Networking Pays Off for Maddie O’Neil, Cowboy & Illustrator

Madison O'Niel at Vista Verde.
Madison O’Niel at Vista Verde.

Maddy O’Neil won the Don Breter Illustration Award when he graduated from Kutztown in May.  The honor student attended KU on a full scholarship. For his honor’s thesis he did a great job illustrating a children’s picture book. Oddly enough, his first job after graduation with his BFA was as a ranch hand at a high-end dude ranch in Colorado. I asked Maddy what he did as a ranch hand at Vista Verde Ranch.

maddy2“Pretty much anything that needed to be done outside. Mowing, putting up fences, splitting firewood, fixing anything broken, etc. Vista Verde is absolutely gorgeous, so being outside all day was a blessing. We also got to interact with lots of the guests.  The ranch had many activities that the staff and guests would both take part in: barn dances, horseshoe tournaments, and music nights.  I got to be a dance partner at the barn dance. It was a fantastic place to work and I had a legitimate excuse to wear cowboy boots on a daily basis.”

Cover for Maddy O'Neil's Willie the Moose.
Cover for Maddy O’Neil’s Willie the Moose.

“During orientation at the ranch we were able to share about ourselves to get to know everybody a little better. I shared that I had a design degree and a passion for illustration. Steph, the director of hospitality and head of public relations stopped me one day in passing and said she had an idea to do a children’s book related to the ranch. She asked me if I wanted to be involved. I was obviously excited and began work right away. We met weekly to talk about the story and artwork, but for the most part I had total creative control over the project.”

All illustrations courtesy Maddy O'Neil.
All illustrations courtesy Maddy O’Neil.

Maddy created what Steph of Vista Verde calls ” a charming story of a sweet moose trying to find his place at a little dude ranch in Colorado.” She wrote, “When Maddy revealed the book at our end of season staff party the room was filled with laughter that just wouldn’t end.”

Willie has an identity crisis! by Madison O'Neil.
Willie has an identity crisis! by Madison O’Neil.

Maddy’s success proves the power of networking no matter where one ends up. More Willy the Moose artwork can be seen on Maddy’s Behance page. Willie the Moose is now published in full color and available for 19.95 at the Vista Verde web site.

Willie as Ranch hand by Maddy O'Neil.
Willie as Ranch hand by Maddy O’Neil.

Maddy has returned back East to pursue his design and illustration career. We expect great things from him. Maddy has a great attitude, super people skills, and newly acquired horse and moose sense.

Speaking of curious networking, another KU grad, Kate Santee, tells me she got to illustrate a book through folks met as a roller derby racer! If I can get permission to use her artwork, I will share more.

Paul Hoppe – Keeping it Real

Destinations illustration © Paul Hoppe which he sells as a print.
Destinations illustration © Paul Hoppe

Paul Hoppe was at MoCCA fest selling prints and handcrafted zines. Born in Poland, he grew up in Germany and came to NYC on a DAAD scholarship. (DAAD is the German version of a Fulbright Exchange.) He got his MFA at SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay program in New York City. Our Kutztown students were impressed by him. Jen Zweiger traded a copy of her very first zine with him. She says,”getting to meet and interact with international artist was a really profound experience.”

Paul Hoppe at MoCCA Fest  2013. photo by K. McCloskey
Paul Hoppe at MoCCA Fest 2013. photo by K. McCloskey

Nathan Hurst liked Paul’s advice to “network with a close knit group of trusted friends.” Paul told us how, in his final weeks of grad school at SVA, he and classmate C.M.Butzer realized they might never again have free access to a photo copier. They created and printed the comic anthology Rabid Rabbit which debuted at MoCCA 2005. It was a hit and SVA gave them a mini-grant to keep the zine afloat.

Birth of Rabid Rabbit by C.M. Butzer from
Birth of Rabid Rabbit by C.M. Butzer from

Paul said Rabid Rabbit grew faster than expected. They got submissions from all over the world. “A guy sent stuff from Australia, and we said Wow! Australia, That’s cool! We wrote to him, ‘You know we don’t pay, we aren’t making any money.’ He said that’s cool and so we printed his story, but mostly we were printing our own work.”

I told Paul how I once got a frank rejection note from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Press in San Fransisco. It said roughly, “Dear Author, Your work has merit; you should publish it yourself. We keep busy publishing books by our friends; try it with your friends! “ Paul said Rabid Rabbit worked on the same basic principle. They knew which classmates were both good artists and dependable, and those are the ones that got in.

Beholder_BOOKS_Misery1234_2_16_820Paul is no longer involved with Rabbit Rabid, but he is still friends with his co-founder and co-conspirators. He is working hard on his nifty Beholder zines. He explained the series is “homage to super hero comics of the Copper Age.Copper? I thought he was kidding. I’d heard of the Golden Age. I remember the Silver Age of the 1950’s and 60’s fondly. It seems there was also Bronze Age (70’s and early 80’s) and Copper Age (late 80’s) for comic books. Who knew?

Paul said his roots are in zines and “that’s what MoCCA is all about.” As he said on his own blog, “Income-wise, illustration prints and my graphic novel Peanut were the heavy hitters, (since they are more expensive). But I also sold more BEHOLDER books than any MoCCA before.”


I remember where I first saw Paul’s work. Nonfiction graphic essays are one of my favorite things. I really enjoyed Syncopated: Anthology of Non-fiction Picto-Essays edited by Brendan Buford. It has lots of NY stories including an 8-page essay by Paul Hoppe on Coney Island.

 "Coney Island Rumination" visual essay © Paul Hoppe 2009
“Coney Island Rumination” visual essay © Paul Hoppe 2009

Paul has done all sorts of illustrations, ranging from editorial to advertising. His work for children’s books is energetic. The Midwest Book Review wrote of Metal Man, “The vibrant drawings of award-winning artist Paul Hoppe practically burst off the page.”

From the children's book Metal Man written by Aaron Reynolds art © 2010 Paul Hoppe
From the children’s book, Metal Man, written by Aaron Reynolds, art © 2010 Paul Hoppe

Paul’s latest project is a graphic novel for young adults, Peanut, written by Ayun Halliday. It is about a high school girl who fakes a peanut allergy to make herself more interesting. Publisher’s Weekly praised Halliday and Hoppe’s work, “It’s not easy being both hip and life- affirming, but this team has the secret formula.” The NY Times found elements of his cartooning style “especially brilliant.”


I’m not sure about the cover of Peanut, a photo of a single peanut on a blue field, not even a title! Paul is philosophical, “as an illustrator, sure, I would like my drawing on the cover. But as graphic designer I admit it is quite brilliant. It’s different, eye-catching and stands out in the bookstore. If that gets more people to pick it up, then I love the cover! ”

Paul Hoppe updates his Beholder site with a new page every Monday. Check out  Paul warns it is sometimes NSFW. I had to look that up. It means Not Safe For Work. I’m lucky I teach illustration; looking at comics is part of my job.


Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

Speaking of graphic novels, Prof. Lynn Kutch of Kutztown U has created a new site devoted to The German Graphic Novel. Primarily a resource for language teachers who want to introduce cutting-edge German Graphic novels into their courses, it offers illustrated reviews. Graphic novels of all sorts are classified under broad headings: Biography; Literary Adaptations; Horror; Crime; Modern Life. There are links to individual artists, writers, publishers, and in some cases, to German web-comics. Worth a look, even if you don’t read German, to see what is being published in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany.

Detail from Drüben by Simon Schwartz
Detail from Drüben by Simon Schwartz


Sussi Bech,Thomas, Frank Madsen of the Danish Cartoonists Guild.
Sussi Bech, son Thomas, and Frank Madsen of the Danish Cartoonists Guild.

Cartoonists from Denmark came to New York City for MoCCA Fest. Sussi Bech and Frank Marsden were stationed at the table of the Danske Tegneserieskabere (Danish Guild of Professional Comics Writers and Artists). Frank has a studio in Birkerød and has been doing comics, kids’ books, storyboarding, animation, and general illustration since the 1970’s.

panels from Nofret © Sussi Bech
Nofret, a comic set in ancient Egypt © Sussi Bech


Frank draws a popular book series starring Kurt Dunder.  Sussi Bech, his partner, is also an amazing cartoonist. Their adventure comics reminded me of the clear line style of Herge’s Tintin. Frank agreed and noted that the Belgian artist Hergé is a lasting influence on comics throughout Europe. Frank and Sussi also draw a weekly cartoon, Eks Libris, about the literary world of Denmark.

panel from Eks Libris  by Sussi Bech and Frank Madsen
from Eks Libris by Frank Madsen & Sussi Bech

I was surprised to learn the Danish artists coming to MoCCA are officially sponsored by the Danish Government. Frank said France is the European champion at promotion of comic artists overseas. As a result of this cultural effort France remains the comic hub of the continent.

From The Mysterious Manuscript © Lars Jakobsen
From The Mysterious Manuscript © Lars Jakobsen

I also met Lars Jakobson. Lars has had success in Europe with his Mortensen series about a globetrotting time-traveling detective. Sort of a fusion of Dr. Who and Tintin, the Mortensen books are being published in the US by Graphic Universe. I bought The Mysterious Manuscript. It is a good yarn with added educational value. The back matter gives readers a brief history of various plot elements including “witch hunts” and “the invention of bicycles.” The Mortensen series is being translated into English with the aid of cartoonist Robyn Chapman, a faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Lars Jakobson and his Mortensen series.
Lars Jakobson and his Mortensen series.

I did not meet Ina Korneliussen, but I picked up her quirky little minicomic, Fortællingen om dengang jeg fik en bamse. I have no idea what that means, but her drawings are charming. Based on the pictures the story seems to be about a young mother-to-be who has serious attachment issues with her teddy bear.


© Ina Korneliussen
© Ina Korneliussen

The caliber and the variety of comic styles coming from Denmark is quite remarkable. Tusind tak (Thanks) to the Danish government for sponsoring such a creative invasion force.



I visited Hoboken, my old hometown, for the opening of an art show from Meadowlands, Thomas Yezerski’s beautiful children’s book. His book is about the battered, but amazingly resilient, ecosystem that exists just a few miles from Hoboken and it’s better-known neighbor, New York City. The exhibit runs to March 10 at the Hoboken Historical Museum, my favorite small museum.


I met Thomas last year when he came to Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference. Raised in Allentown, PA, he now lives in Hoboken. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s famed illustration program. Thomas has illustrated a variety of kid’s books, but Meadowlands: A Wetland’s Survival Story is his masterpiece.


His ten years of research began by reading everything he could find about the natural history of the area. Then he got into a canoe so he could observe the North Jersey wetlands firsthand.


Thomas found some remarkable wildlife thriving beside some of our nation’s noisiest, and ugliest highways. His watercolor washes and finely detailed pen and ink drawings are perfect for depicting this strange world. The New York Times gave the book a glowing review: “Meadowlands is tremendously (but not intimidatingly) informative, fun to read and gorgeous to look at.”


The book is a generous 40 pages, more than the typical children’s picture book. Nearly all of the panoramic two-page spreads are framed by multiple vignettes, like those appearing here. Thomas includes dozens of these supporting images in the current exhibition.

The artist custom matted his illustrations to include the supporting details.
The artist custom matted his illustrations to include the supporting details.

Thomas Yezerski will return to the Hoboken Historical Museum on Sun. Feb 10 at 4pm to describe his research, writing, and illustration process. (And sign books!) More info on the event can be found here. Admission to the Museum is $2 for adults, free to children and members.

Thomas Yezerski at Kutztown
Thomas Yezerski at Kutztown’s Children’s Lit Conference in 2012

If you can’t get to the Hoboken Museum, Thomas’s publisher has a nice page about the book with more pictures. To see the wide range of his illustration work, visit

All artwork on this page © 2012 Thomas F. Yezerski

An Illustrator’s Mind Explored

Loni Sue Johnson is an an illustrator who has had enormous success. Her whimsical watercolor illustrations graced the pages of the NY Times and six memorable New Yorker covers. Then one day in 2007 she fell ill with viral encephalitis, a rare condition, sometimes carried by mosquitos and ticks. She survived the virus, but large portions of both sides of her brain suffered devastating neurological damage.

Drawing from the Right and Left Side of the Brain:

Her mother, Margaret, invented drawing games to rehabilitate Loni Sue. She would draw a partial drawing then ask Loni Sue to complete it. Very gradually Loni Sue began to draw again. Shown artwork by famous artists she had studied in school, like Vincent Van Gogh, Loni Sue failed to identify the artist. But shown her own artwork, pre- or post illness, she recognized it immediately as her own creation. This suggests how very deeply one’s drawing style becomes ingrained in one’s self-identity.

Watercolor childrens' book illustrations © Loni Sue Johnson
Watercolor children's book illustrations © Loni Sue Johnson

An exhibition originally organized by Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum can be seen at Morven Museum and Gardens, Pricenton, NJ, through June 3, 2012. It is a wonderful show. Two Johns Hopkins University scientists, Dr. Barbara Landau, an old friend of Loni Sue, and Dr. Micheal McCloskey have been studying her art.

Loni Sue Johnson drawing, from the the Johns Hopkins video, link below.

Most illustrators are familiar with Betty Edward’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.  Dr. McCloskey describes Loni Sue’s recovery portfolio as a sort of scientific detective story. The left brain/right brain divide may be more porous than we thought. There is a remarkable short video at the exhibition, in which Dr. McCloskey states, “I think if we were to make a map of the brain which showed which parts of the brain were important for art it would be pretty much the whole brain.”

Loni Sue on NPR: Radio seems a nutty way to consider illustration, but Guy Raz’s poignant interview with Loni Sue and her sister Aline is well worth a listen.

detail from Morven Museum announcement. Art above © Loni Sue Johnson 2011

See more of Loni Sue Johnson’s art via the links on her blog.

Jonathan Bean, local children’s book illustrator makes good

photo courtesy Jonathan Bean

Once upon a time, a young man named Jonathan Bean  stopped by KU’s beloved old Communication Design House. This must have been nearly a decade ago. He was a recent grad from Messiah College in central PA with a small portfolio and large ambitions. He was wondering about topping off his bachelor’s degree from Messiah with a BFA in illustration from Kutztown. Of course, we might want to steer a talented young artist toward Kutztown University, but I find a second bachelor’s degree redundant. Like adding a side of cheese fries to your cheese steak. At KU a second degree, especially now with our new gen ed requirements takes three more years of schooling.

In my opinion, a recent grad who wants more illustration classes is better off earning a two-year MFA in illustration. That’s the advice I gave Jonathan. They have a limited residency MFA at Marywood in Scranton called Get your Master with the Masters,  for example. Jonathan decided to apply to SVA, The School of Visual Arts, my alma mater, in NYC. Flash forward to 2011: He has recently moved back to nearby Fleetwood, PA and he stopped on campus earlier this semester to tell me how it went. It worked out OK.

New book by Lauren Thompson, Artwork by Jonathan Bean

He has no regrets about going to SVA. It was expensive, for sure, but he found living and working in New York City exhilarating. He also said he was very lucky to be part of a really talented and supportive MFA class. On his website he has links to his SVA classmates’ work, including Paul Hoppe and Taeeun Yoo among others.

Jonathan has had great success as a children’s book illustrator. He is already working on his twelfth children’s book. His most recently published book is One Starry Night, a retelling of the Christmas Story (the original one with the birth of Jesus, not the one where Flick’s tongue gets stuck to light pole.) One Starry Night is written by NY Times bestselling author Lauren Thompson. The text is nicely complimented by Jonathan’s deceptively simple art. To my eye his work harkens back to the classic style of Wanda Gag. Kirkus Reviews calls it “an artistic tour de force. ” The Society of Illustrators has honored Jonathan by including artwork from One Starry Night in their current exhibition, on view through Dec.29, 2011.

At Night, words and watercolor paintings © 2007 Jonathan Bean

He wrote and illustrated At Night, a Boston Globe Horn Book Award Winner. Here is what the NY Times said about At Night, “Bean’s debut as an author is sweet and resonant, as calming as a mug of warm milk…he captures the solitary sense of being the last one awake…the peacefulness that comes with discovering a restful space of one’s own.”

Sketchbook page from ©2011 Jonathan Bean

Take a look at his website. He has had many more accomplishments than the few described above. It is wonderful to see the well-deserved success of this talented young man. Hopefully, we can get him to visit our illustration classes this year at Kutztown.

Return of CD Grads

Elaine Cunfer, Kevin Cornell, Matt Twombly, and David Bullock

We had a full house, an audience of 177, for the David Bulluck Return of the CD Grads. Prof. Elaine Cunfer deserves a lot of credit; she did a great job organizing the event. Both speakers shared their passion for illustration. Matt Twombly talked about his internship at Marvel Comics. A highlight of that experience was a personal portfolio review from Joe Quesada  Marvel’s editor-in-chief. He also talked about the four months he had to move back to his parents house, before landing his job at Science Magazine. He had some good news to share. At the end of this month Matt begins a brand new job for National Geographic. In his free time Matt is creating his own Western-themed comics.

copyright © 2011 Matt Twombly

Kevin Cornell punctuated his presentation with fond recollections of KU. He showed a hand-written index card on which I had scrawled a note,” Kevin, you have  12 recorded absences and I only took attendance 22 times. This is an insult to the concept of a studio class!”

Over lunch at the Tavern Kevin graciously told me I was on the mark with the criticism. During his presentation he said that students can’t expect to be “taught illustration” by a professor. One needs to do lots of work to gain illustration skills. He also had other painful truths, like, “Don’t expect your first job to be glamorous.”

Kevin illustrated Moustache! written by Mac Barnett, a brand new book published by Hyperion-Disney. So new, that it arrived in the KU bookstore on Friday, one day after the Return of the CD grads. Check it out. Kirkus Reviews praised the artwork “Cornell ushers the story forward with cinematic artwork, framed in elaborate medieval-like borders, but paced sequentially like a comic book.”

from "Moustache" © artwork 2001 Kevin Cornell