Art inspires youth at Greenville Elementary

Published 6:01 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Comic book artist Charles Drake in always in search of new opportunities.

His latest took him nine hours south from the comfy confines of McLeansville, North Carolina to Greenville Elementary School for a weekend of renovation.

His latest canvas—the school’s bathrooms and a wall overlooking the nearby gym.

But perhaps more interesting than the subject matter of Drake’s visit is the reason he embarked on the multi-hour journey in the first place.

Debra Strycker, wife of Butler County Schools superintendent John Strycker, asked for Drake’s help to not only beautify the Greenville Elementary School campus, but also to help instill an appreciation for the arts in the county’s youth by extension.

“Some of our little budding artists are growing up, and they’re going to look at these crazy-amazing murals and beautiful bathrooms, and they’re going to be inspired to go and changed the world,” Strycker said. “Because that’s what we do with art—we change the world in our own little way.

“The starving artist is not someone who’s hungry, other than their soul is starving because they’re not doing their art.”

After hearing Strycker’s words, Drake said it was tough not to be spurred into action.

“I took art every year in class just because I knew that was the one guaranteed A on my report card,” Drake said with a laugh. “So it’s just a sad thing to not have art in the schools.

“I was more than happy to jump in and help. Even if my little contribution here just lights a little spark, I’m happy to do it.”

Drake got to work almost immediately after his drive.  Once he settled into his hotel and received the keys from Strycker to access the building for the weekend, he worked diligently Friday night to set the stage for the dozens of hours to come that weekend.

Though, in true comic book form, Drake overcame his own series of hurdles to make it happen.

Much of his work was tackled from a 10-foot scaffolding to reach an overhead section visible from the gym’s front doors.  Also, the largest working space he’d previously worked with was a 24×36 canvas.

To add insult to injury, Drake’s projector, filled with pre-drawn images to help alleviate some of the work with the murals, gave up the ghost on the very first day.

Throw a fear of heights into the mix, and one suddenly has a recipe for adversity.

But for the sake of the art and, most importantly, the children, Drake persevered. With a chuckle, he added that Ibuprofen also played some small part.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun,” he admitted.  “I’m all about overcoming a challenge and seeing what I can push myself to do.”

The hard work paid off in just about the best way possible Monday when children arrived at school to see the mostly-finished product.

Their reaction to his work was one thing, but what was less expected was his reaction to theirs.

The week before, I sent line work for three pieces of art for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and Mrs. Strycker made copies and had all of the kids color them,” Drake said. “They’re lining the halls, and they just blew me away to see how all of the different kids colored my artwork. And when I told them that I drew that, their face was just… awesome.

“That’s all you can ask for, when art is your living.  Of course you want to make money so you can feed your family, but to have so many people show appreciation for the art feels amazing.”

Ultimately, Drake sees comic books as a way to inspire kids not only to create, but also as a gateway into the realm of reading.

“When I was a child, I hated books,” he said. “I’d sit down and read a book, and it was the most boring thing in the world.

“But when I picked up my first comic, I was reading every day. I was itching to mow somebody’s yard to get $5 to run to the comic shop and buy me two comics. It’s a good way to get kids that don’t want to read to read.  The comic industry does a lot more than people think it does.”