Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Free Time

Turns out there wasn't enough turn-out to go ahead with the Mechanics of Comics class this Fall, and although it's a real shame, I'll confess that I'm not exactly heartbroken. Well, I am heartbroken, but not for the obvious reason. Ever since I started teaching the class back in 2006 (it's run three times now, and this would have been the fourth), I've had to fight with my high expectations of the types of students that would sign up, versus the students in reality.

Really, I'd hoped for a mix of people (and genders), mostly in their twenties, or talented high-schoolers. Certainly, at the least, I'd hoped to get people who were at least into it and dedicated to trying. What the classes ended up being was kids between 12 and 15, many of whom had major A.D.D., none of whom was the material meant for. Many couldn't draw at all, and I know that some of the lessons on anatomy and perspective were incredibly frustrating and probably discouraging to them.

Still, I was the one who was most discouraged, in the end. I'd gone in to the Rockland Center for the Arts with three class proposals, two for classes in comics. The first was one that I'd hoped would appeal to their base (from what I've seen, craftsy housewives with time to kill), sort of an 'art of comics' class - called, coincidentally enough, The Art of Comics - that would just let students explore the potential for self-expression in the medium. The other Mechanics class was designed to get down to the nitty-gritty of the step-by-step production techniques that have developed over the years in the American comics industry. All the tools, laid out and demonstrated. I also included a history of the medium as a slideshow, and talked about writing, characterization, theme, dialogue, layout, design, drawing basics (like the above-mentioned anatomy and perspective), inking and lettering, and then wound the whole thing up with a class on Photoshop technique for coloring.

Sounds like a good plan, but as the classes went on, the students were less and less engaged by the material. By the third round this past summer, I watched sadly as one of the more promising students dropped out after the first class, citing as the reason the age group. He was 17, and most of the others were 12-13. And I totally sympathized. In order to be engaged in a class like this, you want to feel like you're in an environment that's going to challenge you, and he just wasn't going to feel that from this group.

The thing is, even kids in their very early teens can be dedicated and directed, and there were a few in this class (along with my prize student, Kallliope) who might be able to get somewhere. And I really feel I can help them - but then I end up with the kids who just show up and make noise, and never draw either in class or out, who pretty much were dumped there by their parents because they figured, "Hey, Timmy likes comics!," despite the fact that Timmy has never shown any interest or inclination to be an artist.

The Catch-22 of this is that I want to work with all the kids, to make sure that they all are getting something out of the class - but I end up getting even more frustrated and not giving the time to the kids who are really there to learn, and I view everything dimly. The fact is, the last class had a number of kids who really had some talent, but I just ended up too scattered to help them in the way I wanted.

Still, anyone who showed up and listened would have gleaned something, even if it was just learning how to cross-hatch, or something. I suspect the class - if it is offered again - will continue to be given for kids, and will probably be a summer only class. Which, getting back to the opening, is a shame, but a shame I can live with. Obviously, if I was expecting to turn out a dozen graphic novelists, and was only getting maybe one finished page out of the kids (and not even most of them got to that point), what was needed was a serious reconsideration of my expectations and the resulting curriculum.

Perhaps I'll just try to teach a class in Pen and Ink, instead...


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