I came across Ryan Alexander-Tanner at Wordstock, where he had copies of his book To Teach: The Journey, in Comics. It’s one that I haven’t read myself, but had heard of, so I stopped to chat with him. Alexander-Tanner works with kids and comics, leading comics-making workshops and using comics to teach writing and literacy.
GeekDad: Hi, Ryan, what can you tell me about your book, To Teach: The Journey, in Comics?
Ryan Alexander-Tanner: It’s a collaboration I did with William Ayers, who’s an education specialist. It’s a book that Teachers College Press put out maybe fifteen years ago, in the ’90s. It did really well, and they were interested in doing a new edition, which ended up being a graphic novel, so they hired me to adapt it and recreate it as comics.
GD: Okay, so this is based on a non-comics book originally.
RA: Yes, there’s a book called To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher, which is on its third edition, and this is sort of a companion. It’s the same book, just a different medium, but it’s got the same ideas.
GD: Is it a memoir about teaching, or a how-to, or something else?
RA: More of a how-to than anything else. It’s pedagogy, essentially. It’s teaching theory and practice. But it’s not one-to-one, it’s not like “when this happens, do this.” It’s more like where you should get yourself mentally and spiritually to do this career.
GD: Kind of like a philosophy of teaching, then?
RA: Yeah, very much so.
GD: Cool. Can you also tell me about this other thing you do, the Cosmic Monkey’s Kids Comics Club?
RA: Cosmic Monkey is this really great comic book store in NE Portland. Every Saturday afternoon, we host a club for kids. That’s one thing I do professionally. I go to schools and I work with kids, really push comics — creating comics, reading comics — as an educational asset. So we do this workshop every Saturday and parents can bring their kids and we develop comics. It’s very one-on-one, so that every kid can engage at their own level. Some kids have really elaborate things they’re thinking about and other kids are just having fun. If it gets bigger, we may have more people, but right now it’s just me.
GD: How many kids do you typically have attending?
RA: It wavers. We’re just starting to really promote it but it hasn’t gotten very big yet. It’s for kids eight and up — almost eight is okay.
GD: Where did you get the idea for it? Had you heard of other people doing something like it anywhere else?
RA: I’ve been teaching comics to kids for quite a while now. I got started about five years ago. I had a professor in college who recommended me for the SUN school program. So I’ve been going to these after-school programs and teaching comics. It’s a good combination of art and literacy, so it’s really good educational supplement. It’s a cool thing for kids to do, something fun that’s actually teaching them — tricking them into learning, almost.
So I got really engaged by doing that, the interaction with kids and what you learn about kids from what they make, encouraging kids. Part of it is just empathy for me: I was that kid, and now I’m helping that kid, you know? That has a lot to do with it for me. So I got involved in this teaching project, and it’s just built and developed over the years for me. It’s a passion of mine. And I just like kids: I like working with them, and I like their ideas, and what they teach you about them and yourself. I like having that interaction.
GD: What schools have you worked with?
RA: Oh, man. A bunch. There’s the SUN schools here in Portland, and I worked at Oakland Charter School in Chicago. I worked at a program in Manhattan called Say Yes to Education, a sort of inner-city kids scholarship, almost like pre-summer school. That was a really good experience. I’ve done workshops and talks at a lot of different schools, like NYU and Stanford. A few more. I do that a lot, too. I go to colleges and I talk about using comics as an educational tool in the classroom. So I do a lot of lectures and workshops at colleges, too.
GD: Besides To Teach, do you have other comics or illustration work you’ve done?
RA: I’ve done some stuff, some comics journalism. A long time ago I did stuff for the Willamette Week, that was some of my first published stuff. Also this guy Matt Bors is editor of a site called Cartoon Movement, which is comics journalism, and I illustrated a story there, went up a couple months ago. I do all the promotional art for Dave’s Killer Bread: I drew Dave, and I drew the little seed guys, all the lettering and stuff. That’s been my most lucrative client, probably. We’ve got a new website launching, maybe this month, and it’s going to be all illustrated.
GD: So I basically see your work every day when I’m making sandwiches.
RA: Every day! Whether or not you choose to. It’s ubiquitous.
GD: All right, well thanks for talking with me today!
RA: Thank you!
For more about Ryan Alexander-Tanner, visit his website www.OhYesVeryNice.com.