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 Comics in 2018 

Here are some local comics events to look for next year where you can meet comic artists, participate in comics workshops and more. 
 
Queen City Kamikaze, March 17, Manchester, queencitykamikaze.com
Free Comic Book Day, May 5, comic book stores nationwide, freecomicbookday.com
Kids Con New England, June 10, Nashua, kidsconne.com
Granite State Comic Con, Sept. 8 and Sept. 9, Manchester, granitecon.com
 
Try a comic 
Here are some comics and graphic novels by New Hampshire comic creators to check out. They can be read or purchased online and may be available at some local comic stores and bookstores. 
The Beach by Mike Marland, political commentary webcomic, marlandcartoons.com
• Bowery Boys: Our Fathers by Cory Levine, period graphic novel, boweryboyscomic.com
The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby by Marek Bennett, historical nonfiction graphic novel, marekbennett.com
EPLIS series by Emily Drouin, science fiction adventure, epliscomic.com
Stephanie Piro, cartoon blogger, stephanie-piro.blogspot.com
Strange Fruit, Volume 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Gill, historical nonfiction graphic novel, joelchristiangill.wordpress.com
Zombie Sub-920 series by Michael and Michelle Mitchell, science fiction adventure, squareup.com/store/mitchell-comics
 
Marek Bennett 
Marek Bennett has been drawing for as long as he can remember. He has old sketchbooks from when he was as young as 5. He got serious about drawing comics while in college, where he did a daily comic strip for the college newspaper for three years. 
“I was surprised when I brought them that first comic and they said, ‘Bring another one tomorrow.’” he said. “I ended up working on that strip more than I worked on any of my classes. It didn’t pay anything, but I did it because I loved it.” 
Bennett was an elementary school teacher before he left his job to pursue comics full time. His body of work consists primarily of nonfiction comics about science and history, including numerous community-specific mini-comics; the New Hampshire history webcomic Live Free and Draw!; a graphic novel adaptation of a Civil War memoir, The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby; a graphic novel travel memoir, Slovakia: Fall in the Heart of Europe; and Hour 72!, a graphic novel compilation of his first three 24 Hour Comics. 
He is currently working on a new project based on 80 pages of historical letters. 
“It’s piecing together the letters and putting together different stories and filling in details in between,” he said. “It’s like a composite that shows what that time might have been like.” 
Additionally, Bennett offers a series of discovery-based comic workshops at local schools and libraries where he teaches sequential narrative cartooning techniques. 
“These skills I teach them are valuable skills whether you want to be a cartoonist or not,” he said. “No matter what you do, you need to be able to take pieces of things apart and communicate and share information with people and have it make sense.” 
Bennett’s favorite part of creating a comic is the moment in which all of the pieces come together on a page and the idea behind the comic is fully expressed. 
“That’s what I live for in creating comics,” he said. “Of course there are some days when you don’t get that feeling, and you have to redraw it the next day, but most days you find a moment like that in the work that you do.” 
For more on Marek Bennett and to see his work, visit marekbennett.com.
 
Cory Levine
Cory Levine has been reading comics since he was a kid but didn’t consider making a career of it until he started working in publishing after college. He previously worked as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics and is now a graphic designer and owner of First Edition Publishing. His comic writing was first featured in the kids’ action comic Ben10 Omniverse: Ghost Ship and the Monsuno: Combat Chaos graphic novel series. Most recently, he was the writer and co-creator of the period graphic novel Bowery Boys: Our Fathers, a story of adolescents growing up in New York City in the 19th century when wealth disparity was most evident. 
“The inspiration came from my experience living in New York City and from the co-creator’s artwork,” Levine said. “He has a very specific style, and I wanted to write something that would be well suited for what he wanted to draw.” 
Levine is currently collaborating with a local dentist’s office to write and draw an educational comic about the importance of proper oral hygiene. 
“The story is about a character who is reluctant to floss his teeth and goes on an epic adventure, and the message about oral hygiene is wrapped up into that,” he said. “So it’s both a story and instructional.”  
Levine teaches graphic design at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and recently started teaching a comic arts class there called Analyzing the Art of Comics and Cartoons. 
“It’s all about the mechanics of comics and how they work and how they tell a story,” he said. “Students learn about comics through thinking about them, talking about them and writing and drawing them.” 
For more on Cory Levine and to read Bowery Boys online, visit boweryboyscomic.com.
 
Joel Gill 
Comic artist Joel Gill says his history with comics is like that of a high school girlfriend. “I fell in love with comics, spent all my time thinking about comics, then went off to college and broke up with comics,” he said. “Married painting, was with painting for a number of years, but it was ultimately unfulfilling, so we divorced and I reconnected with comics, and we’ve been married ever since.” 
Gill has published three historical nonfiction graphic novels which tell the lesser-known stories of black history in the U.S.: Strange Fruit Vol I : Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth No.1, and Bessie Stringfield: Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 2. Gill recently completed a fourth graphic novel, Strange Fruit Vol II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, which is due out next February. 
“There is no one else doing comics about black history in the way that I’m doing them,” he said. “There are some comics about black history, like a biography of Muhammad Ali, but none that are specifically about obscure black history.” 
His mission with his comics is to show that African-Americans were integral to U.S. history, and that “black culture” is a part of “American culture,” not a separate entity. 
“I want to change the world as a cartoonist,” he said. “It sounds crazy, but I want people to read these stories and have a better understanding of how we’re all connected as humans.”
Right now, Gill is working on a new graphic novel memoir called Fights, about the fights he had as a kid. He was also recently approached about adapting some of his black history comics for film and television in Los Angeles. 
“It’s kind of surreal to think that people in Hollywood would want to talk to me about this,” he said. “I’m excited. I think it will be a great thing.” 
Gill is also the Chair of Foundations at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and a member of The Boston Comics Roundtable. 
 
For more on Joel Gill, visit joelchristiangill.wordpress.com. 
 
Be a comic artist 
Here are some upcoming local opportunities for kids and adults to learn about creating comics. 
 
• The Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications in Manchester is offering an online Editorial Cartooning class on Wednesday evenings from Jan. 10 through Feb. 14. The class is free. Visit loebschool.org. 
Comics Creators is a nine-week course for kids ages 9 through 12 at the Currier Museum Art Center (150 Ash St., Manchester). Classes will run Wednesdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., from Jan. 17 through March 21. The cost is $190. Visit currier.org/art-center. The Currier Museum Art Center also has regular drawing classes for adults. The next session starts Jan. 16. 
• Comic artist and educator Marek Bennett holds regular comics workshops at schools, libraries and community centers for kids and adults. Upcoming workshop dates will be announced soon. Visit marekbennett.com. 
• The New Hampshire Institute of Art (148 Concord St., Manchester) will launch a new four-year Comic Arts undergraduate program in the fall of 2018. Visit nhia.edu. 
• The Wild Salamander Creative Arts Center (30 Ash St., Hollis) has a Comic Art class for kids in grades 7 and up and adults, held on Thursdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m., from Jan. 11 through Feb. 15. The cost is $132. It also has a Cartoon Characters class for kids in grades 4 through 6, held on Tuesdays from 6 to 7:15, from Jan. 9 through Feb. 13. The cost is $117. Visit wildsalamander.com or call 465-9453.  
• There’s a How to Draw Cartoons workshop at Kelley Library (234 Main St., Salem) on Thursday, Dec. 28, from 10 a.m. to noon for kids in grades 1 through 6. Registration is required. Visit kelleylibrary.org or call 898-7064. 
Studio 550 Art Center (550 Elm St., Manchester) offers beginner drawing, painting and figure drawing workshops. Visit 550arts.com or call 232-5597 for upcoming dates. 
The Kimball Jenkins School of Art (266 N. Main St., Concord) offers drawing and sketching classes for adults starting in January.  




The Art of Comics
How artists tell stories through words and images

12/14/17
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



 Until now, aspiring comic artists who attend New Hampshire Institute of Art have majored in programs like illustration, taking classes here and there that are comic art-specific. But the increasing number of students who want their studies to be hyper-focused on comics has prompted NHIA to become one of the pioneering schools offering a comic arts program. It will launch with the fall semester of 2018. 

“Until now we had no formal way of educating students who were interested in comic arts,” said NHIA Foundations Chairman Joel Gill, who is helping develop the program. “And since many students who were in our illustration program are now working in comics, we thought, why not give them a program of their own?” 
In light of this development for the New Hampshire comics community, comic artists and educators shared their insights about how the medium is evolving and offered an inside look at what goes into creating a comic or graphic novel. 
 
A unique medium 
For Gill, art has always been about telling stories. He fell in love with comics in high school but decided after grad school to pursue painting instead. It wasn’t until a friend told him candidly that his paintings were failing to tell a story that he considered returning to comics and making it his primary medium. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that comics were the best way for him to tell the stories he longed to tell. 
“Comics appeal to our basic instinct of how language works,” he said. “The writing along with the visuals forms a bigger picture, and you can make the story seem more real without having to say as much. When you tap into that universal understanding of how we process images, you can get people to take in more information without even realizing it.” 
Comics have a unique way of conveying a story that’s different from other visual media like film or theater. Brian Furtado, a comic writing instructor and final-semester Goddard College graduate student studying creative writing with a focus in graphic novels, said one of the things that drew him to comics is their ability to condense and expand time in a story in a way other media can’t. 
“Because it’s a series of static images, it lays out specific moments, and it’s up to the reader to determine what is happening between those moments and how much time to present between moments,” he said. “You can pause on a particular image and look at the characters, look at the background and really take in all that is happening. You as the reader control the pace of the story.” 
Comics differ even more from prose in that comic writers have full control over how they want the reader to see their world and the characters that inhabit it. Without a visual element, prose allows readers to conjure their own visualization of what’s happening in the story, which is often different from the visual that the writer wants to convey. 
“I always use the example of Harry Potter. A lot of people, when they saw the movie, were thinking, ‘That’s not how I saw Dumbledore or Hogwarts in my mind when I was reading the book, this is all wrong,’” Furtado said. “That doesn’t happen with comics.” 
Having full control of a story’s visuals is especially important for comic writers looking to create autobiographical content based on their own memories. 
“Comics lend themselves well to [capturing] a particular experience or memory,” said Heide Solbrig, a comic artist and a professor at NHIA who teaches a comic arts class. “Because comics are so idiosyncratic, they allow you to represent that memory as visually close to your own mind’s eye as you can get, which is different from a book or a documentary.” 
Another quality that is exclusive to the comic medium is its accessibility. Unlike with books or film, anyone can create a comic in some capacity, regardless of artistic ability or training. Marek Bennett, a comic artist and educator who teaches workshops on comics at local schools and libraries, said he sees comics not as a fine art but as a “people’s art,” and that the skills needed to create a comic are built into the human imagination and can be harnessed by anyone. 
“I tell people that the best cartoonists are kindergarteners and first-graders. They just say, ‘I’m drawing this,’ and have no editorial filter,” he said. “That’s the kind of creative energy that I try to preserve, and I try to show people that they can get that back and participate in comics as an art form without being an expert.” 
 
The creative process 
Furtado said if there’s one thing he’s learned about comics, it’s that there is no right way to create them. Every artist’s process is different; some comic artists write the story and the dialogue first, then follow with the visuals, while others do the artwork first and work the story and dialogue around it. Then there are those with a process that’s somewhere in between, like writing a rough draft of the script, drawing the graphics around that and making adjustments as they go along until they get the comic how they want it.
“Nothing is typical,” Furtado said. “If you look at film scripts and play scripts, they all look the same, but comics don’t have that. There’s no set form or format that you have to follow. It’s sort of the Wild West in that way.” 
Furtado’s process begins with creating the comic’s characters. He develops a thorough profile of each character, complete with their worldviews and ideologies, strengths and weaknesses, desires and fears. Once he has a full understanding of who his characters are, the storyline and dialogue “fall into place,” he said, because they’re entirely driven by how the characters would react to different situations. 
For artists like Bennett, who creates nonfiction comics based on local history, the process begins with researching the person, place or event inspiring the story by looking at a primary source in which that historical information is found. If the source is a person’s journal, for instance, Bennett reads and studies it to determine what is the main objective or key idea behind the text. 
“I use the journal as a framework and try to honor it and [determine] what I need to include [in the comic] to give a more complete sense of the text,” he said. “I try to create [the comic] as if it were a comics journal drawn by the person [who wrote the journal]. Of course, I recognize that sometimes I’m going to make decisions that may affect the meaning of the text, and in that case I try to think of myself as a partner collaborating with the original person.” 
Gill, who also does historical nonfiction comics, researches the topic, then immediately starts drawing in pencil and structuring the story through images. He places empty word balloons and jots down notes about what dialogue will take place on each page. 
“Once the pencil is done, I go through the word balloons and figure out a way to connect [the words and the images] and make them work together,” he said. “Doing the drawing before the words just makes good sense to me.” 
Comic artists use a variety of drawing media, such as pen and ink, pencil, oil or acrylic paints, watercolor and digital drawing programs. One of the most popular techniques is doing the initial sketch with a physical medium, then going over the lines or coloring it in digitally. 
Furtado, who is relatively new to drawing for comics, is currently transitioning from pencil and paper to digital art but is finding that it’s not as easy as it looks. 
“The first few times I did it, it looked like a child had drawn it,” he said. “It’s entirely different, feeling lead on the paper versus drawing on a screen. It’s like having to reteach yourself to draw all over again, but I love having the copy and paste and undo options.” 
Comic drawing styles range from minimalist stick figure art, to cartoon art with solid blocks of color, to detailed realistic art with shading and texturing for dimension, and may be done in full color, monochromatic color or black and white.
Bennett believes that the story rather than the aesthetic should be the focal point of a comic, and that the drawing media, styles and techniques should be chosen based on their ability to convey the story. He’s concluded that stick figure style images are best suited for his historical nonfiction comics. 
“In historical texts, there is often a huge amount of detail that is left out, so instead of trying to draw a detailed picture, I keep the artwork simple. That way my interpretation stays as close as it can get to the original text.” he said. “If the drawing is done effectively, the readers shouldn’t be noticing the artwork style. They should just be caught up in the story.” 
 
Teaming up 
The art of comics provides plenty of opportunities for writers and artists to collaborate. While there are those who prefer to do both the writing and artwork themselves, many comics creators relish the collaborative process and have found that merging their talents produces the highest-quality work. 
“The collaborative nature of comics has been the most interesting part for me,” said Cory Levine, a comic artist and a professor at NHIA who teaches a comic arts class. Levine only recently started drawing his own comics; for years he did only the writing component and worked alongside artists or teams of artists who would do the drawing. “The medium is well suited for two people to work together and produce something that’s better than the sum of its parts. Sharing that creative outcome with another person and going through that process together has always been rewarding for me.” 
The writer is usually credited with writing and developing the plot, characters and dialogue while the artist draws the comic’s graphics. 
Even if they’ve never drawn or planned to draw for a comic, the writers can benefit greatly from studying art or taking art classes. 
“It’s important for them to have some sense of how the visual work is done,” said comic writer and NHIA media professor Alexander Danner. “When you think about a comic visually, you want to make sure that what you’re asking for as a writer is something that’s achievable and possible to do for the artist.” 
Before he started drawing his own comics, Furtado worked with other artists on various projects. He said the biggest challenge is getting the artist to fully grasp the writer’s vision and accurately reflect it in the artwork. Sometimes it’s just a matter of compatibility, and it may take going through a few failed collaborations before the writer is able to find an artist who is the right fit for his story. 
“The reader isn’t going to see what you put on the [script],” Furtado said. “They’re going to see what the artist draws and presents to them, so the artist has to be able to visualize the story and conceptualize the world and capture all of the emotion and everything that is communicated in the script.” 
Other writers look for artists who will not only match their vision but also contribute ideas of their own. For Danner, the goal of a collaboration is to allow the artist to represent his personal style while bringing an additional element to the story. 
“What ends up on the page isn’t always what was in my head, but I love that process of creating a script and seeing how another voice can add another layer to it,” he said. “It usually comes out in the little details that you weren’t necessarily imagining that carry through to places where you haven’t inserted them yourself.”   
 
Comic challenges 
For Solbrig, the most challenging thing about creating comics is the amount of time and work it requires. That’s especially true for comic creators who do both the writing and the artwork. 
“It just takes so long. Comics are a very time-intensive format,” she said. “There are a lot of skills involved and a lot of competencies required to make something effectively work. It can be very labor-intensive.” 
Because of the time requirement, it’s often challenging for a comic artist to produce comics while holding a regular job. Bennett admits that his family and friends were concerned when he announced that he was leaving his job as a teacher to pursue comics full time, but that only having weekends and evenings to create just wasn’t cutting it. 
“When you tell people you’re leaving your job to do comics, people have a tendency to say, ‘Are you sure? That’s kind of a leap,’ but it’s not a total leap if you’re really committed to it and love what you do and can create something that connects with readers,” he said. 
It can be difficult for independent comic artists to find readers, particularly if they are producing a comic outside of the superhero genre, which “remains the most popular genre by far,” Levine said. Comic artists often have to devote a lot of time to pitching their comics to publishers, appearing at comic conventions and promoting their work online. 
“You can’t just kick back and expect your work to speak for itself.” Levine said. “That’s what we really try to hammer at [NHIA]. There’s more to being a professional creative than just making the art. You have to get out there and market yourself and make an audience for yourself one person at a time.” 
 
Pushing the boundaries 
The world of comics has progressed far beyond superheroes. Comic artists continue to explore new concepts and broaden the scope of the medium, particularly in the indie sector, which Solbrig said is “the most experimental form of media-making with the largest audience.” 
“Comics are accessible in that they allow you to experiment with the form and do many different levels of storytelling,” she said. “For me, the work that is the most interesting is the work that exists on the peripheries, the work that is innovative and having its moment.” 
Very few aspiring comic artists surveyed at NHIA report wanting to create comics in the superhero genre, Levine said, and more people are coming around to the idea that comics encompass a wider range of content. 
“[Students] typically want to do something more personal and more distinctive, and that’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s encouraging that they’re looking for other ways to apply the medium.” 
While comics are becoming better understood within the arts community, they still face some misconceptions in the mainstream. People looking for more sober content often dismiss comics for the “pictures and bright colors” that make them appear light-hearted, Gill said, and fail to realize that comics, like any other medium, can tell both amusing and thought-provoking stories. 
“People don’t consider how rich and literary comics can be, how powerful and profound, how dark and beautiful and moving. There’s nothing silly about it,” he said. “It’s an expressive form that is no different from the work of Picasso or anyone else who creates expressively and tells stories.” 
Comics have also attained more credibility in the scholarly and academic realm than they’ve had in years past. Many middle schools, high schools and colleges use certain comics as educational texts in their curriculums. 
“That was unheard of when I was in school,” Danner said. “I remember having debates with my English teacher about the legitimacy of comics as a literature. It’s not ubiquitous, but there’s definitely a much stronger presence of comics in schools, and they’ve certainly gained much more respect as a literature.”
The popularity of comics as both a teaching tool and as entertainment for the younger generation has secured comics a long lasting place in American culture, Gill said.  

“With kids nowadays growing up with comics, they will become even more prevalent and widely available, and be even more read in the future than they are now,” he said. “It may take on different forms as time goes on, but I don’t see comics ever waning because of the way people relate to those words and images.” 






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