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You never can tell where you'll find a successful author, or what he or she might be doing

DAVID F. ASHTON - Sitting at his desk in his Woodstock Elementary School classroom, after his students have left for the weekend, award-winning cartoonist Aron Nels Steinke sketches his alter ego, Mr. Wolf, for THE BEE. In addition to being their teacher at Woodstock Elementary School, the fourth and fifth grade students in the classroom of Aron Nels Steinke knows their teacher has a side job: being a lauded comic book author.

The day before being interviewed a Powell's City of Books by Barry Deutsch – another Inner Southeast Portland comic book author, profiled in THE BEE's November, 2013 issue – Steinke talked about his latest book, "Mr. Wolf's Class", and about his two professions, in his classroom after school.

"I've been a published author and a school teacher, concurrently, having been a full-time teacher for about eight years; and, I started getting published nine or ten years ago," Steinke told THE BEE.

Asked whether he preferred being called an author, a cartoonist, or an illustrator, Steinke told us, "I like the word cartoonist, because I make cartoons; but the genre, in general, is that of a 60-page 'graphic novel'."

"I've always been a cartoonist; I've loved drawing and telling stories in pictures," Steinke grinned.

Early on, he was creating autobiographical stories, more for adults. "Then, once I started teaching, I started making these comic strips about teaching; and began to anthropomorphize myself as a wolf – that's when I become 'Mr. Wolf', the title character of this book.

"In this way, I can hide my identity a little bit, and that of my students, allowing me to use real-life things that happen in the classroom – and then fictionalize them for the story," explained Steinke.

His students enjoyed his comic strips, the artist said. "Sometimes I would do a comic strip for students, but without text – and allow them to write in their own narrative captions and dialogue – and they loved it!"

Although he now has a three-book deal with Graphix, an imprint of educational books trade publisher Scholastic Inc., Steinke said he isn't about to quit teaching.

"Teaching is a career that will always be part of my life. I might be able to find some success in creating books – but typically, just like being a musician or actor, it just doesn't last forever.

"Here at Woodstock Elementary, I have a great Principal, and a school district that gives me some creative freedom to teach our fantastic students. I feel like teaching is a way that I can serve my community instead of working at a job, in a cube at some office," Steinke said.

On Monday afternoon, September 15, on Burnside Street, Steinke looked both surprised and pleased that a standing-room-only crowd had gathered in the presentation area at Powell's Books.

The winner of a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award – given for creative achievement in American comic books, and sometimes referred to as the comics industry's equivalent of the Academy Awards – Steinke smiled shyly when being introduced by his friend and fellow author Barry Deutsch.

With a projection system, Steinke showed some of early drawings, took a Venn diagram poll, and demonstrated his illustration technique.

More important than the fame that comes of being a recognized award-winning author, Steinke said modestly, "It's helping me pay off my student loans."

You won't see Mr. Wolf coming out of the school at recess, but if you look carefully, you will see Mr. Steinke, watching his students.

To learn more about this educator and cartoonist, go online: aronnelssteinke.blogspot.com

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