Anime Club

McDonogh 35’s Anime Club boasts comics, cards, and camaraderie
Posted on 11/10/2021

On a recent Wednesday after school, about 20 students of various ages gathered in McDonogh 35’s Comics Lounge, laughing, chatting, and enjoying talk of comics, games, and anime before the day’s meeting of the Anime Club came to official order. 

“Today we are going to learn to play Pokémon,” announced Donald Hess, club leader and African American Studies Instructor at McDonogh 35. 

About 12 students gathered around a set of tables and began assembling decks of cards for the game, while others got comfy in a corner to do some reading, and two others worked on sketches of their favorite characters.

As he was sorting out his Pokémon deck, freshman Kahli Carter said he joined the club because anime and comics is something he recently got into.

“I like being able to have something to do after school where I can hang out with friends, play games and read comic books I never get a chance to before,” he said.

Donald HessThis laid-back sense of having a place where students belong and enjoy their hobbies was a key reason Hess started the club. 

“I want them to feel as though they can be themselves and have that confidence in themselves to just enjoy what they enjoy and not have to worry about being accepted socially or having to adjust their personalities for society,” he said. “It's also a great place for them to develop real lifelong friendships with different people from different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds.”

Hess first got the idea to start an anime club about 5 years ago when he first started teaching at Schaumburg. 

“I started an anime club because I noticed that there were a large number of kids who were really interested in anime but didn't really have a space or any kind of organization to actually sit, discuss and enjoy anime with their classmates, so I decided to help organize and facilitate an anime club for them,” he said. “It became a hit, and ever since then I've made sure to have an anime club at any school I choose to work with.”

Hess launched the club at 35 three years ago, and today it boasts about 40 members, including members of the football team and band. Club members are not required to attend each meeting, which allows them to participate in extracurricular activities and join in when they can. 

Sophomore Lena Blondell stops by the club before volleyball practice.

“I was just interested in anime and coming to meet new people and sharing new experiences,” she said. “It’s a great way to relax, and I can just chill here.”

Hess said allowing students the freedom to come when they can gives them a place to call their own and make new friends.

“Just because you can't come every single day does not mean that you can’t be part of the club. You are always welcome,” Hess tells students. 

Students reading graphic novels“This year’s been a pretty exciting year for us, because now I have members that have been in the club for three years, and we started to develop their leadership within the club, so if I'm not around, our students know who they can talk to, who they can go to for support or any kind of advice regarding anime or any of their social anxiety or things of that nature,” Hess added.

COVID restrictions proved challenging for the club last year, but they still met virtually. Now that students are back in-person, the club has a dedicated lounge where walls are lined with posters, shelves are filled with comics, graphic novels, and anime, and students have a space to call their own. The lounge is called DB’s Galaxy, named after Derrick Wells, who was the assistant director of NCIS New Orleans. 

“He was one of our biggest supporters in the very beginning,” Hess said. “He actually gave us a large majority of our comic books and Magic the Gathering cards and other resources to kind of help the club get going. He's also our liaison with Wizard Con and Microsoft. He's a big help getting us in and getting us situated, so we decided to dedicate our comic book lounge in his honor to just show that appreciation for everything he's done for us.”

While the lounge is open for students during lunch, the club officially meets Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

“Monday is typically our tutoring day, catching up on anime and just making sure that everybody is up to par academically. Wednesday is a trading card game day. We play Pokémon cards, Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic the Gathering, and things like that. We’re trying to get everybody involved in trading card games and getting them situated with strategy games. We will also be doing board games as well as Dungeons and Dragons,” he said. “Fridays are actually our game days, so I have an arcade system for the kids to play retro arcade games like old Street Fighter and Fatal Fury and things of that nature. I also bring my Nintendo Switch and we have smaller Smash Brothers tournaments or Mario Kart tournaments, or we play Mario Party. It’s just a day to relax and end their week on a good note.”

With COVID restrictions beginning to relax, Hess said he is looking forward to opportunities to take the club to area events such as Blerd Fest and Wizarding World.

“Taking the kids to Wizard Con is one of my favorite events every year,” Hess said. “Most of our kids have never been, so this is their first time being in a convention of this magnitude with this type of atmosphere and is always a big success.”

Some of the membersClub members try their hand at cosplay, dressing up as their favorite characters for the event.

“It’s great for them to walk around and see people stopping them to take pictures or telling how great their costumes look,” he said. 

Blondell said her first Comic Con experience was when the club went to Wizarding World, and like other club members, she’s looking forward to going back.

“I never went so it will be fun,” added Carter.

In the end, Hess said the real benefit to the club is the friendships that are developed here. 

“You have kids that would have never talked to each other or have been in the same Social Circles any other time. To see that kids who are typically athletes or band kids, or academic kids all getting together in the same space talking with each other and creating these friendships that will most likely last beyond high school, that's the best part of it,” he said. “And of course, that goes into their confidence and seeing the kids get that self-awareness of their own confidence and self-worth is always going to be worth it to me.”
 

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