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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
School Library Journal called her first book, Just One More, published by Penguin Random House in2014, “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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Searching the web I came across this archive of mugshots taken by Australian police in the 1920’s. Love this dude’s rockabilly haircut.. I used his likeness for painting demos in my sophomore illustration class.
I drew his likeness twice on gessoed masonite. Then I painted monochromatic studies using blue, black, and white and red, black, and white acrylic paint. The golden rule for painting with acrylics or oils is to paint thick over thin. In other words start with a light wash, top it off with thick paint. My students artwork, below, is better than mine. They had three 3- hour classes, for nine hours of studio time for the project.
Here are my Project instructions: Your Angel or Demon should be largely monochromatic, with red or blue the dominant color. Close up, a telling detail, not full figure. Imagine the light is coming from the upper left. Angels or Demons can be either blue or red. No color code, but largely one or the other. Note how Jake used a bit of red to highlight the rosary in the image above.
Grading criteria: Originality, sense of mass, and consistency of light source. No points for originality if you lift a cherub from Rafael or devil from Bosch. Better to find a baby picture or photo of a wicked-looking person for reference. Even better –take your own reference photo of yourself or a friend.
I used to insist students pick the assignment from a hat: angel or demon. Illustration, after all, is often done in response to someone else’s vision. Nowadays, I let the students decide. We always get a good balance of angels and demons.
Mikala Campbell’s demon, above, is based on a photo of actress Lauren Bacall.
This is a simple enough assignment. I get the masonite from Lowe’s where it cost $10 for a 4ft by 8ft sheet. They provide 2 free cuts, so it fits in my car. I trim the board into 1-foot squares on a table saw. We use acrylic gesso as a primer. The painting teachers here tell students to paint an X on the backside of their board, so it doesn’t warp. That step isn’t really necessary at this small size. The materials we use are pictured below.
We’ve done this project before, so to see even more angels and demons, lookie here.
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.
Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.
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.
Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!
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.
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.
Subject matter: Animals heads on human bodies. For this colored pencil project I suggest students use ordinary marker layout bond. Some prefer smooth bristol board. Recommended pencils brands are Prismacolor or Derwent.
I have been on tour with my kid’s books, so I haven’t been posting much. These images speak for themselves. All done by sophomores in the Kutztown University Communication Design program. Enjoy.
Kelly Brong has a sketchbook full of fantastic sketches on tones paper. She got permission to use grey paper for the above portrait.
Leah Tierney impressed me by even attempting to portray the circus crowd.
The Knitting Cat , above, and the Rammy fellow, below, are a tad sketchier than most images, In both cases the subtle color and careful mark making are truly exceptional.
Robin Hoot is the name someone came up with for the image above, my fave. One tip with colored pencils is using a bit of isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to blend colors. If used everywhere the alcohol makes the colors mushy, but in moderation it’s a special effect worth trying.
Speaking of alcohol and moderation, Shannon Roser’s Crowbar is atmospheric, isn’t it?