- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - J. Torres loves to tell stories, whether it’s writing another installment for the Wonder Woman comic series, or his own creations based on Native and Filipino folklore and legends.

“I like to mix it up,” said Torres, who has written for DC and Marvel comics and created his own graphic novel series, Bigfoot Boy.

Torres was in Sitka earlier this month, meeting kids in the local schools and putting on a program for the public at Kettleson Memorial Library.

The visit of the Canadian author was part of the Alaska Spirit of Reading program, which brings one author a year to Alaska schools. The program is funded by the Alaska Association of School Librarians, with an Interlibrary Cooperation Grant from the Alaska State Library and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Kari Sagel, the Blatchley Middle School librarian who works with the Spirit of Reading program, said she and former Sitka High School librarian Ginny Blackson selected the 44-year-old Philippines-born writer for several reasons.

“Comic books always interest us,” said Sagel. “We were also looking for someone who was Filipino - Filipinos are not well-represented in school visits in Sitka.”

The librarians also liked the fact that Torres‘ work appeals to a wide range of age groups. He wrote a series of board books about the characters Checkers and Dot for youngsters; the “Bigfoot Boy” series for elementary-age kids; and “Lola: a Ghost Story” graphic novel for older kids. Some adults like to read them, too, Sagel said.

“We like to cross grade levels, if we can,” she said.

“I’ve written for infants all the way up to old people,” Torres said.

While in Alaska Torres visited schools in Juneau, Unalaska and Anchorage, and the McLaughlin Youth Center. He attended the Alaska Library Association conference and also had a Skype visit with Dillingham students.

He’s enjoying his visit, he said.

“It’s always great to go out and meet readers,” he said.

Torres said he realizes there’s some resistance to the comic book form which can come from parents or teachers.

“There’s a stigma” to comics among people who are not accustomed to taking them seriously, he said. “I’ve made a few converts. … Usually I’m preaching to the converted, but it sounds like we’ve turned a few people around.”

Torres said the comics can turn nonreaders to readers, but that’s not their purpose.

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