“Design Your Own Superhero” at The National Archives Sleepover

On Saturday, February 6, 2016 I took part in a special event at the National Archives. Kids ages 8-12 along with their adult chaperones participated in several activities and spent the night next to America’s most precious treasures: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights for a sleepover!

The children were very eager to learn and several of them arrived in superhero or historical outfits. I saw Captain America, Clara Barton, Dolly Madison, and more! Half of the participants were local from DC, Maryland, or Virginia. There were also several people coming from Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New York, and a few other states!

The sleepover had an overlapping superhero theme and I was there to lead an activity station called “Design Your Own Superhero with Carolyn Belefski.” In the same room behind a glass case were original Captain America and Batman comics.

For the activity, I created a sheet so everyone could grasp the concept as fast as possible. There were several stations and kids could choose to stay for as long as they wanted during the activities timeframe, but if they wanted to visit everything they would only have about ten minutes at each spot.

On one side of the sheet we discussed our personalities and potential shapes and accessories that could be used to create a character and their symbol. I encouraged kids and parents to make a hero character for themselves or choose a figure from history and make them into a superhero. One the other side of the page was a simple body figure guide they could use or if they wanted to go free-style, we had blank paper.

As you can see in the image above, we had a variety of heroes. I did an example for myself (in the center of the image) to show my personality: a mask to shield my identity, holding a pen to represent art, wearing the gold bracelet I always have on, boots because I like country music, my outfit resembles a western “Nudie or Manuel” design, color palette of primary colors, the “C” symbol belt for by name, etc.

As the kids (and some parents) were creating their characters I asked them about their decisions and helped to pull out inspirations for them to draw from.

After the activities, I was able to stay in the theater to watch Archives Reports featuring costumed historical personalities Elizabeth Cady Stanton, James Madison, and Sojourner Truth. The children were able to ask them questions during an active live Q&A session.

It was nice to meet some new faces, but also surprising to run into a few people who had either heard of me or met me at Small Press Expo or Baltimore Comic-Con. I also got to meet one of the Curls Kickstarter backers whom I did not know before this past weekend! A wonderful surprise!

This is a great opportunity for families who enjoy history and interactive activities. It is delightful to see the younger generation interested in the past and ready to build upon it for their foundation.

Making Of: Cartoonists Draw Blood Drive with American Red Cross

This past Saturday, October 31, 2015, we had our third annual “Cartoonists Draw Blood”  blood drive event with the American Red Cross. I came up with the concept in 2013 because I was looking for local projects that cartoonists could be a part of with community outreach. 

How this blood drive works is that you register to donate blood and sign-up for a designated time that works well for you. We allow walk-ins on the day of, but pre-registering helps with the flow. The blood donation takes about 15 minutes. After your donation is complete, you are provided with drinks and snacks. Then you are able to meet several local cartoonists and they will draw a one-of-a-kind original sketch for you as a thank you. The cartoonists also have promo materials that donors can take with them and hopefully follow the cartoonists work in the future.

I am no stranger to organizing events, as I was a board member of AIGA DC, the professional organization for design for five years. During my time with AIGA DC, I organized and promoted the chapter’s largest event fundraiser  AIGA 50 (as co-chair with Dian Holton). I also helped with many events benefiting the AIGA DC Design Continuum Fund via the Worldstudio AIGA Scholarship Program. Working the the AIGA team was an honor. We certainly put in a lot of pro-bono time to make flawless events appear from thin air, like magic.

When the “Cartoonists Draw Blood” idea entered my brain, I picked up the phone and called someone from a local comics collaborative and pitched the idea to him. I was very excited and looking for others to join in and make the event happen. Unfortunately, he did not want himself or the group to be a part of the event and passed on the idea. Instantly at that moment I told him that I’d continue with the event by myself — it was already planted from my brain to my heart at that moment.

I tracked down the appropriate American Red Cross people to put the event in motion. It was not a breeze to get in touch with the American Red Cross. Honestly, it has been easier for me to become employed at my past two full-time design jobs than it had been to reach out to the Red Cross to host a blood drive. In addition to getting their attention, I had to find a venue space that could handle the blood drive, be cost efficient, willing to work with us, and near a Metro station. So many prerequisites, so little time… 

Originally, I was looking to partner with a local comic shop as a venue for the blood drive and I did get permission to make this happen, however in hindsight there is not enough space within any of the comic shops in the Washington, DC area. Most of the shops are very tiny, so I was thinking we could get a blood bus outside. The Red Cross suggested that instead of a comics shop that I look into schools or churches. I researched many locations and some wanted to charge $500 to use their space. This was money I did not have to invest in an event that does not make us money. Our event is not even about money! Luckily we were able to connect with Seekers Church. They have been amazing to work with and we could not do the event without them to provide the space. They also have many other fun events worth checking out and one of their missions is helping the homeless people in the area.

After being passed around to several representatives at the American Red Cross somehow they connected me with Ashley Hood, who has helped get the event off the ground. This year we also worked with David Hull, who was helping since Ashley recently gave birth. They also allowed us to break from the traditional blood drive poster template and create our own featuring iconic art with a zombie, vampire, and werewolf by Steve Artley, a talented political cartoonist.

I choose to make this event part of National Cartoonists Society with the Washington, DC chapter because I became co-chair and we were looking for projects to do, so it is completely logical to connect the connection!

Each year we’ve been improving how the drive is produced and Troy-Jeffrey Allen has stepped up to co-organize the event with me (after the first year of me doing everything my myself). It does help tremendously to have two people handle logistics, communicate with the American Red Cross, be in touch with the venue, wrangle artists, make sure we recruit blood donors, promote the event, set-up and handle what issues arise the day of, and more. Thank you, Troy!

One addition Troy had the idea to do this year was an online countdown image that we could post on social media. Many of our artists volunteered to draw an announcement image to get the public excited about the event and encourage them to sign-up to donate blood.

Last year, we had to cut the blood drive short, as a water main break closed down the road due to a construction crew working across the street. There are a lot of hurdles to jump over and some are beyond our control, but with our third year in the bag I think we’ve hit a good stride.

Since the event this year was Halloween, we encouraged blood donors to dress up in costume, although it was not required to give blood. Quite a few people did dress up. We had zombies, people wearing spooky Halloween socks, ninjas, Mickey Mouse, Daredevil, vikings, and more. The title of the event, the cause, and everything went perfect with Halloween and it was a fun thing to do before trick-or-treating, as the event wrapped at 3:30PM with enough time to spare prepping for evening festivities.

The Washington Post, Takoma Voice, Fairfax Times, and Capitol Communicator have all helped promote the event this year or in the past.
We had so many artists who wanted to join us that we split into two shifts. Thanks to all the cartoonists who donated their time and talents in 2015: Steve Artley, Carolyn Belefski, Bill Brown, Chris Flick, Eric Gordon, Art Hondros, Mal Jones, Teresa Roberts Logan, Joe Sutliff

Thanks to Joe Carabeo, who documented the event with his film and photography skills.

Thanks to our sponsors: Cartoonists Draw Blood, American Red Cross, National Cartoonists Society, Seekers Church

We exceeded expectations by going over our target goal provided by the Red Cross — it’s only Monday morning and they’ve proclaimed our event “a big success” and already proposed a date for 2016! Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for another event next fall.

Thanks to everyone for being a part of this and saving so many lives with art — in addition to having fun with us. A rough count in the three years of doing this event, we’ve saved the lives of up to 200 people!

More photos can be found in the gallery at the Curls Studio Facebook page.


Comics for The White House

This is my very first blog entry on CarolynBelefski.com. I still plan on updating my other blog for old times sake (since 2007) to keep everything in one place in addition to the blog function on Curls.

A lot of people have been asking about the work I recently did for The White House, which was released this week on their social media platforms. Since I posted process and the concept sketch of the comic book cover I did for Cartoon Networks Adventure Time comic this past summer, I thought many artists and creative types would get a kick out of this project showcasing the Affordable Care Act. I enjoy seeing behind-the-scenes, but the final product is always what the public will see. Here you will get a glimpse behind the curtain.

The White House Office of Digital Strategy approached me with the concept of creating health care comics. They provided the personas (athletic, hipster, caregiver, etc.) and I developed sketches of the character designs for approval. Above you will see the first and only attempt of the character designs. Stage one complete!

At this time I also provided three layout options on how tell the story best on social media. The White House provided me with dimensions that were possible for the project. As you can see in the top right, we selected the character head in the center and the text surrounding that area so it would not get cropped on certain sites (like Twitter) in preview. 

To clarify, yes, it would get cropped, but the text would not get cut off. The image above shows how we considered how the crop would look like. They provided me with a script and did allow me to contribute to the story. It was a total collaboration!

I must also clarify, in an interview with Jen Sorensen posted earlier today, I mentioned there were no art edits, but I was mistaken because I remembered (while writing this blog) that there was one change. I originally drew the guy at the gym working out without a shirt and showing his nipples. They asked me not to show the nipples in the preview section (area viewed in social), but I decided to put a shirt on him instead of redrawing the whole image. I only had to erase the nipples, add sleeves, and color in the shirt in Photoshop. This change only took five minutes and was easier to do than redraw the whole panel. Work smarter, not harder! Perhaps I forgot about this change because it didnt take long to alter. I would have liked to include the nipples because its funny and I like to call them pepperonis, but I dont know if America can take another wardrobe malfunction. But hey, the Super Bowl is this Sunday so maybe Katy Perry is planning to stun us.

Regarding color palette we agreed to have a minimal flat color look and I selected the colors. After the first one was approved, I hit the ground running with the same look and colors to make each comic connect and work together as a system.

Yesterday First Lady posted the athletic cartoon I illustrated for ‪#‎GetCovered‬ on her Instagram and Twitter accounts. Right now it has received 16,041 likes. It feels good to have Michelle Obama and the rest of the world see my art. 

I know the health care debate is rough from all angles. Because of these illustrations, Ive read people’s comments calling me a sell out and telling me how to draw. Ive also seen other media sites say this is The White House’s attempt to make Obamacare seem cool. I take that as a compliment because my cartoons are cool! Another site called it childish. I have some news for them: Cartoons can be all-ages. Adults can enjoy them too. You can be grown-up and contribute to society, read comics, watch animation, or draw. I pay my mortgage, car bill, buy groceries, and commute to work every day. I can enjoy cartoons. Dont call us childish. Call us childlike. There is a difference.

Another point I want to make is that I have worked for conservative and liberal clients. You may have conservative and liberal friends. Or friends who are environmental. Or libertarian. Or friends who like pizza crust or dont (Im not friends with those people). I am an equal opportunity artist and I work with people who want to work with me.

Part of why I took this gig on was because I was extremely pleased that The White House was interested in publishing comics and trying something different. Reaching out to new audiences who are visual learners or experimenting with Instagram is not a bad thing. I know how politics work, but please -- attacking art as a medium is an all-time low. Anyone remember prehistoric cave paintings? This is history. Art is history.

I also took on this assignment because it is important to take care of yourself and know what your options are. I like how many of the characters in this series are aiming to be the best version of themselves they can be. The images showcase healthy eating and exercising, which are important to me. Taking care of yourself and your body shows self respect and I wish more Americans and humans overall showed that initiative.

Not all the comics have been posted on their social media accounts at this time, but you can view them all by visiting WhiteHouse.gov or by looking below. The caregiver cartoon has been animated and is on The White House Instagram account.

Thank you to The White House for this opportunity and thank you to so many people online who have liked and commented and reposted. If you enjoyed these cartoons, please read my comic strip Curls and the other fun things I create to make others smile. I really do enjoy being Cartoonist for America.