Monday, December 31, 2012

Comics and Art, Full-Time

I’ve decided that this will be my last year teaching at SCAD-Atlanta.  I’m going to be turning the entirety of my professional attention to comics and production art.

I didn’t come by the decision lightly.  I love being a teacher, and I love being a cartoonist, and in many ways each helps me be better at the other.  But I’ve come to find that I can do neither to the best of my ability without infringing on the time necessary to see the other done to the degree of quality I’d expect of myself.

With each new round of classes I find myself spending greater amounts of time in preparation for those classes, both in trying to expand my own knowledge base and in preparing lectures.  This prep time grows in relation with my awareness of how little I actually know.  Each new artistic principle that I learn only serves to spotlight the many of which I may have been previously unaware and don’t yet understand. 

I’m under no illusion that I’ll ever be satisfied with what I know.  Every new discovery will be a path to new obstacles.  That’s not a bad thing.  I’m grateful that there will always be more to learn.  But I’d like to be able to take my time a little more with those discoveries.  As it is, if I stumble across an unknown (to me) artistic principle or method or anything in that vein that I don’t fully understand, I am obligated to work at that principle until I understand it to the point that I can easily articulate and teach it as soon as humanly possible.  This is my responsibility as a teacher, and as it leads me into ever-wider fields of focus based on student career interest I find that I spend virtually all of my work time in self-education rather than in actually producing work.

Part of my job as a cartoonist is to produce work in a timely fashion.  In my expectations of myself, one graphic novel every two years is not a timely fashion.  Sure, I do for-hire work and short stories and the like during these stretches, but the graphic novels are the meat of my output, and they should come out with much greater rapidity. 

It has become impossible for me to exceed my current output (or even meet it) while trying to better myself to where I can fulfill what I believe to be the needs of my students.

And there’s the Catch-22.  My entire teaching philosophy is rooted in preparing students for the marketplace.  Part of my job as a teacher is to set an example for them.  If I’m unable to make a living at comics, and to produce comics at the rate that the market demands, I fail entirely in that job, and have no business standing in front of a classroom.  As it stands, I can’t meet my teacher obligations (as I consider them) and my cartoonist obligations (as I consider them) both, and if I am deficient in the latter (which I am if I’m only producing a hundred plus pages a year) I automatically fail at the former.  Therefore, if the choice between the two must be made (and it must), then that choice must be comics.

I will still strive to improve with each project, to better myself as an artist and as a storyteller.  But I’d like to be free of the moral obligation to make the immediacy of that growth my foremost priority.  Learning at my leisure, through execution of work, will allow me to create the work for which such studies have, I hope, prepared me.

Now that the decision has been made, I’m very excited.  I’m anxious to get back to work on Crogan’s Escape (which has been on hold, more or less, since the school year started), as well as preparatory work on future Crogan Adventures stuff, which will be where I plan to direct the majority of my attention.  I have a number of presentations prepared for school visits, and though my teaching schedule in the past has prevented me from doing more than three or four of these a year my new, more open schedule will permit me to visit many more schools over a much wider geographic area.  And I have other comics projects, too, that I’m looking forward to getting off the ground.  There are a number of books – mostly kid or YA titles – that have been simmering for some time and are ready to pitch to publishers. 

And I won’t just be working on comics.  I’ll be working with my good friends Chad Thomas (MegaMan) and Jason Horn (Ninjasaur) to start a studio in which we’ll be doing both comics and production design.  So much of what I do is done entirely on my own, and being able to work collaboratively (truly collaboratively, from inception to completion, rather than assembly-line style) offers us the opportunity to work things through until they’re as close as any of us can get to perfect.  I’ve often had the chance to work with students this way on their projects, but never as an active participant.  I couldn’t be more excited, and couldn’t imagine folks with whom I’d rather work.

I will miss teaching more than I'll ever be able to express.  No one could have wished for more enthusiastic and dedicated students, and no work that I create will ever give me the same pride that I feel having had a part, however small, in the development of these incredible storytellers.  I am grateful to have been part of a department whose foremost concern has always been to prepare students for a career in visual storytelling (be that comics, animation, or concept art) and to instill in them the principles necessary to do excellent work in those fields.  My bosses have been nothing but supportive in and outside of the classroom, and each of my colleagues have always been examples to me of excellence in both their academic and professional capacities.  It is, as I said, with great reluctance that I leave a program in the quality of which I so strongly believe.

I will, of course, continue to teach for the remainder of the school year.  The knowledge that this will be my last opportunity to do so for the immediate future has fired me up about making these classes the very best of which I’m capable.  So, to my current students, see you in a few days!

I hate to leave a post with no art, so here are a couple of redesigns for some of the Crogan endpaper/family tree characters and an attempt at refining the design of Mabel Cottonshot.

(click image for bigger view)


  1. I wish you the best of luck Chris and I'm honored to have been one of your students!

  2. Now THAT is a New Year's resolution.

  3. Great all-and-powerfully merciful George Carlin's beard THE MAYAN'S PREDICTION HAS COME TRUE!!! This is sad, and yet, I never really had a class with you...I'm not even technically in the same department so as a fan and fellow artist I'm really happy for you. In the words of Liza Minnelli, "You go girl!" (I'm pretty sure she said that at some point)

  4. We will certainly miss you, Chris. But we also wish the best for you and success of your work and career. But don't be sad! This field is a tight-knit community, remember, and we'll be around to swap stories and feedback and share what we're up to! Thanks, in advance, for the chance to have touched paths with you. :)

  5. Big news, Chris! I think it's important to remember that (if we're lucky!) life is long. You may decide to return to teaching at some point farther down the road, once you have a big stack of books to your name and a lot more knowledge in your noggin. In the mean time, good luck with your last semester, and I look forward to seeing the future fruits of your increased productivity.

  6. Oh man, I actually gasped when I read this! You'll definitely be missed, but do what you gotta do; we beliiiiieve in yoooou.