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.

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, 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.

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!

Straight Outta’ Kutztown to MoCCA, NYC.

armadillo 1
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.

Illustration_Concentration.jpeg
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.

fish
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

cliques
© 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.

Brady_Cover
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.

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

Brian Martin and Our Cartoon President.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 3.49.23 PM.png

Last year Brian Martin got an amazing job, but had to keep it secret from even his close friends. Animation projects are kept hush-hush so other studios don’t get wind of a great idea. Now he can share that he’s been working on Steven Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. The half-hour cartoon show premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime. Brian graduated in 2015 from Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design with Ad and Illustration concentrations.

unnamed-1.jpg
Brian Martin’s new job site.

Brian signed an NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he can’t share photos from inside the studio or images he has drawn for the show. I’ve grabbed art from the official Our Cartoon President trailer, which can be seen at Showtime.

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 3.45.29 PM.png
Screen grab from the You Tube Trailer ©Showtime (link above)

Last year, Brian was a designer for a pharmaceutical e-learning company. It wasn’t his dream job. He promised himself he’d land his first animation gig before he had to renew his apartment lease. He just made it with one month left on the lease.

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 9.57.35 AM.png

Q: How did you land the job with Our Cartoon President?

Brian:  “With animation, past experience isn’t that crucial. It’s your reel that counts, and it always comes down to how well you do on your animation test, where they’ll ask you to animate a scene from the show. I finished the test in one all-nighter, and they emailed me the following week offering me a three-week position that could lead to long term if my work was good. It was Friday, and they wanted me to start Monday, so I packed up my desk immediately, and never went back. It was a giant risk, but every bone in my body told me to do it. Best decision I ever made!”

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 7.09.02 AM.png
A still from Brian Martin’s demo real.

See the demo reel that got Brian’s foot in the door here. 

Q: What was the move to NYC like?

Brian: “The first four weeks, I commuted from north Philly to NYC every day. It was a 5 to 7 hour round trip, – pretty brutal, but I think my commitment to the cause was appreciated! After the first five weeks, we went on a month-long hiatus, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the move. The first season is in production till sometime in March, so I’m staying in an Airbnb in East Harlem. “

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 9.29.08 AM.png
From Brian Martin’s demo reel.

Q: Like you, Floyd Bishop and Tom Warburton graduated from KU and had success in animation. Where did most animators you work with study?
Brian: SVA is the one I hear brought up most often.
Q: What is a typical day like? Do you work on one particular character or facet of the cartoon? Do you use specialized software?
 “I’m not sure how much of our workflow I’m allowed to talk about, but I can say I work entirely in the realm of hand-drawn character animation. I don’t do any of the puppeting or rigging. We’re animating in Adobe Photoshop so our files can be imported into Adobe Character Animator, a brand new software.”
Q: Can you share some of your sketches?
Brian: Sure! Work stuff is a bit too top-secret, but here’s some recent sketchpad doodles!

unnamed-2.jpg
From Brian Martin’s sketchbook

Q: What is Steven Colbert like?
Brian: “I’ve only met him a couple times.  First time, I was walking from the bathroom back to my desk. I was alone in the hallway and heard a voice behind me shout, “Hi there!”  I turned around, and he was sticking his head out the elevator door with a big grin on his face, clearly with the intention to startle the hell out of me and leave me star struck. “

unnamed.jpg
Brian Martin , left, Steven Colbert, center.

“The second time was at the Late Show holiday party.  A coworker and I drunkenly thanked him for our awesome job. He was super cool about it and talked to us for a minute and took selfies with us and a few dozen other people. He just seems like a super nice dude and an average Joe in the best possible way. It’s one of those things that never quite feels real, so it’s hard to truly appreciate.”

unnamed-3.jpg
Sketchbook study by Brian Martin

Brian can’t talk plot, but Showtime reveals a bit about the show’s first episode: “The President tries to revive his low approval ratings by delivering the greatest State of the Union speech in history and to strengthen his relationship with First Lady Melania by naming her the national bird.”

_dc2f9f66-f370-11e7-a734-adae4971e2ad.jpg

Brian can’t tell us much more about his work. However, Our Cartoon President‘s lead animator Tim Luecke shares much about process in this cool Adobe video. 

unnamed-4.jpg
Sketchbook page, Brian Martin.

Our Cartoon President,  Feb.11 on SHO, or on demand beginning Jan. 28. Could it be funnier than a White House Press conference? Let’s see! New subscribers can get a free 7-day trial of the Showtime app. Tell ’em Brian Martin sent you.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 9.43.39 AM.png
Our Cartoon President. Credit: Showtime

Credits for Our Cartoon President images: Showtime. Sketchbook pages, demo reel, and photo, courtesy of © Brian Martin.

P.S. I contacted Floyd Bishop, now an artist at Microsoft, who taught Brian animation at Kutztown. Floyd says, “Brian pushed himself to tackle tough challenges, and grew his skills faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Whatever he gets involved with is going to be great!”

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations Get Moving with Gifs

In Illustration 1 class, we added a bit of motion to our art using Photoshop gifs. Shout out to Prof. Dannell MacIlwraith for teaching me how to make a gif loop.

480378-1056925 - Amanda Collins - Nov 13, 2017 116 PM - giffinal
Gif © Amanda Collins

Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.

gifillustration
Gif © Mia Clark

animation_aferguson
Gif © Ashley Ferguson

Ashley Ferguson animated one of her 3 icons, or “tricons,” as they are called here. Not sure what sort of lifeform this is, but looks to be dancing on a very magic mushroom.

Anmation_Project2
gif © Haeley Vernon

Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!

knitting_devil
gif © Rachel Lefko

Rachel Lefko began working on an ambitious animation of a cliff diver. I hope she completes it someday. Meanwhile, she delivered this quirky item, The Devil Knitting.

The gif assignment was a first for these juniors and the results were fun. Coming full circle back to nostrils, Todd Weber produced a somewhat snotty image, below.

sneeze
“Sneeze” a Gif © Todd Weber

Gif illustrations have definitely gone mainstream. The New York Times digital edition runs gif versions of art that appears static in the print edition of the newspaper. Check out this link for the animated version of the art  below by Peter and Maria Hoey. By the way, Peter Hoey is a successful Kutztown University illustration grad, BFA 1982. So, we expect great things from the current crop of students.

Art for NY Times by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Click through to see in gif form. Teachers in TIAA retirement plans, like me, may find the story eye-opening.

 

The Big Feminist But in Kutztown

17505321_1367187566672604_984093990013385243_o

Joan Reilly makes comics. A established illustrator she moved last year from Brooklyn to Kutztown. Imagine that! She is co-editor along with Shannon O’Leary of the acclaimed comics anthology, The Big Feminist But. Originally published via Kickstarter, the book has been republished twice by Alternative Comics.

1490627643781.jpeg

An exhibition of artwork from the book is now appearing on the walls of Eckhaus Gallery, 157 W. Main, Kutztown, PA. The opening reception is Saturday, April 8, 6-8pm. Info here.

BellSample.jpg
Art © Gabrielle Bell

The show features work by many important artists including: Gabrielle Bell, Jeffrey Brown,  Vanessa Davis, Shaenon Garrity, Justin Hall, Shannon O’Leary, Sarah Oleksyk, Virginia Paine, Mark Pritchard, Joan Reilly, and many  more.

BrownSample.jpg
Art © Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown lent his original sketchbook with the comics pages he contributed to the anthology. Observers will note he is one of the few cartoonists who draws his work smaller than the size it will be printed.

reilly2.jpg
KU Student Rachel Wessner looking at Joan Reilly’s original art.

The artwork on display at Eckhaus beautifully drawn. It is clear that the artist care about their work. Kutztown may not become the next Brooklyn, but we are fortunate to have this exhibition in town.

andiZeislerSample.jpg
Art © Andi Zeisler

My illustration students, some of whom have ambitions to be cartoonists, had the chance to see the show thanks to Olivia Knowles, one of the Eckhaus directors. My students seems particularly impressed with the story dealing with gender identity by Virginia Paine, below.

why2.jpeg
Art © Virginia Paine

As Heidi McDonald of Publisher’s Weekly says on the back of the book, “The Big Feminist But Kicks Ass.” If you can’t make the opening, the show runs until April 16, or ask for the Big Feminist But wherever books are sold.

Strange Cards

Christopher Irving sent me a deck of strange and colorful cards. He is an historian of pop culture, especially comics, and co-author of the book “Leaping Tall Buildings: The Origins of American Comics.”

cards1 5.jpeg
cards ©2016 The Drawn Word

In Spring 2016 Christopher Irving launched a Kickstarter to create Four Color Trading Cards “celebrating public domain comic book characters from the 1930s through 1960s as possible.” Some of these are very obscure superheroes. I’d never heard of the Blue Lady or The Black Owl or Airboy. I wondered if he’d invented them, but they appear to be real.

airboy
Cards ©  The Drawn World

Irving has since expanded his Four Color card collection to include new superheroes who may or may not be obscure tomorrow. Below is Dean Haspiel‘s new webcomic hero Red Hook, named for the embattled Brooklyn neighborhood. 

redhook1.jpg
The Red Hook © 2016 Dean Haspiel.  Card © The Drawn Word

Haspiel’s Red Hook is a fast-paced epic, drawn with verve. Best of all, you can read it for free at Webtoons.

redhook2

spiderqueen
Cards © The Drawn Word

It could be Irving’s careful curation of the deck, but I was pleasantly surprised by  the diversity of mid-twentieth century superheroes. The deck has more super women and persons of color than I expected. Take the Green Turtle. The only Green Turtle I knew was a  60’s hippy bus that made regular runs from New York to San Francisco. This Green Turtle is an amazing Asian superhero.

turtle3
Art by Chu F. Hing, Card © The Drawn Word

According the to back matter the Green Turtle was drawn by Chinese-American artist Chu F. Hing. The Green Turtle fought the Japanese occupying China during World War II. When his publisher (Blazing Comics, 1944) did not permit him to make the Green Turtle Chinese, Hing cleverly skirted around the character’s origins and ethnicity (his face was always blocked or in the shadows).

Ace Harlem, below, appeared in All-Negro comics #1, 1947. He was drawn by African-American artist John Terrell. Alas, that venture folded after one issue.

aceh
All art in this post © The Drawn Word

War Nurse, created by Jill Elgin, 1941, was British nurse who fought Nazis. Wow! Here is another comic book I’d love to get my hands on. Meanwhile, I am tickled to pore over the amazing eye candy of Four Color Cards.

Get yours at thedrawnword.com. See more of Christopher Irving’s mind-boggling cards. He also blogs at www.christopherirving.com and is doing a New York City comics-related podcast at www.nycgraphicnovelists.com.