Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Art School Daze...seen through the wisdom of age

You wouldn't have liked me in art school. I was a dink.

Hard to imagine, eh? :)

I had a boy's face and wanted to be taken seriously. I used to bleach my goatee and my temples so they'd look gray, now I'm on the verge of coloring them so they look brown-- oh the irony!

I was confident, sure of the impact I needed to make on the art world, able to spot a poser a mile away and wanted to shove anyone who didn't take art as seriously as I did down a flight of stairs.

I had everything figured out, you see.

I had a great professor named Will Eisner who was a legend in the advertising and comics world, creating campaigns that we all knew and establishing companies that became HUGE based mostly on his work, developing comics as a visual artform like film and a master of the modern graphic novel. Will envisioned graphic novels being equally displayed in bookstores someday (as they are today) and I had tremendous respect for him, and he treated me very well-- especially since I was a dink.

In hindsight, I think he saw a lot of himself in me, and realized that while I had talent, I also was something of an idiot and wanted to be taken seriously without earning my stripes. He knew that someone would set me straight someday-- and he figured better to be that father figure I could come running back to than the guy to actually do it.

Along came Neal Adams, a legend in the comics industry, owner of Continuity Graphics in Manhattan, an advertising, graphic design and comic book company. I headed over there with my portfolio (and my attitude) and met the maestro. I think Will had suggested I go see him, but I don't remember for certain.

Neal kicked my ass sixteen different ways, to quote Chandler in The Big Sleep (my favorite book), he knocked out my teeth and then punched me in the stomach for mumbling. Just when I got up off the floor he kicked me back down, then took my broken body and hurled it down the steep flight of stairs to his office. I spent years as a boxer-- and I never took a beating like this one.

I basically crawled back down Fifth Avenue dragging my portfolio behind me.

I ended up at the base of the Empire State Building where I literally sat on the sidewalk, my portfolio beside me like a fallen comrade and I grew up.

I'd had critiques before. Once fairly tough one from a well known comic artist whose work I only thought was okay-- and I think that was the key. This was Neal Adams. To me, there was no better comic artist on the planet, with the exception of maybe Jack Kirby.

I sat there for a long time-- and I'm not making this up. With my jeans and sports jacket all covered in the dirt from a New York City sidewalk I sat there so long that someone actually dropped a dollar in front of me, probably assuming I was contemplating a jump from the observation deck a hundred or so floors up.

What I thought about was where I was at that point, where I wanted to go, and how I could get there. I also thought a little about humility and respect for those who had gone before me. I thought about the guys (and women) who had earned their stripes and decided it was time to get mine. I took Adams critiques and re-worked everything.

A few years later, I met Jack Kirby, showed him my portfolio and we became pals. My Pal Jack Kirby. He even sent me a magic pencil, one he said he used to draw 40 pages of KAMANDI with in a single weekend.

I have a similar relationship with Paul Ryan, who holds the record for most consecutive issues of the Fantastic Four and is currently the artist on The Phantom daily and Sunday comic strip. Paul is one of my favorite people and I could not have more respect for him and his work ethic.

So my point in all this, and I'm writing this the day after doing some mid-semester reviews for a few underclassmen and scheduling it for the Sunday before the big UCF critique, is if there is really one thing I learned from art school it's to take yourself less seriously, open your eyes to the work and talent around you and learn what you can from those who've gone before you.

That, and try not to be a dink.

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