Archive for the Uncategorized Category
Sorry folks, I’ve been a bit swamped as we move into the last part of the school year! I’m going to start working on some new strips in the next week or so.
I know it’s the equivalent of recommending reruns to people who already watched something in first-run, but I’ve been reposting some of my older strips on my Tumblr blog, for those interested. I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with the reception my work has gotten over there and I’ve been featured on Tumblr’s Education tag numerous times in the past few months.
As a kid, one of the only things I wanted to do with my life was draw comic strips for newspapers. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time where I could spend my mornings reading the work of master cartoonists like Garry Larson, Bill Watterson, and Berkley Breathed. As I grow older, I become more and more confident this period will be remembered as the last great gasp from the funny pages in traditional newspapers. Besides a couple of odd outliers like Richard Thompson‘s Cul de Sac and Patrick McDonnell‘s Mutts, there’s very little artistry on display in newspaper comic strips these days. Legacy strips like Blondie hold sway, offering variations on the same jokes, again and again, ad infinitum.
It’s an interesting look into the economics of syndicating a comic strip. Syndication fees aren’t a thing I’ve ever found discussed in much detail before. I suppose this is because everybody has a different deal; the price for a new Garfield comic strip will obviously be higher than those on an unproven commodity. I’m willing to wager that the price for Peanuts reruns remains significantly higher than most newly produced material.
What’s more, with the rapidly changing landscape of digital media, the people who are still buying newspapers seem very reticent to change in their comic strips. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a story like this: Newspaper decides to cancel a legacy strip. Outcry from the readership is enough where said strip is brought back. The result is fewer and fewer new voices being given much of an opportunity to get a foothold in the industry. You can’t really fault the newspapers for giving their paying customers what they want. You can’t fault the syndicates for supplying that need… and indeed, I do think a lot of the syndicates have done a good job of trying to cultivate new talent, to a degree. It’s just the industry isn’t what it once was.
Of course, the upshot of new media is that just about anyone who has the wherewithal to draw a comic strip can be given that outlet. Hell, with my limited talent and means, I’ve been drawing a comic strip of one kind or another for about ten years now. If that doesn’t say something significant about the democratization of the Internet, I don’t know what does. I must admit though, the funny pages are going to be one of those institutions I’m going to be quite sad to see go. You can find a wealth of great comics on the Web without looking very hard… but something about the experience of opening a newspaper and seeing the roster of comics waiting for you? That’s a thing I’ll miss.
What a bummer, right? Hopefully sharing some comics I really liked this week will lighten the mood.
Greg Stump’s one pager Ball Saved is terrific. I love it when cartoonists geek out over their very specific interests. In this one, Stump extols the virtues of pinball machines, mentioning some of his favorites and how they tie to key moments in his life. Stump mentions Gorgar and The Addams Family pinball games, both of which I’m familiar with but my personal favorite pinball machine will always be Cyclone.
One of the great things about participating in Hourly Comics Day has been getting to see the work of all these wonderful artists who normally fly under my own radar (although, let it be said, I’ve never been the most perceptive consumer of comics on the Internet, often finding out about great work months after its’ made the rounds). I very much enjoyed the hourly comics of Miss Nash, who has a clean, precise line of which I’m totally envious. I worry when I say I find Nash’s cartoons to be really “cute” that readers might think I’m being reductive. I’m hoping that’s not the case because I admire her work… but c’mon! Super cute!
During semester exam week, my school runs on the following schedule: From 7:15 until 11:00 in the morning, we administer exams. If a student brings in a signed note from their parents, they are allowed to leave the school for the rest of the day. This practice isn’t unique to my high school, although I’d never heard of a thing like this until I started teaching in the Midwest.
ANYWAY, teenagers being how they are, every year I get a student or three who forgets to get a note and ends up stuck at school for the duration. This is a pretty grim prospect for most students, as almost 90% of their friends have packed up and taken off for the afternoon. As such, I will get a handful of forgeries every time exams start up.
I’ve seen a LOT of forged notes in my time teaching… but this one is by far the best. Or… the worst.
Your eye immediately be drawn to the misspelled word, but my favorite part of the note is the “parent” signature. You know, because all adults sign their name with the artful flourish of extending our T cross ACROSS THE PAGE.
The student who did this is a pretty nice kid. I called him on it right away and he copped to the forgery. He also said it was alright if I shared this with you guys. I give him some credit… at least he didn’t sign it from “Epstein’s mother.”
It’s not hyperbolic to say that James Kochalka’s American Elf has been the most influential piece of art I’ve encountered in my own life. I’ve been reading Kochalka’s journal comic since 2002, when on a visit to Boston, my then-future roommate Daniel and Liz Prince took me on a visit to Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square. Liz and Daniel prodded me toward Kochalka’s diary comics with an insistence I couldn’t deny. I picked up the book and was pretty much transfixed by the work’s honesty and gentle humor.
At the time I first encountered American Elf, I was drawing traditional newspaper comic strips for my college’s weekly but with the end of my undergraduate years fast approaching I knew I would not have that particular outlet for my comics much longer. One of the things that instantly appealed to me about Kochalka’s work was the clear ties it shares with at least the format newspaper comic strips. I’m including AE’s ironclad “one a day, everyday” schedule in this appraisal, as well as Kochalka’s economy of line. James was using the format of the newspaper strip to say something strikingly personal about his own experiences and I immediately related. Thousands of other readers did the same.
…that was back in 2003. We’re about a decade removed from my own discovery of American Elf and it’s been a wonderful experience for me, both as a reader and dare I say, a comic creator. Last week, James announced he’s ending American Elf at the close of 2012. Although he’s made noise about bringing the strip to a close before, this time I believe the guy to be serious about his intent.
I guess I just wanted to say “Thank you” in a public way to James for creating American Elf and sharing his life in an artistic way. You can still read the entire archive of American Elf over on his website or pick them up in brand-new digital collections. I more highly recommend buying the books from Top Shelf. I splurged on the hardcover treatment of the first four years of AE; it’s one of the most-read books I own.
From my own experience being inspired by the comic format Kochalka pioneered, I can say nothing but good things. Drawing a daily journal comic has helped in scores of ways with dealing with my life, from the first six years, where I focused on my personal life… to the last four, wherein I lent a sequential eye toward my job, teaching high school English Language Arts. Creating comics about my life helped me to become a better person and I KNOW that sounds like pop psychobabble but it’s true.
I look back on the comics I created in my twenties and… well, I cringe at some of them. A LOT OF THEM, if I’m being honest. However, they now exist as guideposts for the person I’d become… every lousy date, every self-indulgent tic I felt compelled to capture are on the pages of those notebooks. They’re embarrassing, they’re egotistical, and they’re a document of my twenties. There they sit, on the shelf as a reminder of the horrible person I was and, every once and awhile – there’d be some growth. Through the comics, I’d get outside of my head and get some perspective I wouldn’t have normally had. Not everyone can say they have something like to remember what their life was like as they were moving into the adult world… but I can, and I thank James Kochalka for that.
Again, even writing the above sentiment, I know I’m being indulgent. Everyone grows and changes in their twenties… but I genuinely feel drawing comics has made me a better person. I know for a fact one of the reasons my beautiful wife Ellen was initially interested in me was because she knew I drew comics. I have a comic I drew from the first night she and I hung out, months before we were a romantic item.
It’s a living document of the beginning of our relationship. How cool is that?!?
Drawing journal comics about my work has likewise broadened my understanding of what it is to be an educator. As my former principal loved to remind me, he hired me because he saw my comics and knew I’d bring something unique to his teaching staff.
Consciously, I know I did all those things myself… but I also know I never would have achieved them if I hadn’t been so wonderfully inspired by James Kolchaka. I’m going to miss American Elf but I’m excited to see what projects Kochalka’s going to focus on next. American Elf will remain a substantial contribution from a cartoonist whose best work is still to come. Enjoy the next three weeks of American Elf and look forward to the future!
As is my custom for this time of year, I put Thrift Store Finds on hiatus for the weeks leading up to Christmas. It will instead be replaced with…
The Christmas Comic Cavalcade! You can click back here to read the past two years’ worth of yuletide comics. There are some good ones there… and some really good ones coming up!
We are in that weird twilight period between holidays, where it’s hard to start anything new and in-depth with my classes because of external forces. Besides only having seven (SEVEN) school days until Thanksgiving break, there are other things going on at my school. We are being asked to administer benchmark assessments next week in our classrooms. In effect, I won’t be teaching for three days next week because I’ll be a standardized test proctor. It’s all in the name of student data!
As a fan of Stephen King, I’ve been enjoying James Smythe’s think pieces on the author’s ouvere for The Guardian. Smythe is reading King’s novels in order of their publication and providing his running commentary on the themes and ideas engaged within each one. I don’t know if there’s a lot of new ground being covered here (his latest look at Cujo doesn’t provide any deep insight on the parallels between the novel and King’s admitted addictions during its’ creation) but sometimes it’s good to read a smart person discoursing intelligently on a topic you are likewise interested in reading about.
Staying on the horror kick, Ellen and I got around to seeing The Cabin in the Woods a few weekends back.
Folks who read Odds and Ends regularly know my lovely wife is a recent convert to the works of Joss Whedon… but she’s not much of a horror movie fan. I thought this one would be a tough sell for her but we popped it in the DVD player and ended up having a hell of a good time with the flick. It’s a bit more “meta” than I like my horror but since the Scream franchise got rolling, it’s hard not to insert some commentary within the structure of these kinds of films.
It’s an enjoyable movie in some respects in the same ways people enjoyed Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. When you watch Dr. Strangelove, a part of you is actively rooting for that bomb to be dropped on the Soviets. In that same way, a lot of me was rooting for Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins’ characters to get their job done. It’s a sly comment on our own roles as horror movie fans, watching the latest slasher flick and getting excited for the monster to attack the virginal prom queen.
Anyway, good movie, I recommend it.
Still taking this week off from producing new work, but I thought I’d mention to everyone: I’ve been posting OLD comics on my Tumblr blog for the past few days. I’m talking… like 10 years old in most cases. Looking at how bad I used to me will give you a newfound appreciation for how good I am now, right? RIGHT?
Seriously though, I’m not trying to run myself down. The comics I’m posting over there are fun but they have next to nothing to do with teaching. Since this is ostensibly a blog about teacher comics during the school year, I didn’t want to muddy the waters.
You should check out what I’m posting over there though. I posted a Harry Potter comic today.