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.

The Big Feminist But in Kutztown

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.