A thoughtful discussion took place in Thursday’s Teaching & Making Comics panel about the avenues creators take towards making comics. James Sturm (Off Season) moderated the discussion which included educators and artists Ebony Flowers (Hot Comb), Roman Muradov (Vanishing Act), Trina Robbins (Flapper Girls), and Sophie Yanow (The Contradictions). The panelists shared their views and teaching philosophies on comics.

Ebony Flowers, a former biology and math teacher, took up comics while working on her masters degree in education. Flowers’ instructor was Lynda Barry, whose unconventional style and approach mirrored Flowers’ unconventional path to the art form and her subsequent teaching philosophy.

“I was looking for alternative ways of understanding and representing my research,” recalls Flowers. “It was an incredible class; it taught me a lot about storytelling, and it heavily influenced how I read and looked at my data while getting my master’s degree.”

A petroleum engineer in his native Russia with little interest in the field, Muradov came into comics while trying to learn English while reading at the library. For Muradov, art acted more as a translation for the written word. Muradov was not fond of the American comics canon. In teaching comics, Muradov stresses “how to be different” and the importance of style as a narrative device.

“Style is substance. In my humble opinion, people focus on a story too much.”

As a young child who loved to draw, comics didn’t come easily to Yanow. Her formal education came by attending comics convention panels. Like Muradov, she was less than impressed by the “white man” canon of comics. Yanow’s teaching style focuses on the accessibility of comics to readers, even if the canon doesn’t reflect the practice.

Robbins recalled breaking into an industry dominated by men and their artistic stereotypes. She spoke of the evolving history of the art form, particularly at the turn of the twenty-first century where comics styles have opened up and artists are breaking away from the canon.

As the Teaching & Making Comics panelists showed, there isn’t a one size fits all solution to creativity and that influences take many forms. The comics canon, as it stands, was meant to be broken and to evolve.

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