Tom Hart & Leela Corman on Grief & Cartooning

I went to NYC for the 92nd meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium. I’ve missed 90 meetings, but they are a welcoming bunch. The Symposium pops up someplace different each meeting, so you need to find it. The Symposium is free, info here.  This is not Comi-Con. The emphasis is on D.I.Y., independent and innovative comics.

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Tom Hart and Leela Corman, husband and wife artists and educators presented. There was a crowd of about 40. Tom and Leela arrived a bit late navigating their way into the SVA conference room with their baby Molly in a stroller. Tom shared a Powerpoint about the Sequential Artists Workshop, SAW, the one-room schoolhouse for comics they founded in Florida in 2011. As Tom’s eyes darted across the audience he gave shout-outs to old NYC friends. He taught cartooning for 10 years at SVA.

Leela Corman teaching Life Drawing at SAW, Gainesville.
Leela Corman teaching Life Drawing at SAW, Gainesville.

VISIT GAINESVILLE: More Lizards than Criminals! Tom spoke of their move to Florida. A New Yorker in the audience must have flinched. “It’s Gainesville!” said Tom. “It’s not what you think of when you think ‘Florida.’ We have WAY more lizards than criminals.” He’s working on a graphic memoir dealing, in part, with their exodus from New York. I read somewhere Tom just got tired of being a starving artist in New York. I recall one telling detail. He wore his useless wristwatch for months because he couldn’t afford a new battery.

First floor at SAW, Gainesville, from SAW's blog.
First floor at SAW, Gainesville, from SAW’s blog.

SAW’s one room schoolhouse is in what looks like a mini-mall. Tom touted his Gainesville neighborhood, pointing out SAW’s proximity to the South’s oldest feminist/LGBTQ bookstore and the South’s oldest Infoshop. He explained the impetus for creating SAW, an affordable stand-alone academy for comics. “I had this vision of an intense, serious place, – The Paper Chase for cartooning.” (The Paper Chase was a ’70’s T.V. show about Harvard Law School with a hero named Hart, oddly enough.) Tom’s recollections of his time studying cartooning at SVA were not pretty. Nobody finished anything. -“It was terrible. They were all listening to The Cure and doing drugs,” he recalled. “and my mother had to take out a loan.”

Tom Hart's Hutch Owen comic strip is at www.hutchowen.com
Tom Hart’s Hutch Owen comic strip is at http://www.hutchowen.com

“It’s not right. There are art schools charging $35,000 a year, and there are schools charging less, like $12,000. Even that’s too much.” he said. “SAW’s flagship program, a 1-year full-time comics boot camp costs $3,500 for the year.” SAW’s program includes master classes in life drawing, comics/art history “that begins way before Hogarth” lo-fi technique classes, and, naturally, critiques. They don’t have a lot of computers or software, but they do have a risograph printer. SAW is not accredited, but teaches the same stuff as  accredited schools and the results are quite impressive. I wrote about SAW before and interviewed student Adrian Pijoan here.

Yahrzeit detail © Leela Corman 2013.
Yahrzeit detail © Leela Corman 2013.  Silver Medal winner, Society of Illustrators

Leela took to the podium. Besides teaching at SAW, she’s a zinester, illustrator, and belly dance instructor. A Powerpoint malfunction prevented her from showing much of her award-winning graphic novel Unterzakhn. Tom still asked her the question that irks her most, “Is Unterzakhn autobiographical?”  She answered with mock annoyance,”It’s about twins! It takes place in a brothel! in 1910! The answer is, No!”

leela-corman-unterzakhn-2012She shared work done for the Symbolia, the app ‘where comics meets journalism.’ I took some solace from her offhand remark, “I have to learn to draw again for every book.” The progressive Jewish mag Tablet published some of her most heartfelt work, – her graphic meditation on her Holocaust survivor grandfather and her own pain of losing a daughter. Their daughter Rosalie died near the age of two in 2011. “Since my first child died, I’ve tried to understand how my grandfather handled losing his entire family, and how he kept going.” As Leela noted, no one can understand this sort of grief, if they have not experienced it. Even then, it is beyond understanding. The full strip is here.

Odyssey, detail, © Justine Mara Anderson, SAW faculty.
Odyssey, detail, © Justine Mara Anderson, SAW faculty.

Secret Project GNAT

Tom returned to the podium to share a rather incredible comic he is editing for DARPA. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are the folks who invented the Internet and drones. Really! Everyone is getting into comics. The GNAT project (Graphic Novel Art Therapy) is meant to help vets deal with PTSD. A declassified explanation of the overall project can be found here.  Tom shared pages from a graphic retelling of the Odyssey for vets. He pointed out details including extraordinary inking by Justine Anderson, above. That final panel is drawn with a toothpick.

Gasoline Alley panels by Frank King, circa 1921.
Gasoline Alley panels by Frank King, circa 1921.

Tom looped back to his own memoir project. He posts his Rosalie Lightning work-in-progress online. He, too, spoke of his massive grief when baby Rosalie died. He recalled reading classic 1920’s Gasoline Alley strips by Frank King. When got to a panel where Walt panics about losing his baby Skeezix, he couldn’t bear to continue reading.

The Gasoline Alley panel Tom Hart showed, taken from his Tumbler.
The Gasoline Alley panel Tom Hart showed, taken from his Tumbler.

Maybe it was a catch in his voice, or a dip in Tom’s positive psychic energy, but as he talked about “losing our baby” something changed. It seemed even Molly, eleven months old, sensed it. She swung her wee body away from her mother’s breast toward her father. Leela held on as long as she could, but Molly went willfully horizontal, arms outstretched toward Tom.

A page from Hart's Rosalie from http://rosalielightning.tumblr.com/
A page from Hart’s Rosalie Lightning from http://rosalielightning.tumblr.com/

Leela carried Molly across the room carefully shielding the girl’s eyes from the glare of the projector. Tom cradled Molly in his left arm and, as best he could, used his right hand to advance the slides. At one point he tried to pass Molly back to Leela. Molly refused to go that go far.

Tom Hart and Molly at NY Comic Symposium. K.McCloskey
Tom Hart and Molly at NY Comic Symposium. K.McCloskey

Nick Bertozzi seated near the podium managed to bounce Molly on his knee as Tom wrapped up his commentary. Tom apologized if he’d gone on too long. The room filled with applause. Molly’s eyes lit up as if the clapping was for her. I suppose some of it was. Grateful applause for the whole family: Tom and Leela and Rosalie and Molly.

There was time for a few questions, and someone asked how to help SAW. Tom was clearly relieved by the softball question. He’d totally forgotten to mention that key point. SAW depends on donations to keep tuition low. SAW will announce a new Indi-GOGO fundraiser in December. To help out visit the SAW site and sign up for the newsletter. They also have low-residency weeks if you haven’t got a year off.

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Note: The 93rd NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium is Mon, Aug. 4, 2014, 7 pm, Dixon Place on Chrystie St. Free and open to the public. Presenters: Sophia Wiedeman & Anna Raff.  Details here.

AdHouse at PIX

Went to the PIX 2014 this weekend. PIX is Pittsburgh’s indy press expo of creator-owned, self-published, small-press, and handmade comics. Not the biggest expo I’ve seen, but I had a blast.

Chris Pitzer manning AdHouse books table at PIX.
Chris Pitzer manning AdHouse books table at PIX.

One of the first people I met at PIX was graphic designer and publisher Chris Pitzer of AdHouse Books. Chris told me he launched his critically acclaimed press with a single title in 2002 at a similar type event called SPX in the Washington, D.C. area. This was his first PIX. He was invited by Jim Rugg, creator of Afrodisiac and SUPERMAG, and one of the Pittsburgh artists published by AdHouse.

JIm Rugg's SUPERMAG is published by Adhouse.
Jim Rugg’s SUPERMAG is published by Adhouse.

Asked why he chose the name AdHouse for his business name, Chris had two smart reasons. A.D. stands for Art Director, his full-time job, and since it begins with the letter “A,” AdHouse rises to the top of alphabetically ordered catalogs and rosters.

images-1 The press’s stylish logo looked familiar to me. The illustration is the work of my SVA classmate Doug Fraser. Chris is a longtime Fraser fan. He said each year when he got hardbound illustration annuals, he’d just rip out the Doug Fraser pages as keepers and toss the rest of the book. I was happy to learn Doug has done a graphic novella, Mort Grim, a road rage tale.  Chris pointed to the page below and noted how Fraser’s illustration style owes a debt to the landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton.

From Mort Grim © Doug Fraser, an AdHouse Book.
From Mort Grim © Doug Fraser, an AdHouse Book.

Chris told me that AdHouse did a few anthologies, but now is concentrating of single-artist books of the high artistic caliber, like Gregory Benton’s B+F. One of the cool things about the AdHouse website is that many of the books have free downloadable pdf samplers.

Oddly enough, not long after my visit to Chris’s table I found myself at the Copacetic Comics table. Pittsburgh’s Copacetic Comics is the best indy comics bookstore I know. Bill Boichel, Copacetic’s proprietor, has been a mentor to a generation of Pittsburgh comics artists and he has a truly prodigious scholarly knowledge of the field. Really. To get a sense of the elevated discussion of comics that (sometimes) occurs in Pittsburgh check this podcast at Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, where Boichel talks with artists Jason Lex and Jim Rugg.

Pope Hats #3 © Ethan Rilly
Pope Hats #3 © Ethan Rilly

I digress. At the Copacetic table, I was drawn to a book I’d never seen before called Pope Hats. Bill looks over and says to me, “You’ll love that.” Though I have only bought a handful of comics at Copacetic, he was absolutely right. Bill Boichel is like a comics preference app, the comics equivalent of Pandora radio. Pope Hats by Canadian artist Ethan Rilly is one amazing book. The drawing is fluid, the story is compelling, the characters are intriguing. And guess what? It is an AdHouse book, too.

Next week, I will post about other folks I encountered at PIX including (in alphabetical order) Theo Ellsworth and Trina Robbins.

Daniel McCloskey, Smiling Artist Missing Teeth.

From a Screenshot at Noon, Dec.2
From a Screenshot at Noon, Dec.2

UPDATE: Dan’s Kickstarter got funded. Thanks. Julie Sokolow wrote a fine article at MichaelMoore.com that really helped.

DAn
Full disclosure: That’s my boy! Daniel McCloskey is a cartoonist and founder of Pittsburgh’s Cyberpunk Apocalypse Writer’s Project. On Oct 22, Dan was riding his bike when his front wheel fell into a deep, narrow pothole. Dan flew over the handle bars. He did a face plant on the black asphalt of River Ave, part of Pittsburgh’s Three River Heritage Trail.

Oddly enough, the hero of Top of the Line also has missing teeth.
Oddly enough, the hero of Top of the Line also has missing teeth.

A Good Samaritan, a kayaker named Beth, called an ambulance and stayed by his side. Dan’s chin was split open in two flaps, but surgeons at Allegheny Hospital sewed it back together nicely. He still has a wire brace keeping his remaining front tooth in place.

From Top of the Line © Daniel McCloskey
Recently Dan has been drawing monsters for his new comic book series, Top of The Line. He is going through with his launch of the project via Kickstarter. Here is the link.

Bonus books contributed by Pittsburgh's  Small Press Community.
Bonus books contributed by Pittsburgh’s Small Press Community.

Cyberpunk Apocalypse Drawathon

Pittsburgh’s arts and comics community is supporting Dan in his hour of need. On Nov. 20 Dan is kickstarting his Kickstarter with a Draw-a-thon. Dan promises to draw live for 24 hours, streaming at danielmccloskey.com. There will be guest comics artists like Jason Lex, Nate McDonough author of Grixly and Nils Skeletonballs dropping in throughout the day to give out bonus rewards. Award -winning poet Tameka Cage Conley  will be there. Thomas Scioli will have a special signed edition of Final Frontier. Artnoose and Brett Kashmere are contributing projects, too.

cover2

All or Nothing
If you have never supported a Kickstarter project, you will need to sign up. As Kickstarter’s site explains it: If the project reaches its funding goal, then backers are charged. If the project falls short, then no one is charged. Funding on Kickstarter is all-or-nothing.

 Top of the Line © Daniel McCloskey
Top of the Line © Daniel McCloskey

Dan’s fund totals are up since I grabbed the picture above, for the latest check here. If you’d like to read Top of the Line, FREE! online, start here. Watch out for monsters and monster potholes!

Daniel McCloskey, photo © by Sarah La Ponte
Daniel McCloskey, photo © by Sarah LaPonte  sarahlaponte.com

Daniel is among the millions of uninsured Americans. He has a big hospital bill on his hands, but Allegheny Hospital is helping him with the costs. He might get it down to a few thousand dollars. He noted, “It is, however, pretty awesome to live in a world where a motorized vehicle can take you to nearby professionals who have the ability and equipment to relieve your pain, painstakingly sew your face together for 3 hours, and save what teeth can be saved.”

Straight from Kutztown to NY, NY.

Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen
Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen

In Aubry Cohen’s Cat Party a cat decides to have a little fun when his owner goes out for the night. This 14-pager will be ready for MOCCAfest at the historic Armory in NYC, April 6-7.

In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle
In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle

In Dreams is by Ryan Bittle.  “When in dreams, the world is yours. But you can never tell when the dream will descend into nightmare.” says Ryan. In his 8-page mini-comic, drawn with ballpoint pen, a little girl learns her imagination may be too powerful for her own good.

Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster
Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster

Dear You, Love, Me is a feel-good story about love and friendship by Michelle Foster. A girl down on her luck and muddling through some recent heartbreak tries to get back on her feet (with the help of a new friend). The story is told from the perspective of a guy, her friend, via letters from him to her, in which he encourages her and helps her out with her struggles.

Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling
Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling

Lauren Walling tells the story of a  ballerina in a tale tentatively titled Musicbox. Lauren explains the theme with this quotation from singer- songwriter Regina Spektor: “Life inside a musicbox ain’t easy, the mallets and the gears are always turning. And everyone inside the mechanism is yearning to get out”

Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank
Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank

The panel above is from Bobby Stank’s mini-comic, She Thinks She’s Super. Rob is having girlfriend problems. She’s acting weird and has run off in the middle of the night. Is she cheating on him, or is she really a superhero?!

© 2013 Janelle Remphrey
© 2013 Janelle Remphrey

In Janelle Remphrey’s Feverish Happenings strange things happen when a girl stays home from school with a fever. Janelle has more of her art on view online here.

Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts
Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts

Most of the students involved in this project are Communication Design majors. Tessa Ports is the exception; she is a Fine Arts major. Her zine is called Echoes of the Past, and the panel above is about dragons, lamenting the fact they are fading away from legend and being forgotten.

mocca_logoThese zines will be on view at MOCCAfest in NY, April 6 & 7. This is a great opportunity for our students to participate in what the Village Voice calls “The Best Small-Press Comics Nexus Anywhere.”  We are grateful to Kutztown University’s Office of Assessment for the grant funding our exhibitor’s table. There are a few other college exhibitors including Maryland Institute College of Art, and NY’s School of Visual Arts. This is a first for Kutztown and we are delighted to be in such good company.

 

More Comics for MOCCA

Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey
Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey

Zish & Mala is a mini-comic from the zine Minty Circus by Hannah Stephey that follows two alien military officers in their bumbling ordeal of intergalactic mishaps and monster fights.” Since we wrote about Hannah in 2011 she’s drawn a lot more comics and has taught a short course in comics at the Chambersburg Arts Council.

Mellen is nearly finished with her MOCCA bound book, Bediquette. Mellen says, “Bediquette is a zine for anyone who’s ever had to share a bed, with a partner or otherwise. Observational humor, bad puns, and suggestions about ways to share a bed …And not go crazy!'”

Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold

Ryan Gaylets is a US Navy veteran and a fan of odd TV shows like the Twilight zone. His comic is a bit more serious and mysterious. In his story, panels below, a young man has a few too many drinks, but is still able to drive his girlfriend home in his pick-up. Well, he thinks he can.

panels © Ryan Gaylets
Panels  from “Let Me Go” © Ryan Gaylets 2013

Jen Zweiger has an ambitious fantasy comic in progress. Fight or Flight begins with a girl waking up in a world of darkness with no memories. Not long after, a monster appears out of nowhere and chases her relentlessly. As she flees she encounters a mysterious being, the “Priestess,” who may be the only hope she has of discovering her past. In this panel, after a futile cry for help is seemingly ignored, the girl sees the Priestess for the first time.

© 2013 Jen Zweiger
© 2013 Jen Zweiger

T.J. Walston is a somewhat oppositional character in real life. I had some suggestions for his project, he declined to make any changes. He explains,  “My comic is descriptively named “No. And why.” – this comic being about everything I hate in life, including day-to-day events… and people. This specific page (below) is about my girlfriend, I hate her, don’t get me wrong I love her, but sometimes she’s a bit like a monkey.”

No. And why? © 2013 TJWalston
No. And why? © 2013 T.J. Walston

Hate to leave on a negative note, so we conclude with Erica Slough’s cheerful story of a night in the life of a vampire who works at a call center. Erica is planning on creating this 9-page zine in the shape of a coffin. She says it will be about an “average joe” vampire.

Nosefaratu © Erica Slough
A Night in the Life © 2013 Erica Slough

We’ve got an impressive array of talent and story lines headed to the MOCCAfest. Stay tuned for more amazing stories next time!

Kutztown U artists heading to MOCCAfest in NYC

© 2012 Jeff Gum
© 2013 Jeff Gum

In Jeff Gum’s PIONEERS, two shipwreck salvagers from the year 3861 P.G.B. get more than they bargain for when they uncover the remains of an “ancient” NASA space vessel. Jeff and his classmates in illustration II are all pioneers of sorts. They all are making individual zines, or mini-comics to share at MOCCAfest 2013 in New York City, a first for KU.

© 2013 Darby Minter
© 2013 Darby Minter

Kutztown will be among a select group of colleges at the indie comic showcase at the historic Lexington Ave. Armory. SVA, MICA, and the Center for Cartoon Studies will be there, but most MOCCA exhibitors are publishers and established artists. Darby Minter’s 8-pager, above, has a working title – Dreaming in Botulism. It is the story a young girl’s nightmare, the result of food poisoning. Darby plans to customize her zine with a post-it note from Mom on the fridge on page 6.

© 2013 Isaiah Arpino
© 2013 Isaiah Arpino

The panel above is from “Isaiah Arpino’s Most Amazing Story With Both Panties And An Ostrich. As Isaiah says,It’s crazy what you can find in a basement and where it will take you.”

© 2013 Nathan Hurst
© 2013 Nathan Hurst

Awkward Bunnies by Nathan Hurst will be a 12-page project. The caption to the drawing above is “Do you still wear acid wash jeans?” More of Nathan’s art can be seen at: Thesuburbanpilgrim.tumblr.com

Another artist who can be found on tumblr is Lauren Gillespie. She is working on a project called Scallywaggin’ –“the heartwarming tale of a rowdy gang of cutthroat space pirates and their bungling captain that scour the universe for fortunes untold….sort of.”

panel from Scallywaggin' ©2013 Lauren Gillespie
panel from Scallywaggin’ ©2013 Lauren Gillespie

mocca_logoMOCCA, by the way, stands for Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. MOCCAfest will be April 6 & 7 this year. It is New York’s largest indie comics showcase, featuring hundreds of creators and publishers for two days of educational panel discussions, slide shows, and interviews. It is open to the public for just $10 a day, details can be found here. We will be showing more highlights of our Kutztown illustration student projects real soon.

Comics MFA? There is an alternative… No Joke.

Back in the ’80’s, when I told my pal Putka I was getting an MFA in illustration, he laughed, “What’s next?  -a Phd in Wallpaper Hanging?” What’s Next? Looks like the answer is Advanced Comics…

The SAW campus © SAW 2012
The SAW campus © SAW 2012

Stanford is a great university with one respected graphic novel class. But suddenly, universities across the country are offering complete advanced degrees in comics. CCS, the Center for Cartoon Studies, in Vermont has offered a Comics MFA for several years. CCS is not to be confused with CCA, California College of the Arts in San Francisco which is launching a new low-residency MFA in Comics in 2013.

A curious new educational option has sprung up in Florida. It is called SAW for Sequential Art Workshop. Cartoonist Tom Hart who taught for a decade at SVA in NYC has relocated to a storefront on So. Main St. in Gainesville. There, with a group of dedicated faculty and students, he has begun an intensive comics course. SAW’s one-year intensive program is not an accredited MFA, but it cost far less, $3600.

Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.
Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.

A student told me this, “Another reason I chose SAW over a degree program is that SAW is very inexpensive, but provides the opportunity to work with really amazing faculty. And though there’s no degree, I believe that in the art world your portfolio is more important than having a degree. So the quality of the education is more important than the diploma.”

Any advice for young artists interested in making zines and comics?
Same student, who now wishes to be anonymous: “Do just that – make zines and comics! Make them and get them out into the world. Trade them with other creators, go to conventions, put them online – get your work out there. And, even more importantly, keep making work. It can get discouraging when it feels like no one is listening, but you just have to keep on going. Don’t get too hung up on your early work, either – your first comics probably won’t be great, so finish them and move on. Set goals by the project. If you make a mistake or don’t like the way it’s turning out, finish the project and then try not to make that mistake in your next one – but don’t get discouraged. Also, even if you think you are going to draw in the most flat, cartoony style, still take the time to learn traditional art skills because your drawing can always benefit from them. If you don’t want to go to a traditional art school, look for local figure drawing sessions or evening classes taught by local artists. Or, better yet, apply to SAW! “

Indie alternatives to institutional higher education in the arts deserve support. Non-credit, off-the-grid, DIY art education centers are popping up all over. Tom Huck’s Woodcut Bootcamp in St. Louis, Maine’s Beehive Design Collective and Pittsburgh’s Cyberpunk Apocalypse are a few examples I’ve seen. I hope to see more. SAW has a fundraising Etsy page with original art by Vanessa DavisDash Shaw, John Porcellino and other important comics artists. Check it out.