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Photos: Richmond students showcase their first comic book about local biodiversity

A group of Richmond elementary students recently published their first comic book after six months of hard work.

A group of Richmond elementary students recently published their first comic book after six months of hard work.

The community was invited to Dixon elementary on Tuesday, June 11, to celebrate the launch of Hidden Stories of the Bioverse, a comic book created by 80 local students in partnership with artist Andrea Hoff.

"We created the story together as we learned about flood protection, talked about the climate crisis, talked about the things that many kids are thinking about but sometimes have a hard time expressing," said Hoff, who said her role was to translate the students' work by laying them out as directed.

"Everything was done by the kids."

Artwork in the comic was created through drawings and cyanotype printing, a photographic process that involves laying objects on a piece of paper coated in a chemical solution and exposing them to UV light.

Participants at the celebration event got to print their own cyanotypes and channeled their inner poets, before heading off on a tour to the Williams Road pump station and checking out nearby utility boxes displaying art from the comic.

Maisie Peter and Tommy McKane, two of the student artists behind the comic, told the Richmond News their favourite part of the project was making the cyanotypes.

"Because we first got to go on a walk, which was fun and then collect some items and... put them on paper, like, make a photo out of them," Tommy explained.

Going outside to gather the materials was also the highlight for Maisie.

"We worked really hard. And (the comic) took a pretty long time to make because it's June, and we started in January," she said.

Giving children agency to help them learn

While the students have made comic books before, this was their first time getting their work published.

"Kids, they're so much affected and so much impacted by all these things going on in the world, and yet, in so many ways, they don't have a lot of agency or voice," said Hoff.

"And so offering them the chance to not only make these creations, but to have their work bounded and all, to present their work, to be authors for the first time in a printed, published book, it challenges that idea of children not having a say in things."

Hoff added it was important that she did not edit or change what the children wrote.

"It changes something ... the first time you see your name in print. It's like, 'Oh, I can do this. This is a possibility,'" she said.

Teaching with a different method

Hoff aimed to teach students about flood protection and biodiversity in Richmond through the project, which was created as part of the City of Richmond's engaging artists in community program.

The process of creating the abstract comic offers students a different way to learn about serious topics, Hoff explained.

"So much of what's happening in our world is about the information, about the things that are happening, whether it's happening across the other side of the world or happening here ... things that are not landing that easily with young people," she said.

Students went on outdoor field trips, rain or shine, every week for about three months, before hunkering down to create the pages for the comic. They met up with engineers who explained the city's flood protection system, while also searching for materials to use in the comic.

"Every week that we did it, the weather was sometimes great and sometimes torrential, and (the students) loved it. It was just so great. We would get outside for hours at a time," recalled Hoff.

Students would then discuss the stories back at school and used them as inspiration for the artwork.

"It was incredible. It was almost like when you change the focus of what you're thinking about and put it into this kind of creative practice, it's like another kind of knowledge that comes through," said Hoff.

And she chose cyanotypes because of one reason — it's easily accessible to everyone.

"It's not about who can draw well, or who feels they're an artist or who's not an artist... We all have the ability to do this kind of process and it's about following your curiosity," she explained.

For more information about the project and to find out how to purchase the comic book, visit Hoff's artist blog.

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