Last year my Snails are Just My Speed!book tour took me to Takoma Park Library in Maryland. Someone asked what my next TOON book would be. This happened…
Francie was right. I was wrong. So I dedicated “Ants Don’t Wear Pants!” to “The children who teach me things, like Francie at the Takoma Park Maryland Library who told me about EXPLODING ANTS!”
Heading back to Takoma Park Library on October 3. I hope I see Francie so I can thank her properly and give her a copy of Ants Don’t Wear Pants!
Well, Francie is now 5 years old. She and her family came to see me at the Takoma Park MD Library. She is such a wonderful human being. She wants to be a writer and illustrator. Francie even knows the Latin name for exploding ants – Colobopsis. I have to look it up every time.
Steven Engelfried wrote a nice review of Ants Don’t Wear Pants! at School Library Journal: “Lively and intriguing information, with high visual appeal. VERDICT: An excellent choice for younger readers who like animal facts peppered with humor.” He also noted, “the variety of ant species with some especially interesting examples such as the trap-jaw ant and exploding ants.“ (emphasis added) -Thanks, Francie!
I finally got to SAW, the Sequential Arts Workshop, in Gainesville, Florida. I was in Gainesville for an Ant Camp at University of Florida. UF is a mega-school with 50,000+ students, multiple disciplines, stadiums, museums, labs and climbing walls. SAW, on the other hand, is a mini-school with a handful of students. SAW, founded in 2011 by indie cartoonist Tom Hart teaches just one thing – comics.
SAW is a bit hard to find. My Uber driver dropped me off on a street lined with cinderblock warehouses. Her parting words, “It’s around here somewhere!”
SAW’s library holds more rare comix and graphic novels than most universities. SAW has no climbing walls, but it you do get to run through a maze of studio spaces to find the toilet.
I meant to interview Tom Hart over lunch. Looking back at my notes, I realize I did all the talking. I did learn that he grew up in upstate Kingston, NY, before it became hip. And his biggest formative influence was Peanuts by Charles Shultz. And he eats vegan burritos.
SAW students make their own comics. I was impressed that SAW has three Risograph printers! Risos have that cool retro silkscreen look. Tom admitted the machines are so temperamental it takes three to be sure one is working.
Tom is proud of Miranda Harmon, a recent grad of SAW’s year-long program. She’s signed a 3-book deal with Scholastic and is already working for Cartoon Network.
I gave Tom two of my Toon Books. He gave me three of his books. I’d already read his moving memoir, Rosalie Lightning, but now I have an autographed copy. His book on creativity, How to Say Everything, is available FREE, all 192 pages! at tom hart.net. Anybody teaching or practicing illustration, writing, or any art form should check it out.
The third book Tom gifted me was B. IS DYING, a down-and-dirty xeroxed zine of strips that appeared on the website Popula.com. I love this little book. It reminds me of Matt Madden’s formalist comics. Every page is a climax. Our hero, B., is dying among Neanderthals with anachronistic 21st observations firing across his synapses. Made me think, made me laugh.
Together these books reflect three distinct facets of Tom Hart’s genius,- as a memoirist, an educator, and as an indy comix creator.
I wrote about SAW in 2012 as an alternative to a pricey Comics MFA. SAW remains a bargain. Tom says, “I created SAW to be an alternative or supplement to art school, with a small institutional foot-print to keep things intensive and affordable.” SAW’s has cool short courses and a yearlong course that is basically a Masters in Comics without the accreditation. The sliding tuition scale asks students from households earning under $30,000 to pay just $3300 a year for tuition.
An accredited Comics MFA cost a fortune. I told Tom the low-residency MFA at San Francisco’s CCA cost $70,000. He repeated that mind-boggling number, “$70,000?” I just checked the CCA website, –tuition is $82,000 for the 2-year program. Plus fees including an Adobe Creative Cloud fee, and living expenses for two 7-week stays in S F. That is a lot of money. Full disclosure, the low-residency MFA in Communication Design at Kutztown University totals $36,540. That’s a lot of money, too.
If the accreditation doesn’t mater. In other words, if you don’t plan to teach, if you really want to make comics, SAW seems like the place to study. The great comics creator Box Brown told me took exactly 2 comics courses. He took a Tom Hart’s class at SVA. Then the second class he took, was the same class, again, with Tom Hart.
If you can’t go to Gainesville to see SAW yourself, the SAW website is still worth a visit. If you can get to Gainesville, do it.
Viva Mexico! I wish more people would visit Mexico, not just the resorts, but the cities and pueblos to meet Mexican people. The Mexican people I’ve met are proud, creative, and hard-working.
I know! I know! Not everyone can visit Mexico. So works by Mexican artists and writers become crucial windows into our neighbor’s culture. We’ve reached the point in this country where we desperately need windows more than we need walls. That’s why the work ofDuncan Tonatiuh is so important.
Duncan Tonatiuh of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico makes wonderful ‘windows.’ His windows have been awarded the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, The Pura Belpré Medal, Sibert Medal, The Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award, The Américas Award, and the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award.
His distinctive style is based on the Pre-Columbian codices of the Mixtec and Maya people. Despite the burning of nearly all PreColumbian books, a few rare books have survived. Tonatiuh draws most figures and faces in profile. He showed students how he scans patterns, like tin cans or his own jeans, and uses Photoshop to fill the outline with those patters. Note muralist Diego Rivera’s overalls in the image below.
Duncan Tonatiuh came to the Kutztown Children’s Literature Conference as a keynote speaker. Spending time with him was an eye-opening experience. We visited 12th and Marion Elementary, Reading. Most children there speak Spanish at home. He shared his story and the faces of the children lit up as if they were sitting by an open window. They were so proud to meet someone with their ancestry and their complexion who is a so successful.
He also visited a Communication Design class at Kutztown U. He told students he was lucky that San Miguel de Allende has a good library. He was a kid when his family moved there from Mexico City. They had no television for some time. He would go to the library and got hooked on the “Choose You Own Adventure” series. One day, it occurred to him he might write his own stories from scratch. Now he has created a dozen award-winning books.
Since his father was from the U.S., Duncan got to visit often and his American cousins would bring comics when they visited him in Mexico. He grew up with roots in both countries. When he went to college it was at Parson’s in NYC. He graduated in 2008. Parsons is associated with Eugene Lang College, so he was able to take courses in writing and liberal arts.
His college art and writing projects focused on social justice for immigrants. He volunteered at NMASS. the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops. Workers he met there informed his book “Undocumented.” Duncan told Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s Marketplace, “Me, being a dual citizen, it’s very easy for me to enter and exit the U.S. but I just thought it was important for someone to share some of those stories.”
20 Years ago only 9% of children’s books were about people of color. In the last 20 years there has been progress. That number has doubled. But still a slim portion of these are works of Hispanic creators. Some of these books are from small, independent presses like the wonderful Cinco Puntos of El Paso, Texas. Duncan Tonatiuh is published by a major publisher, Abrams. We need more great windows. We need more Duncan Tonatiuhs. Look for his work. It is eye-opening.
Kutztown University’s 26th annual Children’s Literature Conference brought two stellar illustrators to campus, Brendan Wenzel and Duncan Tonatiuh. Both young men are award winners at the top of their games. They studied illustration at two of New York City’s Great art schools. Duncan went to Parsons. Brendan went to Pratt.
Brendan grew up in Connecticut. Both of his parents are artists. His dad, David T Wenzel , is best known as the illustrator for the graphic novel version of The Hobbit.
Brendan and his wife Magdalena left the bustle of NYC to live in Australia. As they traveled through Australia, then Viet Nam and Nepal, Brendan sketched the people, landscape, and especially the wildlife he encountered.
Whenever he can Brendan collaborates with conservationists to raise awareness of endangered animals, large and small.
Brendan won a Caldecott Honor for his 2016 book They All Saw A Cat. In it he visually explores how animals’ senses differ from human senses, including eyesight. Personally, I don’t like cats, but I found this book conceptually brilliant.
Brendan is a skilled animator and shared a rough-cut trailer for his upcoming book, A Stone Sat Still. It looks absolutely wonderful. That trailer is not yet online, but meanwhile you might check out his trailer for his most recent hit, Hello, Hello.
I got a copy of Hello, Hello. The concept for the book of animals is deceptively simple. He links together creatures that share common attributes, –shape, size, color. Sounds simple, but Brendan made me wonder anew at the marvelous beauty and diversity of our planet. As Publisher’s Weekly put it, (Hello, Hello ) “is a joyful way to deliver a message about the fragility of life on Earth and what would be lost if more of it disappeared.”
In our next blog post, we will take a look at the work of Duncan Tonatiuh.
A dozen Kutztown illustration students will display and perhaps sell their work at the 2019 MoCCA Festival. Here are some fine examples, some hi-tech, some low-tech. First, the high-tech digital work of Jenn Beam.
Jennifer Beam, a junior from Allentown, finished her zine early. It is a nearly wordless full-color picture book that takes place on an enchanted farm. The Witch from Waverly Farms was created in Procreate on an 10.5 inch iPad pro. Jennifer printed 100 copies via Printing Center USA at a cost of over $300. That was more than she really wanted to print, but the minimum for the horizontal 9 by 6 inch format she chose.
Jennifer gave a copy to her grandma, who showed it to friends and sold the first ten copies. Jennifer will be selling it at MoCCAFest for $10. She will be at the Kutztown University table, #145C. MoCCAFest is an annual comics festival in NYC produced by the Society of Illustrators. This year it is held April 6 and 7 at Metropolitan West, 639 W 46th St. Details here.
Morgan Nadin worked with low-tech tools, india ink on paper using a crowquill pen to create her Ugly Cat. She then used a brush to ink washes to create tones to add impact to her line art.
Morgan calls Ugly Cat, ” an illustrative exploration of the human perception of beauty and greed, told in the story of a cat’s life.” More of Morgan Nadin’s work can be seen here.
Junior Shannon Rosser says, “I enjoy creating strange monsters, quirky characters within fantastical stories that have a deep meaning, — stories manifested from dreams and real life. I hope to one day work in the entertainment business as a concept artist/illustrator for a game or animation studio.” Her portfolio can be seen here.
Shannon says Shade ” revolves around bullying and also the fear of being alone even with one who you would call “friend”.
A young girl named Enola runs away to a graveyard from the bullying that she deals with everyday in her village. She meets a boy named Ereh who discovers her sitting around at the graveyard. The two go off and adventure the forest only to encounter an unwelcoming presence.
Kerry Domas of Point Pleasant, NJ, handcrafted the cover for her A Day in the Life of a Piñata. Like most of the student zines the interior pages are printed in black and white. cold and special effects like Kerry’s tissue paper collage are reserved for the cover.
This is just a sampling of the Kutztown student zines that will be presented at MoCCAfest. The zines range in price from $3 to $10. If you can’t make it to MoCCaFest, seek these young artists out and they may have a copy available.
Kutztown University students will be selling their work at the 2019 MoCCA Fest in NYC. MoCCA stands for Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art. This will not be the first time KU illustrators have participated in the festival, but this year Kutztown has another reason to be proud. One of MoCCA 2019’s featured artists, Peter Hoey, is a KU grad.
Peter and Maria Hoey are featured visual artists for the festival and designed the MoCCA poster above. Peter graduated from Kutztown University in 1982. Prof. Elaine Cunfer, his 1982 classmate recalls, “Peter’s work was strong and distinctive from the get go and he was a peer that I looked to for both inspiration and motivation.”
The Hoey’s poster will appear on signage and official MOCCA merchandise.
For the past 20 years the Hoeys have been creating indy comics. The Seattle Review of Books called their work the “best comic series you’ve never heard of.” Top Shelf / IDW recently collected their best comics in hardcover for The Coin-Op Comics Anthology 1997-2017.
Publisher’s Weekly gave The Coin-OP Anthology a rare starred review, calling it “Spectacular… each page is a feast for the eyes. This is a striking assemblage of two decades of challenging, entertaining, and crisply beautiful stories.”
The Hoeys are versatile artists, besides comics, they are known for their animated gifs, flip books, infographics. They are currently hard at work on their first full length graphic novel. Much more of their amazing work can be seen at their rep’s website, Rapp | Art.
While Peter and Maria Hoey will be attending the MoCCA Fest as featured artists, current Kutztown University student will be at table 145C. The MoCCA Arts Festival takes place April 6 and 7th, 2019 from 11:00AM – 7:00PM Sat. and 11:00AM – 6:00PM Sun. at Metropolitan West, 639 W.46th Street, NYC. The cost of festival entry is $10 per day and includes exhibits and workshops. Directions here.
Drawing long hours in uncomfortable positions can be painful. My son Dan is working against deadline on a graphic novel. It is hard on his drawing hand. Drawing too long can be downright painful and dangerous.
Jeff Smith creator of Bone told fellow cartoonists Jim Rugg, Jason Lex and Ed Piskor that he would routinely draw 17 hours a day to meet Bone’s deadline. When he couldn’t hold a pencil he stuck one through a tennis ball to carry on. His doctor told him he had to stop drawing or risk permanent disability. After eight months off, Smith managed to get back to the drawing board. He incorporated more breaks and exercises into his schedule.
Sometimes I get hand cramps, but I don’t draw for nearly as long as Jeff Smith or Dan. I work with traditional media, and my pens and brushes are varied widths and shapes. Using a single stylus for sketching, lettering, coloring, – that’s much harder on the hand.
Dan draws on an iPad pro. He found a simple wooden gizmo helps his posture and workflow. The Daler Rowney table easel transforms a coffee shop counter into a tilted drafting table. He tucks his iPad on the easel along with a hand-drawn style sheet. His script is handy as he sketches with an Apple pencil using Procreate.
He is working on his graphic novel Cloud Town. It will be published by Abrams Comics Arts in 2021. Creating a graphic novel is a long, physically demanding process. He also bought a book that he recommends.
Kriota Willberg’s Draw Stronger, Self-care for Cartoonists and Visual Artists is a great resource.Willberg knows a lot about taking care of yourself at the drawing board since she is both a massage therapist and a cartoonist. One point that she makes is that if you take a break from drawing then start texting or gaming you aren ‘t doing your tendons any favors.
Draw Stronger is published by indy publisher Uncivilized Books. Their other titles are graphic novels by acclaimed creators including John Porcellino,Gabrielle Bell, Noah Van Sciver, to name a few. Oddly enough, while working on this blog post I met the cartoonist Tom Kaczynski, the founder of Uncivilized Books. Tom said sales of Draw Stronger were so surprisingly strong the first printing sold out in a matter of weeks. The second larger press run is still going strong and Tom expects to order a third printing soon.
I first saw Kriota Willberg’s advice in zine form and shared it with my illustration students. My studio class meets twice a week for 3 hours a meeting. Good students draw many more hours outside of class. Willberg exhorts cartoonists to think of ourselves as athletes.
You can get a peek at her sage advice free via her Get a Grip posts at Comics Beat like this one on drawing pain. If you teach illustration you really should get her book to share with your students.
Here is one free tip from the book that I’ve heard before. Find a wide rubber band, the sort you find on broccoli or asparagus. Put the band on your finger tips and stretch it out. This exercise strengthens your finger muscles with the opposite action of gripping a pen or stylus.
The problem of overwork at the drawing board is a global phenomenon. In Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli in Japan a tune will play and staff animators suddenly stand for stretch dances. A video can be found here. If Miyazaki can pry himself from the drawing board, so can you!