I have a friend who has a 16-year old son with natural artistic ability. He loves manga, and his drawing is definitely in the comic book/graphic novel style. However, he doesn't like typical structured art classes. This teenager started to veer on the wrong path but is now working his way back to the right path, so his mother wants to find a way to foster his drawing skills that will provide an engaging environment to grow as an artist. Since you're constantly interacting with people in this field, and since many Pop Candy readers work in this field, do you have any suggestions for places to start for a young man with a lot of potential? — Carlotta K. in Washington, D.C.
"After I decided at age 12 that I wanted to spend my life making comix, I quickly discovered it was an uphill battle. I'll be 47 at the end of May, and it's still a struggle. Long story short, comics were considered a bastard art form (and in some elite circles, still are) and, much like that 16-year old kid in Washington, D.C., who likes to draw in a manga style, I rejected my local school art studies because most of my art teachers did the one thing art teachers should NEVER do: belittle and criticize the very thing I loved.
"It was Ms. Friend, my kindergarten teacher, who told my parents to NOT put me in art school. She claimed I would just copy what I was taught, and it was better for me to keep my artistic sensibilities pure. Later on, it was Bonnie Lechner and Karyn Kay, beloved English teachers at my High School of Music & Art (before it became LaGuardia High School) who recognized and championed my gift to show and tell stories with the might of my pencils. They believed in me just like my parents and friends did. And belief in another person's passion goes a long way when you don't have a paycheck or a publication to prove yourself. You do it because you have to.
"Back then in my hometown of NYC, I knew of one college that taught comics (the School of Visual Arts) and a few professional cartoonists' studios that took on assistants. I was lucky enough to get into Upstart Studios my senior year of high school and assist, while being mentored by Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin and Walter Simonson, and knocking elbows with Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and James Sherman.
"I learned more about the art of comics in 1985 than I ever did in art school and college combined. Simply put, cartoonists teach comics by making comics. Nowadays, my peers are actually teaching the form in high schools and colleges across the nation. And, thanks to our pop-culture gatekeepers and taste-makers (I'm looking at YOU, Whitney Matheson!), our comic-book characters are considered legitimate, literate and oh-so-fresh!
"With the non-judgmental encouragement of my parents, good friends, family and peers, I took a serpentine road littered with dangerous curves, stop signs, and broken bridges, but I managed to stay the course and skid into today, where I get to write and draw The Fox for Archie/Red Circle Comics while concurrently coming out with my creator-owned character Billy Dogma in Fear, My Dear (a graphic novel published by Z2 Comics), along with other cool comix from my studio's self-publishing imprint, Hang Dai Editions.
"They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I believe that to be true for the modern cartoonist. A plethora of history books, comic-cons, expos, libraries, galleries, comics shop signings, studios and the web have made it super-easy to read, educate and meet the people who make comics and personally experiment the art form in the confines of your home.
"When I was a budding cartoonist, you needed to knock on doors and beg your way into the few comic-book publishers' editorial offices in town and show them your portfolio in hopes of landing a job. Today, you can publish a webcomic of digital scribbles sans permission and win awards. You can social network and crowd-fund your ideas with the click of a button. But, like how a village can grow a cartoonist, it takes a community to sustain a comics career.
"I don't care how good you are, none of it really matters if you don't have a community. Otherwise, you work in a vacuum and that can get weird. Find your community. Show up to the party and share the stuff you like, and it can boomerang right back atcha. Keep tabs with what's what and continue to strive forward. Build shortcuts but break habits. Try new things, communicate and be kind. Help each other. You do that, and you will always have a way to realize your dreams."