It’s not uncommon for Knox County students to walk by Hodges Library if they’re on the University of Tennessee campus for a tour or a football game.
But for a group of students from Fulton High School, some of their best work can also be found inside the library.
The Fulton Comic & Manga Club is marking its 10th anniversary this year and taking the opportunity to celebrate some of its notable achievements. During the past decade, the club has produced four issues of its comic book, been featured at multiple comic conventions and hosted 10 “cosplay” days, which give students the opportunity to dress up as their favorite characters.
Perhaps its most impressive milestone is a partnership announced this summer with the University of Tennessee Libraries Special Collections, which has entered Fulton’s comics into its collection, with the student creators included in a searchable catalog.
Keith Leonard, an English Language Arts teacher at Fulton and club co-sponsor, said that when he was a high school student he stopped collecting comics because it was a hobby that other students looked down on.
Leonard said his love of comics was rekindled in his 20s when he discovered a community of fellow enthusiasts. The club at Fulton, he said, is partly aimed at helping students get connected with a group they can enjoy even after high school.
“The basic idea is don’t let peer pressure push you out of that community,” he said.
To that end, Fulton students have participated in a variety of events, including this summer’s Fanboy Expo, where they sold copies of their books and collectible trading cards as fundraisers for the club. The school also hosts an annual after-hours cosplay day, complete with snacks and costumes celebrating favorite characters.
Iyana Jones, an 11th-grader at Fulton who this year was tapped as the club’s creative director, said she’s always been interested in the superhero world, so she was excited to learn about Fulton’s comic club.
Jones said that her own style uses elements of traditional comic book art and anime, and that her projects have included a series called “Dragon’s Odyssey,” featuring two families whose dynasties are always intertwined.
Jones added that she enjoys drawing because “it’s mine, and I can do whatever I want with it. It’s my world and I can go whichever way I want it to go.”
While the club isn’t a part of the school’s curriculum, students are learning important lessons. While writing comics, it’s not uncommon for students to get halfway through and then realize they can’t figure out how to wrap up a storyline. To help them work through writer’s block, Leonard and club co-sponsor Sandra Campbell, a Digital Design teacher at Fulton, have developed a storytelling curriculum.
“I continually tell them, you’re going to have that problem, and you’re going to have to come up with a solution that works,” said Campbell.
Campbell is herself an artist whose portfolio includes the illustrations for “Jack, The Healing Cat,” a children’s book written by Knoxville Poet Laureate Marilyn Kallet.
She said that even if students don’t pursue art as a career, it will mean a lot to know their work is housed at UT. And being featured at comic cons and other events gives them a chance to sit “behind the table,” as artists in their own right. “It gives them confidence in their work,” Campbell said.
And like any extracurricular activity, the comic club is an important place for students to find like-minded peers.
Aletheia “Allie” Cullimore, an 11th-grader who is the club’s art director, said she met most of her friends through the club: “It’s my favorite place at the school,” she said.
Josh Flory is a multi-media specialist with Knox County Schools and writes this blog, Hall Pass, for the KCS website.