Graphic artist Verzell James explaining to local high school kids how to properly ink a human figure at the Sol-Con: The Brown and Black Comix Expo at Hale Hall on Oct. 6. Credit: Chase-Anthony Ray | Lantern Reporter

As three local teenagers watch him put his pen to paper, Verzell James explains how contouring and lighting all play a part in getting his figure drawing just right.

“I’m drawing with a pen, which isn’t usually my normal tool,” said James, Sol-Con guest speaker and graphic artist. “I’m trying to simulate what they call thick and thin contrast in the lines — that’s how you would start to ink a figure.”

Hands-on lessons and advice like this were the common theme of Sol-Con: The Brown and Black Comix Expo. The event teaches students from elementary school to high school how to do things such as digital painting, animation and how to create their own comic books and magazines.

Sol-Con brought more than 250 local K-12 students to Hale Hall throughout Friday to engage in workshops and panel discussions about comic books.

“It doesn’t matter if you never picked up a comic book before in your life,” said Frederick Aldama, an Ohio State professor of English and Sol-Con co-founder. “You’re going to come in this space and feel the creativity from this new generation of Latinx and African-American kids meeting with creators, and learning how to make their own art from them.”

Founded by Aldama, John Jennings and Ricardo Padilla in 2015, the expo began to bridge the gap between local Columbus communities through the arts. The namesake of Sol-Con was birthed from “sol,” the Spanish word for sun and “con,” a common term to describe comic book lovers.

“I noticed in the city of Columbus that the Latinx and African-American communities weren’t coming together, nor were there opportunities to find common ground,” Aldama said. “We want Latinx and African-American kids there because comics are a way for us to create a space of inclusion for our communities that have been kept apart otherwise.”

Even though students attending might not necessarily have had any interest in art, James told students that being an artist wasn’t his first career choice either.

“[My original mindset] didn’t start out like ‘Oh I’m going to be an artist!,’” James said jokingly. “I never really thought about it to that point, but I was always drawing and that’s the way it worked out for me.”

Aldama said Sol-Con educates the teachers just as much as it does the students, as they find new ways to learn and find inspiration from comic books.

“Children are exercising their imaginations, and that means exercising your own hypothetical faculty,” Aldama said. “They’re given the techniques to do something and teachers see this, and they realize, if they haven’t already, that learning through doing and creating is the best way to learn.”

Looking forward to next year’s Sol-Con, Aldama said he believes local Columbus students will continue to rediscover their own creativity through comic books.

“This is a space where creativity is in action, in ways that transform our material reality in very tangible ways,” Aldama said.