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January 2011



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First Published Saturday, 21 February 2009

Alice Umoh

Brenda Ahearn/The Gazette  Alice Umoh, a sixth-grader at Oaklands Elementary School, with her comic book on Feb. 9 in Laurel. Alice has been writing and drawing comics since she was in second grade.

by Timmy Gelles | Staff Writer

Alice Umoh’s parents said when she began drawing comics by herself instead of socializing in second grade, they thought it was just a temporary phase. But a year later, Alice was still just as shy.

When they took her to a doctor, they found out why. At age 9 she was diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder that impairs communication and social skills.

Because she does not socialize, her father, Raymond Ekpedeme, said she makes drawing her passion and devotes most of her time to it.

Alice, 12, has drawn countless notebooks worth of comics about dogs, cats and dragons. The results are evident in the detail in the number of story lines and distinctiveness of each character in her comics.

One of her comics about dragons – her favorite drawing subject – is available for check-out from the school’s library, replete with trading cards about the various dragon characters in the story.

“They’re not real but I bring them to life by drawing them,” Alice said.

Her comics even attracted the attention of her teachers at Oaklands Elementary in South Laurel, after transferring there from Fairland Elementary in Silver Spring this school year.

“In all my of my years teaching I have never seen a student as talented as Alice in the art of drawing and writing,” Oaklands education specialist Jacqueline Jones said. “Whatever she writes, she follows it through in great detail.”

Oaklands art teacher Mario Bloomfield agreed.

“She’s definitely one of the better students I’ve had the privilege to work with,” he said.

Alice said she gets a lot of her ideas from television, particularly programs abut animals and story lines from comedy shows.

“Then I organize [my comics] into a story I can tell to people,” she said.

Her ability and prolific comics caught the attention of Bloomfield, who encouraged her to submit a piece to the county school’s annual Youth Art Month Exhibition that begins in March.

Bloomfield said he recommended Alice sketch a falcon – Oaklands’ mascot – in her typical cartoon outline and then color it in with brown oil pastel. After Alice submitted it, he was so impressed he thinks it will win some accolades.

Alice’s parents are also impressed.

“Some of the drawings and some of the stories shock me for a child that age to be able to do that,” her mother, Ekaete Nkanja, said.

To help with her story structuring, Ekpedeme, said that anytime they see a cartoon movie together, he tells her to pay attention to how the story evolves and how the different characters come together.

“She’s been making improvements from early on when she first started,” he said of her work.

Ekpedeme said a family trip to Disney World a few years ago and an animation studio to see how cartoons are created sparked Alice’s interest in becoming a professional cartoonist.

“She was very interested in the behind-the-scenes look at cartoon movies,” he said. “That really inspired her more.”

E-mail Timmy Gelles at tgelles@gazette.net.

Source:   http://www.gazette.net/stories/02192009/collnew172506_32478.shtml

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