Superhero card flies off shelves at libraries

MONROE – Al Bigley first discovered comis books as a kid, and quickly desired to learn how to draw the colorful characters in the stories he enjoyed reading.  Now a professional comic book artist, Bigley has put his work on a special library card designed to inspire the young and young at heart to embrace learning.

(Above) Artist Al Bigley signs something for a young fan while at an event for the Union County Public Library system. Bigley designed the new superheroes library card.

(Above) Artist Al Bigley signs something for a young fan while at an event for the Union County Public Library system. Bigley designed the new superheroes library card.

“The idea was to design a unique library card with the message that knowledge is power,” Bigley said.  The card features two superheroes, one male and one female, using media accessible at the Union County Public Library system.

The card endows the beholder to “superpowers” at the libraries: an increased check out limit of 40 items, the ability to place five items on hold, and one extra day of grace before overdue charges are applied to late items.  The card costs $3 and is available at any branch. Though Bigley is the creative muscle behind the project, the original idea came from Nina Meadows, library system director.  Genius struck during National Library Card Sign-Up Month in September.

“I wanted a unique library card that no one else had but everyone would want,” Meadows said.  Everything came together when she saw Bigley’s work on display.

The superhero concept encapsulates the library’s diverse offerings and its expanded role in empowering users to learn.  In addition to books, the Union County Public Library offers e-books, e-audiobooks and e-magazines.  There also are classes in computer and technology literacy.  Library staff offer one-on-one assistance for patrons who need help writing resumes or filling out job applications.

Though all ages can apply for the superhero card, children are among the most excited, Meadows said.

“If they can find a book on a subject that interests them, they are always so amazed that reading and learning can be fun,” she said.

Bigley started taking art classes shortly after his childhood curiosity was sparked.  By age 13 he invested in a drawing table.  He attended college at the Ringling School of Art in Florida, and returned to Union County to work as a technical illustrator and commercial artist.

Bigley started sending sample artwork to comic book giants like DC and Marvel.  Eventually he landed assignments and built a healthy resume illustrating comic books and commercial properties featuring Batman, the Fantastic Four, Ironman and the Incredible Hulk.

Though the process of creating a comic book varies by company and project, many comic books are still hand-drawn.  Production can be complex, involving several artists like Bigley.  Once the writer has created the story, the script goes to a “penciler,” an artist who draws the first characters and action in pencil.  The drawings then go to an “inker,” who goes over everything in ink, adding another stylistic layer.  From there the “colorist” typically scans the work into a computer and adds color.  The “letterer” then adds the text elements and word balloons.

“In the comic book world, you have a great deal of leeway,” Bigley said.  “They want a variety of styles – that’s what sells a book.”  On any given store shelf, 10 Batman comic books can have 10 different looks.

In addition to comics, Bigley has created merchandising artwork for Shrek, and his drawings have come to life as storyboards in episodes of the recent Disney XD cartoon “The Avengers.”  His commercial clients include Golden Books, Disney, Scholastic and McDonald’s.  See Bigley’s work online at www.albigley.com.

Meanwhile at the Union County Public Library… Meadows hopes to feature a new card design with the same superheroes each year.  Plans are in the works for a naming contest.

At a launch party in early March, the library distributed 200 cards in two hours.  One boy upon getting his card said, “This is the best day of my life!”  That is… until the sequel.

Find more information on the card program at www.union.lib.nc.us, or call 704-283-8184.

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