Artist Stops Googling and Finds Meaning

James Sturm is halfway through his summer without the internet. Oddly enough, he is writing an illustrated journal about the experience for the online magazine, Slate. You can find his work in their offline section.

Art from his Slate online journal about being offline ©2010 James Sturm

Anyone interested in graphic novels should know James Sturm. He is an award-winning graphic novelist and a founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies. His book, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, about a barnstorming Jewish baseball team in the 1920’s was called the the best graphic novel of 2001. His work is an extraordinary contribution to the field of illustration. His meticulous research and sold drawing skills evoke a sense of time and place that is truly remarkable.

Some of us from Kutztown met James Sturm on a field trip to the Newark Museum for their exhibition, Masters of American Comic, back in 2006. His offline experiment has revitalized his work. He notes that he is experiencing more moments of ‘synchronicity,’ finding connections between things that unfold before him naturally. It is rather mind-bending to sit at a computer, reading online, about the magic life that comes from being offline.

Besides reading more, I am more productive when at my office. Letters get written, calls get returned, and reports get finished. I am drawing more. My days don’t begin and end with me staring at my laptop. I don’t constantly feel humiliated by my inability to refrain from compulsively checking my e-mail. I feel less anxious as I move through the day. A certain texture has returned to my life…

Peter Kuper at Kutztown

Peter Kuper signing a book for Prof. Elaine Cunfer.

Peter Kuper came to Kutztown at the end of spring semester and gave a well-received Powerpoint lecture on political art. Kuper is a graphic novelist and illustrator whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The NY Times, and Mad Magazine. A number of KU students, including Nick Eck, told Kuper they were fans of his graphic novel version of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

Oddly enough, Kuper first contacted KU Prof. Kevin McCloskey via email in 2009 to ask for help identifying graffiti on the walls of Oaxaca, Mexico for a book project. Some of the artwork was, in fact, by McCloskey’s amigos in the ASARO collective. Kuper’s bilingual Oaxaca Diary is a fascinating mix of drawings, photos, collages and found objects. A full review of Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico can be found here at the website Commonsense2.com.

Students were impressed by Kuper’s D.I.Y. publishing empire. Even though he is published in America’s leading magazines, he still contributes to World War 3 Illustrated, the radical comic anthology he founded in 1979 along with his old friend, Seth Tobocman. After 30 years World War 3 Illustrated is still published a few times each year.

For years Kuper used black spray enamel and stencils to draw his comics. He warned students against that noxious media, noting that even with the best ventilation, he “lost a lot of brain cells.” He still works in many other media from scratchboard to Photoshop. One of his favorite sketching tools is his magic pencil, a novelty pencil with different colors swirled in a single lead. Rotating the point as he draws, Kuper manages to get a variety of colors in a single fluid line, as in the street dog, below.

He shared images from a new project, Alicia en el Pais de las Maravillas, literally translated, Alice in the Country of Marvels. This is a Spanish language retelling of Alice in Wonderland. His Mexican publisher, Sexto Piso, couldn’t give him a large advance, but they did offer him plenty of artistic freedom. Kuper told us, that by happy accident, the first edition arrived in Spain just as the publicity juggernaut for Tim Burton’s film, Alice in Wonderland, took that country by storm, and Alicia became an instant Spanish bestseller.

Oaxaca Street Scene from Diario de Oaxaca © Peter Kuper 2009

James Pannafino’s Typographic Comics: Anti-illustration?

Typographic Comic sample, courtesy James Pannafino © 2010

James Pannafino teaches graphic and interactive design at Millersville University of PA. I recall having James in my illustration class at Kutztown and he has a quirky sense of humor, – so I wasn’t sure if he was kidding about his next big idea:Typographic Comics. He must be serious, he’s lectured at Harvard! Looking at the sample above and those on his website one is reminded of the concrete poetry movement.

James defines typographic comics as “comic books that use typography in place of imagery as the primary method of storytelling. Most traditional comics are sequential art based with letters and sound effects as supporting devices. Type Comics use design principles, typographic layout, and careful page composition to create a unique narrative experience.”

James has completed a typographic comic book called Virtue and is now working on getting it published. He will expound on his typographic experiments at The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, 594 Broadway, New York City, Thursday, July 22nd, 7pm. Admission: $5, or free for MOCCA Museum members.

James has already published a more traditional book, Common College Sense: The Visual Guide to Understanding Everyday Tasks for College Students. This How-to book includes illustrations by some of his Millersville University students and is available at Amazon.com. James has graciously offered to come speak to a KU illustration class about these projects. We hope to see him in the fall, or sooner, if we get to the MOCCA event.

By the way, checking the MOCCA website reveals there will be two amazing exhibitions on the walls the night of James Pannafino’s lecture. NeoIntegrity: Comics Edition shows comics-related works by over 200 artists; here are just five names to give an example of the diversity: Kaz, Milt Caniff, Jack Kirby, Big Daddy Roth and William Butler Yeats!  A second exhibit showcases R. Sikoryak’s most ambitious comic book project, his 2000’s “Dostoyevsky Comics,” which adapts Crime and Punishment in the style of a 1950’s golden-age Batman comic. Both exhibitions run until Aug. 29, 2010.

2 Cents Plain by Martin Lemelman

Martin Lemelman, recently retired and irreplaceable KU illustration faculty member, has a new book, Two Cents Plain. Published by Bloomsbury USA, and soon to be available wherever books are sold, Two Cents Plain can be pre-ordered at Amazon. The book already has a You-Tube trailer and a Facebook presence. The reviews are glowing; Kirkus reviews calls it  “both a celebration and an affirmation of life.”

Martin Lemelman has written and/or illustrated over 30 books, notably Mendel’s Daughter, the moving graphic memoir of his mother’s Holocaust experience. In Two Cents Plain he continues the family saga and tells of his own Brooklyn childhood in the form of a graphic memoir. As his former students can attest, he is a master storyteller. Growing up in the back of a Brooklyn candy store he experienced the 1950’s and 60’s from a unique vantage point.  Thanks to this new book and his artistry we will get to share that remarkable experience.

Famed Brooklyn-born attorney Alan Dershowitz writes, “I’ve read many books, even written a couple, about growing up in Brooklyn, but this graphic coming of age memoir brought back memories like none other. Reading it while viewing the pictures took me home, produced tears of nostalgia and let me see, feel, even smell the old neighborhood. I loved it, roaches and all.”

Brett Helquist visit

Brett Helquist signing a book for Kimberly Beyer, illustration student.

Brett Helquist, illustrator, visited Kutztown in April during the 2010 KU Children’s Literature Conference.

Best known as illustrator for Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Brett Helquist’s personal success story sounds like a series of fortunate events. He grew up in the tiny red-dirt town of Gonado, Arizona. While he was studying at Brigham Young University in Utah, his one elective art class led him to change his major from Engineering to Art. There he met NY-based illustrator Robert Neubecker.  Neubecker, an avid skier, came to BYU as a visiting artist, in part, because of its proximity to world-class skiing.

Helquist eventually moved to NYC and Nuebecker offered him an internship. Helquist fondly recalls the moment he stepped off the plane in New York and he felt the city’s amazing energy, something he had experienced just once before on a mission trip to Hong Kong.

He found work as a production artist for Martha Stewart Living and freelanced illustration on the side. His client list grew to include Ranger Rick and The New York Times. Then one day he got a call with an offer to illustrate a book by an unknown author with the unlikely name of Lemony Snickett. This was his first book job ever, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Helquist has since illustrated many books, including Milly and the Macy’s Parade, and a picture book version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. He wrote and illustrated Roger the Jolly Pirate. He generally works in oil paint on watercolor paper. He shared with students the architectural photo reference he personally shot in Chicago and many, many preliminary sketches that led to the cover art for the book Chasing Vermeer. Upcoming projects include illustrating a book by the legendary Neil Gaiman, entitled Odd and the Frost Giants.


Matt Twombly Science Illustration

artwork©Matt Twombly 2010

Matt Twombly did two internships while at Kutztown, one at the Allentown Morning Call and another at Marvel Comics. He won the Don Breter Illustration Award when he graduated in December of 2008, entering into the worst job market in decades. He found work in Washington, D.C, as an Art Associate at Science , a weekly magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general-science society. His primary job at Science is as an editorial production artist in the news department, but he has also done a number of original illustrations for the magazine.

Staying Afloat (above) is a conceptual illustration for a story about science funding. Matt says the news story was about “a breakdown of how federal stimulus money was being used so that university science programs, could ‘stay afloat’ and ‘weather the storm’, so to speak. ”

“Ocean Diversity (below) was the opening image for a story about why there are far fewer species in the oceans than on the land. Something like 85% of visible species live on land. There are several theories as to why this is, and the story goes into some details, but for an effective banner image, I just went large and tried to show the stark contrast between speciation in the sea and on the land.”

Asked about his working methods, Matt says, “Both illustrations started with pencils. In the case of these two, I inked them by hand as well, then scanned them and I did colors in Photoshop.”

Besides his work at Science, Matt has also found time to collaborate on a comic book project with a writer he met at Marvel, Karl Bollers. At this point they don’t yet have a publisher, but Matt will keep us posted.

Gary Phillips wins Illustration Award

Gary Phillips is the recipient of the 2010 Pennyslvania School Librarians Outstanding Author/Illustrator Award. He is a Kutztown University Communication Design grad (BFA 1982) and has also occasionally taught illustration classes here. His illustrated childrens’ books include Animals are Sleeping and 86 Years: the Legend of The Boston Red Sox. He has done freelance artwork for magazines including Ranger Rick and Highlights for Children.

The Outstanding Pennsylvania Author / Illustrator Award is presented annually to recognize a creative individual who is a present or former Pennsylvania resident or whose work represents or reflects Pennsylvania and who has made a notable contribution to the field of literature for youth.

To give an idea of the company the Gary has joined here is a random selection of previous PSLA Award winners: James Michener, Jerry Pinkney, Aliki, Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Jerry Spinelli, Mr.Rogers, and Lloyd Alexander.

“The Pigeon Guys” illustrated by Kevin McCloskey Free E-Book


I had fun doing the illustrations for The Pigeon Guys: Recollections of Vinnie Torre and Lynne Earing. Click on the title above to download the entire 40 page book in pdf format for free. It is part of the Vanishing Hoboken Series, made possible by a grant from the John Wiley & Sons Publishers, and in this case, the Hudson County Pigeon Club. The text is an edited version of a Lisa Sartori’s interview of Vinnie and Lynne. The art director/designer is Ann Marie Manca. Bob Foster contributed additional photos.

The Hoboken Historical Museum publishes this wonderful series of little booklets on all things Hoboken. You can also download more  chapbooks including my favorite title- I’d Rather Lose a Clam than a Customer, Recollections of Michael “Brother” Yaccarino. The Hoboken Oral History Project is edited by the brilliant Holly Metz, who years ago collaborated with famed illustrator Sue Coe on the graphic novel How to Commit Suicide in South Africa.

I used to live in Hoboken, so I drove in to see my brother Brain and he joined me for a tour of Vinnie’s loft one spring morning. Vinnie and Lynne graciously posed for sketches and told us some amazing things about pigeons. For example, mother pigeons nurse their young!  I know it is unbelievable, but go ahead google pigeon milk, or ask your local ornithologist.

That morning in Hoboken reminded me why I love illustration, because it is about sharing interesting stories.

-Kevin McCloskey