CCA Alumni Fuel Educational Comics Company

Nancy Howes at her company Know YourselfNancy Howes at her company Know Yourself

CCA trustee and alumna Nancy Howes (Jewelry / Metal Arts, 2005, with High Distinction) is the founder and co-CEO of Know Yourself, a startup in Oakland that produces innovative educational materials promoting what she calls “self-literacy.”

The idea for the company came to her after her then three-and-half-year-old daughter Zhi ran into the kitchen, excited. “Mom! Mom! Can you feel it?” She put Howes’s hand on her sternum. “Mom, it goes all the time.”

Quick to figure out that her daughter was talking about her heartbeat, Howes then explained about the heart and how it pumps blood, but realized she was only scratching the surface.

“Children at that age are innately curious and impressed with themselves,” says Howes. She started searching for appropriate materials to help her daughter learn more about how the body works, but came up short. So she decided to do something about it.

With a 25-year career in the tech industry, a master's degree in education, and a family background in education (her mother and sister were educators, as were members of her husband’s family), Howes conducted extensive research, connecting with parents, educators, social scientists, medical professionals, and futurists.

Self-Knowledge Leads to Self-Worth

Early in the process Howes started to use the term self-literacy as a way to communicate the idea that anatomy, physiology, and psychology need to be a part of general literacy.

“Children want and need to know how their bodies and minds work,” she says. “This knowledge provides a path to self-awareness, confidence, self-advocacy and an unshakeable sense of self-worth that come from inside.

"Ultimately people who operate from confidence, not fear, have the capacity for compassion.”

The Power of Storytelling

As an artist, Howes knows the power of visual storytelling -- especially for children. Know Yourself’s first product, published in 2014, was Dr. Bonyfide Presents, a colorful and fun series of workbooks aimed at ages six to 12. The series focuses on “boneology” -- the study of all 206 bones in the human body, guided by Dr. Bonyfide, a friendly skeleton in a lab coat and bright red glasses.

Early response to the Dr. Bonyfide series was enthusiastic. “Kids loved the vivid learning experience, characters, and writing. Feedback from the community was overwhelming. We received a Nautilus Award, Parents Choice, and Brain Child Award almost immediately,” Howes observes.

Building a Creative Team

Knowing she was onto something, she then set about putting together a creative team of artists and writers to develop other products. Naturally, she turned to CCA for talent.

“I’ve found that CCA alums are unafraid to innovate and experiment beyond their media. CCA’s cross-disciplinary pedagogy requires collaboration, design thinking, and the ability to participate productively in critique.”

Director of comics Sam Sattin (MFA Comics, 2015) is the lead writer and manager of the Time Skaters comic book project, which combines time travel with learning about the body.

For example, in issue 1, The Fangs of Philosophy, the characters travel to Ancient Greece, where they encounter Aristotle and learn a valuable lesson about the five senses.

Sattin oversees multiple artists and is instrumental in both visual and narrative development of the series. Because the comics and stories play such a large role in the look and feel of the company, Sattin also plays a strong role in art direction and in shaping language on the website and in marketing and PR materials.

In his off hours, he works on comics and novels of his own.

Dream Jobs for CCA Alumni

Sattin and some of his team members had much to say about Know Yourself, comics, and CCA.

“This job is a dream come true,” said artist Speth Szabo (Illustration 2014). “Creating these products is a team effort, but here you have a voice and an opportunity to make projects your own.”

At Know Yourself her work ranges from pen-and-ink illustration to paper toys, digital assets, and emoticon stickers. She’s currently working on paper toys for the Adventure series -- activities for kids that accompany the Time Skaters comics. 

“At CCA, I really valued the community and the critiques, which helped prepare me for this job.”

Colin Andersen (Illustration 2014) is a freelance cartoonist and illustrator working on various projects for Know Yourself. Although an illustration major, he and Sattin connected at CCA through their mutual love of comics.

“At CCA, substance was most important. I really enjoy the preparatory process of creative work -- the research and the collaboration.”

Jacob Magraw (MFA Comics, 2015) also works on projects at the company. "In the same way that CCA embraces comics as a legitimate artist pursuit, Know Yourself embraces them as a legitimate medium in which to teach.

"Comics can connect with young people when nothing else will because they engage different parts of the mind. They can teach, captivate, and reach every part of our being, making us better learners, thinkers, and artists."

Sattin is enthusiastic about working with CCA alums and student interns. “I have high expectations when I hire someone from CCA. I know they are much more rigorous in their work. CCA also encouraged us to make positive change in the world and here at Know Yourself, we’re doing that in a fun way.”

More About Know Yourself

Know Yourself isn’t aligned with any traditional educational book publishers or schools. The strategy has been to reach out directly to consumers via home-school networks, organizations such as the Girl Scouts, and bookstores and other retail outlets, and by participating in large events such as the Union Square Holiday Market.

As a Public Benefit Corporation, Know Yourself has made social values a core part of its charter. The company donates five percent of its annual after-tax profits to organizations supporting local communities, the arts, and education.

Future Plans

Howes has big plans for the future of her startup. She is currently working on global distribution of the products, implementing a digital strategy, and developing plans for a feature film or PBS series.

“I’m working a lot these days, but my favorite time of the week is our Tuesday all-hands critique. We have an amazing team here dedicated to our mission of preparing children for life through self-literacy.”