Sunday, July 25, 2004

Comic-book exploits lure kids to libraries

By Ari Bloomekatz
Enquirer staff writer

Chad Taylor (left), a budding comic-book artist, talks with Anthony Muhammad (center), president of Maryam Booksellers, and Frank Collins, who is also creating his own comic book. The West End branch library had a comic-book swap Saturday.
The Enquirer/TONY JONES
BrotherMan by Big City comics
With their arms spread over Superman, Icon and BrotherMan comic books, Frank Collins and Chad Taylor exchanged collections of their own cartoon drawings Saturday afternoon during a comic-book swap at the West End branch library.

Many city recreation centers are open only during the work week, and swaps at some Cincinnati libraries are part of a trend of Saturday activities designed to give neighborhood youth a place to go on the weekends.

"Saturdays are a time you'd find a lot of youth be in trouble," said Anthony Muhammad, who leads the swaps. Muhammad, 43, said he was trained as a social worker and now works for Maryam Booksellers, a book store he runs out of a home.

Nearly a year ago, he and David Siders, now manager at the Walnut Hills branch library, collaborated to begin the swaps in Corryville.

"We have a lot of kids that live nearby that just walk (to the swap)," Siders said during a recent event in Walnut Hills. "Our numbers keep growing. We serve a lot of young people."

Siders said he hopes comics can encourage youngsters to read and visit libraries more often, and said the swaps also serve as a safe learning environment. In addition to comic swaps, Siders said he also started an anime and chess club on some Saturdays.

A portion of the swaps are sometimes devoted to team-building exercises that Muhammad and Siders said are meant to help youth develop communication skills.

"The whole notion of the swap is to build communication," Siders said. When people come to the swaps, they take comic books, for free, and return weeks later to trade and discuss them with new friends.

Muhammad said he primarily brings comic books like BrotherMan or Black Panther because they feature black superheroes.

Sonny Watts, 16, lives in Walnut Hills and said his favorite comic book was an issue in which Superman fought boxing great Muhammad Ali.

Sitting in the West End library Saturday, Collins, 14, said he had drawn his own comic book called Jungle Katz and said he also enjoys comic books with black super heroes.

"They're my heritage," Collins said. "Usually (the writers) do stuff different than other comic books. They've got more style. They come up with cooler catch phrases."

Recreation centers in Cincinnati recently received additional funding to stay open on Saturdays, and recreation director James Garges said he hopes the centers and libraries can work together.

"(We) just have not had the funding to have the community centers open seven days a week," Garges said.

"We need to partner with public libraries," Garges said. "There's lots of parks and areas to go to, (but) a lot of children also need some more structured activities as well."

During Saturday's swap, Taylor a 20-year-old University of Cincinnati student, shared his own comic creation titled 5-fters with Collins.

It was the first time both had been to a swap, and said they were interested in getting their own comics published some day.

Collins said he usually goes outside to play or stays at home on Saturdays but is trying to find avenues to go into comics or game design.


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