WATTS : Student Talent Rises From the Phoenix

The mere suggestion causes David Brown to laugh, but the 40-year-old graphic artist admits that his life is beginning to show some peculiar similarities to his art.

Brown is the creative force behind the Phoenix, a black comic book hero who flies through the city mediating racial and ethnic conflicts and helping youths.

Like the character he created, Brown is spending an increasing amount of time traveling around the city trying to reach students in Watts and South-Central with his message that art can help heal Los Angeles.

"(The) kids we're dealing with are really talented and it's a crucial time for them because they're young and curious," said Brown, who spends his days working at an advertising agency. "If they aren't encouraged to get into something like this, then they'll find something else to get into."

The weekly comic book art classes began in April, a result of a meeting of Brown and Mark Greenfield, director of the Watts Towers Art Center. Their goal was simple: expose students to an art form that is familiar to them.

"Comic books capture kids' attention because they give you information in small bites," Greenfield said. "That's why I see what David is doing as invaluable by helping communicate higher values and morals and ideas to youth in the community."

Armed with pens, pencils and images of their favorite super-heroes, students ages 7 to 16 attend the Saturday afternoon classes, where they spend two hours learning the basics of drawing, comic book plot development and compiling a portfolio of their work.

"This provides me a chance to work with someone who is in the business, and I have someone to talk over my ideas with," said Oscar Madrigal, 16, of Watts.

The program has drawn a steady corps of 15 students, said Greenfield, who added that plans are under way to expand the course to include an animation class.

The program is funded through a grant from the city's Cultural Affairs Department, which also funded Brown's first comic book, "The Rise of the Phoenix."

Brown said he doesn't mind being compared to his comic book creation, but he hopes to someday focus on his comic books and on his students full time.

"There are a lot of parallels in terms of both of us doing things in the community," Brown said. "And I want to continue working with these kids and helping them have role models. I wish there was someone in my life who'd taken a similar interest in me."

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