Passion for art leads senior to craft graphic novel

Passion for art leads senior to craft graphic novel


NORTH STONINGTON — Creating a graphic novel about Lincoln came naturally to Evan Burns, 17, an aspiring filmmaker, history enthusiast and lifelong artist, who will be a graduate of Wheeler High School Thursday.

“I like people who are able to use history and art, like Ken Burns and Steven Spielberg,” he said. “They’re able to use both to entertain and educate people at the same time.”

For his senior project, Burns, no relation to Ken Burns, created “Lincoln’s Last Hour,” a 6-page graphic novel telling the story of Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1865.

Burns said he learned graphic novel drawing techniques in a week-long class taught by David Wenzel, an illustrator from Durham, Conn., who is known for a his graphic novel of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” The class was held at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme during the summer of 2016.

He said he chose the topic because he thought it would be easy for people to understand a story they already knew something about, especially in the small number of pages he had to work with.

“I thought it was a pretty recognizable story and I decided I could add suspenseful artwork for it,” he said.

From Wenzel, Burns learned how to vary the size of the novel’s story panels, how to do character designs, what pens to use, and how to do thumbnail sketches to plan out how the panels will work together to tell the story. Planning ahead is essential because the drawings on the panels are original and final artwork.

“We did a lot of tiny versions, really quick and sketchy, with characters just as circles, and squiggles and blocks and stuff,” Burns said. “You can see how the panels will look on the page and what’s going in each panel so by the time you get to a big version, you’ll have everything plotted out.”

Using photos of Lincoln and assassin John Wilkes Booth as well as photo references of the theatre, Burns said he worked to convey the correct details, colors and specific layout of the space and action.

He spent 30 hours of class time to do a black and white version of the story and added color over several months. “I really don’t know how many hours I spent on it,” he laughed.

Making many sketches was also important for generating ideas and relates directly to another of Burns’ passions: filmmaking.

“It’s like the same thing as storyboards, when I was doing scenes, I’d plot them out so when I filmed it I wasn’t wasting so much time,” he said.

For his National Honor Society project, Burns made a mockumentary called “A Day in the life of Matt Mendolia,” to raise money for the African Wildlife Foundation.

Mendolia is a junior at Wheeler. “He’s kind of a wild kid, known for being very boisterous and very obnoxious, that’s his charm,” Burns said. “So I thought it would work well to do a spoof of David Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth,’ only about Matt Mendolia.”

In the film, Mendolia is “basically a wild animal without dialogue” and most of the other people also behave like wild animals, which is part of the comedy, said Burns. Dressed up like Attenborough for a scene filmed in the upper room at Wheeler Library, Burns sat in a chair with Mendolia at his feet and talked about endangered animals. The film included “predatorial fights, a poaching scene, a mating dance,” and mock-commentary scenes from several Wheeler teachers.

The film raised $250 in donations for the foundation, Burns said.

Ever since he was little, Burns said he’s always done art, winning “class artist” in eighth grade and senior year.

“Mostly I just like drawing a subject, like a person, or an animal, a caricature of something,” he said. “Whenever I’m reading a book I like to do illustrations of how I picture all the characters or certain scenes.”

His mother, Lynne Burns, works at Mohegan Sun as a waitress and has supplied him with small notepads that he uses for sketching.

“She always had pads to jot stuff down on so I have hundreds of those at home and they’re all filled with drawings,” he said.

He’s heading for University of Connecticut in the fall and said he plans to major in history and will minor in filmmaking since it’s not offered as a major, plus he plans to take related courses.

“They have screenwriting classes and theater direction so you could also mishmash something together to get experience in different areas,” he said.

High school graduation is going to bring big changes, said Burns, who has attended school in North Stonington since he was in kindergarten.

“There are a lot of people I’m going to miss,” he said. “I like how everybody knows each other, all the teachers know every kid, it’s kind of family-oriented, it’s very close.”

Burns said he will miss his longtime art teacher Suzanne Starr the most. Starr is retiring and is this year’s commencement speaker.

“She was our art teacher in elementary school and she moved up to the high school around the time that we did so I’ve known her for a long time,” he said. “She’s been a big influence on all my artwork, so it’s nice that she’s the speaker, it’s very fitting.”

Academic Top 10

The top 10 students in the Wheeler Class of 2017, listed in alphabetical order:

Anderson, Michael Henry

Boldt, Anne Dorothy

Burns, Evan Thomas

Carlson, Andrew Thomas

Davino, Donovan Juri

Kelmelis, Peter Christopher

Lynch, Kendall Brainard

Melinosky, Caleb Thomas

Schroeder, Allen Flannery

Turrisi, Mackenzie West

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