​’A form of art therapy’: Rochester teens use AI to make comics about themselves

A form of art therapy’: Rochester teens use AI to make comics about themselves

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — For nearly two years, artificial intelligence has been dominating the headlines. And much of it is negative.

But of course, that’s not always the case. Across the country — and right here in Rochester — people are using AI to transform all kinds of industries. 

In Central Library downtown, a handful of teens got to use AI to make their own comic books. But instead of a Superman or Green Lantern saving the city, it was the creators themselves.

Each student made their own superhero, modeled after themselves. Art and artist share strengths, weaknesses, and fight the same exact battles. The course was facilitated by Cooley Comics. 

“So they get to dream up a fictional character, but a lot of its rooted in reality,” Cooley Comics CEO Chris Cooley said. “So everything’s at a distance, almost like art therapy. So they’ll leave today obviously with a knowledge of AI and what it is an how to use it. And in a week or two they’ll have an actual printed comic book, where they’re all going to be combined heros in this super team.”

Cooley and his team started making AI-generated comic books based on the life of one of their team members, Antonio Martin. While they don’t create the AI tools, they have mastered how to use them to get precise images — which is still a relatively new tool in a world where most people haven’t deliberately used AI. 

They teamed up with a local nonprofit called Prosper Rochester to bring the creative outlet to kids. Prosper Rochester teaches teens job readiness skills, with a big focus on social and emotional learning. 

“One of the things in business skills these days is for the kids to learn social emotional skills,” Prosper Rochester CEO Jill Stolt said, “That’s one of the biggest things we hear from employers — is that these kids really need to learn how to work on teams and interact with people of all ages and cultures.”

One night each week, the kids met up at the Digital Media Lab to work on their creations. 

Jonathan Nelson, 16, is one of the creators. 

“[My character’s] superpower is, I say empathy: Actually seeing it from everybody else’s perspective,” Nelson said. “Because I feel like a lot of people are misunderstood and everybodyjust wants to be understood by other people.”

Kamari Rollins’, 15, superhero is a wordsmith. She also has the power of invisibility. 

 “I’m very quiet, I’m not really a troublemaker,” Rollins explained. “My character was most likely involved with a toxic friend, and she learned how to get out of the situation of manipulation and how to stand up and be comfortable in her skin, and [how to] not let others tell her what she wanted to do or what she needed to do.”

At the end of the course, the kids walked away with a printed-out comic featuring their superheros’ character sheets, their plots, and their classmates’ work, too. But they also walk away with something intangible: a better understanding of who they are, and a new way to express themselves. 

“I really based my story really about myself and I was being true to it,” Nelson said. “So it really made me learn about myself from a different perspective, and – making me learn new words about myself.”

“It’s kind of cool, at first I was very nervous because I didn’t really want to talk about the situation,” Rollins said. “But then I was like, ‘If I let it out it’ll be — it’ll help.”