Comic Artist Brings DC Stories to ELL Students




Some people tell stories through books, some through poems or short stories, some through music, some through performance. DC comic artist Matt Dembicki chooses to tell his through illustration, and his most recent stories are unique in that they all take place in our very own diamond-shaped city.


Dembicki came to speak to bilingual education teacher Mary Ann Zehr’s class for English Language Learners on Thursday about his book, “District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, D.C.” His visit was sponsored by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation’s Writers in Schools program. The foundation arranged Dembicki’s visit and bought personal copies of “District Comics” for all of Zehr’s students.


Dembicki can identify with ELL students, since he once was one. The son of Polish parents, Dembicki grew up in a community of Polish immigrants in Hartford, Connecticut. Since everyone around him mainly spoke Polish, he didn’t know English until he went to kindergarten. His mother bought five-year-old Dembicki comic books to help him learn. Dembicki credits comics with making him comfortable with the English language and teaching him how to read.


Dembicki soon began to create his own mini comics, which he continued to do throughout high school. In college, he put comic-making aside, but soon picked the hobby back up again when he met his wife, another comic aficionado. He founded DC Conspiracy, a comic creators’ collective in the city, and has been working on comic books outside of his day job as an editor for a higher education association.


“It’s my passion. I love to tell stories. Comics are just really another way to tell stories,” Dembicki told students.


“District Comics,” an anthology of comics about obscure or interesting angles on DC history, is Dembicki’s latest and perhaps most famous project. He worked with a group of local writers and artists for a year and a half, compiling and editing their stories and adding his own. The stories range from accounts of Benjamin Banneker’s work to design DC, to stories of local baseball clubs and the birth of the Nationals in the 1860s, to tales of a bugle player at John F. Kennedy’s funeral, to adventures of the hard-core DC punk bands of the 80s.


“I looked for stories that were a little bit different,” Dembicki said about how he chose the content for the book.

Dembicki ended his Wilson visit by leading a comic-making workshop, helping Zehr’s students to tell their own unconventional stories.