BRAIN BUG: Gross-out Fun!

Cody, Olivia & Jesse, Founders of BRAINBUG
Cody, Olivia & Jesse, Founders of BRAIN BUG magazine

BRAIN BUG is a new kid’s magazine by three enterprising Kutztown University students. “It’s called Brain Bug because we wanted to incorporate something to do with the brain (to emphasize knowledge, understanding and giving kids REAL information) but we also want to be about things that are gross-out fun, and science related, like bugs.”

Centipedes among the bugs in Brain Bug. issue 1.
Centipedes among the bugs in Brain Bug. issue 1.

Editor-in-chief Olivia Knowles is a Fine Arts /Painting major. Brain Bug is inspired by her fond memories of the wacky energy of Nickelodeon magazine. “I’m also inspired by the attitude of my kids at the daycare I work at, -how much they love stickers, books, coloring pages, physical activity, and how curious they are about the “grown up” lives of all the staff members.”

panel from the story Culture Vultures by Cody Myers, Brainbug issue !.
panel from the story Culture Vultures by Cody Myers, Brainbug issue 1.

Cody Myers is a Business major, but he can draw comics like a pro, as can be seen in the Culture Vultures panel above. Jesse Warner is a Communication Studies major. Jesse says issue one took 4 months, but it is a bimonthy magazine, so they are going to speed up production. “Brain Bug to me is more than just writing about topics, it’s a little piece of things that I liked when I was a kid and still do.”

Cover of BRAINBUG, issue 1.
Cover of BRAIN BUG, issue 1.

Want to start a your own magazine? Here is a tip from Brain Bug: “Tell everyone. By telling literally everyone we’ve ever met about this project, we’ve received SO much support. It can’t hurt!”  The 30-page full-color magazine looks sharp. They used a digital printing service called MagCloud, recommended by KU Fine Arts Prof Dan Talley.

Kutztown, PA is on the map in BRAINBUG>
WOW! Kutztown, PA is on the map in BRAIN BUG

Olivia has high hopes for Brain Bug. “My hope for Brain Bug is that it gets big enough that we have a fairly substantial group of readers that are excited to get a copy every month and know exactly the feeling they’ll get when they open it. A lot of adult friends have bought copies, but my hope is that with the next several issues we can reach out to more kids and parents that don’t know us directly. I hope that our issues will continue to be thicker, have longer more juicy articles, and more comic contributors. I hope we can unify our aesthetic and establish a concrete style and expectation while still keeping the grab bag feel as much as we can!”

detail from "Our Gross Best Friends" in Brain Bug.
detail from “Our Gross Best Friends” in Brain Bug.

Brain Bug is looking for art, story and comic submissions! Guidelines: Non-violent, non-political, not an advertisement! A reading level that fits about a ten-year old, non-gender biased, has to fit the informative and fun the theme of our magazine. Issue 1 is nearly sold out. “We still have about 20 copies for sale, but there may be a repress! If anybody would like a copy, check out our online store! “ Get in touch with the team via Brain Bug’s Facebook page.


Paeregrine’s Kickstarter Flies High

Frank of Mars, A.K.A Frank Marsters, a self-portrait.
Paeregrine, A.K.A. Frank of Mars, A.K.A Frank Marsters,  self-portrait.

UPDATE: FUNDED at $1800, 3 times original goal! Frank Marsters is also known as “Paeregrine” and “Frank of Mars.” A Kutztown Communication Design grad, he is creating a full-color comic book based on his popular web comic Paeregrine.Cast. The comic book project is already funded via Kickstarter and heading toward new goals. I’m a backer. I love it when a former illustration student takes the initiative to make a dream come true. You have until November 13 to share the dream, which Frank explains earnestly in his basement.

FacebookCover_Kickstarter1bQ. Frank, What year did you graduate from Kutztown University?
December, 2012, my entire KU experience took 5.5 years to complete.

detail from a recent strip © Frank Marsters.
detail from a recent strip © Frank Marsters.

Q. What were your concentrations?
I graduated with both Illustration and Interactive. I had enough classes to graduate with Graphics as well, but ended up dropping my last requisite class in my final semester to help save my sanity.

BeardRex by Frank Marsters

Q.What is your day job?
I am currently working a few days a week as an in-house freelancer at Neo-Pangea,  where I did my Internship and where I was a part of the Intern Abuser project. In the evenings I am doing freelance illustration to help make ends meet. Ideally, I would like to make my comic my full-time job, but, alas, I’m not there yet.

Q. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the cast ?
The cast of characters are all people I interact with on a mostly daily basis. I originally started out looking at each character as a 1:1 representation of the person behind it, but it quickly became more about caricatures and exaggerated versions of these people. Paeregrine, BeardRex, Ondine, etc. have become characters of their own, loosely based on the people they represented.

Troy Gearthe, inspiration for cast member BeardRex.
Troy Gaerthe, inspiration for cast member BeardRex.

Troy Gaerthe is the inspiration behind the BeardRex character, he helped me out a good deal with some site issues early on and still is a big help/support to the comic.

Q. Technical Question: Where will you get the comics printed?
It is currently my plan to use a web-based service called “KA-BLAM”. I can print short runs based on how many of each cover are selected on Kickstarter. KA-BLAM will print “Sketch Covers” on good drawing paper making my hand-drawn cover reward a lot easier to complete.

Alternate covers by KU grads Nathan Hurst and Griffin McCauley.
Alternate covers by KU grads Nathan Hurst and Griffin Macaulay.

Q. What are the figures for web hits? What was your biggest day?
The comic’s website has undergone a few face-lifts, – since moving to the current incarnation it has over 100,661 page views.

The comic that got of 17 hits on day one!
The web comic that got 17,350 hits on day one.

The comic (above) about the sale of Mojang / Minecraft to Microsoft got the highest number of views I’ve had in a single day: 17,530. But that is way higher than my daily average.

Q. How many subscribers?
As of the moment there is no way to subscribe to the site itself. (Working on that. Fan/followers on social media, hovering around 300.)

Paeregrine.cast, detail, all art in this post © 2014 Frank Marsters
Paeregrine.cast, detail, all art in this post © 2014 Frank Marsters

Q. Are you getting hits internationally?
From a lot of different countries. My top 7 nations (all in the thousands of hits) are the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands.  The international attention astounds me and makes me really happy. The French branch of the major games company Bethesda shared one of my comics. That was a really big deal to me, they translated the message along with it and everything.

So, if you like, support the Paeregrine Kickstarter here and get the comic book for a pledge of only $8. Or, you can always read the Paeregrine.Cast free online, updated 3 times a week! ‘Nuff said.

Gabby’s Dinosaurs: Not Based on Photos

Dino Day Out, cover detail © 2014 Gabby Shelley
Dino Day Out, cover detail © 2014 Gabby Shelley

Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Shelly, class of 2014, shared a coloring book available at Amazon. I asked Gabby to tell us a bit more about the project.

Gabby Shelly, KU Communication Design grad, 2014.
Gabby Shelly, KU Communication Design grad, 2014.

Gabby: “Dino Day Out was created primarily for my Senior Illustration Seminar at Kutztown University with Prof. Denise Bosler. I created it for the class, but also kept in mind that I wanted to make something marketable,– something that was believable enough to hold up in the real world of publishing.”

From Dino Day Out ©2104 Gabby Shelley
From Dino Day Out ©2104 Gabby Shelley

Question: You graduated from KU with a degree in Communication Design, -What were your concentrations?

“Graphics and Illustration, which I tried to combine in this project.”

Q: Where did you intern?

” Lunchbox Communications in Manayunk, PA. I helped to design printed pieces to aid in pitching possible new television shows and documentaries. Their on-staff designers, Leah Houck and Nick Madeja, also went to Kutztown and are awesome people!”

Dino Day Out art © 2014 Gabby Sheeley
Dino Day Out art © 2014 Gabby Shelley

Q: Why dinosaurs?

“Well, I love drawing animals! Drawing people has never really been my thing; it is a lot more fun to draw adorable creatures. And as a little girl I was always more interested in dressing up as a dinosaur for Halloween than a princess. There is also an educational element to the book; there are recognizable dinosaurs along with the lesser-known ones.”

From Dino Day Out © Gabby Shelley
From Dino Day Out © Gabby Shelley

Q: What was the hardest part about the Dino Day Out project?

“There were a few things… I am still struggling a bit to find my style as an illustrator, so drawing different creatures in a cohesive style was difficult for me. Also, there are (obviously) no photographs of dinosaurs, so it can be challenging using other artist’s representations. You have to put a certain faith in them that their drawings are accurate; You also have to be able to compile those references into a generic idea of this creature that lived so long ago, then be able to “cartoon-ize” it. And besides all that, I had to match the right dinosaur with the right activity – their anatomy can make certain positions completely implausible. Try making a t-rex do anything with his tiny arms!”

Playing Cards, designed and illustrated by Gabby Shelley. ©2014
Playing Cards, designed and illustrated by Gabby Shelley. ©2014

Q: What media and software did you use?

“The drawings were done at first with good old pencil and pen. I then scanned and vectored the drawings using Adobe Illustrator. That part went pretty quickly. The book itself is assembled in InDesign.”

Q: Why did you choose the POD (print on demand) publisher Createspace rather than other platforms, like LULU, for example?

“To be quite honest, I had never heard of LULU until now. I only knew about Amazon’s print-on-demand, –Createspace.”

Jack of Spades from Gabby Shelley's Unfriendly Forest deck. ©2014
Jack of Spades from Gabby Shelley’s ‘Unfriendly Forest’ deck. ©2014

Q: What do you have in mind for your next project?

“Ha, my major project now is finding a full-time career in design, or at least some rewarding freelance work in design or illustration. On a personal level, I want to try to improve my hand-lettering skills. I’d like to take a printmaking class, since it never fit into my schedule at KU.”

Monsters of the Deep posters © Gabby Shelley
Monsters of the Deep posters © Gabby Shelley

Gabby’s “Monsters of the Deep” bus shelter ads (above) are based on her original linoleum prints. Visit Gabby Shelley’s website at Behance to see her virtual portfolio book and a wide variety of illustration and design projects. Let her know of any job leads!

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:

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.

Russ Spitkovsky: The Pigeon Has Landed

Rostislav “Russ” Spitkovsky by Kevin McCloskey 2012

Russ Spitkovsky makes things happen. He came to Kutztown as one of the 9 artists in the 2012 Print Invitational at the Miller Gallery.  The founder of the cutting edge art magazine Carrier Pigeon hung artwork from the latest issue at the Eckhaus Gallery on Main St. He circled back this week as a visiting artist to spend time with students.

oil monotype illustration by Russ Spitkovsky for “Hall of Mirrors”

Carrier Pigeon is an artist-driven publication. Russ and friends began it after grad school at SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay MFA Program. Each issue has works by six fine artists, plus six writers, and six illustrators.

Carrier Pigeon cover by Cannonball Press, Martin Mazorra & Mike Houston

The magazine has included original etchings and woodcuts by Russ and guest artists including Marshall Arisman, Bruce Waldman and Frances Jetter. KU Prof. Evan Summer has contributed to several issues.

Russ speaking to overflow crowd in KU Print studio. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ shared some mind-boggling stories. Like the one about a meth addict who tells his wife he’s spending their life savings importing alpacas, but the alpacas are being held up in customs. There are no alpacas; he’s building a giant meth factory. The factory bursts into flames and meth maker gets encased in glass and, well, I don’t want to ruin the ending. The full story by Ryan Scamehorn called “Hall of Mirrors” can be found in Carrier Pigeon #3. It is fiction; I hope.

Illustration by Marshall Arisman for “Good Dog” by Erin Browne, Carrier Pigeon #7

Digression: Many years ago I sent a book idea to Lawrence Ferlenghetti’s City Lights Press. A few weeks later I got the best rejection letter ever. It said, ‘Your project is so interesting, you should publish it yourself. We are swamped publishing our own friends. Start your own press. Here are some resources…‘  Russ Spitkovsky never got that memo from City Lights, but certainly he embodies the D.I.Y. publishing spirit.

Kevin McCloskey, Moe Tierney, Russ Spitkovsky. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ was born in the Ukraine. Why do so many amazing printmakers come from Eastern Europe?  KU’s Print Invitational includes Michael Goro from Russia, Ivanco Talevski from Macedonia, Endi Poskovic from Sarajevo, and Russ. It occurred to me perhaps these artists find core concepts difficult to express in English and are therefore driven to excel at graphic communication. Russ provided a better insight into why so many extraordinary artists come from places once under the Soviet sphere of influence. Growing up in the Ukraine he showed a precocious talent for art. He was plucked from preschool and put in an art academy. He was drawing the human figure from plaster casts at the age of four.

Illustration by Russ Spitkovsky from Central Booking, his self-published visual essay.

On the night of January 3, 2009, Russ was walking down a Brooklyn street. The police stopped and searched him and found he was carrying a knife. It was an ordinary knife purchased at Home Depot. The NYPD decided it was a lethal weapon, “a gravity knife,” and threw him in jail. He spent the next 32 hours in an overcrowded holding cell at Brooklyn’s Central Booking. Charges were dropped, but Russ made art from the experience. Upon his release, drawing from memory, he transformed that grotesque night into a visual essay in book form. He published “Central Booking” via the print-on-demand publisher Blurb. The book was not a financial success, but led him to explore other self-publishing options.

Russ loves working with the likes of Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston of Brooklyn’s Cannonball Press. Russ calls Cannonball Press the pioneers of the indy press and affordable art movements. Russ advises art and illustration students not to hole up in their studios after graduation. “Find a co-op print shop; work among other artists.” He said the community of Robert Blackburn’s  NYC printmaking studio saved his sanity. He was able to get instant feedback on his art and stay in a creative loop.

Today, Russ works not only with graphic artists, but an ever-expanding community of playwrights, jugglers, Coney Island sideshow performers and puppeteers. Strange doors keep opening for Russ. Recently someone gifted Carrier Pigeon with a building in Gutenberg, NJ. To keep up with Carrier Pigeon news and events visit their Facebook page.

Justin Sanz, Eckhaus workers Nicole and Megan, Russ. Photo from

If you are fortunate enough to be in Kutztown, PA, get to Eckhaus to see the original art from Carrier Pigeon. There are copies of the latest issues for sale. Each issue costs $25. Twenty-five bucks is a lot of money for a magazine, but not a lot for a work of art.

Rare Birds of Lore

Out of the blue I got a note about Ryan and Audrey Durney’s Birds of Lore” Kickstarter project. I was impressed enough by this couple’s fantasy illustration project to become a low-level backer. I emailed them a few questions and asked to share some of their art here. 

Q. Other than Leo and Diane Dillon I can’t think of many husband/wife illustration teams.  What are the rewards of this creative partnership?

Ryan: My favorite thing about it, is that we speak the same language, even if we don’t always agree on things about the field. And, we sit right beside each other, sipping coffee and sketching and riffing off of each other’s direction and discovered influences. Sometimes, critiques get precarious-they can be given too early, or too late! But, it’s really rewarding to be in the same boat.  …we’ve rarely ever gotten to work on a complete idea together, which is one reason for the Kickstarter.

Mexican CU bird sketch © 2012 Audrey Durney

Q: Where did you two meet, the Kickstarter video says art school, but what art school?

Ryan: We met and fell in love at Columbus College of Art & Design. Back then CCAD  was like “military art school” they purposely overloaded you-so I don’t know how we even had time to date!? CCAD did a lot to prepare me for a career as an illustrator. However, at the time about half of the staff was anti-digital art, and I have a lot of bitter memories of instructors knocking my grade down just because I did assignments on the computer-meanwhile, I had been up all night at KINKOS trying to get one stupid final to print correctly!

Q: Can you tell me something about the CCAD illustration program, maybe a favorite prof, or most important class?

Ryan: Mr. Stewart McKissick was probably the most influential instructor for me. He really cared about preparing us for the real world, and he even forged a class where we competed against each other for real, paying assignments. I remember winning 2 of the 3. That was the kind of confidence boost I sorely needed so near to graduation. Audrey’s favorite was Ms. Tam Peterson for her energy and enthusiasm.

Q. Have you had some success freelancing illustration?

Ryan: Both Audry and I have won some awards and earned some respectable commissions. I make a modest living, with some good years -feast and famine, I suppose, but I’ve been happy doing it for over a decade. It’s really true that you just keep getting better and evolving. Audrey has taken a more stable road, working as a technical illustrator by day and freelancing via an agency at night, -tough but way more practical. My one complaint about making a living this way is the level at which freelancers are taxed. Also, illustration agents take the highest % of any creative endeavor, including music, acting, etc. at 25%, and art is one of the lowest in compensation. 

Q. Why Kickstarter vs. traditional publishing?

We can keep and manage the rights to our own work, and we get to finish a creative endeavor without corporate edits. I believe this brings the book much closer to an actual work of art. It’s being written and illustrated by unfettered artists, from start to finish. This is what the storytellers of olde did.

The Wila, or Vila, or Veela of Polish folklore. © 2012 Ryan Durney

Q. Who drew the Harpy (top image) and the Wila?

Ryan:  I did both the “Captive Harpy” and the “Wila.” I’m pleased with both. The Harpy is the more popular of those two (based on viewer feedback.) With the Wila, I tried to integrate pen-and-ink within the 3D. Sometimes that meant actually sculpting “ink-like” lines into the mesh, and sometimes that meant adding ink touches. That’s why you can see me using pens in the video. I’m 3D, but definitely experimental. I love mixing hand and digital media. The other thing about the Wila is that I was completely taken by an old etching. The Wila is homage to a very old engraving by Anton Eisenhoit (see below). Before anyone thinks it, yes-I agree that his original is better!

Q. Who did the little yellow bird blowing the horn, the Hercina?

Ryan: Audrey did the “Hercinia” bird, which is equally enjoyed by all. She  is a master of vector work and using Painter with vectors. Audrey and I are tilting our illustration styles in a few different directions, depending on what there is to say about each bird. The Hercinia is a direct homage to medieval bestiary art.

Note: As always: all art © the original artists. See a more Birds of Lore on the Kickstarter site. I have a hunch this project will fly.