This past Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky day for the 4th Grade students at Daneil Phelan Elementary here in Whittier. I visited the class and talked to the kids about El Muerto, art, comics and film.
A few years ago, an old High School friend of mine, Raul Almada, attended one of my gallery shows in the area. I had seen him a couple of shortly after our High School days, but it had been some time since we had seen each other. I brought him up to speed on my comic book and film project, and we talked about the 'good ol' days' at Whittier High. I used to draw these little one page gags about several of our teachers, particularly coach Kelly and our geometry teacher Mr. Vickers. Well, in the years following High School, Raul had become a teacher himself. About three years ago he started to invite me to speak to his class, usually around the last week or so of school. So this past Friday's event was my third in a row.
There was Raul, or Mr. Almada, as refer to him in front of his students, decked out in his El Muerto T-shirt, awaiting my arrival. I usually arrive during the lunch hour when the kids are out on there break. Raul's wife will bring us some great lunch (Los Sanchez!) and we'll talk and catch up. It's funny, but everytime we're eating, there will be a steady stream of kids popping into the class to check out the guest. They have all kinds of excuses for entering: "I came to get some water", "I need a paper towel for my wet shoes", "I came to help Edgar get another ball"!! Of course, Raul has to firmly remind the kids to stay outside the class during the break (I mean, there are plenty of water fountains outside!). I tell Raul I'm flattered by the attention, but he brings me back to Earth by saying that they do that to anyone visiting the class!!
Well, once the bell rings and the kids come back to class, they march in and there are about 30 pairs of eyeballs staring at me! Okay, I guess I'm on! I keep my 'routine' very spontaneous, trying to tie my love of art with my early school days. This way the kids see me as someone who just like them, enjoyed drawing as a kid. Who knows, we may have a future artist in the group. They all seem pretty hip to the idea of El Muerto, as Raul has a very well worn copy of El Muerto that the kids have read beforehand. He also tells them about the funny drawings I did of our High School teachers, and the kids ask me about those too!
My favorite part is when I ask them to draw El Muerto, based on two examples I draw on the board. Every kid dives right into it, and I love seeing their final drawings. They're so eager to share it, and I can't help but be encouraging to every kid. It's always interested me that pretty much all of us at that age will draw. But as we get older, some of us will 'realize' we're not all artists and will stop drawing. Then we're left with a small group of us who are artists. I've always felt that the art skills are something we're born with, but on the other hand, too bad so many people stop pursuing any artist impulses. Of course, most people will be creative in other ways....
Near the end of the visit, Raul had the kids work on Father's Day Card to take home over the weekend. I was amazed by some of the kids who would glue their Muerto drawings in the cards! Some asked me to sign them as well. It's funny to me that there were some Dads today in Whittier that received hand-made El Muerto cards from their kids! Pretty awesome.
At one point as the kids were drawing, Raul joked to me: "Hey, you have to get a 25¢ commission everytime one of these kids draws your character". Well, I guess one little girl heard what he said, because the next thing I know, she comes up to me with a blank sheet of paper and a quarter! I felt terrible! I immediately told her that the drawings are free and gave her a quick drawing.
At the end of the visit, I gave each student a signed copy of one of the comics. One kid asked if I could sign one for his father, which I was happy to oblige. I have a great time with these visits. Sure, it allows me to talk about my work, but really, it gives a kid a chance to meet someone that is doing something creative and may spark an interest in them to do something similar. When I first arrived on the campus, one kid called out to me "Do you remember me from last year?". Of course I told him yes! But that really shows that these type of visits can leave a good impact on someone. That to me is what makes most of what I do worthwhile.