Comics creators Tony Puryear, Erika Alexander and Robert Alexander are taking their show on the road. As the team behind the gritty sci-fi graphic novel, Concrete Park, serialized in the pages of Dark Horse Presents, they spin stories that deal with issues of race, poverty and exile. Now they’re traveling far from their LA base, beginning with the Central American nation of Belize, a county where those issues resonate, to teach a clinic in comic book creation and entrepreneurship. They will also judge a nation-wide Comic Book Competition For Schools at the University of Belize.
The team held five clinics in Belize City, in Placencia, in the capital city of Belmopan and in San Ignacio, from the auditorium at the University of Belize to the huge stage of the famous Bliss Institute.
Why teach the basics of comic book creation in a country of 300,000, a country where comics are not even for sale? (the team is working to change that). Why encourage school kids to try this medium, let alone compete in it? Erika Alexander explains: “Whether you live in the first world or the developing world, ideas are the most valuable currency there is. Our message is that your story is unique and valuable. Pencils and paper are cheap, and comics, whether self-printed or self-published on the web are a simple, accessible medium for expressing ideas in stories. In teaching comics creation, we are also teaching storytelling, business skills, entrepreneurship and connectivity.”
The whirlwind tour through Belize is the first stop in an ambitious agenda the team, in a nod to their sci-fi roots, has dubbed the “Concrete Park Earth Tour”. They plan on taking their comic book clinics to big, funky world cities like Mumbai, Johannesburg, Rio De Janeiro and Manila. “Concrete Park cities”, Puryear calls them. The kids in these cities face major challenges. Can a class in making comics make a difference? Team Concrete Park says “yes”.
“We grew up as outsider kids, kids without a lot of access to formal art or writing training” says Erika Alexander, “comics were a way in to a world of imagination and creativity. It’s amazing what these flimsy little books can do.” Robert Alexander adds “The poor kids in these cities have a story to tell, and they need to know their story matters. We’d like to help them tell that story.”
Tony Puryear says “New technology is blowing away barriers of race and language, making it possible to share your story, wherever you were born, whatever you look like. Though Belize is not a wealthy country, there is one cell phone there for every man, woman and child in the country, the highest per capita in Central America. We told the students there that they have powerful publishing platform right in their pockets. We can’t wait to see what they do with it, and we are thrilled to be a part of this world-changing process.”
The comic book clinics in Belize were sponsored by the Belize Diaspora Network, an organization devoted to building links between the Belizeans scattered across the globe and their country of origin. Bruce Henry of the Belize Diaspora Network says “This simple comic book clinic will be big for Belize, or rather, there’s nothing simple about it. Our kids will benefit from hands-on knowledge from professionals who are in the business of comic book art, but it’s not just about comics. It’s about entrepreneurship and reaching out beyond borders with new tools and media. Those skills are crucial to Belize’s future.”
Other sponsors include the Belize Tourism Board and NICH, the National Institute of Culture and History, The Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City, Robert’s Grove Beach Resort in Placencia and The San Ignacio Hotel in San Ignacio.