In eight years, R.A. Long Librarian Joan Enders has snagged 13 professional authors to visit the high school.
Every visit has reeled in the teens. But GADZOOKS! This latest catch was cool.
Darren Davis, who publishes and creates for his own company, Bluewater Comics, has been interviewed by Larry King and Barbara Walters.
When Bluewater asked Ellen DeGeneres where to donate part of the proceeds from her comic, she chose the Humane Society. Hunters went crazy.
During his "Comics 101" workshop Wednesday at RAL, Davis got word on his Blackberry that his comics would be on E! that night and soon get a nod in OK magazine.
Bluewater is used to a lot of action. And Davis brought plenty with him for his morning at RAL, showing 36 student artists how to make and sell a comic, and evaluating their portfolios with his assistant, Janda Tithia.
"I'm interested in this kind of stuff," said Charity Williams, a freshman. "I want to learn more about it. I'm going to draw more."
Ellysa Champ, an 11th grader who wants to be a career illustrator, was inspired. "He showed us the tools we need," she said, "and how to do an outline."
Davis started with the basics: the right size and weight paper for a standard comic page, the Sharpies and Micro pens and where to find the best deals.
The kids learned that comics are always 22 pages, with panels laid out in a variety of ways, some with dialogue and some with art only.
After the overview, Davis invited the group to create a hero and map out a story.
The students brainstormed a character named Chase Leonardi, deciding that he would get bullied, then discover his alter ego, "Guardia," with superpowers including elastic fingers and a nose that can hear.
The kids made up a sidekick and villain, engineered a plot and sketched panels for Page 1.
Rose Struntz, a senior, devoted an art-only panel to the villain kicking Chase in the ribs.
"It's the biggest part," she said, "so I gave it lots of space."
The exercise helped Austin Malakowsky "learn about character creation and collaboration."
Davis "showed us how to focus on one character before introducing others," said Socorro Perez.
Some of the teens were surprised to learn that comic books are created by a team: a writer, an inker, a colorist and a letterer. "If you're an artist, team up with a writer," Davis told them.
Bianca O'Balle and Cassandra Pasetto jumped right on it.
"We learned a lot about what we need to start our own together," said Bianca. "We have a plan."
Outer hipster, inner geek
Davis, 41, was "one of those kids that had a hard time reading," he said. His dad brought him home a comic about the Empire State Building, and KAZAM! "I've loved comics ever since."
He said he gets so tired of TV, computers and his Blackberry that he relaxes by reading comics.
"This is my inner geek," he said. "I go to the store once a week, buy comic books and read them. I check my e-mail 24 hours a day. I need to be separated from that."
Davis got his start marketing entertainment in Los Angeles, then went to work for DC and Marvel comics. Now based in Vancouver, he has parlayed sharp instincts into Bluewater.
His Female Force series, for instance, generated buzz with comic-book biographies of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Stephenie Meyer, Michelle Obama and Sonia Sotomayor.
"Comics have always had strong female role models, but we try to skew differently so we don't alienate women," Davis said. "We want strong, independent women."
Most comics cater to guys, he said, "but we don't want to T&A them out. I was talking to the artist, and I said don't just do boobalicious -- do that, but tone it down two steps."
Davis seems to be on speed dial with every facet of public taste.
Bluewater has comics about World Wrestling divas, "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson and country warbler Taylor Swift.
William Shatner writes for Bluewater's Tek War Chronicles. And S.E. Hinton, a respected author of young adult novels including "The Outsiders," will write her first graphic novel for Bluewater.
These are "tie-ins," Davis told the teens.
The entertainment stratosphere is full of books that become comics, comics made into movies, movies morphing into Broadway musicals, celebrities inked as comic book heroes.
Anyone can tap into that, Davis said.
"How many of you think you are too young to publish a comic?" He answered the smattering of raised hands with a true story.
A few years ago, he coaxed his niece to do a comic with him. She was 12, and she chose "Violet Rose" as her heroine.
After five pages in the back of a graphic novel and four comics of her own, the girl wrote a graphic novel about her character, Davis said. The niece is now 18 -- and Hollywood is interested in Violet Rose for television.
The whole anatomy thing
Davis also talked art.
He explained the importance of proportion -- how to get all the body parts to be the right size -- and urged the kids to improve their drawing skills. During the portfolio session, he praised Cassy Pasetto's "cool and rough" work on a black-and-white album cover, then pointed out how the hands didn't fit.
"The whole anatomy thing, I never thought about that before," Pasetto said.
Davis's assistant praised Christina Bunten's skill with anatomy. Does Bunten foresee a career as an illustrator?
"I want to be a tattoo artist," the girl said.
The workshop validated a craft that may not always get respect.
"Drawing calms me down," said 17-year-old David Andrews, who has been doodling since he was 6 and now draws mythology and fantasy.
Charlie Hartzog, who recently placed in the state art contest and creates dazzling graffiti art, said doing art "lets me express my feelings."
A chorus of voices agreed, defending their sometimes demented subjects.
"It expresses our independence," said Memo Santana, 14.
"It makes you feel free," said Beau Hughes, 19. "No one can tell you what to draw."
For Savannah Peck, who draws whole pages just to practice eyes and finished a 225-page novel, Davis's workshop was everything she wants school to be.
"I wish it were a class," she said. "It would be the best class ever."