September 26

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The Power of Encouragement by Jonathan Hill

Sometimes when folks ask me when I decided to become an author, I think they expect there to be a single ‘ah-ha’ moment where I consciously made the decision to do what I’m doing now. In reality, it’s thousands of little moments in your life adding up and pointing you in that direction. 

In looking back and trying to recount those thousand little moments, I am overwhelmed by the amount of encouragement I received. Sometimes it was very direct and having someone tell me to keep drawing. Sometimes it was just the tiny gesture of allowing me to explore my creativity. So many of those moments came from teachers in my life. I wanted to take this moment to say thank you to a few of those wonderful people. 

Mrs. Gawith – In sixth grade I was obsessed with Calvin and Hobbes and I would make rip-off comic strips about life in the classroom. My sixth-grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Gawith, would post them on the bulletin board in class. I think this was the first time I had someone encourage me to share my art and gave it a wider audience.

Mrs. Harris – Maybe because of that encouragement, my drawing and doodling engine was firing on all cylinders in sixth grade. I was drawing all the time, everywhere. I would fill the margins of my homework and test and quizzes with doodles. During a set of parent-teacher conferences, my social studies teacher, Mrs. Harris, brought it up. I was prepared to be in trouble, but I remember my mom telling me that she loved the creativity it showed and encouraged me to keep doing it. In addition to writing my grade on my tests and quizzes she would also write comments about the drawings.

Mrs. Sachs – I had Mrs. Sachs for seventh and eight grade English. I remember in seventh grade on our lessons about Greek mythology, she let me make a short comic about the Greek gods. (Looking back this was probably my first comics pages I ever drew!) It took me all weekend and was maybe eight pages long. I was so proud of that project but instead of keeping it, I gave it to her as a way of saying thank you. 

I had trouble transitioning from middle school to junior high. My friends at the time were going separate ways and I felt very alone and was really struggling. Luckily Mrs. Sachs had left the middle school to teach in the junior high. She noticed how different I was from the outgoing, energetic kid in her class the previous year and checked in on me often and offered me kindness and encouragement. I wanted to honor that kindness and named the main teacher in Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy after her. 

Mrs. Hoiseth – Halfway through my eighth-grade year, my dad’s job got a new contract overseas and we moved to halfway around the world to Kuwait. It would end up being one of the best things to happen to me, but at the time being uprooted from everything I knew seemed like the end of the world. In school, I took solace in the two subjects most fond to me: Art and English (okay, so maybe looking back it seemed obvious I would end up doing comics). Mrs. Hoiseth was my eight grade English teacher for that last part of my eighth-grade year in Kuwait. I remember being able to pursue books of our choice for class and she let us do creative projects upon finishing them. When I felt like a stranger in a strange land, having something that was familiar and creative helped me find my footing and feel more grounded. 

Ms. Kurowski – I don’t even know how to thank Ms. Kurowski. She was my art teacher throughout high school in Kuwait and supported and encouraged me in every way a teacher could. She didn’t just encourage me to draw, but to sculpt and take photos and paint and think as an artist and what that meant. She got me to start thinking about pursing art in college and what that might mean for me. She literally showed me the world (I got to travel to places like Egypt and throughout Europe with her for different art academics and art history trips). She was also my best friend’s mom, so I might have been closer than normal, but I don’t think that was it. I think if you talk to anyone that had Ms. Kurowksi as a teacher, they will tell you how she changed their life. She also hates that I still call her Ms. Kurowski and not Patti after all these years, but old habits are hard to break! You’ll notice the principal in Eagle Valley Middle School sharing the same name. 

Decades later, I’m an author in part to these wonderful people. I also ended up becoming a teacher. I taught comics for youth and at the college level for ten years in various summer programs, at local public schools, and at two different art colleges here in Portland. The only thing I love more than making comics is teaching comics. I look back and think of how important it was to me to always have someone telling me to go for it or to just give me the opportunity to doodle in the margins. The only way I know how to repay those teachers is to do the same for someone else. 

img_0907Jonathan Hill is an awarding winning cartoonist and educator that lives in Portland, OR. His new book Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy, published by Walker Books US, is out now! His other books include Odessa, Wild Weather: Storms, Climate, and Meteorology and Americus. He’s also done work for Powell’s City of Books, Oregon Humanities, The Believer Magazine, and the Portland Trailblazers. He currently serves on the board of directors for Literary Arts. You can find him online at http://www.oneofthejohns.com