The Hallowed Halls Of Academia

Further to the last blog entry, Kristiaan sent me a couple of photos he took during the Pictoplasma festival in Berlin. As you can see, this was a little more of an involved conversation about the graphic arts than the typical comic shop “Sucks!/Rocks!” debates we tend to have over here.

Germans discuss just how damn brilliant I am.

Only by projecting individual panels twenty feet high and wide can you truly appreciate the magnificence of my pointillist artistry.

Which doesn’t really remind me of a story, but I’ll share one just the same.

The first time my work was ever discussed in a more learned environment was when a high school teacher and fan of mine invited me to speak to his class after final bell about working in comics. He picked me up one afternoon and we shared the long ride over the river to the desolate south shore of Montreal.

It occurred to me, as teenagers flipped through some of my less G-rated material — like The Squalids — that perhaps this extra curricular activity should have been accompanied by a parental waiver. I thought I detected that silent buzz of classroom excitement when the kids realize that they’ve just been handed something off the provincially-approved agenda. Eyes flitter about the room, making contact with the eyes of their peers, and a look is exchanged that says without words, “Hey, this isn’t algebra…this is DIRTY!”

What I most remember from that afternoon, however, is one individual kid. The troublemaker. An Attention Deficit Disorder case if ever there was one. He’d been bouncing off the walls about my impending visit for days. Now that the day had finally arrived, he was so thrilled, he promptly got himself saddled with a detention. And since my appearance was scheduled for after class — right at detention time — he was going to miss it. Some woman, probably the vice principal, obviously the school disciplinarian, clearly a bitch, was determined to make sure he served every moment of his punishment. After a brief conversation with him at the beginning of my Q&A, he was swept away to do hard time. I was disappointed because he seemed so intensely interested.

Ten minutes later, he appeared at the first floor window of the classroom again, having busted out of detention. He listened closely to my every word from just outside, and although his reappearance caused some minor commotion in the room, he wasn’t interested in disrupting anything, he just wanted to sit in.

This only lasted a few minutes before The Bitch found him again and dragged him back to high school prison so serve the remainder of his sentence in closely observed isolation. I never saw him again, but I’ll always remember him. This was years after my own high school experience, but it reminded me what was so damn wrong about our educational system. Here was a kid, obviously a handful, who was probably failing everything. Not because he was stupid, but because he wasn’t engaged. And then the one day something happens in class that he’s actually interested in, dying to learn about, they deny it to him just to administer an arbitrary punishment he’ll learn nothing from and never remember in years to come.

I can count the days I genuinely learned something in high school on one hand. And I might even have some fingers left over. I’m not saying I could have educated that kid one iota talking about comic books for forty minutes, but I could have given him one of those four or five days he might have remembered years down the road. A day he learned a little something that was off the lesson books, and formed a permanent memory that wasn’t about the pranks he pulled or the antics he got himself into.

I still feel it was a terrible missed opportunity to reach out to a kid who so desperately needed to be reached. I suppose I can add it to the meagre list of days I learned something in high school, even if it wasn’t my high school and I wasn’t a student. I just wish we’d both been able to come away having learned something new that day.

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