Kids’ wildest dreams become comic book stories

Kids have the wildest imaginations – dreaming up everything from frolicking dragons to panda suit-wearing supergirls.

And thanks to a unique Sacramento literacy program pairing kid storytellers and adult illustrators, 30 children were able to turn their imaginations into a real-life comic book.

The children, who ranged from 6 to 11 years old, got their first look at their work Wednesday evening at the Brickhouse Gallery in Oak Park.

“I honestly think this will carry on with them for a long time,” said parent Derrick Mayo. “There are not a lot of kids that can say ‘I have a comic that was published.’ ”

The story began this spring with Sacramento comic book author Eben Burgoon cast in the role of teacher and mentor. Filling the ensemble cast are students attending Capitol Heights Academy. The students met after school twice a week for six weeks in a comic book boot camp of sorts where they were asked to write the back story of LEGO objects, describe a comic panel and to pitch their stories to prospective artists.

While most people may think first of the illustrations in the comic book, it’s the author who paints a picture with words for the artist to flesh out and interpret.

“It’s like I’m the writer/director and (the artist) is the cinematographer and actor,” Burgoon, said of his own work writing “B-Squad” and “Eben07.”

Burgoon’s connection to the Sacramento comic book community helped him secure the services of a wealth of experienced illustrators.

Artist Sarah Straub said she was thrilled to participate in the project. She said she appreciated that the program matched students and artists after both pitched their work. The kids’ unrestrained ideas were refreshing.

“They have this unharnessed passion,” Straub said. “It was fun to be a kid and work on their stories.”

Straub illustrated two stories “The Baby Tiger,” the story of a girl who raises a pet tiger, written by Lashay Branch and “Izabell and Ellie,” a story about a girl who can fly, by Serinity Williams.

The students were given the option of writing (and having illustrated) a one-page panel or teaming up with other students to create a longer story. Collaboration is a big part of the creative process in the real world and was in this class, Burgoon said. Creative differences caused some groups to splinter, but unlike the real world, the publisher – Sacramento literacy group 916 Ink – gave the green light to all of the projects.

Katie McCleary, executive director of 916 Ink, said the nonprofit was interested in comic books as a means of attracting and engaging boys, whom theywere having a harder time reaching.

“We thought it would be really great to do something different,” McCleary said. “The medium of comic books is really engaging.”

In the role of project financier was The Golden 1 Credit Union. 916 Ink, started in 2011, partners with schools, libraries and other sites to run more than a dozen literacy programs. Most of those programs focus on students in grades three to five, McCleary said.

McCleary said the class is unconventional – neither she nor Burgoon could find anything just like it.

Parent Mayo, who was a class volunteer, said the kids will get a self-esteem boost from having adults take their ideas seriously. His son Ashton Mayo teamed up with Aaliyah Evans, to write “Guardian Friends,” the story of an underwater dragon who needs to learn how to play nice. It was illustrated by Brittany Hermann of Electronic Arts video games.

“It’s something to be proud about,” Mayo said. “Some of these kids need a little extra.”