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.

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