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ELKO – It is one thing to write down what one sees, but can you reverse the process?

Comic and graphic artist Marek Bennett showed how it’s done in the “Cowboy Comics” workshop this week, teaching attendees how to take a poem or historical document and turn it into a multi-paneled story.

“We talked about cartooning and telling stories with pictures,” Bennett said on Jan. 29 during a lunch break.

After presenting examples from his own graphic novel, “The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby,” Bennett explained how cartooning is essentially “telling stories with pictures.”

Ten participants sketched out their ideas for group discussion led by Bennett. By the end of the workshop, the inked pages from each artist would be combined into a class book. Students also learned how to edit their work and prepare it for publication.

Bennett, who teaches cartooning and music in New Hampshire, brought his comics workshop to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at Elko and Spring Creek schools during the 35th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

He also took to the stage Tuesday night in Old Time Good Time showcase playing banjo and jawbone.

Graphic novels are gaining mainstream interest, and using comics is becoming a popular method of storytelling. Having comic art featured at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a signal that it is a viable art form, Bennett said.

“The fact that the gathering is thinking, ‘maybe we should have some comics here,” is an indicator that it’s getting out to places it hasn’t before,” he said.

To translate words into a storyboard format is something that doesn’t come easily at first, according to participant James Church, who accepted an invitation to the workshop and discovered techniques to adapt a cowboy poem into a comic.

“I’m trying to … come up with some imagery for it,” Church said. “[I’ve learned] a bunch of strategies for finding material.”

Church admitted that writing and storyboarding did not come easy to him, but that the process of designing his work in a freeform style is “liberating for an artist.”

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“It’s not linear,” Church said. “You’re starting at the end of something and working to the beginning. It’s a cool concept … you’re not confined.”

Having an art background can hinder the storyboarding process for some, Bennett explained, but in comic book art, simple sketches, even stick-figure art is useful because of the multiple pictures used to tell the story completely.

Alan Glaser agreed. As a self-proclaimed “doodler” who loves to sketch on anything, he said the workshop challenged him to “tell a story and do it simply with as few lines as possible.”

“[I’m going] beyond a doodle,” Glaser said.

Just by offering the workshop is a step “outside the box,” said Maddy Butcher of Colorado. She said she likes classes that take her outside of her comfort zone, and said it seems to show the organizers are looking at a different side of folk arts.

“It’s an example of how eccentric the gathering can be,” she said.

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Courts, schools & Spring Creek reporter

Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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