A professor speaks to a group of students sitting in the film viewing room with black and white film on the screen over his shoulder.

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Drawing students create apocalypse-inspired graphic novels to document COVID-19 experiences

Mya Porcello's drawing of deer and broken road

Mya Porcello ’22 has been trying to find her own way to cope with life changes surrounding the coronavirus outbreak. The Fine Art major at York College of Pennsylvania is back living in her parents’ home. She’s worrying about a brother and his fiancée who are awaiting results to see if they have COVID-19. She wonders if everyone will be able to keep their jobs. She says she hasn’t really found the time to connect with friends who are also back at home.

While she has every excuse to focus on the negatives, Mya has chosen to dig deeper and find the light. “I’m not the type of person who wants to sit and think about the bad things,” Mya says. “So, I’m throwing myself into my work and art and using that as an outlet to find the positive.”

‘Apocrypha People’

The project where that rings the truest for Mya is in her Figure Drawing class with Professor Ry Fryar. Moving a figure drawing class to an online format is nearly impossible, Ry says. But when the campus closed due to the outbreak and classes shifted to a digital delivery system, it was time for Ry to stir his own creative juices.

The syllabus was essentially made anew, and students in Figure Drawing, as well as two Drawing II classes, were tasked with a new assignment for the rest of the semester: a study in graphic novels. For his students in Figure Drawing, they now receive a description each week of the next phase in the novel, which is called “Apocrypha People.” They are tasked with drawing five pages, largely putting themselves into the storyline, to create what will be a 40-page journal.

“The students have been really passionate about it,” Ry says. “They made it part of their own journal space, a visual recording of the quarantine and their journey home.” He sees students wrestle with the implication of death and doom while bringing a grim sense of humor to the experience.

Artistic freedom

While his assignments have a lot of components of classical literature, from redemption to conflict and a conclusion, Ry has been soliciting feedback from his students on the assignment. While there was a flavor of “mocking doom” in the project, some students weren’t sure they wanted to take it in that direction. So, he gave them more freedom. The results have been a range of approaching the graphic novel with political statements and outrage toward the government to reoccurring characters and cartoonish ideas.

“This is supposed to be about what’s going on right now,” Ry says. “It’s about their experiences, but also the world as they see it. Some made it a journal, others a story about people not quite themselves.” For Mya, she’s used the assignment to incorporate the things that are helping her cope. Her husky Blizzard often makes an appearance, and she’s taken to drawing more cartoon figures than she normally does with her work. “I feel like I’m exploring this as a kid because I want to be a little more naive about everything that’s going on.”

She hopes people look back on the work—and on the time of the coronavirus in general—and realize that not everything is terrible. “I know a lot of people are losing their lives, and it’s a sad time, but sitting and worrying about it hasn’t helped me,” she says. “I’m trying to cope and move ahead. I hope people take that from my art. Just because bad things are happening in the world doesn’t mean it has to control how you experience it.”