826 Valencia Alum Gives Back, One Comic at a Time

15-year-old cartoonist Emma T. Capps teaches a Halloween-themed comic book workshop to students at 826 Valencia.
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With her sleek bob, slight frame and funky patterned sneakers, 15-year-old Emma T. Capps looks like she just hopped off the pages of a comic book. Even her last name — short, sassy and perfectly animated with bubble letters — seems destined for the funnies.

It may come as little surprise, then, that Capps is an award-winning cartoonist. Now she can add teacher to her long list of titles.

On Oct. 20 and 27, Capps led a two-part comic book workshop at 826 Valencia, a creative writing nonprofit and tutoring center. Entitled “Halloween Comics,” the workshop was open to students ages 8 to 12, and geared toward creating specially themed comics for the upcoming holiday.

“I create the entire workshop curriculum myself,” said Capps. “I collect books from my own personal comic book collection and let kids read the comics so that they can get some ideas for different kinds of comics and how they can communicate ideas through form.”

Students used the two workshops to write, illustrate and breathe life into their ideas.

In Capps’ opinion, perhaps the sweetest part of her own saga is how she ended up teaching at 826. An alum of the program, she enrolled in her first comic book workshop at age 11. Though she had taken various writing and poetry classes at the center, something about the combination of fiction and animation made a deep impact on her, sparking interest in an art form she had never considered.

“I would get up early before school just to work on comics,” she said. “This was really exciting and a very big deal, because I never wake up early.”

Capps’ crack-of-dawn animating sessions soon resulted in the Chapel Chronicles, a comic about the trials and tribulations of Chapel Smith, a witty fashionista with a pet hedgehog. The comic, which now has its own website, has amassed a devoted following online, with fans ranging in age from 9 to 85.

As Capps’ reputation grew in cyberspace, she began to climb the cartoon ranks of success at festivals and exhibitions. In 2011, she showcased her work at The MoCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) Festival in NYC. As a token of her appreciation, she donated all her proceeds from MoCCA –$800 — to 826 Valencia.

“I had benefited so much from their comic book class and wanted other kids to benefit from that too,” she explained.

Shortly after, 826 invited Capps to begin teaching comic book workshops at the center. She now teaches a one- or two-part workshop every two months, in English and in Spanish, which she speaks fluently.

Though the workshops require a significant amount of time and energy in an already thinly spread life, it doesn’t appear as though Capps will be abandoning her duties at 826 anytime soon.

“To me, it’s a really amazing story to reflect on how I started off as a student there,” she said. “To think I might have the opportunity to do that is really amazing.”

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