Uncool 2: The Anti-Gun Violence Project

About the Project


Spring 2012  

Uncool: The Anti-Gun Violence Project is the second phase of a two-term studio supported by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.  Hosted by the Illustration department, the studio focused on the creation of illustrated children’s books as viable vehicles for anti-gun messages in children ages 6-7 years old.


As a class, we decided to avoid content showing any physical violence, bloodshed, or death; negative consequences had to be implied, or else shown in a non-violent manner. If we were to find a way onto bookshelves at home, and into the hearts and minds of children, we knew we had to find ways to circumvent imagery and text that might frighten or disturb the children we were striving to reach.

– David Tillinghast, Faculty, Illustration




This illustration studio focused on the development of children’s books as a viable vehicle for anti-gun messages and examined ways that children are exposed from a very early age to romanticized and glamorized images of guns throughout the media. Through consultation with guest experts working in the fields of child development and education, research was conducted to ascertain the attitudes, approaches and outlooks of the target demographic group: boys and girls, ages 6-7.

Equipped with these critical insights, the students were able to begin a design and storytelling process, with the overarching challenge to devise materials that would provide a counterpoint to the drumbeat of our glamorized gun culture. The results of these efforts were the creation of individual books, with the compelling and imaginative counter-message that guns are actually UNcool.


When strong visuals are balanced by an equally strong narrative, what emerges are books like these, which succeed on several levels: in achieving their anti-gun violence message, in relating to their child friendly audience, and in creating a compelling book for parents and children to enjoy reading together.

– Nancy Greystone, Instructor, Humanities and Design Sciences

Design Brief



The class examined the ways in which children are exposed to romanticized and glamorized images of guns via the media.  The students concluded that, starting from a very young age, children grew up with the overt message that guns are, not only fun and empowering, but also that that guns are cool. These students were tasked with the challenge of creating illustrated children’s books for 6-7 year olds.  These books were conceived as being an anti-dote to society’s perception of guns being “cool;” in each of the stories the idea expressed is that guns are actually “Uncool.”


Young children are easily influenced by the words and images we share with them. Artists have the power to positively impact children’s development through careful consideration of their images and messages.

– LaShawn D. Moore, PhD. Project Consultant, McKinley School, SMMUSD




Through a broad range on captivating stories, the students’ wrote and illustrated professionally bound books, and created posters that capture the imaginations of their elementary school children between the ages of 6-7 years old. In Kin Lok’s book, Zoarmak Zoarmax 133’s Big Question, an alien sets out to try to understand earth.  Seeking advice from people he meets, he attempts to determine:  “Are guns are cool or uncool?”  This is the question he poses to his readers, at the conclusion of the book.


I approached the book on two levels:  one, as a story that can stand on its own, and two, as story that parents or educators can use as a teaching tool, to push the point about gun violence.

– Kwanchai Moraya, Student, Illustration Department  


A bullet who dreams of a different life is the tale that Vivian Shih chose to tell in Amos’ New Life. The journey takes him away from a path of destruction, and to a life filled with creativity and meaning.

By creating a forest tale involving a man, a Yeti, and a shared love of jellybeans, Ariel Lee illustrated the concept that our greatest successes lie when we work together, rather than through guns or aggression.

In a coloring + drawing book, Juan Montes encouraged children to re-imagine a kinder, more creative world, by inviting them to replace each gun, or weapon, with a non-violent substitute.


Advocacy for 1.8 billion youth across the planet is a daunting task and a huge responsibility. This was a difficult assignment with a very complex message. But that’s our job as visual communicators—to take complex messages and turn them into simple forms of communication.

– Gloria Kondrup, Faculty, Graphic Design


Two students developed visual poems.  Scarlet Hsu envisioned a world where harmful things are re-purposed into beneficial things of beauty.  The other student, Matthew Hayashida, illustrated the message: violence begets violence, by showing what happens when a gun-like object releases a powerful energy into the world, and chaos is unleashed.

Another student, Dana McMullin, developed an activity book designed to physically involve children in its engaging, anti-gun message. Kwanchai Moriya, in his book, The Egg Incident, creates a cautionary tale centered around a mysterious, egg-shooting gun.  The story reminds children that guns shouldn’t be touched and never played with, as dire consequences are inevitable. Lastly, a in An Ugly Blast, Nikko DeLeon sets his book in a museum, where a curious boy activates a gun that opens a portal to another dimension.  Strange creatures come down and wreak havoc, before a solution is found and life’s goodness is restored.

The Uncool Books

Amos' New Life
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My Imagination Book
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Zoarmax 133's Big Question
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Mark & the Jellybean Monster
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Uncool Children's Book and Illustration Workshop Series

Project Publicity