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The Isotope Communique
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Tuesday, July 19, 2005
For the last time, this is Sean Maher reporting from the Isotope Communique. It's been a hell of a weekend, now hasn't it? Nora, Graeme and I took our brief time in command of Isotope at full friggin' tilt, jumping from new customers to parties to blog updates to display changes to scheduling arrangements to cleaning up to phone call after phone call and e-mail after e-mail to, at last, addressing in a real way the absence of kids in the comics reading community. With my consciousness drifting away from the huge lack of sleep, I've time for one last post - wrapping up our work with the kids, handing the reins back over to Old Man Sime (dangit), and closing with a special announcement.
And looking back, as my eyelids fight desperately against a crushing gravity, I'm remembering this morning's events with a single, reassuring thought in my mind.
Well, that felt like success.
We just had a full class of 15 kids (aged about 11 to 13) in the store for about two hours. Their teacher, a princely fellow named Greg, brought them in shortly after 9:00 this morning.
Nora and I were up late the night before, along with the apple of my eye, the lovely Molly Hirschfeld, preparing for the lesson. We had several copies of Firebreather ready for the kids to read, a vocabulary list written out on chart paper, and a concise lesson plan.
Then I'd been awake until the wee hours of the morning, my eyes wide with anxiety. I don't know how to handle kids. I don't know how to teach. What the hell am I doing?
Turns out I didn't really need to worry so much. Greg told me this was a great class of kids, but I was totally unprepared for what a charming bunch of tiny people he was bringing my way.
They walked in and a young boy named Benito immediately walked up and offered a handshake hello. What a class act! Nora and I barely had time to introduce ourselves before the kids went scrambling to the racks, intensely curious about what entertaining goodies we had to offer.
After a moment or two, though, it was time to get down to brass tacks. And Greg was a great man for the job, talking to the students firmly but with a friendly tone. Soon they were all seated in the semicircle we'd made from the Isotope trademark benches.
We began by further introducing ourselves, talking for a moment about how we'd gotten into comics and answering some questions-- What was the first comic? was a tricky one, as anybody who's read Understanding Comics knows, so I turned the question around and asked if anybody knew who the first super hero was.
When they guessed Superman, I congratulated them on their fine answer and told them it came out in 1937. 'Cause, you know-- I remember everything as happening a year before it actually did.
When we were done with that, I turned to the chart paper we'd set up on an easel, and asked the kids if they could name as many comics as they knew. We quickly filled up two sheets of paper, affixing them to the wall so the kids would have some confirmation of their ideas. (One clever little bugger kept turning around to the comics racks behind him and raising his hand with titles he saw there-- I could believe he'd seen Preacher somewhere, but by the time he started naming Sea of Red and Ultra the jig was up!)
Then we prepared for the reading by doing what some call the "Prediction Exercise". Nora and I described the premise of the book, telling the kids it was about a teenage boy whose dad was a dragon and whose mom was a human-- what would life be like in a new school?, we asked.
"He'd be scared."
"He wouldn't know anybody."
"He wouldn't make friends."
God, these kids were breaking my heart. I'd worried that the story was maybe a little too saccharine, that they'd want something more cynical and modern, but they went right for it without a hint of sarcasm.
Then we started the reading, assigning different parts to each kid. They were a little nervous to take Duncan, the lead character, when we told them it was a big part, so teacher Greg stepped up to the plate, doing a fantastic reading of the character that had all the kids listening and reading.
When we were done reading, we discussed the story a little bit more, exploring the ideas the kids had had before reading, and talking about where the story might go next. I'm telling ya, younguns are one hell of a wellspring of imagination.
Then it was time to set them loose. They asked a few more questions-- Benito, the hand shaker, had three or four by himself-- and then attacked the comics racks with hungry eyes.
As we'd expected, Fantastic Four was on a lot of their minds. After balking at the price tag of the Ultimate Fantastic Four trades I'd set out, some kids needed help finding single issues. Benito found one he was really happy with, as you can see below (he's on the left):
One of Greg's aides started looking through another FF book with some of the girls, taking particular note of the cheesecake factor.
"You know, it's really nothing you wouldn't see at the beach."
After about 15 or 20 minutes, it was time to wrap things up. And wow, I really wasn't expecting the slam I got at the cash register!
And on their way out? Well, I didn't want anybody leaving empty handed, so I'd bought a whole big stack of books from quarter bins I'd raided throughout the city - I didn't want anybody leaving empty-handed. You can imagine how popular that was! And Greg was happy to pick up some books for the kids who hadn't been able to come... and confessed to wanting a couple for himself.
And you know, that would have been enough for me. I would have been really happy if that had been all that happened. But then there was the coup de grace, the final touch that sweetly seared the whole affair into my mind forever.
Just before he left, Benito came back up to us at the register. He held up his bag, the Fantastic Four snugly taped inside for safety, threw us a huge smile and said:
"This is the first comic I ever had."
Giving it up.
We didn't want to. Last night, as we finished preparing our lesson, Nora suddenly realized it was our last day closing up and had... well, a little bit of an episode.
After applying a mild sedative, we were able to settle her down. Then we both stood behind the counter for a moment, surveying the brilliant kingdom that was so briefly ours, with sleep-deprived satisfaction.
Once we got that settled, we headed for the door. But wait! Was that Graeme showing up at the last minute? Looking silly and having fun and reading a newspaper?
Don't be silly. That wasn't Graeme. We all know that Graeme always looks distinguished and intelligent, never has fun, and can't read. Was he even actually here this weekend?
Well, of course he was. He was just in the bathroom when you stopped by.
Of course, death is not the end.
I'm proud to announce that today, I enter blogging manhood. You've all seen my blogging puberty-- the silly, dramatic name, the inconsistent content, the days of orbit when I was out of contact. I'm ready to put all that behind me.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you are cordially invited to my new blogging home:
Sean Maher's Quality Control
This is pure content, now. The Zealot's Lore was my grace period, a steep learning curve that taught me a lot and prepared me for a fun new direction. I'll do my best to make it worth your while, and I'm confident that I can.
This is Sean Maher, on behalf of Nora Lally-Graves, Graeme McMillan and myself, signing off.