Sunday, April 1, 2018


Today is April Fools Day. It is also Easter. There will be neither pranks nor rabbits nor risen saviors in today’s bloggy thing. Just a report on a comics workshop I led.

The Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book have been presenting a series of “Coffee and Comics” workshops on making comics. These workshops are held at the Rising Star Coffee Roastery at the Hildebrant Building on Cleveland’s west side.

The Roastery is not a coffee shop. It’s where Rising Star creates its line of quality coffees. The company’s story is inspiring. Everyone who is part of the coffee-making chain - from the pickers of coffee to the baristas in their shops - earns a living wage. Their beans come from several sources, but, in every case, everyone makes a living wage. It means their coffee can be a little more expensive than others, but they feel the quality of their products make up for that higher price.

The Roastery building is pretty cool. It’s huge, reminding me of my father’s bakery when I was a kid. There are huge bags of beans all over the place. The owners provide free coffee and tea for anyone who attends the workshops.

On Saturday, March 24, from 10-11:30 am, I taught a workshop that focused on character development and the importance of what I call “core values” in the creation and development of characters. Over 30 people came to the workshop, more than had attended any of the previous workshops. I was pleased to see that several fathers had brought their sons to the event.

There was a large screen in front of the class for the work project I would assigned my students. Several tables and chairs were set up to accommodate them. Though the workshops encouraged students to bring their own art supplies, paper and markers were available for any one who needed them.

I started the workshop with an assignment. Working from the actual character description I had written for Denise Simms, a character from Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands, I asked the class to sketch out their vision of said character.

Here’s the character information they were given:

Detective Denise Simms is Tommi Colavito’s partner. She is black, taller than Tommi and heavy-set. Not obese, but muscular and thick. She could lose a few pounds, maybe more than a few pounds. But who among us couldn’t lose a few and maybe more than a few pounds? I’m not going to judge her.

Denise is a “butch” lesbian. My original thought is that she should have short hair, but then I saw a picture of Queen Latifah from a 1996 movie called Set It Off. I liked the look of her cornrows in that image. They were tight to the head and appeal to me more than what, ironically enough, was called a “butch haircut” when I was a young lad in Cleveland.

Denise has a severe look to her. I don’t want to do the traditional gorgeous-by-male-standards lesbian ala Alex and Maggie on the CW’s Supergirl. Don’t make her an ogre, but don’t make her too “pretty” either. She’s what old guys like me might call a “tough broad” and, for the more evolved among us, someone we would trust to have our back. I like her a lot already.

There will be no romantic tension between Denise and Tommi. That’s not what they are about. They love each other like partners in such a dangerous line of work love each other.

I’m still working out Denise’s style of dress, but plan on skirting that in the first issue by having her gearing up for the situation with the Weathermen.

Though Denise does not know Tommi’s friend Jeff is Black Lightning, she’ll figure it out because she’s a great detective. I’m not sure how that will play out, but it’s also not something I have to know from issue one.

The new pages for the first issue script are going after page 14. We’ll get a little more Jeff/Tommi interaction and then meet Denise for the first time.

January 16, 2017

While the attendees were sketching, I talked about creating Black Lightning and other characters, about diversity in comic books and answered questions about my career. It was a good group, though I didn’t see too many drawings.

For the big finish of the workshop portion of my presentation, we showed the attendees what Denise Simms looked like when first drawn by Black Lightning: Cold Dead Hands artist Clayton Henry:
Wait a minute! That’s not the Denise we know and love from the six-issue series. The above description of this character was written before Clayton came on board...and none of us remembered to e-mail it to him. D-oh!

Clayton was happy to change Denise to someone closer to my original vision. He made her more attractive than I’d intended, but, given his great work on that first issue, I was okay with it. Though I’d still like to have a much greater variety of body type among the characters in my stories, that will have to wait for whatever new comics I write in the future.

Here’s the corrected page:
I had a wonderful time at my “Coffee and Comics” workshop. I hope those who attended got as much enjoyment out of the presentation as I did. You’ll definitely find me talking more about core values in future bloggy things.

If you’re looking to meet me at a convention or some other event, you’ll have to wait several weeks. My next public appearance will be at the East Coast Comicon, April 27-29, Meadowlands Exposition Center, New Jersey. I’ll have more to say on that appearance when we get a little closer to those dates.

I’m in the process of going over my entire 2018 appearance schedule and, once I’ve done that, I’ll list all the events here and on my other social media. It’s going to be a busy year for me.

I’ll be back on the morrow with my round-up of “Things That Make Me Happy” for the month of March. See you then.
© 2018 Tony Isabella

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