Due to the determination of a handful of art students, comic book illustrating is the topic of a UC Santa Cruz spring senior studio.
For the moment it is a temporary victory, but art professor Frank Galuszka and his nine students have hopes that the art department will establish it as a permanent undergraduate option.
“We took our education by the horns,” said Kat Rieser, one of the students who originally pushed for the comic and graphic novel-inspired class.
Fourth-year art major Zoe Patrick stated that it was the growing amount of interest that persuaded Galuszka to get behind the idea. The support of a staff member was the final piece needed to make the graphic novel studio a reality.
“Make sure that the reporter knows that I’m really trying to keep this going,” Galuszka said to Patrick and Rieser, observing the illustrations take shape during a Saturday morning class meeting. “I want people to know this could really be a reality.”
The comic book artists share space with a painting studio, merging paint-splattered floors with electronic drawing tablets. The comic form has not yet gained a strong footing at UCSC, but student illustrators are aiming to legitimize the genre, despite a lack of classes.
“The art department is very fine arts-oriented right now,” Patrick said. “But new types of art, like comics and graphic novels, are emerging. It’s hard to spread the budget around, but it’s something a lot of students are interested in.”
Rieser agreed, nodding. “It’s making its way,” she said.
A nearby computer screen shows a panel from Zoe Patrick’s own work-in-progress, featuring a gun-toting soldier with large, Manga-style eyes and hair. Manga is a Japanese style of comic.
“I don’t know if I should say I was really into Japanese comics,” Patrick said, laughing. “Liking Manga is kind of taboo in the art department.”
The piece will be part of a collaborative book containing nine five-page comics, vignettes from each student based on the words “black out.” Rieser revealed that the group hopes to get it published by the Bay Tree Bookstore as the final project of the studio class.
“Not everything goes mainstream,” said fourth-year Nick Salem, after a reference to the popularity of Frank Miller’s “300” and Marvel’s “X-men.” “There’s stuff that’s really small, more personal, but they’re just fun to read, because you see what people relate to.”
Comics and graphic novels part ways somewhere between “Calvin and Hobbes” and “300.” Some graphic novels beg to be interpreted on the screen, and UCSC has offered a literature class that analyzes films based on graphic novels. But the medium is more than just plot, and illustrators are offered the chance to fuse a textual story with dazzling visions that can’t find standing room in a 400-page novel.
“It’s a time and space kind of thing, and how it’s laid out on the page,” Rieser said. “Film shows everything … but comics play on your imagination — you almost have a part in these characters.”
Five pages isn’t the usual page restriction for a full-length comic or graphic novel. For Nick Salem, the hardest part has been working on condensing the narrative.
“You plan a story and it’s really epic, and you have all these great ideas and it would work great as a novel, it would work great as a movie. But, when you have to do pictures and words and you have a page limit, it’s really hard to balance it all,” Salem said.
With a little more work, the students and their professor are hopeful that the balance will be forthcoming on the page as well as in the art department. Patrick stressed that the class could be created with no extra strain on the already stretched arts budget, and would provide support and training for book-art industry aspirants.
The future of the genre is stable, but the class hinges on Galuszka and the motivation of comic lovers. According to Nick Salem, it’s been a journey, and as he scrolled through his computer files for examples of his art, he searched for the words to describe it.
“You can make something up for me,” Salem said. “Something about forging our way despite very little support.”