SCHENECTADY -- Schenectady native and comic book author Eric Colossal had a simple message for the members of the Mont Pleasant Library Branch on Saturday -- you can make anything into a comic book.
Colossal, author of the "Rutabaga The Adventure Chef" series of graphic novels, said when he first went to school for art he understood very little about the comic book making process.
"I did not know that comics were drawn bigger and then shrunk, so I thought that I had to learn how to draw everything tiny," he said. Colossal, who's real name is Eric Feurstein, said he was intimidated by many aspects of typical superhero comic book artwork, like perspective drawing and drawing buildings and complex machines.
"I didn't want to learn how to draw cars, and I thought that I had to learn how to draw cars, but it turns out you don't have to," he said.
His epiphany came when he discovered unorthodox online web comic strips like "Dinosaur Comics" by Ryan North, which uses stock photos of pictures of dinosaurs with word balloons for the dialog; "My Cardboard Life" by Philippa Rice, which is a comic made from pictures of card board cut outs; and "The Adventures of Joe Circle" by Mike Shapiro, the main characters of which are simple shapes like circles and triangles.
Colossal said he realized an artist can take unlikely pieces and put them together to create whatever kind of story the author chooses.
"If you're interested in something, that's what you should draw about," he said. "If you don't want to draw space battles, and you want to draw your cat, do that, or you could draw your cat having space battles, if that's what you want.
Colossal's presentation was one of the features of the grand opening of the newly completed $3.1 million Schenectady County Library Mont Pleasant Branch on Crane Street Saturday. The brightly lit structure was built on the site of the former Chubby's Pizza and an adjacent derelict structure.
The new building is next door to the old Mont Pleasant branch library, which is scheduled to be torn down. The building will provide services in early childhood, family and adult literacy, as well as digital literacy.
Neighborhood resident Rachel Thomas took two of her great grandchildren, Cory, 4 and Alaun, 6, to the opening. Thomas said her family members have been regular visitors to the Schenectady Public Library system for many years. "Oh yeah, we're regulars. That other library was like a dungeon. This is like rays of light. You can't ask for a better atmosphere. It's like heaven," she said.
Thomas said the Mont Pleasant branch has always been a key component to the education of the children in that neighborhood.
[Alaun] might be having trouble with math or social studies, but if you let them know ahead of time they'll get the books," she said of the library staff.
Chrissy Symes, Mont Pleasant branch manager, said all eight branches and the Schenectady County Public Library system benefit from being able to borrow each other's collections, often delivered by the library's courier system.
"We share them with all of our partners, and if we don't have a book we can request them from other libraries, and they can come and pick them up. So, if someone has a school project or is researching a specific project maybe only one library happens to have the last copy of that book, and we'll bring it to whoever requested it," she said.
Kaela Wallman, the coordinator of youth services for the Schenectady County Public Library, said the grand opening offered an opportunity to showcase the new collections available at Mont Pleasant, such as the digital "Launchpad" tablets, which contain learning games.
"They come pre-loaded with 10 to 12 developmentally appropriate games for kids. They're tablets that parents don't have to worry about their kids going onto the internet with," she said. "We've had these at some of the library's before, but not Mont Pleasant; only about half of the branches have them."
The book selection at the Mont Pleasant branch contains many graphic novels aimed at young readers. Graphic novels are softcover books containing stories in comic book form, some of them collections of material previously published in traditional comic book form. Many of the adult sections at Mont Pleasant have many "how-to" and "self-help" books containing practical knowledge, like how to fix things or organize homes. The branch also has an extensive DVD selection, as well as 16 computer screens available for use.
Wallman said she was the branch librarian at Mont Pleasant for 10 years before getting her current position.
"One of the things that I love about this, is that we stayed in the same place. We're right next door, but it's a brand new building," she said. "The other branch only had the windows on the front of the building, and there was lots and lots of shelving when I started there and there were collections that just didn't get used as much. What I feel like we've done is we've recognized that kids are learning in different ways. Adults are learning in different ways. It's not all about having tons of shelves and tons of books. It's about making learning accessible."
Wallman said one of the key aspects of maintaining a modern library branch like Mont Pleasant is constantly weeding out the collections to eliminate titles that people aren't borrowing, and replace them with new books more likely to "move."
Brothers Keshon, 9, and Aydon Cooper, 8, attended the grand opening together. They said they like to read graphic novels, particularly ones with the Miles Morales version of Spider-man. Morales is an Afro-Latino teenager, and his character is the star of the recent "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" movie, which was shown at the branch opening.
Keshon explained his affinity for the character. "I like him because I like spiders. I like how they crawl on walls, and I like his origin story," he said.
Colossal told the attendees of the grand opening some of his origin story. He said one of his first jobs was working as a paige in the Schenectady County Library system. He said he started creating webcomics after he graduated from college, staring his character, a chef called Rutabaga, in a fantasy world where he gets into typical fantasy adventures, like helping barbarians fighting monsters, but his motivations are a bit different -- like wanting to learn how dragons taste.
Colossal said his artistic style is more of a cartoon style, influenced by the "Bone" graphic novels by Jeff Smith. He said he believes the best way to get started in comic books is by starting a web series for free like he did. After years of work it led to him getting first a black and white graphic novel of Rutabaga and then eventually two color graphic novels. He said he's working on a third now.
He said it's amazing to him that his graphic novels can now be borrowed from the library he worked at as a kid. He said when he was selling some of his books at the Electric City Comic Con in 2016 at the Schenectady County Public Library, he noticed some library books that needed to be stacked, so he decided to pitch in and do it.
"I couldn't help it, I knew where they went," he said.