Class teaches art of creating comicsLouis Ely has long wanted to start an after-school club focused on comic-book art at Sherman Middle School, where he works as an art teacher.
By: By Gayle Worland, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
Louis Ely has long wanted to start an after-school club focused on comic-book art at Sherman Middle School, where he works as an art teacher. So when he heard about Jeff Butler's new Introduction to Comic Book Art class at Madison Area Technical College, he was there.
"With all the comic book movies that are coming out, there's a big interest in comics again," Ely said. "They're trying to tie the story lines of the books to the movies, and that's drawing kids in and bringing them back to reading, which I think is cool."
The superhero mania is also bringing adults back to the classroom -- not only art students and professionals, but creative comic book fans who've long dreamed of bringing characters to life on the page.
Butler, a veteran of the drawing board, taught his first courses in the genre this summer and will continue this fall with three more: Comic Book and Graphic Novel Art, an eight-week course taking students through the traditional workflow used by professionals to create comics and graphic novels; Digital Comic Book Art, focused on computer digital techniques; and Creature Creation Maquette Sculpture, where students mold their own creature or monster sculptures in polymer clay. In the pre-digital world, maquette sculpture often was used to create fantastic figures in 3D; today there's a hot collectors' market for the figurines.
A Madison native and son of the late longtime Wisconsin State Journal sports columnist Tom Butler, Jeff Butler broke into the comic book field in the early 1980s when he and writer Mike Baron created "The Badger," Madison's own superhero for Capital Comics.
Butler went on to work in the art department of TSR, Inc., the creators of Dungeons & Dragons, and as a 2D and 3D character designer at Raven Software. Over his career he's illustrated comics ranging from "Hercules and Xena" to "Charles Barkley vs. Godzilla," and teamed with writer Ron Fortier to bring the Green Hornet back to comic books.
Posters and flyers for Butler's classes showcase his own highly detailed comic creations, from Marvel characters to the terrors of Jurassic Park.
When Butler contacted MATC with his course ideas, dean of Continuing Education/School of Community and Corporate Learning Kathleen Radionoff predicted they would attract students interested in both professional development and self-enrichment.
"I'm just thrilled to have all this creative talent," she said. "I want to be supportive of all of the talent (available in the area), and we can provide these classes for people who want to upgrade their skill set."
In the final gathering of his six-week Introduction to Comic Book Art course in August, Butler made the rounds of his students with pointers on perspective, inking and adding dynamic lines to the drawings they were working on.
Freelance artist Deziree Larson long has wanted to create her own web comic with friends in the style of Japanese animation, but she lacked the confidence to take the plunge, she said.
"When you're looking at your own stuff, it's hard to know what you need to improve," she said, as she worked on her final sketch for the class, titled "Thrilling Adventures." "It's nice to be able to go to a class and be around other people who inspire and encourage you."
Although there are plenty of books on the market about making your own comics or maquette sculptures, they can't replace the one-on-one tips, shortcuts and critiques that a teacher can offer, Butler said.
"As helpful as (books) can be, I think there's nothing better than having someone there helping you over the rough spots," he said. "My greatest motivation as a teacher is that, as a young person, this is exactly what I would have wanted to have. These are classes that I just would have loved to be in."
Butler's student rosters this summer included his daughter, 17-year-old Emily, and 12-year-old Marguerite Carrithers, whose ambitions include a career in film animation. Daniel Edwards, a professional graphic designer, enrolled along with his teenaged son.
"I do art for fun on the side, and I want to do more fine art that's influenced by comic book style," Edwards said as he worked on his characters dubbed "astro-creeps." "Now I know how the pros do it. And it's just a matter of practicing and getting good at it."
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
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