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School News Network: GRCC Collegiate illustrator Abby Haywood earns national awards for telling stories through art

A School News Network feature -- Goofy, funny and random items have become fodder for Abby Haywood’s cartoons, which include appearances by a vintage Garfield phone and a huge rubber duck.

But she also draws inspiration from serious material: news headlines and issues affecting the world and teenagers. Her bubbly, big-eyed characters provide commentary on relationships, the pandemic, politics and more, serving as an outlet for her own perspective on things.

“I kind of just latch onto anything that I think is kind of funny,” she said. “I try to make fun of it, I guess, with pictures.”

Abby graduated from East Kentwood High School this week, and has been dual enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College, working on The Collegiate, the campus news outlet.

She created a cartoon about a character listening to CDC guidelines and removing her mask before noticing an enormous virus labeled “Delta Variant” looming ahead. Another features a student tallying up major costs for a community college course after boasting about “saving so much money.”

Abby is a two-time national winner of Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for cartoons published in The Collegiate. She earned the Herblock Award for Editorial Cartoons scholarship in 2021 for an editorial cartoon about President Trump.

The award recognizes three students nationally who exhibit exceptional skill in editorial cartooning and provides each with a $1,000 scholarship. She is invited to attend the national awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York this summer.

Abby has also won several other awards for her illustrations through the Scholastic competition. East Kentwood art teacher Le Tran has watched Abby develop her craft.

“Abby’s style is definitely very distinctive and unique. She has a real vision and I love seeing how all of that comes together,” said Tran, a GRCC alumna. “When I see her work, it gives me a feel of looking at vintage art, and I feel like I am traveling back in time, yet her ideas are so relevant and connect with her peers.”

Abby plans to continue courses at GRCC and to start at Grand Valley State University in the fall to pursue illustration and eventually make it a career.

A Pandemic Outlet

A longtime art student, Abby got involved in editorial cartooning as something to do while she was staying at home during the pandemic. Her mom, Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood, a former Grand Rapid Press journalist who is the adviser for The Collegiate, approached her about getting involved with the paper through cartooning. She started during the summer of 2020.

“I was like, ‘You know what? This is actually kind of fun,’” Abby said about seeing her work published.

She describes her style as influenced by American cartoons and anime. She remembers as a young child watching Pokémon, pausing the screen and drawing the scene.

Last school year in AP Art, she created her biggest project to date, a 30-page cartoon book, called “Love with Strings Attached.” She won a Scholastic Gold Key award for it.

Whether it’s a personal issue or one grabbing the headlines, Abby said illustrating is a great way to work through her thoughts about what’s going on.

“There’s a lot of stuff happening. I don’t journal or anything. It gives me an outlet to be like, ‘OK, things are happening. I’m going to draw a picture,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s funny and it’s going to help me process what is going on. (For others), it can maybe make it less intimidating than a news story. They can just see a picture and be like, ‘Oh, yeah! I know what’s happening.’”

Publishing also helped her connect with others during the school closure. “Everybody knows virtual school and being stuck at home – the pandemic in general – sucks. It’s not fun. There was a lot going on. Everybody was in kind of a bad place, mentally. It was really important when I was literally physically stuck in my house, just to be able to do something.”

She’s learned her comics resonate with others who see themselves in the characters and experiences, from having anxiety about making phone calls to uncertainty about life in a pandemic. Friends and even strangers at Grand Rapids Zine Fest, where she had a booth, have told her they can relate.

“A lot of people would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, my gosh! I love this one. I experience this!’”

This story was reported by Erin Albanese of the School News Network.

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