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Spotlight on Los Alamos: McCranie changing the world one panel at a time

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By Kelly LeVan

“I was 5 or 6 when I drew my first comic,” said cartoonist Stephen McCranie. “I was drawing comics before I knew how to write.”McCranie, a graduate of Los Alamos High School currently studying art at the University of New Mexico, has also been reading comics his whole life, everything from Jim Davis’ “Garfield” to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.” He cites Hayao Miyazaki’s “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” and Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” (entirely in comic format) as two of his most edifying favorites.His first job in the business came from Los Alamos National Laboratory. His supervisor wanted to see “what comics could do in teaching people how to use a program to access database information,” theorizing that people were more likely to read a comic from beginning to end than a more traditional users’ manual, McCranie said.“It catered exactly to what I wanted to do,” he added. “I think the comic has a whole lot of potential for transferring information … I would love to see more comics in schools, teaching kids how to read. You can tell use any level of vocabulary you want and still tell a really meaningful story with the pictures.”Currently, McCranie is working on a short story for “Parable: A Comics Anthology,” a book of Christian-themes comics in which his comics have previously been featured; a piece for a contest through Tokyo Pop; and developing a course for homeschool students, which he plans to offer January through March before heading to Japan for his semester abroad. He’s also busy finishing up dozens of strips for the New Mexico Daily Lobo, where he works as a staff cartoonist. He wants to keep his current strip, “Mal and Chad,” running during his trip. “Mal and Chad” follows a child prodigy who wants to be seen as a regular kid – except to his dog Chad, his best friend and playmate, and the only one in whom he confides. McCranie draws the strip primarily with Corel Paint, using a pressure-sensitive stylus. Keeping the entire process digital streamlines the work, he said, allowing him to cut and paste repeated background images.Furthermore, “with the computer, I have unlimited ink and paper,” he said. “I get a lot of practice that way.”McCranie said both his mother and father have supported his ambitions since he first began drawing.“It’s a really good way to raise children,” he said. “You look at what they want to do and push them as hard as you can.”It might be thanks to his parents that, as McCranie said, “My childhood dream never died.”Nevertheless, “I don’t think I’ll become a comic book artist when I grow up,” he said. “My true dream is to write graphic novels … I want to make stories that change people.”He said he sees interpersonal relationships as one of the world’s biggest problems, and comic-based novels can help.“Stories have a beautiful subtlety to them,” McCranie said. “Instead of saying, you should think about this, they let readers form their own judgments … We derive our moral beliefs from experience. Stories imitate experience and that’s why they’re so powerful.”Maybe even the Christian faith could benefit from a few graphic novels.“Christianity has so many good things to teach,” he said, “but they’re not displayed very well.”Those interested in learning more about McCranie’s homeschool class may e-mail him at Stephen@doodlealley.com. Find more examples of his comics at www.doodlealley.com.

Please note: This special “Spotlight on Los Alamos” story is running on a Thursday because there was no newspaper on Tuesday, New Year’s Day.