‘Mr. Wolf’ Comes Home: Second Story Gallery to feature comics art by Camas native

Former elementary teacher Aron Nels Steinke created popular ‘Mr. Wolf’s Class’ books for young readers

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Award-winning cartoonist Aron Nels Steinke, a 1999 Camas High School graduate, draws in his Portland home on April 30, 2024. (Photo by Marlen Steinke, courtesy of Aron Nels Steinke)

There are still a few months to go until the Downtown Camas Association hosts its second annual Comic Con in August, but comic lovers and graphic novel fans won’t want to skip this month’s First Friday event, which features the artwork of Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Aron Nels Steinke, a Camas native, at the Second Story Gallery.

The gallery, located on the second floor of the Camas Public Library in downtown Camas, will host a reception for its May art show, “My Teacher is a Wolf: The Comics Art of Aron Nels Steinke,” from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 3.

Best known as the creator of the bestselling children’s graphic novel series, “Mr. Wolf’s Class,” Steinke, a 1999 Camas High School graduate, is a former elementary school teacher whose first career choice taught him to appreciate young people’s honest and often humorous take on life.

“Being a teacher, you’re privy to the funny, silly things kids do,” Steinke said. “That’s why we become teachers — because it’s so much fun to be around kids.”

Steinke, 43, who grew up in the Camas area with his parents, Alona and Don, said he wanted to be just like his older brother, Jeremy, who Steinke describes as a talented artist.

“My brother was a big inspiration for me,” Steinke said. “He was always drawing and painting.”

When Steinke became an elementary school teacher in Portland in the early 2000s, he did not leave his artistic inclinations behind. Instead, he created a comic strip based on the antics of his students that featured anthropomorphic animal characters and introduced “Mr. Wolf,” the bespectacled, tie-wearing teacher who also happens to be a wolf.

“I didn’t want to draw myself how I looked as a teacher … I wanted to distance myself from reality,” Steinke said. “I really liked drawing myself as a wolf, so I adopted that wolf character.”

He also used animal characters to protect his students’ identities.

“They became a bear, a bird … and I was obviously influenced by class anthropomorphic Disney characters,” Steinke said.

In his “Mr. Wolf” comic strips, Steinke’s classroom came to life. He detailed the sometimes frustrating, mostly funny, side of teaching young children and told stories that would resonate with other educators.

“When I started, I was thinking of teachers as my audience, but I couldn’t help but share those stories with my students, and they were enthusiastic,” Steinke said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll turn it into a book series.”

In 2015, after “The Zoo Box,” a 48-page graphic novel hybrid for early readers illustrated by Steinke and written by his wife, Ariel Cohn, won the revered Eisner award — the comics industry’s version of the Oscar, Pulitzer or Grammy — the comic publishing industry opened its doors.

“It helped my career immensely,” Steinke said of the Eisner award. “I already had the idea for the graphic novel series, and then I had a publisher willing to do it.”

Since then, Steinke has published five “Mr. Wolf” graphic novels and is hoping there may be a sixth book coming out sometime soon. He also is on the cusp of publishing a new project in 2025, titled, “Speechless,” about a sixth-grade girl who is, Steinke said, “obsessed with stop-motion animation and loves making films on her own,” but who also grapples with anxiety and with a form of selective mutism that prevents her from speaking while in school.

The story is “a friendship drama,” Steinke said, explaining that the main character will experience the heartbreak of a former best friend becoming her worst enemy, while also learning how to make new friends and work on her confidence. Although, at its core, it is a book about anxiety and the struggles young people go through during the transition from childhood to those confusing preteen years, Steinke said “Speechless,” like his other books, also has humor baked into it.

“It’s a book about anxiety, but it’s humorous, too,” he said, “and it’s for kids who love creativity.”
Steinke’s own life experiences often play into his art, and “Speechless,” which draws on Steinke’s own anxiety during his school years, is no exception.

“For years, I couldn’t really talk on the school bus,” Steinke said. “I could speak when I was with friends and family, but (being on the bus, surrounded by other students) just made me shut down.”

Steinke, who lives in Portland with his wife, Ariel, and their 11-year-old son, Marlen, admits that he still has some social anxiety, especially when he needs to make small talk with other adults. But that anxiety dissipates when he’s in the classroom, communicating with children, he said. Though he gave up teaching to pursue a full-time career as a comic artist, Steinke often visits schools to talk about his latest project or about his “Mr. Wolf” series.

“It’s easier talking with kids,” he said. “They’re more forgiving than adults.”

Those familiar with Camas schools may find a piece of the town’s history embedded in Steinke’s popular “Mr. Wolf” series. In fact, Steinke said, Mr. Wolf’s classroom at the fictional “Hazelwood Elementary School” is “very influenced” by the former Lacamas Heights Elementary School — now a Camas School District preschool known as The Heights Learning Center — where Steinke attended elementary school.

“There was a forest right next to our school playground and if you kicked a ball over the fence, you had to get a teacher to get it for you, or get permission to go over and get it,” Steinke recalled of the old Lacamas Heights building near Camas High School. “In the second Mr. Wolf book, there is a fence along the playground and student balls go missing in the woods behind it … so (the characters in the book) want to find out what is in that forest. They discover the ‘pot of gold’ of playground equipment!”

The Second Story Gallery show will feature one piece of artwork Steinke created when he attended Lacamas Heights Elementary School, but will mainly focus on the production work that went into the creation of the “Mr. Wolf” graphic novel series.

Steinke also has created a limited number of zines featuring art from his childhood, which he will give away for free, while supplies last, during the Second Story Gallery’s First Friday art reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, on the second floor of the Camas library, 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.

“We are honored to host this award-winning author and artist in the Gallery,” Camas Library Director Connie Urquhart said. “This exhibit will be enjoyable for all ages.”

“My Teacher is a Wolf: The Comics Art of Aron Nels Steinke” will be on display at the Second Story Gallery through May 31. For more information about the gallery show, visit

To learn more about the “Mr. Wolf’s Class” graphic novel series, visit or

The Second Story reception will take place in conjunction with the Downtown Camas Association’s “Gnome and Fairy Backyard Adventure” May First Friday festivities, which also will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 3, throughout downtown Camas. For more information about the May First Friday events, visit yard-adventure-may-first-friday.