“Loot is for kids only—adults without children are not allowed in,” says Joe Einhorn, the father of three who opened the comic-book shop for kids in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, nearly a year ago. The store has an inventory of more than 3,000 comic books that it sells for $5 each, and doubles as a studio where kids can learn how to read, write, draw, and create comic books. Despite having no phone, Web site, or e-mail—families are encouraged to visit in person, or on Instagram—the store has been a huge hit and counts the artist Kaws, the actor Ashton Kutcher, and the model Emma Heming Willis (wife of Bruce) among its Instagram followers.
Before the coronavirus, Loot was open every day, but when the store was forced to close, in March, it quickly transitioned to the digital sphere. Loot now offers more than 70 free video lessons on its IGTV channel, and has provided artwork for families to download, print, trace, and color in. The store recently held a contest in which kids designed their own superhero, the winners getting to make an action-figure version of their character.
Its latest initiative sees Loot joining forces with artificial-intelligence expert and Brooklyn dad Joe Pamer, who is the director of engineering at Instagram and also happens to love comic books. Outside of work, Pamer is developing Coverglitch, an A.I. program that will generate comic books based on a catalogue of 1980s Marvel comics.
Here’s where the Loot community comes in. Right now, the system isn’t perfect, and the covers Coverglitch draws are rather blurry. Eventually, Pamer and his friends at Loot hope that Coverglitch will become sophisticated enough that it can make entire comic books, front to back, but in the meantime Pamer is enlisting kids to use their imagination to “complete” the blurry covers, giving them an opportunity to make art in collaboration with machines. So far, young comic-book-lovers have participated from their homes in New York, Compton, and London.
Loot plans to reopen its doors on July 1 by appointment only, one family at a time. But if you can’t make it, don’t worry: you can tackle this exciting new A.I. art project anytime, anywhere.
The BBC’s announcement last week that it would be putting an end to 500 Words, its annual short-fiction-writing contest for children, suggests it’s the adults of the world we should be worried about. Since the competition began, 10 years ago, more than a million children between the ages of 5 and 13 have submitted stories, which are judged anonymously for quality, not punctuation or grammar. 500 Words received a record number of entries in 2020.
Chris Evans, the former BBC Radio 2 host who started 500 Words in 2011, was among those who were shocked and disappointed to learn that the contest would be ending. “It’s a real shame,” he said on his radio show. Why the BBC canceled an initiative that only continues to grow in popularity remains unclear. Some have speculated that Britain’s largest public-service broadcaster no longer wants to run a program that is associated with Evans, despite his hope that an arrangement to continue the competition could be worked out following his 2018 move from the BBC to Virgin Radio.
Since the competition began, 10 years ago, more than a million children have submitted stories.
While the news comes as a blow to creative children everywhere, it’s also disappointing for anyone who has an interest in storytelling. Oxford University Press has analyzed 10 years’ worth of 500 Words stories to provide academic insights into how the English language is evolving. The conclusion of the contest also marks the end of what was one of the world’s largest databases of children’s writing.
But we mustn’t fixate on the bad. The competition has yielded a trove of wonderful stories, as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, an honorary judge of the writing prize, pointed out in this year’s broadcast. She said one story in particular touched her, by an eight-year-old lad named Lenny Tucker. The story tells of an old bunny named Pat, who, much like 500 Words, has moved on to a better place. Read it for yourself below, and see that there’s plenty to be hopeful about in a world that seems to grow more fickle by the day.
Patrick (Pat) the rabbit was very sad. He was very old, his fur was grey on his paws and around his mouth and his bones were aching. His baby rabbits had all grown up and moved away and had bunnies of their own, his mum and his dad had died many years ago and he missed talking to them, but most of all he missed his lovely wife Pearl, all the time.
Pat was also fed up of running from the mean farmer who was always chasing him with his gun, he never dug any holes any more and he only ate the carrots easy to dig up these days.
Today it was raining and grey, the sky was black, and the grass was muddy and wet, and it was really windy and cold so Pat decided to hide in the barn until the rain stopped before he went looking for carrots. As Pat dried off from the rain he drifted to sleep. Pat woke up feeling very warm, he could see the bright sunshine coming through the walls of the barn and he could hear rabbit’s chilli chilli chat chatting coming from outside. Pat started to creep outside, his bones felt light and he noticed the fur on his paws was a lovely brown colour like they used to be. Pat’s bones didn’t ache, and he didn’t feel sad, but he didn’t know why.
Outside he noticed the grass was so green it didn’t look real – it almost sparkled. It was so soft it felt like he was walking on green clouds! And there were piles of carrots everywhere – with no mud on them – he wouldn’t even have to dig them up or wash them! Then he saw a little way away under a tree, there was a group of about fifty rabbits all whispering and smiling and watching him. Suddenly he saw a beautiful lady rabbit step forward and walk towards him with her arms open and crying. Pat gasped and nearly swallowed his little rabbit tongue! It was Pearl! He ran to her and he kissed her all over her face and he cried, and he said to Pearl ‘I have missed you so much my love’ and she cuddled him so tight and whispered in his ear.
‘I have been waiting a long time for you Pat’.
He then realised he recognised the shapes and voices of the rabbits standing nearby all watching him and smiling – it was his mum and dad. His aunties and his uncles and even his Nan and Grandad! He looked at Pearl dazed, and she smiled, and she said, ‘they have been waiting too’. Pat was so happy but so confused as he cried with happiness into Pearl’s fur he whispered, ‘Pearl I am so happy I feel like I am in Heaven’. To which Pearl replied with a smile, ‘my wonderful, beautiful Pat, you are’.