A pen and some markers are the instruments a local boy is using to help overcome — or at least temporarily forget — his health problems.
Paris Sharper-Cherry is an 18-year-old aspiring cartoonist who hasn’t let his health concerns slow his passion for art.
“His imagination is incredible,” said Steve Barr, a professional cartoonist who met Sharper-Cherry at Duke University Hospital a few months ago.
Sharper-Cherry was a patient and is waiting now for a kidney transplant. Barr, who lives in Columbus in the western part of the state, visited as part of his regular volunteering at hospitals.
“Each child that I see gets a free kit of art supplies that they get to keep,” Barr said.
Barr son discovered Sharper-Cherry had tremendous talent as an artist and the two have bonded over a love of drawing.
“As I’ve learned what his life-long battle is,” Barr said, “he has become my hero.”
Barr recently drove about three hours to see Sharper-Cherry at the Ronald McDonald House in Durham, Sharper-Cherry’s home for month.
“I spend time with somebody who understands me,” Sharper-Cherry said.
Cartooning is Sharper-Cherry’s escape from a medical world he has known from a young age. He’s had three heart transplants, the first when he was just 3 years old, and never expected to live past the age of 9.
“Sometimes you just need to get away,” Sharper-Cherry said.
“Pediatric patients have very little control over their everyday life,” Barr said. “I mean, somebody tells them what to do all over the place and my programs teach cartooning from the aspect of there are no rules.”
And Sharper-Cherry is learning from some of the best. Cartoonists are sending him their work after Barr reached out to some of his friends and shared Sharper-Cherry’s story.
“I got a whole bunch of originals,” Sharper-Cherry said. “I got a Superman, a Garfield, Batman and Robin.”
“Different cartoonists sent him different stages of production so that he could learn from the beginning to the end the process he would have to go through,” Barr said.
Sharper-Cherry’s health has improved enough for him to return to his home in Elm City, near Wilson, as he continues to wait on a kidney transplant. He and Barr plan to continue their regular sessions.
“I think we’re going to continue seeing each other through the rest of our lives,” Barr said. “His mother recently told me that I’ve been adopted into the family.”
How Sharper-Cherry deals with what he has to go through is what others can learn from him.
“I have learned what it means to be a hero,” Barr said. “I’ve learned what it means to fight against incredible odds and to just keep going no matter what.”
Sharper-Cherry has a talent with the pen and creates cartoons where the most powerful character is named, of course, Paris.
“In my world, I’m the king,” he said.
As for Sharper-Cherry’s future, he said, “I want to be a cartoonist. Then I want to write books, but I want my books to turn into a TV show, but I also want to be in it playing myself.
“Ain’t nobody can play me like me.”