SITKA, Alaska — Sam Alden was so young when he created his first comics that his parents had to letter the strips for him.
At 23 Alden not only letters his own strips but is more than halfway through a comic book he hopes to complete for publication in his seven weeks on the Sheldon Jackson campus as a Sitka Fellow.
The title of Alden’s work in progress is “Eighth Grade," a 240-page graphic novel that tells the story of three eighth-graders in their last months before they finish middle school.
“It’s their interpersonal drama and the drama of their respective families," Alden told the Daily Sitka Sentinel.
He hopes the book reflects the experiences and feelings of kids in their early adolescence.
“I’m trying to treat middle schoolers with respect," Alden said. “It’s a time that’s really hard for a lot of people. I haven’t seen a story about middle schoolers that really respects the feelings they’re going through."
Alden is a 2012 graduate of Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Wash., where he won residencies to study under prominent comic book authors Paul Pope and Craig Thompson.
Alden makes his living as a freelance illustrator, promoting his services on his Tumblr account, illustrating albums, designing tattoos and creating art for a worldwide men’s fashion show.
“Comics is an expensive hobby you do in addition to your illustration job," he said, quoting one of his mentors.
Alden, was born and raised in Portland, where his father is a child psychiatrist and his mother is the author and illustrator of children’s books. His junior year roommate at Whitman was Finn Straley of Sitka.
Alden learned about the Sitka Fellows program through Whitman’s Office of Fellowships and Grants, and was pleased to have been selected for several reasons.
“It’s having the isolation and space to work on something that requires a lot of elbow grease," he said of the comic book process. “It’s also a cool opportunity to get to meet other people who are obsessed with something and who want to tell you at dinner about those obsessions. ... I’m so lucky to be here, and I’m so happy to be in the program and in Sitka. I feel so supported by the community."
You can see his comic book on the website www.eighth gra.de. Alden warns that it may not be appropriate for all audiences.