BY JEN VAUGHN
Art schools and apprenticeships find themselves more popular than ever, let’s all tip our hats to inspiration artist Rudolph Töpffer’s for his creation of boarding school for boys. While anyone can teach themselves and become successful on their own, a lot of the specialty schools allow access to equipment, connections, mentorship of working professionals and opportunities in a condensed amount of time that are priceless.
The Joe Kubert School, Savannah College of Art and Design, School of Visual Art and the Center for Cartoon Studies are constantly providing this sort of wonder for their students. Most recently, CCS celebrated its annual Industry Day where hand-picked editors, designers and comic critics are invited to present themselves to the school as well as take a gander at the illustrious student portfolios. Past visitors have included Brett Warnock from Top Shelf, Calista Brill and Colleen AF Venable from First Second, Tom Devlin and Chris Oliveros of D&Q, Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics, critic Douglas Wolk and on and on and on.
This year publishers Leon Avelino and Barry Matthews of Secret Acres provided excellent company along with Charlie Kochman of Abrams ComicArts, artist agent Bernadette Baker-Baughman of Victoria Sanders & Associates with mediator, journalist Tom Spurgeon of the Comics Reporter. The panel sat down and spoke honestly about themselves, comics and the industry and this little fox perked up her ears on your behalf.
Secret Acres started off with mentioning that they prefer to receive submissions via the mail. They go to so many conventions to sell books and look for art that if you just hand them your work, it goes in one big bag to be read at some future date. So if Secret Acres might be for you, keep your comics to yourself at a con unless they ask for them!
Kochman spent twelve years going to cons and giving portfolio reviews. He’s also had several people READ their comics aloud to him and I think we all know how condescending that can be. Unless we’re talking about Steamy Punk fiction or something. Yet from that time he published a little graphic novel you might have seen fleetingly on the shelves, Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
As a agent, Bernadette provided the three elements she is looking for before signing up to represent a creator. These elements are A) Falling in love with the work; B) Instantly knowing half a dozen publishers who would buy it and C) The material has to be near completion, fit for a publisher or printer. Bernadette suggested if an artist is interested in an agent to investigate who they are representing and what books they are selling. Would you fit in? Do you like any of the material? She also whole-heartedly believes that kid’s comics and non-fiction comic books are the easiest to sell at the moment.
Inevitably, Tony Shenton‘s name came up as the master indie distributor that he is AND that Abrams recently hired him to man the backlist of comic book stores. Shenton makes sure that shops have copies of comics and graphic novels right before a NY Times review hits so the hungry public can actually get their hands on a copy. An excellent idea for a man of such talents, bravo Abrams.
The digital discussion did come up and Bernadette has seen many prose works going straight into reading applications. Meanwhile, largely-produced comics are still at a standstill. Kochman smartly rambled on the idea of giving the digital rights BACK to the creators since most companies are just sitting on them. This would be beneficial for both creator and company if the creator adapted something to fit the digital platforms (add some music!) or in the case of Mom’s Cancer, could help people if it was put back online.
Barry of Secret Acres mentioned working on something secret, dark and dangerously digital especially since the release of the iPad 2 have solidfied the medium’s existence. Leon bemoaned the slow swan song of the periodical but lauded the praises of reading the same material on such digital platforms. The immediate impact of the digital revolution on smaller, independent publishers is that they are getting better quality at better prices from printers. Secret Acres loves being pursued.
Leon, Barry and Bernadette
The comics community seems large but like that damn song, we know what small world it is. Kochman reminisced on having to pass up books he really to publish that have luckily their homes at publishers elsewhere. He responds to individual style and believes artists should strive to make their work recognizable without a name attached to it. Secret Acres is always on the lookout for artists that are unique, whose influences are hard to put a finger on. They are often approached after a book comes out by jealous publishers (not necessarily the aforementioned) but cheekily reply that everyone attends the same shows and sees the same mini-comics.
After the panel slowed down, students met with the Industry Day movers and shakers for portfolio reviews. Constructive criticism is always the goal but a few tears now and then occur (one publisher jokingly once told me he was aiming to make people puke!). With pockets of comments, criticism and compliments of their work, the student cartoonists go to the drawing board more hopeful for ensuing glory and and continue to burn that midnight oil.
And with that, I think it is time for all of us to go back to work, whether we are writing or drawing or creating that magic that exists in between.