Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Job Shadow"

Me & My Shadow: Dovetailing with an earlier behind-the-scenes post about a sample "Day In The Life" ("Process: Workflow") was an awesome opportunity to spend time in the studio with an official job shadow, an art student and senior at Lathrop High School. Poor guy said he wanted to draw comics… five-and-a-half hours later he’s switched his major back to biology. But seriously after a portfolio review, a show & tell with tons of process samples, the interview questions, the lecture(s), the penciling demo, the inking demo, and lastly an assignment for a 3-panel comic page (that we each penciled our own respective versions of and then switched off to ink each other’s pages) both of us had a total blast. Not only did I get a lot of work done, scored a spiffy bonus collaborative piece that ran in the paper a coupla weeks later.

I'm a total sucker for spending time with any interested, aspiring talent (plus I'll hang with anybody who name-drops Gene Luen Yang) - on no small account of remembering how much it would have meant to have a cool high-school art teacher who validated the medium and maybe even have had a chance to meet with a real cartoonist back when I was starting out. Bonus drop-in surprise by an old shadow who hung out in my drawing classes several years ago, and a constant flow of folks from around the department helped out with an atmosphere of encouragement and support - something that sometimes is hard to conjure when working at home alone in the studio.

Here's the piece that ran in the newspaper, penciled by me and inked by Jason Chou, using in succession a dip-pen with a nib, then a brush, and finally markers (Microns). Below the fold is an excerpted essay from the student's perspective on the afternoon - good luck to Jason and stay with it!

For my job shadow I shadowed local comic artist, Jamie Smith. Jamie Smith is the artist for “Nuggets”, featured in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. Smith’s work also includes numerous banners and logos for local Alaskan companies. He also teaches at the University of Alaska: Fairbanks (Fairbanks, Alaska), where he instructs students on the craft of comics and cartooning. I was introduced to Jamie when he briefly visited Lathrop High School, showcasing students a brief breakdown on comics. Eavesdropping on his presentation, I became highly intrigued, and asked his contact information from Ms. Robin Feinman from Lathrop High School in regards to this project. After several emails I met and job shadowed him on April 4, starting at 9:30 AM. For approximately an hour we discussed comic books and different styles and genres. I provided some of my own issues drawn by my favorite artists (Amazing Spider-Man #700 [Ramos], Age of Ultron #1 [Hitch], Avengers Vs. X-Men #10-11 [Kubert, Coipel]), and Jamie provided a plethora of independent short comics and graphic novels. The discussion opened my eyes to the many untold stories of heroes in the independent genre: not only did these artists complete everything from pencils to ink to color on their own, but also many of which wrote the stories.
After which, another hour was spent on Jamie’s computer. This time, Jamie showcased his own extensive gallery of artwork. An important point which he pointed out was that a comic book artist must be able to self market themselves. In the growing age of technology, an artist must keep their portfolio available to potential employers in various ways: samples of previous work, a portfolio kept in a slip, and digitally on some form of website. Jamie also pointed out it is also important in a portfolio to express a variety of artistic skills from figure drawing, linear perspective, composition, and most importantly narrative. Above all else, comic book art is telling a story in words and translating them into a complementing visual. Jamie stressed that artists do not even have to be able to draw well (using the Far Side comics as an example), just as long as the reader understands the concept of the writing (he praised a strip of a Peanuts comic for the simplicity of changes made to convey time passing to the reader). 
After a break, we then sat down and I interviewed him. The interview questions may be seen on the transcript. To reiterate particular questions/ answers of interest, I asked Jamie what inspired him to be a comic book artist to which he replied, “As a kid, like I said Maurice Sendak (illustrator of “Where the Wild Things Are”), Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, children’s books”. Jamie also explained how his father’s occupation as an educator led him to Asterix, and later as a teenager how the era of underground comic books (comix) also influenced him. In a later question I asked him who were his heroes to which he replied, “B.Kliban and Don Martin”.
As an educator I questioned Jamie what he emphasizes the most to his students in terms of how to draw a good comic strip/ book. Jamie replied, “Story. Content”. The main role of a comic artist is to tell a story in images. It does not matter if a character’s eyes are larger than anatomically correct, so long as the reader is able to convey the message of the narrative from the art. When asked if Jamie felt financially secure as a comic book artist he simply answered, “No. Not at all”. He went on to explain that despite him being able to support himself and his girlfriend, he also lives in a one room cabin and in addition to his freelance work, teaches at UAF and is a park ranger. Jamie also provided a schedule of his busy life as a comic artist, and information regarding how much he gets paid seen in the transcript. After the hour long interview, the hands on portion began. Beginning with hard prints and originals of ink and pen drawings of some Nugget strips, Jamie then instructed me in a brief lesson on inking. Never having been properly taught how to ink, this was an extremely beneficial lesson that would translate into a later exercise. After a demo on the several inking methods, Jamie put them to practice. Inking an already pencilled Nugget panel, Jamie then took a sketch out of his sketchbook and from start to finish, completed a Nugget panel right in front of me! The demonstration fully depicted the process of panel bordering, pencilling, inking, lettering, and on-the-fly revisions.
Followed directly after the inking of both panels, Jamie then went straight to the collab. exercise. The exercise would consist of both Jamie and I, drawing the exact same three prompts on three panels in each of our respective styles, followed by a trade-off where one artist would ink the other’s work.

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