Film/Television Editor, Copy Editor Devin D. O'Leary served as film/television editor at Weekly Alibi for 28 years. He wrote and produced four feature films here in New Mexico and has been the booker/host of Midnight Movie Madness screenings at Guild Cinema for 13 years.

,

Millennia ago, primitive humans used a mix of a words and images to convey cultural stories and ideas. Those seminal cave scribblings are the inspiration behind 7000 BC, a New Mexico-based organization providing opportunities for comic book writers and artists to develop their personal styles and “storytelling voices.” For nearly 20 years, 7000 BC has worked hard to promote an understanding of the cultural significance of comic art through a string of seminars, workshops, art jams and locally published works. Recently, 7000 BC was awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the New Mexico Humanities Council to promote “comics and visual literacy.” The money will go to support the weekly comic book workshops that 7000 BC has been offering since the pandemic began, as well as a week-long intensive for teachers on using comics in education.

“7000 BC began in 2004 when a few friends got together to share the comics they were making,” says Jeff Benham, 7000 BC’s education coordinator. “About a month later, the group expanded exponentially following the first official 24 Hour Comics Day. Over the years, we’ve become a collective of comics creators of all ages and experience levels, providing instruction, community and moral support for anyone making comics.”

Since its inception the goal of 7000 BC has been to bring comics to a wider audience and expand the medium to uses other than simple, escapist entertainment. The artists and writers behind 7000 BC have taught comics through schools, libraries and art centers. They’ve paired comics education in as many unexpected venues as possible, including medical schools, natural history and science museums, university math and English
classes and the Veterans Administration.

The group’s workshops are designed to empower anyone to tell their own story in word and image. According to the organizers, participants have come with a wide range of interests, such as a therapist and an accountant seeking to use comics in their professions. But 7000 BC continues to reach out, primarily, to young artists and writers—some of whom, thanks to the internet, have come from as far away as India. Students today are born into a world in which comics are a ubiquitous form of communication. “The ability to fluently ‘speak’ that language can give students a unique advantage,” says Benham.

The upcoming teachers intensive, funded by the generous humanities grant, echoes this belief. The professional development course is something 7000 BC has been working toward for years. In it, local teachers will explore the use of comics in the classroom. By the end of the week-long class, they will develop a complete lesson plan, create lesson examples for students and, as 7000 BC puts it, “wield a well-loaded visual literacy toolbox.” According to Benham, “Teaching Between the Panels is a pilot program for Professional Development in comics and visual literacy. We’ve been after this one for a long time as well. We’re partnering with Media Savvy Citizens, a group out of Taos that will consult with us on the ins and out of offering PD. The program is for middle and high school Language Arts and Social Studies teachers in northern New Mexico. We’re hoping to reach teachers in more remote areas. It will be offered in Summer 2022, with three days virtual and two days in person.” And, Benham cautions, “Space is limited.”

In the meantime 7000 BC’s “Between the Panels” workshops for teens and adults continue every Saturday from 11am to 12:30pm until April 30. Classes work individually or as a series. Each workshop focuses on a different aspect of the comics creation process. These aren’t simple “how to draw” classes either. On March 12, for example, participants can study “The Unexpected Three-Panel Comic,” which “re-introduces students to comics through our natural instinct to connect concepts and form stories.” On March 19 it’s “A Genre By Any Other Name,” which “looks at what genre is, how parameters define any given genre and how exploring those parameters might keep your reader’s attention.” Workshops are presented online on Zoom. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite for a pay-what-you-can donation. The suggested donation is $25, but anything $1 or more is welcome. “Any time we’ve offered a class where we controlled the cost, we’ve always offered a full scholarship for anyone who couldn’t afford the class,” says Benham. “In all the years, we’ve only had one person take us up on it. Since COVID hit, the vast majority of our students have attended for free or significantly less than the suggested pay-what-you-can amount and been very up front about how they’ve been struggling during COVID.” The humanities grant, half of which goes directly to the “Between the Panels” workshops, helps out greatly with this, allowing 7000 BC to continue its mission.

To see a full schedule of spring 2022 workshops or to sign up for one, go to 7000bc.org/p/workshops.html.