Unfortunately ain’t gonna be no posts about the 2020 Cartooon & Comic Art course on account of there not being any more of those classes anymore. That’s mostly due to it at long last reaching its allotted academic lifespan as an elective. Well, technically it exceeded the duration of a “Special Topics” class, as it’s supposed to be offered for no longer than one semester, so off by only eleven years. And after a dozen years of one of the top, uh, draws in the department, routinely the first class to get waitlisted, and a favorite of many successful art majors and future professionals, I entertained the novel idea that perhaps this might be the year my value as a faculty member would be recognized.
I felt more than justified by my decision to hold out for any forlorn hope to maybe get a real job with benefits etc. out of all this. Administration repeatedly attempted to entice me into completing the paperwork needed to legitimately add it to the curriculum, as in include it in the official university catalog. I would dutifully counter with the proposal to hire me something other than an adjunct, since this course was only one of the many strong, proven assets I could bring to the department. I was also encouraged to develop an on-line version of the course for a few grand, but that would have given up control one of the aces up my sleeve as far as retaining my bargaining position and unique abilities + experience. Not that any of it mattered in the long run, as bureaucratic academia pretty much takes advantage of anyone for as long as possible before burning them out and discarding the empty shells.
So instead I’ll put up a list of backlinks to a selection of the best-of previous posts about the Cartoon & Comic Arts course (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018), and also put up a handful of images here that were left over from forgetting to write up a recap. Seventy-five initial pictures in fact, which were whittled down to a much more manageable 50-odd (and I do mean odd), most of which are ganged together or excerpted samples, but still quite the data dump. Who knows, this might be my very last post on this topic as well, so I’ll make it a doozy. Eight pages of annotations typed out beforehand in a Word document and over an hour of uploading & formatting this post with about a billion hyperlinks also alludes to the in-depth expose that awaits.
Have fun faithful reader, and follow me after the jump…
One element added to the roster of activities was an even more fun-da-mental exercise meant to start the engines and grease the proverbial wheels with creative juices. This one was a simple call-and-response list of alphabets and also one of sound effects, as in what would make a noise like that?
These rapid-fire/shoot-from-the-hip doodles on index cards would serve to shake the bushes and loosen us up, especially freeing from the shackles of expectations. Free-association under the pressure of these timed exercises can be paradoxically liberating as it reinforces the notion that instinctual, reflexive reactions are oftentimes key to generating ideas. That and we already began within the first week to amass the buffet of inspiration in the hallway showcases.
Same with the trusty 5-minute > 2-minute > 1-minute > 30-seconds > 15-seconds > 5-second freakout.
Additionally this session I revived the caricature exercises, which was yet another opportunity to use the 5-minute drawings as a basis for potential character development.
This inadvertently yielded some great profile pictures since I had to temporarily fill in if there were an odd number of students.
Again I will point out how much of a powerful tool many of these can be to incorporate into the studio for the regular drawing classes, as in the case here with caricature. More often than not it’s simply utilizing different materials.
Character development and their requisite expressions critique is where the individuality of the students begins to really assert itself.
Dovetailed with increased familiarity using the tools of the trade this is the launching point for the remainder of the six-week session.
Here I would add a newly established point of fact: I can be really, really loud and excited when lecturing about my passion. Which is invaluable when there is an actual jackhammer being used directly outside the studio door. And yes, I made myself heard quite well (maybe a little hoarser than usual the net day).
Once again the “Think Before You Ink” proves its worth when it comes to coming up with confidence to knock out a silly picture in conjunction with an equally silly idea.
Than we began to kick out the jams in earnest, starting with gags…
…and some (M)ad-libs…
…all of which provide fresh compost for the growing compost heap in the hallways.
And finally all the above was rolled into the single-panel portion of the class critiques, where at least one of the submitted panels was required to incorporate their characters from the previous week's critique.
Here I am gesturing at the screen wile extolling the power of sequential art as illustrated by a page from Charles Burns.
Every week a new bag o’ books would show up to supplement whatever particular aspect of comic art we would be covering (ex: gag panels, traditional comic books, graphic novels etc.).
I also started buying from alternative sources - like Powell's - than the evil empire of Amazon: since the loss of one of our community’s alternative independent bookseller, we are left stuck with a corporate chain (fortunately we still have The Comic Shop and Forget Me Not Books as well). And I never miss the opportunity to showcase local talent – like Archie Bogiovanni and Maria Frantz. Plus I was gifted a complete set of classic Pogos to add to my library – thank you Neil!
The Spread: Drawing studio buffet display…. All during the couple weeks of the semester where we focus on comics, I keep a rotating display of different examples from all sorts of styles to entice and inspire, peruse and borrow. The main course is flanked by a table showcasing published works by former students, and at the other end, a table of current work-in-progress sample + demos. More and more of the books are anthologies, which contain a great range of the diversity of different styles and subject matter that are contemporary comics. I love that “wow” moment when folks see firsthand the breadth & depth of the medium, and how far it has evolved.
Partial list (there are more on a rotating basic in line with whatever we are focusing our studies on for the week) of recommended - I really really really want every student to read each one over the summer (on top of drawing their own stuff) titles include:
She Changed Comics
Best American Comics (anthologies)
32 Stories (anthology)
Little Lit (anthologies)
Kramer’s Ergot (anthologies)
Drawn & Quarterly: 25 Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics & Graphic Novels
Dark Horse Book of the Dead (anthology)
Dream Another Dream (anthology)
Fun Home/Alison Bechdel
Beasts of Burden/Evan Dorkin & Benjamin Dewey
Don’t Forget This Song/David Lasky & Frank M. Young
Cursed Pirate Girl/Jeremy Bastian
Troll Bridge/Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran
Little Nemo/Winsor McCay
Oyster War/Ben Towle
Building Stories/Chris Ware
Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson
WE3/ Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
Sandman/Neil Gaiman & J. H. Williams III
Wind In The Willows/Kenneth Grahame & David Petersen
Market Day/James Sturm
Duck Tales/Carl Barks
Ms Marvel/G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona
Killing and Dying/Adrian Tomine
The Idea/Lynd Ward
In Real Life/Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
Pocket Full of Rain/Jason
Thor: Goddess of Thunder/Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman
Elf Cat In Love/James Kochalka
Archie #1/Mark Waid & Fiona Staples
It’s A Bird/ Steven Seagle & Teddy Kristiansen
Perfect Example/John Porcellino
Hey Fudge/Travis Millard
Captain Marvel/Kelly Sue & David Lopez.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters/Emil Ferris
Saga/ Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staple
The Arrival/Shaun Tan
How To Read Nancy/ Paul Karasik & Mark Newgarden
How To Draw Comics/Dave Gibbons
Comics Art/Paul Gravett
Making Comics/Scott McCloud
Red/Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
Interlude: Spontaneous debate + informal poll on what exact noise a beaver scratching its belly would make… specifically the onomatopoeic spelling of said sound effect. This is where I am more convinced than ever that these are my people.
Back to the ol’ drawing board, or in this instance, the blackboard. How quaint to use such an educational relic – but in the context of scratching lines on dead trees with burnt bones, it’s pretty spiffy. Seriously though it’s old-fashioned but extremely effective for stream-of-consciousness
Hand-in-glove with the single-panel gag is the historical & contemporary opinion piece: editorial cartoons foster engagement not just with politics (pro-tip: it’s all politics) but any issue of importance to them as individuals.
Grand-prize winner of this section hands-down went to Kat B and her take on the governor’s continued malfeasance. Not that I would ever break my stoic neutrality while in the classroom, mind you. (Recall info here).
Strips: Expanding upon the lessons learned in generating material for the single-panels we begin to expand the “accordion of cartooning” and extend into true sequential art with the inclusion of gutters inbetween the panels, thus manipulating space and time. More jams!
Another infrequent addition to our timed exercises is the classic “Exquisite Corpse” variation.
Going off the idea that each and every single individual panel should still be maintained compositionally even if it’s a three- or five-panel strip, two-tiered color Sunday, one-pager all the way to a graphic novel.
The elements of successful design and clear visual communication can still be seen even in these excerpted examples isolated from the rest of the piece.
Now the hallways begin to evoke the sensation of entering a comic book or the pages of a comics section in a life-sized newspaper.
Sanity slip… get a grip: on yourself! I’m eternally intrigued by the variety of positions opposable thumbs and other digits can come up with.
Behind the scenes triva: My secret is wearing a uniform underneath – it helps with maintaining an almost superhuman level of daily heroics that all teachers must summon.
Here I want to take a minute and hold up an amazing instance of outstanding ability and insight on the part of another fellow educator who took this class. They reaffirmed my intent to just provide prompting for + a space to explore this incredible medium of expression. It reaches across all lines of skill, age, gender, professions and so on – I cannot possibly adequately express the pure pleasure in seeing firsthand stories come to life and flower before us right there on paper. Every so often (well, okay, a handful every semester) there will come a person that just makes it all worth it – as best exemplified here by my favorite piece of the entire year. Thank you Sine - I will be looking very much forward to seeing your work continue to unfold.
On a similar note I received my first-ever hashtag as a result of this class. My work here is done.
In fact here’s a huge hat-tip to her for setting up a table at local bazaars to spread the message… and even introduce a special minicomic workshop for OSHER lifelong living.
“Late For School” exercise.
Samples from the “Tie Shoelaces” exercise.
Storyboarding exercise “Shootout At The Great Pumpkin Patch”
Excerpted panels from the Collaborative page.
Meanwhile the Advanced folks were maintaining orbit around the rest of the class, essentially on independent study mode. They would check in with us at the beginning and ending of each week to show & tell what they've done + what they were gonna do next.
They didn't disappoint, and put out some truly spectacular work, nad now have their own books published.
Meanwhile over in Beginning Drawing, same exact lessons just repackaged a little bit less in-depth, but obviously no less amount of potential ability + skillset.
There’s an irony here in that inevitably what’s gonna happen will be an attempt to reincorporate many of the lessons back into Beginning Drawing. This is ironic since one of the reasons behind starting the comics class was to stem the inexorable tide of cartooning as it infects everything. Same thing happened with this very blog way back when it first started as a documentation of teaching drawing. Then comics just kinda took right over, and here we are. I can remember being amazed at how after three hours a day for five days a week over six weeks I could talk about comics and still kick myself on the drive home or while trying to fall asleep for forgetting to mention one thing or another. Some conversations will hopefully take you your whole life to finish. Pro-tip: It never ends.
Excerpted panels + pages from the group comic: one more collaborative effort before plunging into…
…the final pages. The hallways are now maxed out with the crowning accomplishments added to the mix. Almost done, but still the capstone event awaits us!
Excerpted panels show the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution at work: intermittent stretches of relative calm interspersed with utter insanity (similar to the dynamics of the annual 24 Hour Comic Day event). Such intense focus can often yield a surprising amount of material and offers a refreshing opportunity to reboot.
Grand culmination on-site at the Comic Shop for the release party as meta-point in the context of eventually seeing your own work on the shelves. Holding in ones hands the end result of a published book
There’s no topic too weird, no subject too silly, no space to small to fill – there’s always room enough to make your mark. And students leave with indelible experiences from which to literally draw from (and a bonus binder of handouts for references and resources).