In recent years, more teachers and librarians are finally recognizing the educational appeal of comic-books. Yes, we the fans have known of their artistry, their (mostly) great writing, and the sheer enjoyment they illicit, but for many other adults, it still seems like a “nonsense medium.” Perhaps for this reason it is why places like Little Fish Comic Book Studio are needed.
I stepped through the doors of Little Fish, located in San Diego, California, and was met by the always friendly Alonso Nunez. Co-founder and Executive Director of Little Fish Comic Book Studio, Alonso sports a pointed beard and “ear-to-ear” grin that can rival a Guy Fawkes mask. And boy, does he love to talk comics. As for his studio, the walls are completely covered by comics in every sense: The entire left side of the room is lined with thick-black bookcases filled with all manner of hard and paperbacked comics; The right side has more shelves, but instead hold references books, very-used singled comic issues on (roughly) alphabetized shelves, a scanner, and a large printer; The back wall has a movable chalkboard like one would see in an old schoolroom; And the entire bathroom is wallpapered in comic pages.
For many adults who hadn’t grown up with the medium, are not artists, or are not writers, they are hesitant to give comics a chance, let alone recommend them to their kids. This is most likely due to the lack of information regarding the comic-book job market. “What sort of jobs are connected with comics anyways? Artists are known to starve in small apartments. And writers, do these small books even need writers?” Truly, there isn’t a lot of easily accessible information on professions connected with the comic-book industry, which again does largely influence why adults aren’t too keen on introducing comics to their children in the first place.
This is the greatest impact that Alonso and Little Fish can have on the community at large, teaching kids and adults about the comic industry; the art, writing, and other aspects that go into making a comic, and possible opportunities that wait for those who wish to work fulltime in that world. For this reason, I wanted to visit the studio for the first time and ask some questions of Alonso.
As Alonso and myself set ourselves at one of the long-white tables of the studio, a number of teens between 14 and 19-year-old filter through the doors.
“Hey there,” greets Alonso. “I trust you all have your thumbnails?” Last week, Alonso gave some students an assignment to adapt a test-script into comic thumbnails and asked them to bring them back on this day. One boy waves his completed assignment in the air, but a few more look down at their backpacks and fumble with the zippers. “I sort of didn’t,” says one of the girls.
“No worries,” responded Alonso. “Tell you what, you have 10 minutes to get something done for your thumbnails. So, have at it!”
Q. Alonso, what can you tell me about Little Fish?
A. Without making it so “elevator-pitchery”, Little Fish’s mission is that we teach classes and camps utilizing techniques and a love for comic-books, all while advocating for the comic-book art form in the community. That means doing stuff like our Comic Savvy and our monthly free workshop, where the community is invited to come in, hang out, talk comics, see the studio, and take free comics home with them.
Notably, we have a partnership with KPBS, where we are then partnered with their “One Book, One San Diego” program. It allows us to go into schools once a year and talk about whatever graphic novel [the program] selected for the year. This year, they actually selected two. One is Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese, and the other is Jimmy Gownley’s The Dumbest Idea Ever, which is an awesome book about “the dumbest idea ever” of becoming a comic-book artist.
Q. What age groups do you usually see come to the studio?
A. We work with ALL age groups. Most of our classes run the age gamut, all except one, which is specifically designed for 7 to 10-year-olds, called the “The Young Artist Class.” You can think of it as more of a traditional art class for kids, but in this case with comic-books. But everything else except for that class is designed to be accessible to all ages and all ability levels. A class can have an 11-year-old, sitting next to a 40-year-old, sitting next to a 25-year-old, sitting next to a 17-year-old. It’s one of those things that when we started Little Fish, we were saying, “I don’t know if this is going to work… but let’s try it.” Now, for me it’s a big point of pride. A lot of times parents or students are asking, “Really, this works?” And then when they come in they’re like, “That was a amaaaaazing!”
We have a woman who just started our Thursday class called “Project Management”, which is for people who have projects well underway or a tightly-conceptualized project, and she is in her early 50s. She was like, “I don’t want to be the old lady in a group of kids.” When she came in the first day, she was able to see the level of collaboration and the bouncing of ideas of other people… She found it really cool.
At this point, Alonso takes a moment to excuse himself from the interview looks across the table at his busy students, namely the one who said she didn’t do her thumbnails. He asks, “How’s that thumbnail coming along?” The teen gives a half-hearted reassurance. In response, Alonso says, “Can you at least get one more done in ten minutes? No, wait. How about this; You have ten minutes, knock out another one. Move with the speed with we usually reserve for the opera.”
Alonso looks back to me and explains that last comment. “We have a cool partnership with the San Diego Opera where we go and sketch during their 2nd dress rehearsal of their performances. It’s really neat.”
Q. What other “Hydra-tentacles” do you have out there?
A. Well, we have that partnership with the San Diego Opera, we’re partners with KPBS, we also have a strong partnership with the Kevin Workman Foundation, which is a foundation that operates out of Qualcomm that advocates for art, technology, and community; Through them, we do a once-a-week workshop at the “Monarch School” in downtown [San Diego]. The Monarch School is for kids who are somehow impacted by homelessness, so it’s really cool to get in there and to teach art to kids who don’t have access to art programs.
Q. What’s your favorite thing that you do through Little Fish?
A. Mm, wow… I think it might be the annual One Book, One San Diego stuff. In the last couple decades, comics have gained more of a mainstream recognition; we’re now accepted as a legitimate artform. But there’s still this lack of awareness from the larger world of what comics are really are about and what they can do as an artform.
So with the One Book, One San Diego program, we kind of sneak in via the “serious” prose-book selected as the book that all of San Diego is supposed to read because it has themes pertinent to San Diego or it’s by a San Diego author, and being the young-adult companion graphic novel, we get to be involved in everything, host panels, and talk about why comics are awesome… We get to connect with a lot of people that once they realize “Oh, this is what comics can do,” their eyes light up and they begin to see the possibilities that they can utilize comics with connecting with others. Through that, it’s led to partnering and visiting other schools within the last couple years,
Q. Where would you like to see Little Fish in the next 5 years?
A. I’d like to see us bigger, with more partnerships, since we are still fairly young. We should be getting “501(c)(3)” status any day now, which will open us up to grants, letting us reach out to a wider audience and letting us do more workshops in schools and other venues; A big part of what I want to do. I think we’ve really solidified our camps and classes program.
Q. Finally, what animal would you be, and what superhero would you belong to?
A. Ow, I like this. I would be an octopus, so that way I would have eight hands in which to answer emails and draw simultaneously. Aquaman would be the obvious answer, but I would like to think that I belong to Batman. Then I would have access to the Batcave and that wealth of information.
Alonso Nunez and Little Fish Comic Studio is doing tremendous work in the education of comic-books. The impact that this organization and others like it have on communities, comics, and literacy may not be felt now, but it certainly sow the seeds of what’s to come.
If you wish to know more about Little Fish Comic Studio, visit their website at: www.lilfish.us