Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yak Yak Yak...

As the season winds down and another semester ramps up, there's been an accompanying wave of gigs going on: one of them was an annual opportunity to sit with a small group of Education majors earning their teacher's certificate; another was the talk for some of the folks out in Ester; and also a chance to visit a class out at Eielson JR High. I do many workshops and presentations for educators and students, and can never say no (though sometimes one just has to draw a line with extra-curricular stuff and get some work done) to any invitation to turn more people on to comics, especially in schools.

Photo by Amy Barnes

Not to give the false impression that this particular week was anything like a "day in the life," as mostly the struggle-is-the-juggle i.e. balancing out time at the drawing table with everything else life throws up in the way (special note of thanks to Souchie the cat for the delightful hairball image to that). Despite prioritizing and scheduling there does usually seems to be a reoccurring pattern of these gigs that come in waves, and the calender fills up, and the time adds up, but it's great to get out of the cabin before winter locks everything down. Still dealing with a stubborn hangover from catching the latest nasty virus that put me down last weekend, so I've had stubborn chest congestion that meant narrating all these talks in a mix of grumbles, squeaks and croaks. Add in lectures plus critiques and you get an amusing and/or painful performance of vocal gymnastics performed by an art-zombie...

Photo by Monique Musik

A really nice, intimate gathering of mostly friends and some new acquaintances came out for the Ester Library Lecture on Thursday night. The 45-minute presentation went on for an hour-and-a-half (oops): seems like everyone got some laughs and maybe learned a bit. It was great to show some really old material, and give the ol' "director narration" for some backstory to more than a few pieces. Along with setting up a table of sample comics hauled in the trusty Piggly Wiggly tote-bag, I managed to give away about a foot-deep pile of random extra copies of posters and miscellany that's accumulated like cartoon dust-bunnies under the bed for years. Sometimes I really miss my old job at the copy shop.

At the invitation of Andie Rice I also got to talk with eleven students in her ECP/Gifted and Talented class way out on Eielson AFB at Ben Eielson JR High. The road-trip was a nice treat: gorgeous sunrise, crisp 20-degree weather with clear skies, plus it was fun counting all the Joe Miller signs driving through North Pole. But seriously, I was surprised to hear of such a comparatively young age group grappling with some of the issues in editorial comics, but she was using them as a part of teaching a political unit, and even had the students draw out some of their own, which I got to review after my presentation. They produced some pretty good work - I'll be looking over my shoulder at the competition in a few years - and definitely looked like they were wading right into the morass of politics.

Comics are still somewhat dangerous territory for teachers - there are wonderful books out there that inevitably contain that one page or one single panel of something that will get the entire work kicked out: a bared breast, a middle finger, a swear word, a violent scene etc. Mature topics and unflinching honesty can still be taboo subjects in public education, and careful review helps prevent any minefields of potential problems. I had some trepidation over the content of my own work and spent a lot of time scaling it down to (what I thought was) age-appropriate material. After re-edited this particular presentation several times, oscillating back and forth on a few images, I balanced everything out with the overall fact that shying away from controversy completely negates the point of editorial cartooning. Still, out of respect for any teacher who was gracious enough to invite me into their classroom I try and restrain myself to a diplomatic degree of discussion.

Photo by Diane R. Hunt

When it comes to what's really important, the big issues, pulling any punches never does anybody any favors, and probably more than a few kids could benefit from seeing somebody get passionate about not just what they could or should do but also about things that are going on in the world and all around them. Fostering civic responsibility means at the very least instilling some connection with the community - upholding the democratic principles of an informed citizenry aside, it's a a rewarding exercise in participating and in the debate. And even though these kids might be too young to vote, I always maintain that they still have a voice. Their perspective is equally valuable and we should hear what they have to say. Old people might have the experience but they still manage to screw shit up all the time. Not to mention the proclivity of the whole species to overlook the fact there's a lot more going on with the entire planet than the human drama, we tend to forget that it ain't all about us.

Friday evening upstairs at Gulliver's Books in the coffeshop back room I met up with Sarah, Amy, Kelly and Christina: all Education majors at UAF earning their teaching certificate. As part of their semester they had to interview a local artist, and they drew the short straws and got stuck with the cartoonist. Seriously though, it wasn't much of an interview as a mini show & tell, as I'd already typed out answers to all the questions in advance (see below the fold for all that stuff). They had the benefit of not just a local artist but the bonus educator aspect combined with obsessive comic nut. In other words, I lectured about as much as possible in under two hours, which after a typical long day that most teachers go through, these guys were somewhat glazed over with inspiration by the end.

Photo by Amy Barnes
And as with most presentations, nomatter how much time I have, I alway seem to forget something important, and the big one here was to reaffirm how crucially important it is to have fun doing all the different cartoon and comic-related activities yourself first. Nothing leads like example, teaching too - all the best people teaching comics are big fans and if not talented to some degree themselves. So I always try and encourage anyone who might be interested in this to go to the library, drop by the Literacy Council of Alaska, take a class, come to a jam, visit the Comic Shop, hang out whenever or wherever there's something related going on (like this weekend's 24 Hour Comics!). I think that's been probably the single greatest gift: not only being able to draw comics but to help in any way to give whatever you got away. Also another example would be almost every time I crack open a good book it feels like I'm being given something just as valuable: what's priceless is passing it on. And I also think the very same self-perpetuating motivation for teaching - when that connection is made and maybe a difference made - in turn inspires a corresponding confidence when one sees a teacher learning something new and trying out what works. Another example is getting all the students to submit work to the local paper or school newsletter, or even starting one of their own, maybe putting together a group comic-book. At any rate, when you toss in a pebble eventually a wave will reach the shore, something like that. And that's what being a part of this community means to me - keep chuckin' 'em in.

(interview below the fold)
1. Where are you from?
"Originally from Upstate and Western New York."

2. Why did you decide to become an artist?
"It never was a deliberate, conscious decision: kinda like getting older, or putting on a little extra weight - it just sorta happened, sneaks up on you. About highschool was when I first started getting seriously into cartoons and comics, but I had always been reading and drawing them since I could hold a crayon.(though nowadays I’ve graduated to Sharpies)."

3. What is your work about?
"The Nuggets weekly feature that’s been published in Fairbanks for 25 years (also in Anchorage for the past couple years now) is mostly a single-panel gag of random topics loosely dealing with Alaskany material."

4. What inspires your work?
"Doodling while bored or when I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else and I'm totally ignoring reality (not really - just paying extra attention to a different one). Making people laugh - oftentimes the power of a single-second smile or a quick giggle can turn a whole day around. Making money and earning a living at what I enjoy doing helps too. For editorials, it’s when I have to put up with hypocritical, ignorant stupidity."

5. Where do you get your ideas to create art?
"That’s like asking “where do you come up with what you are going to say” throughout any given day: it’s always a complete mix of spontaneous insight, observation/eavesdropping, incubation, switching, jamming, trolling the net, and focused effort – otherwise known as staring at a blank sheet of paper and sparking up the mental Jacob’s Ladder. They come from all around and inside, from everywhere and everything.
And if they don't, just make it up."

6. How do you make your work?
"I generally start from a doodle in one of my sketchbooks, pencil first on Bristol board, ink it up, scan it and digitally finish it. Best time to work is early in the morning, and all day long. Staring out the cabin windows and playing with the cats help also."

7. What pieces of artwork are you the most proud of and why?
"I love best when I stumble across a clipped-out copy of a cartoon up on someone’s office door, refrigerator or outhouse: those are the most meaningful places to see your work, aside from being published in the paper, on-line and in books. I’m also most satisfied when I speak out on an issue with a provocative editorial panel that hits home and makes a strong point. Lastly are some of the drawings that others have done for me at public gigs, like by kids at a show & tell for example."

8. Who are you favorite artists from history who you think have influenced you work? What have you learned from them and/or their work?
The cartoonists whose work has either directly inspired me and been most influential over the years are B. Kliban and Don Martin. The editorial cartoonist J.N.“Ding” Darling is also a tremendously respectable figure who went far beyond his art to actively effect a positive change in society and government. The skill, conviction and output of the many, many contemporary cartoonists out there is always constant flame.
Carl Sagen, Steven King, Julia Child, Roger Tory Peterson and Bob Ross are examples of people who dedicated themselves to promoting their craft and making their respective talents understandable, translatable and relatable to average folks.

9. What aspects of this community and/or Alaska inspire your work, if any?
"The yin/yang of seasonal extremes: both insane bursts of activity and the corresponding periods of isolation. The creative symbiosis of support from many folks and friends is a kick in the pants too."

10. Where can we see your work shown in the future?
"The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner runs Nuggets every Sunday, also the Anchorage press; The Ester Republic publishes both my alternative editorials and recent books of mine, and the “Ink & Snow” blog is an on-line repository of many works as well (sometimes not age or classroom appropriate material)."

11. What else would you like the children in our classes to know about you?
"Nomatter what mistakes I’ve made and still make along the way, or how bad things get, I always keep drawing. And even when you can’t vote or feel like the world’s lost its collective mind and nobody’s listening or cares anymore, you still have a voice if you use your talents."

12. Do you have any postcards or digital images we can share with our student when we introduce your work?
"Gulliver’s Books has my books of collected cartoons, and the website has images and links to on-line portfolios also."

No comments:

Post a Comment