Creative Royale at K.U.

photo: Danae Savage

Kutztown Univiverity got a $750 federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The SAMSA grant was meant to create a “town hall” for students on the subject of substance abuse. Let’s be honest. –How many students would actually show up for a Substance Abuse Town Hall?

Everything from tin foil to paint hit the canvas. photo: Danae Savage

Fran Cortez Funk is the university’s Director of Health Promotion and Alcohol & Other Drug Services. She came up with the idea of hacking the grant into a participatory event focused on the visual arts. She met Prof. Ann Lemon and other arts faculty to create one amazing event.

logo by Ann Lemon

The First Ever Sharadin Creative Royal was born. The atrium and halls of Sharadin Arts Building were overflowing with creativity for one cold November night. Well over a hundred students viewed or actively participated.

Prof. Ann Lemon introducing the event to students. photo: Danae Savage

Prof. Ann Lemon guided the student artists in reflection on their family and friends. She asked them to recall someone close who had been harmed by substance abuse. She led a brief meditation on loss and inspiration. Then fifty student artists competed against each other and against time to create a piece of art delivering a positive message. 

photo: Danae Savage

Students had exactly 90 minutes to create a work of art.

Joey Strain (front) won the People’s Choice award. photo:Danae Savage

Celebrity judges included Anne Marie Hayes-Hawkinson representing the KU Arts Society, Karen Stanford of the Miller Gallery, and Prof. Rhonda Wall, artist and beloved faculty emeritus. 

Best in Show award went to Courtney Houseknecht

Thanks to donations from The KU Campus Store, Dick Blick Art Store Allentown, and The Amos Lemon Burkhart Foundation there were hundreds of dollars worth of art supplies and prizes for the students.

photo:Danae Savage

Every participant got a bag filled with art supplies to keep. But prizes were not the point. For some it was a welcome chance to step away from the computer and grades. It was a rare chance to use traditional art supplies. The studios were filled with as much camaraderie as competition.

Omar Aii’s art done at Creative Royale

A senior, Omair Ali, posted his artwork on social media. He wrote, “I’ve been so caught up in schoolwork in prep for graduating, … it was nice to take a break to do some live art. Getting a chance to just breathe… and gather my thoughts and remind me of the people who motivated me to take this journey over 4 years ago.”

photo:Danae Savage
Maddie Zeeman won the Amos Lemon Burkhart Award

The Amos Lemon Burkhart Award honors the son of Prof. Ann Lemon. Amos passed away last year just as he was about to enter art school. He was a Gov. Mifflin grad and already an accomplished artist. Tragically, his problems with substance abuse led to his untimely death. You can see his art and learn more about Amos here: www.amoslemon.org Dane Burkhart, Amos’s father presented that award to Maddie Zeeman

Award-winning prints

A few students went down to the printmaking studio and managed to produce stunning etchings within the 90-minute time constraint. Erin McKormick’s landscape, left, won for Innovative Printmaking. Nick Roberts’ figurative work, right, won the Blick Technical Ability Award.

Prof. John Gurney spent the night drawing free caricatures. photo:Danae Savage
Angie Nguyen’s painting won an award donated by Dick Blick Art Materials.

The evening included free caricatures, cookies and coffee, and a live D.J. Graduate students from the KU’s Health Promotion Services set up a station where students could learn about substance abuse and campus resources.

Fran Cortez Funk was thrilled with the success of the event. “I would have been happy if ten or twenty students showed up,” she said. “The response was just overwhelming. I am so happy.”

John Steven Gurney at Work

“Is it true you have illustrated 100 books?”

“150!,” replied John Steven Gurney. He quickly explained these were series chapter books which entailed a color cover and a handful of interior black and white illustrations. Even so, that’s a lot of books! The A to Z Mysteries, Bailey School Kids, and The Calendar Mysteries series kept him busy in the 1990’s. He often completed a book a month.

This fall semester John has been teaching illustration techniques at Kutztown University. He studied at Pratt, Brooklyn and got his MFA from The Hartford Art School. He shares his years of professional experience with sophomores studying Communication Design.

John Steven Gurney’s best-known book.

Dinosaur Train, published by Harper Collins in 2002, may be his best-known book. Inspired by combining his son’s two obsessions, trains and dinosaurs, the picture book got rave reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.

from Dinosaur Train © John Steven Gurney

John shared an unusual story. “Dinosaur Train, the T.V. show, produced by Jim Henson is not based on my book,” he said. “Harper Collins advised me that you can’t copyright a title. Still, I got a call from the Jim Henson Co, now part of Disney offering to buy the rights to the title. It ended up that I earned as much from the title negotiation as the book’s original advance.”

Fuzzy Baseball, graphic novel from Papercutz

John is now working on a series for Papercutz, a new publisher devoted exclusively to the hot trend of graphic novels for kids. Fuzzy Baseball is his first graphic novel and it is becoming a series. “I like writing these because Papercutz gives me a lot of freedom.” he said. His technique is a mix of analog and digital. He draws his illustrations in pen and adds light washes by brush to shape the figures. Then he scans the work and digitally adds final colors.

John Steven Gurney at work at Kutztown University

What has he learned from the Fuzzy Baseball project? “Kids today are less knowledgable about baseball than when we were kids.” So in addition to telling a good story, John explains basic baseball concepts to youngsters like the sacrifice fly. He adds more ‘inside baseball’ jokes to appeal to older readers.

Publisher’s Weekly noted, “Gurney’s love of the game is apparent.” School Library Journal wrote, “Panels illustrate where players are as they steal bases and the action speeds up. The overall effect is a very clear picture of the game.” The success of Fuzzy Baseball led to Ninja Baseball Blast and the book he is making now, Fuzzy Baseball #3, will be released in May, 2020.

The Roosevelts, caricatures, by John Steven Gurney

John is also an amazing caricaturist. He honed his skills on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore. He recently shared that talent by sketching students at the Creative Royale event at Kutztown University.

School visit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

When he is not at the drawing board, John loves to do school visits. He was in Tennessee this weekend. He has visited 31 states and presented at international schools in Hungary, Poland, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. To invite him to your school or see many more examples of his artwork, visit his website: johnstevengurney.com

EXPLODING ANTS – A Lesson from Francie at Takoma Park Library…

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!”

Dedication page, Ants Don’t Wear Pants!

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!

UPDATE: Francie, 10/3/.19 photo by Maurice Belanger, Takoma Park MD Library.

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! 

“Exploding Ants vs Rhinoceros Beetle” outtake from Ants Don’t Wear Pants!

Ants is my 5th book in 5 years for TOON Books and I am still having fun! Above is my Fall tour schedule. I’m at the great Politics and Prose Books in D.C. Then An Open Book Foundation hosts my visit to inner-city D.C. schools. I’ll be at Brooklyn Book Festival and Comics Art Brooklyn. Also doing two new festivals, Glen Rock, NJ and Easton, PA. See You!

I SAW SAW

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.

Tom Hart

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.

The Comix Library at SAW

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 Hart wears a cut sock on his hand when he inks his work.

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.

Miranda Harmon image from SAW’s website

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.

3-panel detail from ‘B. is Dying’ -india ink on Bristol board © Tom Hart

Together these books reflect three distinct facets of Tom Hart’s genius,- as a memoirist, an educator, and as an indy comix creator.

B. is Dying © Tom Hart

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.

Last year at SAW Margaret Tolbert taught a class on drawing underwater!

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 Duncan Tonatiuh!

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 of Duncan Tonatiuh is so important.

Duncan Tonatiuh’s award winning bio of Jose Guadalupe Posada.

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.

Visiting 12th and Marion School, Reading, PA

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.

From “Diego Rivera: His World and Ours” © D. Tonatiuh

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.

KU students meet a Mexican master artist. L to R: Rafael, me, Duncan Tonatiuh, M.K., Kelly, Shannon and Tyler.

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.

Two of Duncan Tonatiuh’s popular titles.

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.

A book based on his work with undocumented workers in NYC.

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.”

Coming Sept. 2019: Soldier for Equality, a bio of a WW1 veteran and civil-rights leader.

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.

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2 Hot Illustrators Came to town…

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 Wenzel meets fans from Brandywine Elementary

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.

From Tolkien’s Hobbit, art © David T. Wenzel

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.

Pileated Gibbon © Brendan Wenzel

Whenever he can Brendan collaborates with conservationists to raise awareness of endangered animals, large and small.

From ‘Some Bugs’ © Brendan Wenzel

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.


They all Saw A Cat © Brendan Wenzel

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.

Kutztown to MoCCA 2019

cover art © Jennifer Beam

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.

digital illustration © Jennifer 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.

from Ugly Cat © Morgan Nadin

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.

Ugly Cat © Morgan Nadin

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.

Cover for Shade © Shannon Rosser

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.

interior page from Shade © Shannon Rosser

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.

Cover art © Kerry Domas

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.

interior art © Kerry Domas.

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.