The First Virtual Voices Reading: Workshopping Comic Books with Yona Harvey

By: Clare Kelly 

On September 3, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland community welcomed back Yona Harvey to the first virtual event of the Voices Reading Series, directed by Professor Karen Lorena Anderson, and sponsored by the Arts Alliance, the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee and the English Department. Harvey is a recipient of the Lucille Clifton Legacy Award presented by St. Mary’s College of Maryland for her poetry. She is the author of “You Don’t Have To Go Mars for Love,” a collection of poems. In the world of comic books, she and Ta-Nehisi Coates are the co-authors of “Black Panther and the Crew,” published by Marvel Studios.

In her welcoming address to the community, Anderson explained that as the mission of the Voices Reading Series brings together great voices, she wanted to share a voice that “shines a light through the terror” of the past few months. Anderson noted that Harvey came to mind as a “fierce” and “compassionate” voice to invite “not once but twice.” Harvey will be returning to the St. Mary’s community in two weeks’ time for a reading of her poetry; whereas on this day she came as a comic book writer and to lead a workshop on this topic. Professor Anderson honored Harvey’s work as a comic book writer that shows a “different way of finding liberation.” 

At the beginning of the workshop, Harvey asked all attendees “to breathe and accumulate and to be grateful and excited” in preparation for sharing this place. The goals she hoped to achieve in her workshop included “broaden[ing] the perspective of what comics can do or be,” inviting the attendees to write themselves into the comic and to share the words of great female comic writers. Harvey introduced the work of a comic artist, Linda Berry, that inspired her. Berry held a philosophy that “anyone can draw, anyone can try this;” as Harvey commented, she “elevated my game as a teacher.” She valued Berry’s “transparency about her process” because she finds that “comics are collaborative.” Throughout the exercises, Harvey emphasized the power of collaboration, and how people tend to see writing as an isolated place, but it’s really a collaborative workshop. 

Harvey asked all the attendees to take part in an activity that had many parts to it. First, she asked everyone to draw five different things. She allocated one minute to draw each item without looking. The images she instructed are bacon and eggs, a mermaid, a giraffe with spots, the Statue of Liberty and a human skeleton. After this, she instructed the group to write a run-on sentence for each of the following topics. Harvey gave two minutes for this activity. The different topics included chewing, salt, circles, and freedom. After instructing all the attendees through these exercises; she exclaimed that the participants were simply two minutes away from drafting their first comic. She instructed them to look through their run-on sentences and underline anything that stands out to them. With these bits of writing, she told attendees to write the underlined words with the pictures that they drew in activity one. As if she was reading the minds of attendees, Harvey explained that if the comic and the writing contrast that gives color to the comic. “It would be boring if the text matches the pictures.” 

Harvey ended the workshop by presenting the styles of different artists. Two of these artists included Rina Ayuyang and Julie Delport. Ayuyang used “colored pencils to create many sketched images, [in comparison to] hard images like Marvel.” Deport, on the other hand, valued minimalist, but also worked with colored pencils. Harvey shared these artists to encourage all to “be open to the different shapes and forms.” She opens doors for all those attending to understand that they are welcomed into the realm of comic writing. 

“I thought it was an amazing workshop that really reminded me that art doesn’t have to be so high stakes! As long as what you create means something to you, it’s art, which is a really nice reminder I think. I’m currently working on an SMP in art and just being able to do really silly and laid back art like this was so relaxing and very welcomed so overall it was just a really fun time,” stated Jasper Lopez ‘21. 

Jazsmin Prince’21 said, “I absolutely loved the workshop that Yona Harvey held for us. This was the first time that I had ever been to a workshop voices reading before. I was super excited when Professor Anderson told us in our Creative writing class that this would be the first one! I really loved the workshop we did. She allowed us to make comics in a fun way and showed us what it was about. I appreciated her coming back to St. Mary’s.” 

In this workshop, Harvey gave the reader, illustrators and writers different perspectives and methods to strengthen and expand their knowledge of the comic book. She used these exercises to break down the walls of comic book drafting to show anyone has the ability to be a comic writer. Now the St. Mary’s Community has not seen the last of Yona Harvey, she will be returning on September 24 to share her voice once again this time through poetry.

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