Arts

Meet the 9-year-old cartoonist from Cambridge who’s destined for comics conquest

“It all comes from IMAGINATION,” says Kellen Paul, quoting SpongeBob.

Kellen Paul draws "Spider-Kell" at the Community Arts Center in Cambridge. Courtesy Photo

You may not have heard of the comic book “Kellen the Kid.” Yet.

But odds are pretty good that someday you will. It’s one of several comic books and strips created by Kellen Paul, a 9-year-old cartoonist and illustrator who’s been plying his trade at the Community Art Center in his hometown of Cambridge, and whose work has taken the center by storm. 

“I’ve seen people just doing comic books in general — like, my favorite video game characters have their own comic books, so I wanted to start my own, too,” Kellen explains of his foray into the comics arts, which has been encouraged by his teacher at CAC, Harrison Collins, and the other staff there. “It’s just a bunch of wacky adventures.”

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The adventures in “Kellen the Kid” feature Kellen and his fellow CAC students, many of them also talented cartoonists; other offerings are in a more traditional comic book vein, spotlighting the adventures of heroes like “Power Kell” and “The Amazing Spider-Kell.”

“The Amazing Spider-Kell.” Kellen Paul

“Fun fact, [my mom] came up with the ‘Kellen the Kid’ series,” Kellen points out, admitting however that she received no compensation for her idea. “I’ll pay her next week,” he promises, not entirely convincingly.

Kellen is one of about 100 kids and teens served every year by the Community Art Center, which has been providing a creative outlet for Cambridge-area students for decades and hosts the longest running youth-led film festival in the country, the “Do It Your Damn Self! Film Festival,” according to the center’s director of programs, Sarah Winter.

“A.K.A. DIYDS,” Kellen adds, noting the program’s nickname, which is necessary since there’s a word in the title not all students at CAC are encouraged to say in mixed company.

​​“We are an after-school arts program. We’ve been in the Port neighborhood for over 85 years, and we offer arts programming for youth that are ages 5 to 19,” Winter explains. “So we have a school-age child care program, which is what Kellen is a part of, that’s for 5- to 12-year-olds, and then we have two teen programs, our teen public art program, where teens can be a part of the creation process for these commissioned artworks that are all over Cambridge, and also  … the teen media program, so kids learn to storyboard and shoot their own films.”

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As to the value of the center’s art programs for their participants, Kellen points out how his comics work at the center has helped him to relax. “It helps me calm down when I’m angry sometimes,” he notes, even if the challenge of both writing and drawing his own comic strips and books can be a heavy burden.

“What’s harder is writing, because, like when my teacher says we’re about to go outside, I just rush sometimes,” he admits. “Drawing is more fun for me.”

Kellen says his inspirations include “South Park” and “Sesame Street” (running the gamut in terms of influences there), and his favorite, “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Asked where he gets the initial ideas for his comics and for the videos on his YouTube channel, Kellen’s quick to respond with a quote from his undersea hero: “It all comes from IMAGINATION,” he declares, lifting his hands over his head in a nod to the spontaneous rainbow SpongeBob is wont to create at such moments.

“Kellen the Kid.” Kellen Paul

Unfortunately, the programs at CAC can be expensive to mount, which is why the center is always looking for all the support it can get from the community.

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“We get most of our funding through grants and state funding, but also on our website, which is www.communityartcenter.org, we have a donate button,” notes Jada Alleyne, the center’s school-age program manager. “You can click that button and send us [donations] to get more computers, to get more equipment, to get materials, drawing materials and things like this, so that we can fund the programs, take them on certain trips — that’s where a lot of our money goes to as well.”

Here are some of the programs and activities the center undertook this year alone, according to Executive Director Erin Muirhead McCarty:

  • Served over 18,500 meals to children;
  • Distributed 100+ holiday gifts to children of low-income households;
  • Visited museums like deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, Boston Children’s Museum, MIT Museum, and Harvard Art Museums;
  • Exhibited artwork throughout the Boston area at J.P. Licks, Boston Children’s Hospital, and at the CAC pop-up gallery featuring the show “Iconic Black Figures”;
  • Teens in the Art Center’s Public Art Program unveiled a mural on the facade of a three-story building and designed public art on planters in Kendall Square;
  • Celebrated with over 600 neighbors at the center’s annual Port Arts festival and Mural Masters event.

Meanwhile, for his part, Kellen has no intention of slowing down when it comes to the cartooning skills he’s been honing at CAC: During a recent appearance on “Strip Search: The Comic Strip Podcast,” Kellen asked co-host Dave London, a cartoonist from Stow who’s a member of the National Cartoonists Society, how he could join that group as well.

And Kellen even had some advice to offer Dave and other more seasoned artists: “Don’t quit drawing just because you’re old.”

Listen to the full podcast interview with Kellen Paul, Jada Alleyne, and Sarah Winter below:

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