Graphic artist Ben Bishop was the star of our final visits of the semester at Beatrice Rafferty and Indian Township Schools. Ben shared his personal story of determination and persistence and caught the attention of students and teachers alike by showing that disappointments can be overcome if you just keep trying.
Ben’s early love of Marvel Comics and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” led him to write a letter to Marvel at age 11 asking for a job. They declined his request, but gave him some good advice: keep practicing his art and grow up a bit. Ben did both, and after a few life changes he made it to Maine where Downeast Books discovered his self-published graphic novel, “Nathan The Caveman.” It sat on their shelf for nearly six years, but when they decided to dive into the comic book world they knew just who to call and asked him to illustrate the book “Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness,” the story of Donn Fendler’s survival on Mount Katahdin, co-written by Donn and Lynn Plourde.
During the workshops, Ben shows students his early work, which includes a book he wrote while in second grade called “Turtles.” It’s all about his childhood pets and how they died. It was a grim tale, but he assured kids he was a good pet owner now. He showed in great detail how to condense words into pictures, and how as the illustrator you get to be the one “behind the camera,” choosing the perspective that tells the story best. He shared techniques he uses for quick first drafts and the importance of doing many drafts to see how your art will improve with each step.
Beatrice Rafferty students had many questions for Ben such as, “What got you interested in comics?” “How do you add the colors?” and “Have you ever climbed Mount Katahdin?” They also wanted to know about the newspaper articles at the beginning of each chapter, how he made it look old and if the words were really from “The Bangor Daily News.” He shared that to make pages look like old clippings, Ben dyed the paper in tea, wadded it into a ball and sat on it for hours while drawing other pages.
Indian Township had a science fair going on at the same time as our visit and the fourth-grade students chose to use “Lost Trail” as a springboard for ideas for their science projects. There were survival equipment lists, shelter building demonstrations, maps and models of Mount Katahdin and habitats of animals found in Baxter State Park made of clay and cardboard.
Ben’s story of ups and downs, highlights and disappointments, comes full circle as he shares how he now does the illustrations for the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comics and is working with the originator of this series, Kevin Eastman, on other projects! After watching Ben’s drawing demonstration from sketch to finished panel, kids and teachers were very impressed by his speed and exceptional skill. “It just goes to show,” one student said, “practice does make perfect!”
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