Comic-book hero draws students into his world

17th July 2015 at 01:00
Marvel artist uses workshops to inspire disadvantaged pupils

Saving the world with Judge Dredd and Captain America - or, for that matter, discovering space with Dan Dare - is the stuff of daydreams for millions of teenagers.

Although the idea of earning a living by drawing these fantasy tales may seem just as far-fetched as their plots for many Scottish schoolchildren, a group of young people are this month getting the opportunity to learn from a Scot who has built a career doing exactly that.

Comic artist Gary Erskine, who was born in Paisley and has worked for giants of the industry including Marvel, Vertigo and DC Comics, last week began a series of workshops designed to share his experiences with disadvantaged students.

Instilling faith in their own potential was the most important part of his work with pupils, Mr Erskine told TESS. "Everything that we read, see, hold in our hands or drive has been inspired by someone who possibly was encouraged at an early age and told: `You can do this.'

"It is so much more than just drawing a comic. It is about letting a child know that they can create anything."

By Monday, Mr Erskine will have held six workshops for the Access to Creative Education in Scotland (Aces) project at the Edinburgh College of Art. This scheme aims to widen participation among pupils from socially deprived parts of Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Scottish Borders.

Mr Erskine said he hoped to inspire students to create their own stories, character designs and art, but also to "introduce them to the wider range of possibilities available to them creatively at the Edinburgh College of Art".

He said his work with students from primary to post-16 had shown him that it was important to engage children as early as possible. "There is an unbridled imagination and creative pool at a younger age that is full of ideas, and with the right opportunities their talent can have a place to grow."

`Funding is always an issue'

Talking about his own journey to becoming a successful comic artist, Mr Erskine said the support of a teacher had been a great help but that funding remained the crucial barrier to unleashing more creativity in the classroom.

"My art teacher was incredibly supportive of my work when I was at school, but he still had to make special arrangements for me to sit my exams a year earlier and work on my portfolio out of class time. Not every school has the opportunity to do that. Or will allow it," he said.

"I wish more creative courses were available for youngsters but funding is always an issue. There are always schools and libraries requesting workshops but resources are tight for some educational budgets and opportunities are not that frequent."

Mr Erskine added: "Every workshop session is welcomed by schools and children, and the creative output from even a single one-hour session can be inspiring and should be encouraged."

He said that although it was undoubtedly not easy to make a living in the arts, it was crucial to keep encouraging young people: "A creative brain never switches off and it is more wired in a younger mind. It would be a crime to stop that."

The Aces programme has run at Edinburgh College of Art for five years, and offers practical workshops, careers events and campus orientation visits, as well as individual guidance. Last year, 50 workshops were held, reaching about 500 students.

Kathleen Hood, head of widening participation, said that increasing access was "at the heart of the University of Edinburgh's agenda".

For more information on the Access to Creative Education in Scotland scheme, visit bit.lyAcesProject

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