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Wrestler Chris Jericho visits Booker High to inspire students

The wrestler and comic book author visited the school to encourage students — including those working on the digital art for his new graphic novel.

Chris Jericho meets Jake Harris, 4, and Christopher Harris, 9.
Chris Jericho meets Jake Harris, 4, and Christopher Harris, 9.
Photo by Ian Swaby
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Christopher Harris, 9, couldn’t wait to meet professional wrestler Chris Jericho.

Jericho is debuting “The Painmaker” comic book series, the story of a former serial killer who hunts down other serial killers. Like Jericho, Harris is working on a comic book series of his own, “The Warlock’s Fist,” which is about a pirate who is also a wizard. 

Harris, his brother Jake, 4, and his parents Ashley and Dan Harris, were among the hundreds lined up for the comic book signing on April 13, which preceded an exclusive invitation-only Q&A with Jericho, both of which were held for the benefit of Booker High School’s Visual and Performing Arts magnet program.

Harris, who attends Tatum Ridge Elementary, left the signing with some words, and a hand slap, of encouragement.

That sense of inspiration was the purpose behind the event, according to the two organizations who partnered to bring in Jericho, the New York-based studio Semkhor and the Sarasota and Manatee nonprofit Caring for Children Charities.

The involvement of students with the wrestler, musician and comic book writer didn't end with getting to meet him.

A collaboration between Jericho and Semkhor known as the “Painmaker Project” is bringing the book to life digitally, via graphic design and animation, giving some animation students at Booker the chance to work on the project. 

Making gains with 'The Painmaker'

Often cited as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Jericho is a six-time world champion, the lead singer of the band Fozzie, creator of the Chris Jericho's Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea cruise ship experience and host of the "Talk is Jericho" podcast.

Jamie Taylor, a senior in Booker High School's animation program, meets Chris Jericho
Photo by Ian Swaby

“We're working with Semkhor studios to bring in these amazing speakers, so students see and hear from industry professionals,” said Adam Armbruster, the Creative Empowerment Program advisor for Caring for Children Charities. “The goal is to inspire them to learn more, and learn faster, in younger years.”

David Shapiro, the founder of Semkhor and the producer of the digital comic book, is convinced that that inspiration will go a long way at Booker High School.

He said walking into the school's facilities, he felt as if he were in a college classroom. 

In fact, the agency is planning to hire students from the school in paid internship roles, with junior Emily Fluegel and senior Kat Wright currently set to be hired. 

“There are a lot of people here who can't afford four years of time or money, but they're incredibly talented, and I view what's happening in the world as a shift,” he said. “People are re-learning about the vocational model, meaning, how to get to work quickly, and in creative arts, I really, truly believe it's an apprenticeship type of situation, so people are going to learn at a much higher pace.”

“I’m having a lot of fun working with it. I think it’s really excellent art,” said Fluegel. 

Emily Fluegel, a junior in Booker High School's animation program.
Photo by Ian Swaby

As Fluegel worked on the artwork, the meet-and-greet line could be seen beside her, stretching across the school's library.

“It’s nice to see all the people here,” she said. “Someone might drop by the school and say, ‘Hey, I should go here.”

Students also enjoyed the chance to meet Jericho. 

“It was pretty cool,” said Jamie Taylor, a senior at the school, after having his “Painmaker” poster signed by Jericho. “I’m one of the students animating, so I’m glad I got the chance to get this signed.”

“This whole school is amazing,” Jericho said. “You can see it's so expansive, and there's a lot of excitement here, so it's been a lot of fun, not just doing the signing, but actually seeing what's going on at Booker High School.”



Ian Swaby

Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.

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