Talking Comics with Tim | Bob Pendarvis
Last week Chris Arrant covered former Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Professor Bob Pendarvis’ Kickstarter effort to fund A Girl Called Ana Teaches Kittens How To Draw. In today’s email interview, Pendarvis discusses his aim with the book, as well as Sugar Ninjas, the all-female sequential art anthology series aimed at drawing a spotlight on female creators. My thanks to Pendarvis for his time, and Tom Feister for putting me in contact with Pendarvis. His Kickstarter site gives more background on Pendarvis, including that he “created and taught the first comic book illustration classes at the Savannah College of Art & Design, going on to co-found their comics-based BFA and MFA degree programs (along with writer Mark Kneece and artist Bo Hampton).” If you are interested in helping Pendarvis with his Kickstarter effort, please act now–as there are less than 20 days left to meet the $15,000 goal.
Tim O’Shea: How soon after leaving SCAD did you realize you wanted to develop Sugar Ninjas?
Bob Pendarvis: Sugar Ninjas was originally a project I came up with to showcase the amazing variety of female artists in my classes. In the summer of 2009, as my official association with SCAD was coming to an end (on mutually acceptable terms), I decided to expand the concept of the Sugar Ninjas to include not only SCAD students, but also female artists and storytellers from around the world. All material in the book is copyrighted exclusively to the creators and the books are printed at lulu.com, each one priced at printing costs only—I don’t make a penny from any copy sold (although I encourage the ninjas to add sketches and charge a few dollars more). Volumes 1 and 2 are available right now, and a revised edition of Volume 1 will be back in early 2012.
O’Shea: Care to discuss some of the talent working on Sugar Ninjas?
Pendarvis: Some of the ninjas are comics professionals, like inker Rebecca Buchman (Green Lantern) and penciler/inker Heidi Arnhold (Legends of the Dark Crystal). Popular web comic creators include Jennie Breeden (The Devil’s Panties), Laurel Shelley-Reuss (Olive Peril), Becky Dreistadt (Tiny Kitten Teeth), and Elena Barbarich (Sister Claire). Former Tokyopop manga artist/writers Christy Lijewski (Re:Play), Erica Leigh Currey (Sea Princess Azuri), and Mara Aum (Silky Pink) are all Sugar Ninjas. Gally Articola, my assistant and co-editor, is a colorist/refurbisher working on the Official Marvel Handbooks. Kat Shea is a costume designer/illustrator/voice actress for the Archer TV show. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty diverse group, especially as most of the girls are still relative newcomers just starting out.
O’Shea: Why did you decide to break up each volume of Sugar Ninjas into two separate Sweet and Spicy books?
Pendarvis: Over the past two years, the Sugar Ninjas three volumes have featured contributions from close to 200 hundred girls who were all given total freedom to write and draw whatever sort of material they deemed fit, regardless of whether it was mainstream-oriented, experimentally alternative, manga-influenced, unapologetically feminine, or anything in-between. Right from the start, some of the girls have preferred sticking to relatively family-friendly material, while others love producing edgier pieces, possibly with partial nudity, naughty language, controversial subject matter, and a wee bit of ultra-violence. I realized the best way to accommodate everyone would be to have both a Sweet book and a Spicy book. Of course, a number of ninjas have sent in material for both books every time.
O’Shea: How important is gender diversity to the success of sequential art?
Pendarvis: “You draw like a girl!” shouldn’t be considered an insult, but to a depressingly large number of comic book editors and professionals, it most certainly is. It’s tantamount to saying their work has little-to-no commercial appeal. I rejected that attitude all those years I taught at SCAD and I reject it now. The truth is that generations of comic book creators and fans have become accustomed to accepting that there are rules for drawing successful mainstream comics, and an equal number of rules regarding publishing and marketing comics. But the reality is that the number of people still buying comics is embarrassingly lower than it should be, making it way past time for publishers to stop sticking to misguided, outdated ideas of marketing almost exclusively to young males.
For the first dozen years or so, SCAD’s Sequential Art program had no female professors, which I always felt bad about. In the early years, we all considered ourselves a great big family. Sort of a “comic book fans vs. the world” situation, as it took a long time for our new major to be accepted by the world at large, including the academic world. And even though I worked hard to make sure I had a female-friendly classroom, I knew full well that some of those pioneering girls felt overlooked and underappreciated, solely because their styles and interests didn’t match the expectations of many of their male peers (a generalization, of course). Too many of these girls succumbed to the temptation to change their work in ways that pleased their critics, but failed to address actual structural issues inherent in their comics storytelling.
O’Shea: How did you decide you wanted to use your Kickstarter project to embark upon a graphic novel “…meant to provide inspiration for the next generation of young sequential artists and storytellers…the first in a series of books aimed especially at young girls, but hopefully entertaining for readers of all ages, girls or boys.”?
Pendarvis: Before I started teaching at SCAD, I taught k-5 art classes for three years. I saw firsthand that too many young girls AND boys were giving up on learning how to draw before they’d really given themselves a fair chance, partly because kids are told early on that artists are just “born talented.” Some of the best art in those grade school classes was produced by kids who just refused to accept their supposed limitations, letting their imaginations fly free, regardless of the “accuracy” of their drawings.
As much as I love Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, both of those books can be a little daunting to young readers. A Girl Called Ana Teaches Kittens How To Draw is designed to be accessible and easily understood by children, while hopefully providing enough entertainment to keep the attention of older readers, too.
Not a how-to textbook, ANA is an actual story about a girl who teaches drawing to kittens, and many of the lessons included are to be found between the lines. The first book ends with the kittens realizing that drawing is only part of what it takes to create their own comics. The next book in the series centers on the principles of two-dimensional design, and how they’re used in tandem with drawing to communicate effectively. The third book has Ana dealing directly with the basics of visual storytelling. All three books work together to show that learning how to create comics isn’t that far removed from learning how to read and write, period. On top of all that, I throw in a superhero or two, spooky ghosts, monsters, robots, and more.
O’Shea: You are a teacher clearly beloved by your former students, were you hesitant at all to ask for their help in donating art for the project? Looking at the list of folks who donated, does it leave you speechless to realize the scale of success your collective group of students has achieved?
Pendarvis: Well, as grateful as I am for all the love and support I receive from so many of my former students, I’m not so conceited as to think I’m universally “beloved.” In fact, I can easily think of quite a few students who never seemed all that impressed with me, ha ha. But I’m very, very happy that so many of my former students HAVE become successful, working for comics companies like Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Oni Press, and IDW; gaming companies like Bioware and Konami; and cartoon studios producing animated hits like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Archer, and Kung Fu Panda. But to be honest, they had plenty of other professors, too, including amazing guys like former Disney Imagineer Paul Hudson and comics writer Mark Kneece, both of whom are still at SCAD and I can’t recommend their classes highly enough). For that matter, there are also a large number of successful SCAD students who never took my classes at all, so the only thanks they might owe me would be for having created the program in the first place.
Since my departure from SCAD, I’ve received hundreds of emails and messages from former students, pledging their support and promising to let people know what my classes meant to them. For awhile, I thought about doing a straightforward textbook which would incorporate interviews and artwork from a wide group of alumni working in comics, animation and video gaming. Ross Campbell, Andrew Robinson, Christy Lijewski, Heidi Arnhold, Dean Trippe, Ron Chan, and Tom Feister were among the first to sign on. I ultimately decided to do the ANA books first, primarily because I wanted to take advantage of my sudden abundance of free time, but also because I thought it would be a good idea to let people see I have plenty to say all on my own.
O’Shea: Besides the Sugar Ninjas and your ANA kickstarter project, is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Pendarvis: Over the past two years, while appearing at conventions like Atlanta’s AWA, MOMOCON, and DRAGON CON, I’ve had the chance to meet hundreds of people who ask me where or when I’ll be teaching again. Frankly, I spent so much time all those years at SCAD promoting my students and helping them find jobs that I never really prepared for my own life post-SCAD. I’d be very happy to return to a classroom setting, especially at a school wanting to develop their own sequential art or comics-based courses of study. Other than that, I’d love to develop ANA into an animated series, possibly with my friend and former student Sam Ellis (the original head illustrator for the FX show, Archer). If not that, I still have my dream of forming a rock band and solving mysteries, hopefully involving pirate ghosts.