There’s nothing that gets FirstMerit Bank manager Ken Glanc going like a good comic book. Ever since he was a kid, he has loved the pictures, plot lines and battles between good and evil superheroes. “I’m still a Batman guy,” says the father of three, who uses comics as a way to teach his kids life lessons.
Now he’s bringing those lessons to others through the Elyria Comic Book Initiative, a non-profit he began to teach kids how to manage their money after his bank saw a sprouting of check-cashing stores throughout Elyria — businesses that serve customers who need a fast financial fix when they’ve gotten in too deep. But even in its early stages the organization has more on the agenda than financial accountability.
“There are so many other stories that could be told: personal responsibility, leadership, self-empowerment, conflict resolution ... the list goes on,” Glanc says, emphasizing that the initiative is separate from the bank for that reason. He believes that comics, which are kid-friendly because of their larger-than-life characters who portray right from wrong so vividly, will be the best translator of those messages. By producing original story ideas in a fun way, kids will be more likely to apply the messages they illustrate to their own lives.
With the help of board members and volunteers, Glanc launched a pilot program at Eastern Heights Middle School in Elyria themed “What if I Were a Superhero?” complete with eight after-school sessions, each designed to focus on topics that will guide the students. The students learned how to make complete story plots, break up paragraphs into separate comic bubbles, illustrate and ultimately turn their stories into finished products.
Glanc says it was amazing to see how the students reacted to the program. One of the middle school students, Cheyenne Grier, stood out as the epitome of his vision for the initiative. A talented artist and storyteller, Cheyenne created a beautifully illustrated book from start to finish, with final graphic touches provided by Lorain County JVS students. Her story depicted the powers she would have if she were a superhero, such as transforming from a human into an animal. “She brought characters, bios, story lines, sketches ... she just needed an opportunity to sit down and just map it out.”
For students like Cheyenne, the initiative can teach them lessons through making comics.
“[It can] teach them personal responsibility, it encourages creativity; it taps different skill sets that they maybe never employed before,” Glanc says.
After the pilot’s success, Glanc has planned three more programs for winter. He and his crew will return to Eastern Heights Middle School to do another comic book-making program with students about saving the environment. They will also be helping a group of Girl Scouts of North East Ohio make their own comics on the subjects of personal leadership and self-empowerment. They will also do a program to teach students about bike safety through creating comics with Save Our Children, a nonprofit that improves opportunities for at-risk kids. The program will be sponsored by Silver Wheels bicycle club, which is the first partnership the initiative has had in the community.
Glanc is pleased with the success of the Elyria Comic Book Initiative, and he has high hopes for the future. “I was blown away. … I can’t even imagine where this could go.”