ELYRIA — For 15 minutes Monday in every elementary and middle school across Elyria, youngsters will read a comic book.
Ken Glanc, the organization’s president, likes to refer to it as the day the world will be introduced to Captain Comic Book. A mild-mannered, middle-aged father and banker by day — any similarity to Glanc, a father of three and the branch manager of the FirstMerit bank in Avon — is merely a coincidence, he said.
Captain Comic Book becomes an unlikely superhero after he reads a magical comic book and absorbs the powers of the book’s character. Once he uses that power, he loses it and obtaining more powers is as easy as reading more comic books — hence the title, “Reading is Power.”
“It’s a fun and entertaining read, which captures the joy of comic books,” Glanc said. “We are very excited about this first issue. They are ready to be distributed to every kindergarten through eighth-grade student in Elyria, as well as pockets of students in Oberlin, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Cleveland and Medina County. We’re talking about approximately 10,000 comic books going out Monday.”
The release coincides with National Literacy Monday.
So, how does an organization that five years ago was happy to just pass out a few hundred comic books on Free Comic Book Day evolve to commission an original story line and bring on board both a writer and illustrator with ties to the renowned Marvel Comics? The creative team behind the book includes writer Marc Sumerak and artist Chris Giarrusso.
“At the end of the day, who didn’t want to be a superhero at some point in their lives?” Glanc said.
The rise of the comic book
Introduced to comic books when he was a child — during the era of watching Saturday morning cartoons and clamoring for the next adventure of Batman and Superman — Glanc said he grew up with an aunt who was big on reading.
He had to pick a genre and gravitated toward comic books. As he became a father, he bought them for his children. Then, one day, Glanc said he pulled together several people in the community to discuss literacy and reaching out to students using alternative means.
“I’m an avid comic book reader. I am not a collector,” he said. “I feel comics are engaging and entertaining. Not to mention, easy to read and follow along. Plus the stories are fantastic. What better way to help a student become a better reader than to encourage comic books? It’s a nice springboard into other literary pursuits.”
Amy Keir, an English and language arts content specialist for Elyria Schools, said comic books are emerging as a legitimate genre for students. Classics like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” “King Lear,” and “Pride and Prejudice” have been adapted into comics.
“Students are so visually driven now that graphic novels are embraced because they are engaging and motivate students to read and gather information in formats they enjoy,” Keir said.
If a reader sticks with comics for life — as Bryan Branch, owner of Keith’s Comics, has seen over the years — it is easy to move from rudimentary stories to more adult titles.
“Actually, the market is geared more for the 18- to 34-year-old,” he said. “There are fewer titles for kids, even though the market is expanding as more titles are put out like ‘My Little Pony,’ ‘Batman’ and ‘Teen Titans’.”
The first comic book hit U.S. bookstores in 1933, but in recent years the resurgence of the comic book has in large part been due to the movie industry.
Branch has owned Keith’s Comics, 394 Broad St., for 12 years, but the business has been in Elyria for 21 years. Soon after each opening weekend, moviegoers come to his store in search of more of the back story.
“‘The Walking Dead’ is a huge property and most people don’t know it’s a comic book,” he said. “‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is due out in a couple of weeks. There is the Avengers series. Even the Lego movie had a Batman character in it. Comic books are everywhere. You can’t get away from it.”
Reading a comic book is one thing, but writing one is another story.
The Elyria Comic Book Initiative will give youngsters the joy of reading, but its first pet project was about publishing. Operation Comic Book lets students create their own comic books and has built a network of teachers, parents and business professionals to help.
“Since 2009 we have had over 2,500 participants and passed out more than 25,000 comics throughout Lorain, Cuyahoga, Lake, Medina, Summit and Franklin counties,” Glanc said. “Ohio is a hotbed of comic activity. Superman was created right in Cleveland, so it starts right there.”
The Elyria Rotary Club has been a longtime supporter of the Elyria Comic Book Initiative. Through its financial support, Captain Comic Book and Reading is Power were brought from conception to reality.
Glanc said it seemed natural to put a Rotarian connection into the comic book. Just as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker with great power comes great responsibility, Captain Comic Book adopts Rotary’s Four Way Test — is it the truth, is it fair to all concerned, will it build goodwill and better friendships and will it be beneficial to all concerned — to govern the use of his powers.
As such, future issues of “Captain Comic Book” — which is set in Harrisville, named after Rotary founder Paul Harris — will keep with Rotarian principles and possibly even highlight a major cause of the organization: the eradication of polio.
The comic books also will continue to encourage youngsters to embrace publishing. The last two pages of the book offer students a step-by-step process on how to make an original comic book, which can be submitted to the Elyria Comic Book Initiative and possibly put on the organization’s website.
We are building the readers and creators of tomorrow,” Glanc said.
If additional funds are secured, the hope is to give the book to the remaining kindergarten through eighth-grade students in Lorain County around Free Comic Book Day — always observed the first Saturday in May. That would be another 20,000 comic books, Glanc said.