Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Post about My Day One Teaching at CCS, with No Kittens or Devil Tomatoes in It

You know, vet blogger Neil Gaiman posts all kinds of neat stuff, including "name the kitten" contests and "what to do with my Demon Tomato" and such. Here, you just get gnat-boy-Bissette. Well, until a kitten stumbles to our door or tomatoes we don't grow sprout horns, this is what you get.

Day One at CCS: My first class at the Center for Cartoon Studies has now come and gone, and I reckon it went pretty well, though you'll have to ask the students themselves. When Rick Veitch and I got together for a bit Monday afternoon (I was picking up copies of MaxiMortal for the class -- required reading along with Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow), he asked, "are the students doing imitations of you guys yet?" At Kubert School, we all had our teachers down in the first week or two (with the exception of Hy Eisman, whom no one could mock as well as Hy himself did). You gotta have a sense of humor in this biz!

As I entered the classroom, James Sturm was leaving for the day, bag slung over his shoulder and clearly exhausted. He quietly said, "I forgot how exhausting teaching could be," and was gone. I intended to ask if he wanted to have supper in town, but so much for that!

(Note to self #1: Whatever James looks like as I enter the classroom is a fair approximation of how I will feel three hours later. Observe and plan accordingly. PS: Pack a return-home meal easily devoured in the car; discourage yogurt or oatmeal, even if still teaching after all my teeth have fallen out.)

Though there will be two massive assignments at the halfway point and end post of my 14-week class, I made it clear from minute one the only requirement for a passing grade in my class is to show up. I've got the final session (3:30 PM to 6 PM) of the most jam-packed day in the CCS schedule, so I see myself as an instructor in that I will share as much information and visual stimuli as possible while covering the history of comics in 14 sessions, and as a showman in that it's my job to keep everyone awake long enough to absorb the shit I'm tossing at the fan (heh heh, savor that metaphor, oh Constant Reader). Henderson State University professor Randy Duncan put me in my place earlier this year when he explained to me that he can cover the history of comics in, like, ten minutes. Ya, well, so what, Randy? I can summarize Moby Dick in one short sentence, too. So I'm grand-standing at 14 weeks; still, it's a lot of ground to cover, and we managed to skate from the 12th Century to 1912 and only go over schedule about twenty minutes yesterday. However, because I didn't circulate a variation on Randy's handy-dandy class questionnaire, it took until 6 PM to discover at least some of my students had never, ever heard of Winsor McCay, which I cleverly inundated them with nevertheless.

(Note to self #2: Bring more Winsor McCay.)

I made the mistake of loading and unloading my car before class with over a dozen boxes of materials for the CCS -- two boxes of books from Rick Veitch (Rick donated slightly-damaged copies of the BratPack collected to the students, too), a box of Comics Journals duplicates from my collection, and tons of stuff from the CBLDF. Thus, I was a somewhat stinky, sweaty 50-year-old cartoonist presenting myself to my class Day One, wearing my now-stinky, somewhat sweaty gekko t-shirt.

(Note to self #3: Always pack a change of shirt for CCS; maybe a change of shorts and/or Depends, too. You never know if a moose will wander onto 91 en route to CCS and cause one to shit oneself, if one survives the car wreck. Better yet, don't pack and unpack a full carload prior to teaching on Mondays.)

Furthermore, it took longer than anticipated to prepare all the handout materials. As I mentioned to everyone from the get-go, covering the history of the medium in 14 weeks means we cover breadth of material with little depth -- unfortunate, but that's the reality. I will be annexing every session with abundant handouts (yesterday I provided two chapters on decoding Mayan and Mixtec Codices; a cherry-picked selection of early American single-panel comics from the 1700s to 1860s; a handout originally prepared for my Journeys Into Fear horror comics lecture, featuring a sampling of J.G. Posada's work and two complete full-page Winsor McCay Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend strips; and photocopies of my 1975 independent comics studies proposals to Johnson State College, just to show that I had been in my student's shoes 30 years ago, before the term "graphic novel" even existed). Now, I had either prepared myself, or left last week with Robyn Chapman, most of the material, leaving only the two chapters on codices to copy, and arriving an hour early to see to completing those two handouts. Alas, I had not reckoned with the inevitable non-cooperative stapler and length of one of the chapters. Robyn saved the day, and I managed to clear the stapler of backed-up-bend-staples without ripping open any of my fingers.

(Note to self #4: Bring my Bullhonker Stapler next week, and never, ever present oneself to class bleeding like a stuck pig. Sweating is bad enough. PS: Be sure to ask Michelle or Robyn where CCS First Aid kit is, in case, despite all precautions, I do rip my hands to pieces fucking with the goddamnedmonkeyfelchingmotherfuckershitass stapler.)

All in all, the first session went pretty well. Ever the showman, I consciously incorporated some video clips into the presentation, the best of which were undoubtably the McCay animations. The clip from Carl Dreyer's Vampyr (1931), however, should be avoided at all costs in the future (I should, however, find some method of using it during future trips to the dentist; Dreyer works better than novocaine any day of the week).
Though I've got to be careful not to use video too often -- animation is not comics, nor did I present it as such -- it is occasionally of great value. The fact that some of the students were unfamiliar with McCay and his body of work definitely meant the inclusion of Little Nemo (1911), Gertie the Dinosaur (1914 -- not 1912, as many sources erroneously state) and The Pet (1921) was worthwhile.

(Note to Self #5: Avoid silent movie clips, as students will be unable to stay awake sans soundtrack. PS: Bring rubber bands to fire at students drifting to sleep during sadistically-selected silent film clips in future.)

Well, I could ramble on, as I did in class, but you get the idea. Listen, you should have been there. If you'd just shown up, you'd have an 'A' for the day!

This first CCS group is pretty amazing, and I'm eager to work with them beyond just the comics history sessions (excuse me, the class is actually entitled "Survey of the Drawn Story"). I'd like to be able to associate more than just names with faces: I've yet to see anyone's art, and that's something I hope to rectify soon enough.


Oops -- reckon that wasn't James Kochalka's dad I met on Saturday. Relative? Friend of James' Dad? I don't know -- the man spoke softly, and it was noisy in the CCS beehive. Anyhoot, a correction, and this from James hisself:

"I read on your blog that someone at the CCS grand opening introduced themselves to you as James Kochalka's father, Jim. My father's name is not Jim, and my father was not at the opening. Either you mistyped, misheard, or someone played a little joke on you I think! He is a "gent wearing glasses" though, that much is true. If you had been able to attend the opening at the Brattleboro museum, you would have definitely met my father for real.... I don't fault you for missing the opening at all, although it would have been fun to have you there. You probably would like my dad if you ever get to meet him. He's 87 and very friendly and open and even goofy. He was making up poems off the top of his head for Peter Money!"

Thanks for letting me know, James. Well, that cinches it -- besides, the fellow I spoke to told me he was 53 (at the time, the math struck me as odd, I must say -- but hey, some Vermonters do have their first children at age 15). Hmmm, the mystery remains. My apologies to James and to whoever it was I met -- my mistake. James added:

"P.S. I taught the first class today and we're off to a good start! Very exciting."

It is, indeed (on both counts)!

[Postscript: It was CCS student Jacob Jarvela's father; I've revised the original post to note that fact. Sorry!]

This just in from Al Nickerson: "Remembering The Creator's Bill of Rights and the discussion of creator’s rights continues with a letter from Erik Larsen (thanks, Erik). Erik addresses Dave Sim's letter concerning The Creator's Bill of Rights and the Neil Gaiman vs. Todd McFarlane feud..."

Yes, it does,
  • right here.
  • Erik addresses Dave, ignores mere-gnat-Bissette completely, and opens succinctly with, "Heck, I’ve never read the darned thing." Erik concludes his first paragraph with, "At the end of the day, the Creators’ Bill of Rights real value may come from simply spelling things out in a form people can understand and utilize in their negotiations with a potential client," which is what I've said from the start, so I'll take this as reaching some consensus, even if Erik has never read the darned thing and clearly doesn't care to talk to me.

    I'll only further mention that Erik and Dave sidestep the Gaiman/McFarlane issues as they did first time around, agreeing to dis the all-female jury and how unfair to Todd they were in their judgement, and that's that. (C'mon, everyone, all together now! "Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh -- poor, poor Todd McFarlane.")

    Which brings me back to Neil's devil-horned tomato.

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