PRESS RELEASE: NH Artist Explores Roots in Eastern Europe

Here’s a press release I wrote up to tell people about the trip; you can download it OR click through to keep reading:
DOWNLOAD PDF: 110826_PRESS-RELEASE_Slovakia_Comics_Travel_Marek-Bennett


26 August 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Marek Bennett … URL: www.marekbennett.com

NH ARTIST EXPLORES ROOTS IN EASTERN EUROPE
Cartoonist Marek Bennett will use comics to share stories, language, and culture of Slovakia

When Henniker comics creator Marek Bennett visited his ancestral homelands in eastern Slovakia last year, he expected to find plenty of castles, accordions, music, and food… but not a lot of comics.  Within a week of visits to medieval cathedrals and crumbling ruins, he realized how wrong he was.  Bennett found himself enchanted by a rich world of lushly painted altars, stained glass windows, murals, and signposts that told ancient stories with pictures.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Bennett said.  “There in the middle of all this modern development, all the changes of the past century, we found these giant comics that were five, six, seven hundred years old!  I knew I had to come back and study them.”

In September, Bennett will return to Slovakia for an extended stay, and he plans to share his adventures as an online webcomics blog.  Throughout the fall, Bennett will post weekly comics updates on his progress with language study, travel, family history research, and a new initiative: teaching his “Comics Workshop” classes with underserved student populations at small-town Roma community centers.

Ethnic Roma (also known as “gypsies”) make up approximately 10% of Slovakia’s population, with the largest communities based in the east of the country, where Bennett’s cousins live.  For centuries, Roma communities have struggled with issues of poverty, health, education, and economic exclusion.  Although European Union programs now exist to advance Roma inclusion in Slovak society, many communities throughout Slovakia remain segregated by ethnicity.

Bennett plans to use comics to explore and bridge that cultural gap.  “Humans are storytellers,” he says.  “Once we’re all drawing comics together, we become curious about what the people around us are drawing.  Through our comics, we can interact and learn about each other’s lives, and then when we meet face-to-face, we’re not  strangers.  We’re readers, fellow artists, maybe even friends!”

Bennett cites his ongoing work with the Henniker-San Ramón Sister Community Project in NH and northern Nicaragua.  “Using comics as a medium, our students share their stories, teach each other about their sister communities, and get to know each other from afar,” Bennett says.

In addition to teaching, Bennett plans to collect all his comics and travel sketches into a final graphic novel after the trip is over.  Topics explored will include observations on language and culture, food, music, and social justice in central European societies.  Bennett also plans to publish selections from his work in area newspapers and magazines during the trip.  Visitors to the project blog can make donations to support the project; readers can also pre-order the final book, or get involved by sharing and contributing their comments to the blog.

A native of Henniker, NH, Bennett teaches comics and music at schools, libraries, and community organizations throughout New England.  He is a rostered teaching artist with the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the Arts Alliance of Northern NH, the Children’s Literacy Foundation, and other groups.  His previous international work includes leading the Henniker-San Ramón Comics Exchange, and teaching English language summer classes based on North American folksongs in Sabinov, Slovakia.  His previous graphic novel, Nicaragua Comics Travel Journal, was nominated for a New England Arts Award.  Bennett has drawn his weekly newspaper comic strip Mimi’s Doughnuts since 2003, and in 2011 he was named the official cartoonist of the Weeks Act Centennial in NH.  His website is: www.MarekBennett.com

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More information and images (for press purposes):

Bennett’s trip website: https://marekslovakia.wordpress.com/