Spider-Man. Wonder Woman. Thor. Batman. Superman. All comic book figures that have entertained millions worldwide, and also have had a positive impact on the lives of some young people.
A new team of superheroes joined them in the comics arena in fall 2017, a team that may never reach quite as large an audience, but may join them in having a positive influence on preteens across the country: the superheroes of Team G.R.E.A.T.
Created, written and drawn by Clarksville (Tenn.) Police Officer Greg Granderson, Vol. 1 of the comic “When Gangs Strike Fear…A City Needs Heroes,” can be found on the Gang Resistance and Education Training (G.R.E.A.T.) website as a free digital download (https://www.great-online.org/Documents/Public/PDF/team-great-comic.pdf) that officers and teachers can use to supplement the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum in elementary and middle schools. Volume 1 supplements the first two lessons in the curriculum, focusing on the consequences of making bad choices; Granderson presently is working on finalizing Volume 2, which will accompany lessons 3 and 4, and scripting Volume 3, which goes with the final two lessons in the program.
“I’ve always been a fan of comics, and I often say Stan Lee [creator of Spider-Man) kind of raised me a little bit,” says Granderson. “Look at the impact it has: half the movies at the box office stem from comics.”
Granderson, a former military police officer, moved into coordinating the department’s G.R.E.A.T. program from patrol in 2012 and quickly realized comics represented a medium that could be entertaining and grab students’ attention: “Comics influenced a lot of the life decisions I made and helped me with the moral choices behind them. I knew what they did for me as a child and thought I could take advantage of that.”
Working on his own time, Granderson started out in 2015 to script the books and locate a local art student interested in doing the drawing. When none could be found, he began looking into ways to create the art himself, and found a user-friendly CGI program that allowed him to generate his own art even though his freehand drawing skills are, by his own admission, nearly non-existent.
“I had no background in art at all, just my love for comics. Having grown up reading them, I knew what they should look like. The art of comics is a very freestyle medium, it’s not like producing a novel,” Granderson says. In the course of researching software, he located a mentor who also produces his own online comic books that helped him get started and make his conception of Team G.R.E.A.T. become a reality.
And just as a mentor gave him a hand in getting his comic books started, another mentor taught him the skills that have made his G.R.E.A.T. presentations in such demand that schools outside the Clarksville city limits want him to come to their schools: vaudeville-type “feats of strength” such as tearing phone books in half, bending a 45-inch steel bar with his teeth and breaking bricks with his head. Using the motto “Unhealthy choices make us weak — healthy choices make us strong,” Granderson takes a one-hour presentation out into more than a dozen Montgomery County schools in addition to teaching the one-week G.R.E.A.T. curriculum to fifth-graders in 15 Clarksville schools. Granderson says he learned the skills from Dennis Rogers, called “Pound for Pound the World’s Strongest Man,” (http://www.dennisrogers.net/pound-for-pound/) while working as part-time youth pastor prior to taking on the G.R.E.A.T. curriculum. That love of working with youth led him to apply for the department’s G.R.E.A.T. instructor position when it became available, and Police Chief Al Ansley approved of his pitch on offering the “feats of strength” program to the county schools, which don’t have their own G.R.E.A.T. program.
Three years later, Granderson again had to pitch and sell an idea, this time the comic books to the G.R.E.A.T. board, in order to get the series posted on the website for nationwide use. Granderson himself does not use the comic in his classroom presentations; rather, he makes sure all the teachers he works with are aware of its availability. Granderson says he would like to eventually see printed copies become available, with any proceeds going back into the G.R.E.A.T. program.