet!”
Mom: “Northwood is a cool place. You’ll see, Rufus. Just listen to your grandmother, okay?”
Rufus: “Yes, mom.”
The kids responsible for sound effects had their hands full. In one panel, Rufus sat in his grandmother’s living room while she took a nap — and a string of Z’s ran across the screen:
Torres: “No! Snoring!”
Children: [snoring sounds]
They got the hang of it as Rufus wandered through the woods. A Bigfoot approached in the shadows:
Children: “Bump! Skkkkkk.”
Torres: “Can we get a round of applause for our readers?”
After the reading, Mary Heimes, a fourth grade teacher, wanted to know:
Heimes: “What advice do you have for some budding elementary school comic book writers?”
Torres: “Write, draw — all the time, as much as you can. Practice makes perfect. It’s like anything else. You want to be a good ice skater, go ice skate. You want to be a good piano player, play piano.”
Even if you live on an island in the Bering Sea, anything’s possible. Torres says that he works with artists and editors from all over the world, even though he lives in a comfy suburb of Toronto.
Torres: “So that’s the beauty of working in comics — and also books and illustration — in this day and age. You don’t have to leave your house if you don’t want to! You can do it from anywhere in the world, including Alaska.”
The important thing is to immerse yourself in what you love, Torres says. That’s why he read lots of comics as a kid, and still does now.
And that may be why there was a run on comic books at the end of Torres’ talk. Library assistant Robi Harris was mobbed by kids wanting to check out the latest installment of “Bigfoot Boy.”
That included junior high student:
Ethan: “Ethan Iszler.”
Harris: “I know, I know.”
Ethan: “Okay. Am I here that often?”
Harris: “You’re here enough.”
Ethan: “I’m only here to get, to — “
Harris: “There’s nothing wrong with coming in the door! We like to see you!”
Ethan: “Oh, thank you. Thank you.”
There’s a good reason why Ethan’s there so often. He says he’s writing his own comic book series. For now, it’s just stick figures, but it’s a start.