My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 4. 

As if hanging out with PaulCraigSvetlana and the other associates wasn’t enough, we had a almost a dozen guests stop by to visit us at the ACA. Craig brought his girlfriend, Sierra Hahn (who also happens to be an editor at Dark Horse, pics below left and center), with him for the first week. Sierra has worked on a couple of my favorite things coming out of Dark Horse the last few years:Umbrella Academy and Mesmo Delivery. Besides having awesome taste in comics, she was super nice and a lot of fun to hang out with for the short time she was there.

Svetlana brought JuYoun Lee (senior editor) and Kurt Hassler (publishing director) of her publisher, Yen Press, down for part of the first week as well (pic below right). JuYoun and Sierra hosted a great Q and A with us about editors in comics and manga. Awesome to be able to ask them those questions you’ve always had about editors (what to do if they don’t email you back, what’s the best place to pitch a project, what percentage of your property they’d take etc.)

Paul really wanted this residency to not be just good, but extraordinary. So he asked several of his friends to come down and be a part of it: Sam Hiti (creator of Death-Day comic), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer of the Jonah Hex comic), Amanda Connor (penciler for The Pro and Power Girl), Jeff “Jah Furry” Newelt (editor of thePekar ProjectAct-i-vate), Kostas Seremetis (painter and filmmaker), Harvest King (Paul’s girlfriend and burlesque performer) and Luana (Paul’s mom).

Jimmy and Amanda stopped by for a couple days on their way back to their Florida home after spending time in NYC for the New York Comic Con. It just so happens they were bringing some of their art collection back with them from their place in Brooklyn. So we got to see some of the originals from their amazing collection. Pieces byManara, Moebius, Darwyn Cooke, Alex Toth, Massimo Carnevale, Jamie Hewlett and Joe Kubert (complete short story “Tide!” from Two Fisted Tales #32 – April ’53). Plus Amanda had a box of her originals from various projects, including her pages from The Pro. We spent an entire afternoon pouring over this stuff, soaking it in, discussion the various techniques and approaches. Such a fun and inspiring day.

When Jimmy and Amanda sat in on our sessions, they had a wealth of knowledge to share on every subject we talked about. Jimmy gave us a pretty amazing critique on one of our exercises where he immediately honed in on everything we did wrong in like 2 seconds. I’ve been around a lot of critiques in my day — I teach at a comic book art school and have been on both the giving and receiving end of them for ten years now — and I can’t think of another time someone was so fast, but yet so precise about why something succeeded and failed. Jimmy knows just as much about every other subject even remotely related to comics, so even just sitting next to him at lunch I got a full education in optioning your property, dealing with agents, editors, writers, you name it. There’s a reason Jimmy is known as “The Mayor” of comics!

Toward the end of our second week, Sam Hiti (photo below left) came down from Minneapolis with his wife and daughter for a few days. Sam has an awesome knowledge of the classic american cartoonists like Roy Crane, Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, so I picked his brain about them and their work quite a bit. He’s also just released his newest self-published graphic novel, Death-Day. Sam has given people three different options for enjoying Death-Day. Order it in print for $20 (or $25 with a sketch inside). Buy a .PDF download for $5. Or just read it online for free at his blog. We spent a day talking to him about working on a long form comics, self-publishing and giving away your work for free, among other things. Lots of discussions about that business model. Sam was awesome enough to give everyone in our group a copy of Death-Day, and to show our appreciation, we all did a sketch for him. See them over at the ACA Fanart Friday Tumblr page.

During our last few days at ACA, Jeff “Jah Furry” Newelt (photo below middle) and Kostas Seremetis stopped by from New York. Jeff is a publicist and PR guy by trade, but has a passion for comics and music (jazz reggae). He is involved with all sorts of comic related stuff like the Pekar Project, Act-i-vate web comics collective, Royal Flush magazine (he’s the comics editor for it) as well as being the publicist at one time for a number of prominent creators (Paul Pope among them). Jeff gave a really incredible two hour presentation on on social media and networking. A sort of “life after ACA” type of thing. What to do next. Can’t tell you how beneficial it was or just how cool of a guy Jeff is to hang out with.

Kostas is just a pure artist. He experiments with whatever interests him — sculpture, film, painting, installation etc. Paul thought it’d be a good idea for us to spend time with an artist who branches out into other areas of the arts, so we can think about work and approaches outside of the comic book world. Kostas screened two of his films for us as well. The first was a short film he created for the band, The Cult. They used it a couple years ago as the “opening act” for their tour. The second film was the main thing Kostas came down to share with us and it’s called Trilogy. It’s Stars Wars Episode 4-6 (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) all played simultaneously on one screen. Kostas divided the screen into equal thirds, with the left third being ANH, the middle being ESB and the right being RotJ. You didn’t see all of any of the films, only that third of it, and the volume was all the way up for all three films. It was a crazy-intense experience. You were processing three different movies at the same time. Catching visuals from one, the film score from one and sound effects from another. Exactly what you were watching and experiencing shifted a hundred times during the film. Sometimes it was just an interesting juxtaposition of visuals. Sometimes it was interesting narrative beats (Luke flies to Dagobah at the exact same moments in Empire and Jedi). Other times it was interesting thematic relation between images on the screen. My description doesn’t really do Trilogy justice. It’s something you’d have to experience to really understand. At this point, Kostas only screens it on select special occasions. It’s not for sale. If you hear of a screening in your area, do yourself a favor and check it out. 

Paul’s girlfriend, Harvest King, and his mother, Luana, also came down to visit. Harvest is a burlesque performer and his mother is an ER doctor. While Harvest and Luana weren’t necessarily narrative artists like our other guests (though Harvest is an extremely talented dancer and performer — she was an amazing life drawing model for us during one session) it was really insightful to meet the women closest to Paul. Paul’s mother was the sweetest, most friendly person you’ll ever meet. Such struck up a conversation with everyone at ACA and made you feel like you’d been friends for years. When you meet someone like Paul, a highly intelligent and gifted creator, you can’t help but wonder where they came from. Spending time with Luana answered a lot of those questions. For example, she described her kitchen as looking like Moebius had colored it. How many moms are capable of describing something that way?! That’s pretty awesome. Meeting her, I could see where both the creative and intellectual sides of Paul come from. I remember one night we went out and Paul and Luana had a fifteen minute discussion about what Kingdom/Phylum/Genus/Species etc. a sea horse would be. They joked that that conversation was nothing, “you should hear the conversations the family has at holidays!”

Again, it wasn’t just that all these guests came down and sat in on a class with us. I mean, that was amazing. But what took things to another level was that they hung out with us outside of the sessions too — at lunch, dinner, movie nights, life drawing, sketchbook parties, midnight beach hangouts, karaoke (put a mic in front of Jah Furry and he tears it up!) or having a beer at a local bar. 

I guess that was one of the things that made hanging out with everyone so special. I’ve talked about all the time with the master artists and guests, but getting to know the other associates was just as amazing. Sure, we all shared an interest in art and comics, but the connection went much deeper than that. Everyone involved in this whole thing was just a genuinely awesome person. I can sincerely say that I liked everyone involved in this whole experience. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it. That you could get twenty-seven people from all over the world together — let alone temperamental artists — and that everyone would be super cool and enjoy each other’s company. No massive egos or assholes.

When you go through a really intense experience with people like this, especially if it’s over an extended period of time, you form a special bond with them. A connection you share forever. I made some amazing friends at ACA. Ones I know I’ll have for years to come.

And you know what? I can’t wait to see what all these awesome people create over the next few years. It’s going to be truly exciting watching everyone’s progress and see them go onto great things. Ten years from now, people will be stunned to find out that all the creators of these totally amazing things they’re enjoying — comics, graphic novels and films (both animation and otherwise) — came together and spent three weeks with each other in the fall of 2010 at the Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Some links:
Our ACA group Flickr
Our ACA Fanart Friday Tumblr
Matt Taylor’s account of ACA
Pat Grant’s account of ACA
Thi Bui’s account of ACA
Katie Shanahan’s account of ACA

Full roll call:
Craig Thompson
Sam Alden
Thi Bui
Pat Grant
Dave Kiersh
Cecilia Latella
Jed McGowan
Sarah Joan Mokhtar
Jake Wyatt

Svetlana Chmakova
Leslie Harris
Debbie Jenkinson
Alka Joshi
Angi Mauri
Lilly Moore
Matt Taylor
Salina Trevino
Mojgon Vatanchi

Paul Pope
Harry Bogosian
Sam Bradley
Gabe Bridwell
Chris Hunt
Sean Pryor
Shahriar Shadab
Katie Shanahan
Francis Vallejo


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