Year 9 Art students see the vulnerable side of their superheroes

Year 9 pupils at UCS have taken part in a ‘Secrets of a Superhero’ workshop led by artist Adam Hennessey as part of the Art Department’s enrichment programme – and, in it, they were invited to deconstruct, reconstruct or at least reimagine the figure of the superhero.

The entire Year 9 (or Lower Remove) cohort participated in the sessions this week, the opening gambit of which was a comic sketch featuring Batman and Superman comparing weaknesses that transcended the obvious Kryptonite.

The pupils’ remit was to come up with a comic consisting of anything between one and five frames, either in colour or in black and white. Their comic strips had to be inspired by examples of superheroes displaying weaknesses, with the theme being ‘Secrets of a Superhero’. Thus the pupils were asked to think what a superhero might keep quiet from their audience, like being able to fly but being scared of heights; this, in turn, allowed concepts such as acceptance, compassion, vulnerability and weakness to enter the conversation.

The Art students had already carried out research imagery, sketched a principal character and devised a story line, so were tasked by Adam with working through their ideas and creating the final product of a comic to be submitted for entry to a competition.

The enrichment sessions comprised an introduction to Adam’s work and style, a quick selection of draft and format, followed by time spent making a zine, which would then be presented. The pupils were advised not to overcomplicate their stories and to prioritise clarity, simplicity, communication, impact and message.

Examples of professional work were shown to pupils including Peanuts, a four-frame comic sketch as well as the kind of playful ‘one picture’ comic familiar to newspaper readers.

Pupil feedback ranged from positive appreciation to sheer enthusiasm and effusiveness, with one pupil, Tomoya, saying: “I love comics and all my emotions were successfully poured out on the page through an ironic comic. My personal favourite comic was a man with super strength that had Parkinson’s [disease]. This is a great piece of awareness for those that struggle with a particular condition and it removes stigma. Mr Hennessey was a good teacher.”

Another boy, Seb, added: “The workshop was excellent and extremely enjoyable. It was very well organised and planned out with the various comic layouts and the availability of resources.” The pupils’ finished zines will be exhibited in the Lund Gallery after half-term.

Adam Hennessey is an award-winning artist who makes comics and paintings about impactful moments in life, in order to better understand them.

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