Mansfield News

February 3, 2014

13-year-old designs her future

Seventh-grader uses art to battle autism, draws notice from comic book publisher.

Brooke Nelson uses her art to cope with overwhelming situations. Now, her art has led her to overwhelming success.

The Brooks Wester Middle School seventh-grader has been tapped to design the cover of a comic book for Comic Book Divas and will appear with the local publisher at this weekend’s Dallas Sci-Fi Expo. Owner Jeff Hughes says he has heard of talented artists as young as Brooke, but they are rare.

“When Brooke brought me her drawings, I was blown away,” Hughes said. “When she sent me her digital artwork, I said ‘I don’t know what I found, but she’s excellent.’”

Brooke’s mom sees more than just talent in her daughter’s anime designs. Jolynn Nelson sees the colorful characters as Brooke’s way to deal with autism, ADHD and anxiety.

“She’s been through therapy and a lot of work,” Jolynn Nelson said. “Art has been her outlet. When she gets overly stressed in class, they make allowances for her to do art.”

Brooke began drawing before she started school, watching a Veggie Tales video over and over to learn to draw Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato. Then she moved on to Sonic the Hedgehog. About the time of her diagnosis in the second grade, her parents also started to notice that her art didn’t look like the other kids’ work, it was a lot more colorful.

“In preschool and elementary, if she didn’t have anything to draw on, she would color her legs and feet,” Jolynn Nelson said. “Anywhere we go, she has her notebook, she draws.

“A lot of autistic kids have a specialty, art is hers,” Jolynn said.

Brooke says drawing and designing characters makes her happy, and she hopes it makes others happy, too.

“People like my art, that makes me happy,” she said. “My true passion is to make people happy.”

Creating characters and imagining their stories also gives Brooke control in a world that can be overwhelming.

“Change is hard for her,” Jolynn Nelson said. “She has sensory things that they don’t see at school, clothes, food. She hasn’t eaten meat in seven or eight years. Her medication was difficult at first. It used to be tough because we didn’t understand. I bought her a lot of crayons and pencils, but that was wrong, there were too many choices.”

But art was always a release.

“Every day she came in so excited,” art teacher Danielle Clendenin said. “She has incredible style and imagination. You can always pick out her work. Not everyone has this kind of talent and hardly ever at this age do you get to this level.

“It’s what she’s meant to do,” she said.

Brooke’s art isn’t just good, it’s advanced, Hughes pointed out.

“You look at the angle of the feet coming out of the clouds,” he said, indicating Brooke’s superhero design. “That’s what we look at as publishers. At her age, she’s very good. If she keeps going and challenges herself, she has a lot of potential. We jumped at the chance to be her first publisher.

“As a small press publisher, we want her to go on to a bigger one, Marvel or DC,” he said.

Hughes gave Brooke a couple of projects, including a cover of Hero Girl, for an upcoming comic book. On Saturday, Brooke will also be doing some commissions at the Dallas Sci-Fi Expo at Comic Book Divas booth. Working quickly shouldn’t be a problem for her, Hughes and Clendenin agree.

“She can whip out in one day something that it takes us two weeks to do,” Clendenin said.

What is even more amazing is that Brooke uses the most basic tools - colored pencils and crayons for her drawings and Microsoft Paint and GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) for digital designs.

“Brooke is every comic book artist, 13 years old and drawing in the classroom,” Hughes said. “I want kids to see her and maybe get encouraged to do that.”

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