The Kurt Kolka interview on ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Bullying Is No Laughing Matter
Cover of Bullying Is No Laughing Matter comic book

Click the cover to learn more about buying the book.

Millions of American children are heading back to school—and many of them are dreading that first day, wondering: Will I be bullied?

Do you know one of these kids?

Be honest: Were you once one of these kids? In the weeks we have been preparing for the historic launch of this anti-bullying “Team Up” with 36 popular comics—our staff has been surprised by the responses of adults who got an early glimpse of the book. Wherever our staff traveled, carrying pre-launch copies of this book—into schools, churches, coffee shops and, in one case, even into a car dealership where the staff was eager to see the book—this experience is repeated …

Adult men and women eagerly look at the cover and flip the colorful pages. They smile. Then, many of them shake their heads knowingly and tell a personal story. About a friend who was bullied. A son or daughter. A brother or sister. Often, they tell a story of bullying they suffered themselves. Sometimes, people admit to having been bullies—and tell us the experiences that turned their lives around. That’s the power of this book.

BUT WAIT! You may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Isn’t all this anti-bullying stuff just a fad?” You may be saying, “Isn’t bullying just a way of life in America?”

THIS NEW BOOK says: Yes, bullying sure is a way of life in America! It’s been going on for generations but there are simple lessons we all can learn to make it stop. Even better: This process of learning about bullying—and forming supportive friendships to end the practice—can be downright fun! Just look at the two truly super videos Kurt Kolka produced to accompany this historic new comic book. One video explains the new nationwide definition of “bullying;” the second video shows scores of enthusiastic supporters of this movement nationwide.

WHY DO WE SAY ‘HISTORIC’? Kurt Kolka is a nationally known comics expert and he collaborates with his wife, educator Diane Schunk Kolka, in this project with our publishing team. In our long careers, we’ve never heard of such a diverse “Team Up” of comic artists in producing a single book with a single message like this. This effort is, indeed, “historic” and we’re honored to report that one of the very first copies of this book is being placed in the collection of the prestigious Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. The publication of this book is big news!

GET INVOLVED YOURSELF!

There’s so much you can do today …

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KURT KOLKA ON
‘BULLYING IS NO LAUGHING MATTER’

DAVID: Comic books are super popular! They’re in movie theaters and on TV. “Comic Cons,” big comic conventions, are held in major cities. This new anti-bullying comic book is buzzing around the comic world. Tell us about the support you’re already receiving as we officially launch this book.

Kurt Kolka

Kurt Kolka

KURT: We started organizing this project more than a year ago. When I began taking this message of “Bullying Is No Laughing Matter” to Comic Cons with me, the response was very surprising! A lot of people began coming up to me, telling me they’d heard about this project and they wanted to know more. Over and over again, I heard stories of people who had experienced bullying themselves—appreciating the fact that someone was organizing a project like this.

I began asking people if they wanted to take a photo, often with an anti-bullying sign, to show their support and lots of people did that. We even had celebrities stop by and pose with a sign to show their support. Then, as we began inviting comic artists to participate in the book, we found many of them were eager to share their work to help this project.

DAVID: People may think of comics as stories packed with violence. Back in the 1950s, many parents thought comics were bad for children. Of course, today comics are celebrated everywhere you turn. You can’t buy a children’s meal in many fast-food restaurants and not find a comic character in the wrappings.

In this book, you and your dozens of comic friends are showing Americans that comic creators are not only popular—they’re also compassionate folks.

KURT: I’ve been drawing and writing The Cardinal for many years and I’ve gotten to know lots of other cartoonists and comic artists and writers. As a group, I’m proud to say that we combine compassion with our creativity. Especially the newspaper comic strip artists and writers: They’re very caring individuals. In working with the contributors to this book, I discovered that many of them were bullied themselves when they were young, or someone close to them was bullied. Some of those short stories are in this new book.

Tom Batiuk wrote one of the opening pieces for the book. He does the Funky Winkerbean and Crankshaft comic strips. Tom has been honored over the years for issues he’s dealt with in his comic strips, things like how cancer affects people’s lives. When I was talking with Lynn Johnston about her For Better or For Worse contribution to this book, she told me that some of the earlier comic strips she had done on the effects of bullying had been welcomed in schools. She agreed this is an important issue. She’s already seen her own comics used in school groups—and now she’s also part of this larger team in this new book.

A BOOK (AND A MOVEMENT)
WHERE EVERYONE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

DAVID: When people open this book and start talking about bullying, one of the surprises may be: This is a book that’s good for bullies as well as for people who’ve been bullied. At several points in your book, there’s a clear message that bullying also is a problem for the bullies themselves. Everyone suffers when this problem continues. I don’t want to spoil your Cardinal adventure in this book by revealing too much, but the guy we think is a horrible enemy in your story—well, we learn that he was both bullied and he became a bully himself.

KURT: That’s a very important point. We all need to understand this problem. Of course, we want to encourage kids who are facing this dilemma. Every week, we see tragic news headlines about kids who don’t survive bullying. It’s very serious. But it’s a complex problem and we want everyone to get involved in discussing the solutions.

th Bullying Is No Laughing Matter website

Click this icon to see a sample of Mort Walker’s Beetle Bailey that’s part of the ‘Bullying Is No Laughing Matter’ project.

One of my heroes, as a comic artist myself, is Mort Walker. I remember how excited I was the day I got a personal note from Mort and I learned that he would be part of this. It was on a Sunday morning just before my family and I went to church and I felt so great all that day.

Then, it was so interesting as I learned more from Mort about his life. I learned that at one point in his earlier life, he was a bully. He would push people around and he got praise from some of the adults around him—Mort mentioned a coach who praised him as a model of a tough guy. Then, he learned that was not the way to live his life. He decided he had to change. We’ve all got important stories to share so that we can help the young people facing these dilemmas right now. I’m so pleased that great comic artists like Mort Walker wanted to be part of this.

THE CARDINAL:
MEET A COURAGEOUS YOUNG SUPER HERO

DAVID: In addition to the 35 short stories and cartoon panels from other comic artists—you created the most extensive adventure in the book, making it 36 comics in all. This big new book is published as a “Flip Book,” which means it has two covers. Readers can start from the “gallery” side of the book  (the red cover shown with this interview); or they can flip the book over and start reading a more in-depth Cardinal adventure, which is almost as long as a “graphic novel” that you’ve created about the problem of bullying. So tell us about your super hero.

KURT: Like Superman is Clark Kent, the Cardinal is Rich Benton. He is a young man who comes from a family of scholars who are well-known archaeologists. So that means Rich had lots of unique opportunities early in life to travel around the world with his parents. Instead of going to Disney World, his family would fly off to a remote archaeological dig.

He’s a young man from a church-going family and he lives in a college town, where he decides to help out the poor and needy through volunteering at a local mission. He begins to discover that, beyond the immediate needs of many poor people in his community, there are some corrupt powerful people who have a personal interest in keeping people poor. He decides that he has to stand up to the larger injustices he sees. Eventually, he teams up with a police detective, an older man who is a bit jaded after too many years of dealing with crime and injustice.

So, the Cardinal is really a college student who wants to help his community. His heart is in the right place, but he’s young and sometimes he doesn’t always find the best way to solve problems the first time he tries to help. He doesn’t want to use his fists in battling the bad guys. In fact, he opposes using weapons in general. He does carry a boomerang, but he uses that to disarm any criminals he encounters if they do have weapons.

DAVID: He sounds to me like a lot of the best comic book super heroes I remember reading over the years. His heart is in the right place, but sometimes he makes mistakes. He’s vulnerable, yet he’s courageous enough to keep pursuing justice.

KURT: When I created the Cardinal years ago, I deliberately gave him only one super power: the ability to fly. I did that purposely so that the Cardinal had to use his brains. Flying gives him some real advantages as a hero, but he’s not Superman strong and he’s not invulnerable like Superman.

DAVID: He reminds me a little bit of Batman, who is an athletically trained human. He’s not an alien from another world, like Superman who came to earth as a baby.

KURT: I wanted the Cardinal to be human like the rest of us and to struggle with the problems we all face. He’s really got some super advantages, because of all of his physical training. And, he can fly and he uses his boomerang very adeptly. He’s a super hero. But I wanted readers to see themselves in the struggles he is facing.

EXCITING STORIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

DAVID: A year or so ago, we published another popular book about ways to end bullying, researched and written by a team from the Michigan State University School of Journalism: The New BullyingThat book has been highly praised for its research and clear writing on how forms of bullying have changed in recent years. It’s a great book for parents and teachers and other adults who care about kids to learn about how tough it is to escape bullying today, especially with 24/7 social media surrounding kids these days.

But a lot of readers said: This is great for adults. But how do we get the discussion going with kids themselves? That was one of the main motives in our working with you on this project. This comic book is packed with comic strips that act as “discussion starters.” People read the short comics and we’ve seen it over and over again even before we’ve officially launched the book: People want to start talking!

What’s your hope as we launch the book?

KURT: My wife is a teacher and she worked with me on this project. We’ve encountered so many people who have been bullied and who are eager talk, if there is a positive way to get the conversation going. This book is that invitation.

The biggest problem in dealing with bullying is getting people to sit down and start talking honestly. There is a whole lot of shame that surrounds the problem of bullying. People are afraid to talk about it. In this book, you’ll find dozens of comics with encouraging messages that many people face bullying, we all need to face this dilemma together. If you’ve been bullied, you’re not alone. If you’re a bully, you’re not alone. And we all need to talk honestly about ways to help each other.

Want to help reduce bullying? The first step is communication. Whatever your age is—this book gets the conversation started.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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