Last week in the blog I made mention that, back in the day, comics had a long running stigma as the ghetto of the art world and was not a career that most talented illustrators aspired to. The art educators that I encountered were usually very quick to dissuade anyone expressing interest in comics. This caustic atmosphere made it difficult to maintain an enthusiasm toward a medium that was so poorly regarded. Fortunately much of that attitude has changed.
Regardless of all the detractors I encountered as an art student I could not deny that comics was where my heart was and I continued to focus all of my energies on the pursuit of a career in comics.
I chose to ignore the unenlightened and gravitate toward those that offered encouraging support. My experience was that people outside of the arts community were much more impressed with the idea of me wanting to be a comic artist.
Comics is a medium that everyone can relate to simply because it is hard not to understand a message delivered by both words and pictures. It also helped that the most successful comics usually dealt with universal themes that most people could relate to. I always felt that this was my attraction to the medium, that it was a medium for the masses.
Growing up I was always able to find encouragement from family, friends and school teachers. In 1978 during my junior year at Bishop Kenrick High School I had a unique experience that had a solidifying effect on my cartooning interests.
My Algebra teacher at the time was an extremely elderly nun named Sister Henrietta. She was a lovely woman but had lost control of the class partly due to her feeble old age. The kids in the class were so bad she would douse us with holy water each day in an effort to exercise the demons from the room!
I was shocked one day when, despite the mayhem that was the general conduct of the class, Sister Henrietta, signaled me out for doodling in my notebook and ordered that I see her after class.
Expecting detention or at least demerits for my infraction I was delighted to find out that, instead, Sister Henrietta was a fan of my handmade comics that I frequently distributed around school.
Little did she know that she would eventually become a character in one of my creations when I would parody the entire Math department in a comic titled Mathmanauts inspired by one of my favorite comics of the time, Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden.
Sister had much more up her sleeve than respect for my work. She had a deal in mind. The same deal she presented to a former student of hers who she wondered if I might know.
Decades prior, the great Bil Keane, creator of the iconic Family Circus daily comic, was a doodler in her class and she let him off the hook with a promise that he would pursue his dream and be a successful cartoonist.
We all know that Bil lived up to his end of the deal, still creating his comic now with the help of his son, Jeff.
Sister Henrietta had stayed in touch with Bil Keane over the years and, shortly after I had agreed to the same promise, she rewarded me with a piece of original art and an encouraging critique received from Bil himself in response to some samples of my work that she had sent to him unbeknownst to me.
Bil Keane’s shoes are nearly impossible to fill but I was anxious to be included in the pedigree of Sister’s success stories. In 1982 I rushed to the convent to personally deliver a copy of my first published comic work that appeared in Comico Primer #1. Bedridden, it was clear that Sister Henrietta would not be with us much longer but she found great comfort knowing that she was still able to encourage the dreams of her students.
That Family Circus original still hangs by my drawing board as a constant reminder of my deal made with Sister over thirty years ago. It has come to my attention that she made that deal with every doodler she encountered though I like to think that I am one of the few that have such a precious memento and actually delivered on my end of the bargain.
When I was informed recently by my friend and former student of Sister Henrietta’s, Aaron Keaton, that Sister sprung that deal regularly in her day, I dropped a quick email to Bil Keane letting him know how she had used his example to keep us hack doodlers in line all those years.
Bil simply responded, “That sounds like, Sister!”
I have a few more great stories like this that include encounters with Arnold Roth, Rudy Nebres and others that have offered moral support to me when when I was a budding comic creator which I will share in coming weeks.
If anyone out there has similar tales I would love to read them! Send them along as comments on the blog or directly to me by e-mail. I’ll be happy to share them here.
Encouragement makes a huge difference, especially to a young creator seeking creative direction in their life. I make it a point to be a positive influence on a young talent every chance I get and I hope that other comics creators do the same.
Influence is a legacy that can rarely be measured but its impact is universal.
Making Comics Because I Want to.
Tags: Arnold Roth, Bil Keane, Bill Mantlo, Bishop Kenrick High School, Comic Artist, comico, Comico Primer, Comico Primer #1, Comics, Family Circus, Illustrators, Mathmanauts, Michael Golden, Micronauts, Rudy Nebres, Sister Henrietta, Webcomics