Drawing Comics Can Hurt

Daniel McCloskey working with a sore hand.

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 nearly ruined his hand drawing Bone. ©Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith creator of Bone told fellow cartoonists Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor 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.

Daler Rowney table easel helps get new angles.

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.

From Draw Stronger © Kriota Willberg

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.

Art © Kriota Willberg

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.

World’s cheapest piece of exercise equipment. photo: K.McCloskey

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.

Master animator Hayao Miyazaki steps away from the drawing board.

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!

New Books Inspired by Old Prints: Guest Post by Kevin McCloskey

Wrote about my love of antique prints for Books in Bloom, published by Mackin Educational Resources, geared toward librarians and reading specialists. Each month they have a guest author blogger. Check it out.

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We are excited to have Kevin McCloskey as our guest author today.

When his first book, We Dig Worms, was published in 2015, I almost didn’t read it. Worms are gross! They haven’t always repulsed me; in fact, I thought they were fascinating when I dissected an earthworm in high school biology. I’m not sure why I feel differently about them. Having raised my own kids (and their friends and in daycare) should have made me immune to negative feelings about worms. I can’t begin to figure out how many times a small human would run up to me with a worm clasped in their hand, squealing, “Look! Look!” Blech! My disgust is especially surprising because, with two children who love animals, I had developed an easiness around—even a fondness for—reptiles and bugs.

Fortunately, I read We Dig Worms! and loved it!—though the page with the worms sticking their…

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ALPHA: Abidjan to Paris, -a graphic novel

The landscape of graphic novels is as vast as the Sahara. ALPHA follows an African refugee on a tortuous journey across that very desert. The story is by Bessora, a French author of African and European ancestry. French illustrator Barroux’s  lush ink wash drawings bring an immediacy to the journey.

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Alpha, a carpenter, is compelled to migrate North. He leaves his home in Cote D’Ivoire. There is nothing there for him. His wife and child have already gone ahead. He holds out hope that he may find them en route or in Paris.

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I read Alpha in an hour. The images flew by, – close-ups, followed by stark landscapes. I’ve traveled a bit with a sketchbook in Africa. The mark making in this book sometimes feels raw, but the details ring true, as if we are looking over Alpha’s shoulder into his personal sketchbook.

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Simple declarative sentences glide like subtitles below the art. The handwritten text takes a bit longer to read than a text font might, but it fits Alpha’s determined voice. He muses, “I never imagined Africa could be so vast. People always say ‘Africa’ as if it is a tiny country. They’ve got no idea.”walk.jpg

The journey of this publication is nearly as remarkable as the journey in the book. Alpha was first published in French by Gallimard, Paris, 2014. It won recognition from Doctors Without Borders and Amnesty International. In 2016 it was translated into English by Sarah Ardizonne, published by The Bucket List, Edinburgh, Scotland. Bellevue Literary Press, NYC, has now published the U.S edition with help from NEH and the NY State Council on the Arts. Scan7.jpeg

The French Comics Association gave me a review copy of Alpha at the American Library Association Convention in New Orleans. The French Comics Association is a cultural enterprise supported by the French Embassy and a consortium of French and Belgian publishers. Someone once told me the organization was created in response to the growing influence of manga comics in the U.S. and Europe. That is surely an oversimplification of their mission, but they are doing important work.

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The character Alpha, may be fictional, or perhaps a composite of many individuals. Nevertheless, his tale of smugglers, fake passports, wasted bribes, and desperate migration is happening today. Alpha is a story worth sharing. I will gift my review copy to Dr. Steve Schnell, a Kutztown University geography prof who is writing a college course, “Exploring Place through Comics and Graphic Novels.”  – Imagine that! And I will ask my university’s Rohrbach Library to order a  copy. Great graphic novels, like great novels, can spread the gift of empathy.

 

Illustration Summer.

Illustration student? Want to advance you career?  If I was a young illustration student in college or high school here’s what I’d  do this summer. Make business cards. This cost very little. Identify yourself as an illustrator or illustrator/designer. Don’t think of yourself as a student of illustration, but as a beginning illustrator.

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Postcards don’t cost much more than business cards, and they have room for more art. I made the postcard above to promote my new TOON book, Snails Are Just My Speed!.

Give Yourself a Promotion:  Get a web page together. Even a single scrolling page. The page below is by Aubry Joi Cohen. I featured her work here. Aubry is a 2014 KU CD grad and a full-time illustrator designer at Artskills. She has over 1,000 followers. The French publisher Auzou saw her Behance page and contacted her to create a children’s book, Seek and Find Animals Around the World.

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Make a zine. A zine is a self-published limited edition book. There are websites with tutorials. Better yet, get a copy of the inspiring book Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?

A zine shows your design, illustration and storytelling skills. Put your contact info on the zine and donate a copy to anyplace that collects them, like Kutztown’s Rohrbach Library’s zine collection. That’s a line on you resume. Send your zine to Quimby’s Books in Chicago. They will sell it and may review it, too. Here is Quimby’s consignment form. Folks will be able to buy your zine online.

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Part of the KU Zine Collection in Rohrbach Library

As my zinester son, Daniel McCloskey always says, ” Zines are a great calling card. Zines have a life of their own.”  Often the original reader will think of a friend who likes a particular sort of zine and pass it on. And so on. Speaking of Daniel, he just drew a web-comic on living in a van for the website, The Nib. This is a paid gig.

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Submit to digital markets. Image above is the first panel of Dan’s #VanLife comic. you can read the rest at The Nib. That’s another thing you should do. Visit online magazines, Vice, Slate, and check their submissions pages. The Nib publishes political satire, journalism and nonfiction comics. Their submission info page is here. Subscribe to the Nib and you’ll get the idea of what they are looking for.

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Screenshot of Poets &Writers database.

Submit to nontraditional print markets.  Poets and Writers searchable Small Press database is a great resource. There is a filter for presses that consider graphics or illustrated work. I just tried that filter and came up with dozens of publishers. Some pay cash, some pay only in copies. If you want to see these literary magazines you should visit a good university library, but you can get a sense of what they like from their web pages.

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Landing page for CaFÉ , See below.

Exhibit your artwork. Look for local “Call for Entries” notices on bulletin boards at your locals art spaces A few near Kutztown are: Goggleworks, Reading, The Cigar Factory, Allentown,The Banana Factory, Bethlehem. No matter where you are, there are likely artspaces  near you. Do a web search with the term “Call for Entries” Beware of scams if you come across competitions. I seldom spend more that $20 on an entry fee, but some legit exhibitions and contests do charge hefty entry fees. I like a site called CaFÉ,  https://www.callforentry.org. You need to register, but you will find contests, exhibition opportunities, fellowships, artist’s residencies and grants.

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Goggle Works. Photo © by John Rosewood via Wikimedia Commons.

Last thought. Maybe you have to have work as a server, or in retail, this summer. Fine.  Perfect your people skills on the job. Look people in the eye. Listen and talk to people, not just your phone friends. In illustration class critiques I watch students avoiding eye-contact. Work on your people skills, learn to listen and talk to the people in your physical presence. These are skills an illustrator needs. As the guru said, BE HERE NOW!

Great Illustrators coming to Kutztown

Exceptional illustrators are coming to the Kutztown University campus this week. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference. I’ve been on the conference committee from the beginning and met some stellar writers and illustrators. This year’s line-up is amazing.

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Peter Sís came to the U.S. as a political refugee from Communist Czechoslovakia. He has earned a MacArthur genius award and won every major illustration award. His most autobiographical work is The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain.

“When my American family goes to visit my Czech family in the colorful city of Prague, it is hard to convince them it was ever a dark place full of fear, suspicion, and lies. I find it difficult to explain my childhood; it’s hard to put it into words, and since I have always drawn everything, I have tried to draw my life— before America—for them.”-Peter Sís.

Raul Colón was born in Puerto Rico and now based in New York City. He has illustrated a number of bilingual English/ Spanish children’s books including “My Name is/ Me Llamo Gabito, A life of/ la vida de Gabriel García Márquez.” He will be visiting design students to share his work, in addition to addressing the literature conference.

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Lee Harper grew up in Pennsylvania and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He now lives in Doylestown. He has illustrated children’s’ books by Walter Dean Myers and Wendi Silvano, as well as illustration for his own writing.

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Cast and cover of Turkey Trouble illustrated by Lee Harper.

Sís, Colón, and Harper will be presenting their work to KU Children’s’ Literature Conference attendees on Saturday, April 21. Colón and Harper and author Sharon Draper will be doing Friday talks for the KU community. Details and times of the Community Day presentations can be found here.

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These artists’ books will be on sale at the KU Bookstore this week. Plus KU alum Jennifer Hansen Rolli will also be here. Her work is featured in an earlier blog post.

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I will also be sharing my latest silly TOON Book, Snails Are Just My Speed! during a breakout session at the conference. Original art from my TOON books is currently on display at the Kutztown Community Library, info here.

Straight Outta’ Kutztown to MoCCA, NYC.

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A nonfiction zine about Armadillos by Amanda Collins

Kutztown University illustration students will have a table at the 2018 MoCCAfest in NYC. We will be among a select group of colleges at MoCCAfest, the indie comic showcase in New York City. Most of the other tables will be small presses, large presses, distributors, and independent comics creators. The fest is held April 7 and 8 this year at Metropolitan West, 639 W 46th St, NYC. MoCCA, by the way, stands for Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art, now part of the Society of Illustrators.

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2-page spread from ” Men+u” © Colt Barron

Special thanks to PSECU, the PA State Employees Credit Union, who gave us a mini-grant to support the table fee. This weekend event is a great opportunity for our students to compare their work with projects from other art programs and meet indy publishers and artists.  MoCCA’s general admission is just $7 a day,  a bargain for an art fest. Look for Kutztown at Table 114 next to TOON BOOKS.

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Art © Jacqueline Foran

We have diverse offerings this year, a small sampling shown here. Amanda Collins made a nonfiction zine about armadillos, Colt Barron’s is about men, Jacqueline Foran added buttons to her Sal Sucks, a tale of an unemployed sucker fish. Chandler Johnson tells the story of a high school romance. Most of these cost between $3 and $6 and profits go direct to the students. Note that “Sal Sucks” includes a free button. IMG_20180402_174057

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© Chandler Johnson

MoCCafest is different from the big ComicCons. Its focus is not on Marvel and DC superheroes, but more on small presses and and fine art comics. Speakers this year include Françoise Mouly, founder of TOON Books and Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. Admission includes lectures, panels and demonstrations.

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Cover to Megan Brady’s Volition

MoCCAfest is a great learning experience for Kutztown’s students. We will update this blog with more student work and photos from the fest this weekend.

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My Native Roots by Ariana Alexandropoulus, a native of Greece.

Q & A with Jennifer Hansen Rolli

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Jennifer Hansen Rolli, author, illustrator, and Kutztown University grad will return to campus for the Kutztown University’s Children’s Literature Conference. The conference, 4/21/18, celebrates its 20th year with keynote speakers: Peter Sís, Raúl Colón, Lee Harper and Sharon Draper. Kutztown University students can attend the conference for $10.

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Claudia and Moth, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017

Jennifer will take part in our “Author Chat” breakout session. What’s that mean? The truth is, at any sort of literature conference it is very hard to chat with the headliners. So, authors and illustrators with Kutztown roots volunteer their time and talents. In recent years, Lisa  Kahn Schnell,  Rachel Yoder, Kathi Ember, and Aubry Joi Cohen shared their recently published children’s books at a chat session.

We’re delighted that Jennifer Hansen Rolli has accepted our invitation for 2018

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New books by Jennifer Hansen Rolli

Jennifer has been painting since the day her father bought her a professional painter’s box at a very young age. She went on to run her design firm in Philadelphia for many years. But, after her 3rd child, she fell in love with the all picture books she was reading and started making up stories and pictures of her own.

School Library Journal gave high praise to her picture book Claudia and Moth: “Rolli’s illustrations are painted in oil on brown paper and the bright, texture-rich, full-page spreads are a delight. Recommended.” -SLJ

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From Claudia and Moth, oil on kraft paper, all art © Jennifer Hansen Rolli.

School Library Journal called her first book, Just One More, published by Penguin Random House in 2014, “A Must Read for Pre-school and kindergarten.” Among other honors it is a selection of  Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Q & A with JHR

Q: Was your name Jennifer Hansen when you went to Kutztown?

JHR: Yes, it was.

Q: What was your major?

A: It was Communication Design.

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‘Milk House Washday’ © JHR, 2016 Communication Arts Illustration Annual

Q: Do recall any professor(s) fondly?

A: That Evangelista was a toughie, but boy, did he squeeze the best out of us! Landis, –he kept the whole show together. I loved Breter.

Q: Out of college you had your own design practice. What sort of clients did you have?

A: Since I was in Philly, it was a lot of local companies like Comcast and Ibanez Guitar. My big winner was Genentech in San Francisco. Microbreweries were popping up everywhere and I had a good footing in that market (as long as I didn’t sample the product too much). Tons of fun.

Q: How did you come to publish your first book, Just One More?
A: I really loved the picture books I was reading to my young children and started writing during my downtime silly things my kids were doing…like asking for “just one more of just about everything.” It was unbelievable, kids are kids in their own bubble. But, it was a great way of learning natural consequences if they go overboard. So when all my kids were school age, I went to that notebook and made a story out of all the “just one mores” I had made a list of.

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Q: Were there books, websites, or other resources that helped you reach that point? For example, did you join the SCBWI , Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ?
A: I had no idea what I was doing, so I did some research via websites about getting published. I had tried selling my story – only once – and that was enough for me. I needed help and decided to get a good agent if I was going to do this. With a little more digging, I emailed my current agent and that was that. He loved my concept but said, “Jenny, this is not a story, it needs a conflict and a resolution…join SCBWI, go to a conference, and learn how to do this.” I did, and one conference was equivalent to a college education in picture book writing. Really.

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Title Page, Claudia & Moth, oil on Kraft paper.

Q: A lot of aspiring children’s book creators expect getting a book published is the goal line. How important is follow-through when the books come out? Website, educator packets, social media, etc?

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Illustration from https://www.jenniferhansenrolli.com


A: You are right, we all think getting published is the “be all end all” but actually, getting published includes the whole process leading up to your book sitting in a bookstore. But that is only the half of it, everything you do to get your book into little hands is just as important.

Q: Did you initiate your great Educator packets, or was this something you publisher did?

A: I met Marci Colleen at an SCBWI conference, she’s a former teacher who creates these magnificent guides. She now has her own middle grade series and picture book…but still creates the guides, thank goodness.

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From the free Claudia & Moth Educator Guide (link below)


Q: I grabbed Life Cycle image above from your Educator Guide. Do you want to say anything about this particular image?

A: The life cycle of both the moth and the butterfly are threaded throughout Claudia & Moth and it’s a great teaching tool for 1st and 2nd graders.

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Book by Erin Danielle Russell art by Jennifer Hansen Rolli

In May How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell with art by Jennifer will be published. A limited number of copies of this new book may be avaialable at the conference. Jennifer will talk about all her books and what it takes to have a successful author visit at a school. The books will be available at the KU bookstore at a discounted price and she will be happy to personalize them. It is still possible to register to attend The 2018 Kutztown University Children’s Literature Conference, Info Here.

For lots more info on Jennifer’s work, including a way cool animation based on Claudia & Moth at www.jenniferhansenrolli.com.