Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I don’t want to over dramatize my situation and of course my artistic degree of freedom always allows me to exaggerate the title just a bit, but this is not such a case.  To tell you the truth I have never been busier in my whole life and keep in mind that I’ve studied my 4-year Bachelor in Business Administration twelve years ago, worked non-stop for 10 years in my family's business, and even had some companies of my own in between. I’m a firm believer that if you want to get some place better you have to study relentlessly, work hard and dedicate yourself hundred percent to the task. Now I must have elevated the percentage a notch because I have barely time of my own (Like Spinal Tap’s amps that go up to 11. If you haven’t seen this scene please click this link because it’s hilarious I remember that college wasn’t that hard back in the day, but there are two main possibilities why I think this first month of my Sophomore-Junior year has been so difficult. 

The main reason is basically because I’m mixing my hardcore classes of sophomore year with my time consuming classes of junior year. Why, you ask? Because I already met all my humanities requirements in my previous degree in business and they were around thirty credits. Normally, as you may well know (or not) a bachelor consists of hundred and twenty credits, so basically I shove off one year of my program. But is it too much, I wonder? Yes, it may be, but gladly I’m fully committed to my studies, which keeps me focused. It was either that or doing my regular 4-year program with tons of electives that traduces in spending unnecessary time and money.  The other reason is that I actually didn’t rest over my summer vacations (Which now I know why students need them!… yeah, you guessed it! Potential work overload!). I went to Florence and studied art history and Italian. It doesn’t seem that bad I know, and the classes were pretty laid back, but I guess you need that recovery time of doing nothing in between semesters. Well, it’s not an option for me to spend four months doing nothing so I imagine that I just have to man up and get the job done! :) 

One of the things that worry me the most is that I’m taking some classes from my junior year that basically assume that I have all the knowledge from the classes of my sophomore year. This is not the case because I’m taking those classes simultaneously. In order for you to clearly get this idea I need to explain to you what my classes are all about. Don’t forget that my foundation year is over, this means that you probably won’t be seeing any fine art paintings any more, at least not as homework from my classes. This year will be more focused on my major, which is cartooning. I’m going to start describing my sophomore classes: Principles of Cartooning, Drawing for Cartoonists, Digital Coloring, and Gouache Techniques.

Principles of Cartooning may be my favorite and more challenging class this year. It basically teaches you to consciously know the rules of making a comic in order for you to bend or even break them in the future. I’ve been reading comics for 20 years now (Yeah, I’m that old) and I would’ve thought that all the knowledge would come naturally to me. This wasn’t the case. It’s like understanding a language similar to your native tongue. It’s hard! You may not comprehend everything, but you get a general idea, right? Well, try speaking that language without studying? It is pretty difficult if not impossible. That simple metaphor encapsulates what I’m feeling right now in this class. It’s like a whole world of options are opening right in front of me. Of course some things come naturally when you are drawing a comic (after all, it is a form of communication I’m way too familiar with) but knowing the theory behind those unconscious decisions gives me the opportunity to adapt or modify them in different scenarios. I’m talking gibberish I know, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not as easy as it looks and it has a LOT of information to learn. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about “drawing”, that I can do, and I can honestly say that I do that fairly good. Here I’m talking about storytelling, which is basically drawing in an effective and clear way in order to convey some information in hopefully an entertaining way. (I came up with that definition of my own :)). Just visualize a class discussing the numerous ways to draw a panel line or composing those same panels in the page. It seems irrelevant or unimportant, but beware!!! They are far from it.

It also helps that the teacher in this class is the famous Klaus Janson (inker of the Dark Night Returns and penciller of a Black and White short story of Alfred Pennyworth. Of course he has much more achievements but those are my favorites). He is very demanding and seems like a great teacher. He is very strict and I like that, although he “called on me” while I was texting in class. In my defense we were on a break! But I took no personal offense by that; he clearly used me to set an example for the other kids to learn that texting is BAD! At 34 I’m not used to anybody treating me like a kid, but I guess I look younger than I am (Kudos for me ;)). One of the phrases (that the teacher clearly claimed that he invented) is “if you keep failing, fail better”. It sound so wrong, but it is true in drawing. You have to learn to crawl before you learn how to walk, and clearly we are going to make mistakes, but the good thing is that they’ll be better than the ones before. Am I right? Ok, for this class homework we had to make a single page explaining what we did on our summer vacation. I really liked this project because I wanted to summarize what I did in Florence this summer “vacations”. Everybody got a B just because we did not include the question in the page, for instance, a panel showing that we were going out of school. I would’ve included the question, but I don’t feel like a college kid so I didn’t. Anyways, I still got a B+ for the assignment. Also all our homework must be done in pencils (I did ink this page but it takes a lot of time so I’m not sure if I will be doing that again for this class) and with no words! We are supposed to tell the story without any kind of dialogue, which is a little bit harder but the storytelling is more effective if you can achieve this.

My next class is Drawing for Cartoonists. This class is a requirement but I really enjoy it. It consists on drawing the human figure (male and female nude models of course) from life. So far I haven’t learned anything new and since this is drawing from observation I feel ahead of my classmates. Remember that my classmates now are only cartoonists and illustrators, and they have mostly spend their time drawing cartoons, while I spent 10+ years drawing from observation (on and off). In any case, you cannot go wrong in this class because there is always room for improvement, especially in getting to better understand the human body, which is an essential instrument for storytelling (unless you want to do a comic based solely on animals, but that’s not here nor there). Also, the teacher of this class is Phil Jimenez, which is another recognized artist from DC and Marvel Comics. He is a very talented and successful comic book artist who has penciled Infinite Crisis and Wonder Woman (DC) and the best seller Amazing Spider-Man # 583 (Barak Obama cover, even non comic fans bought this issue because of the political connotation). I really like his artwork and he's one of my favorite pencillers for superhero comics, so I intend to get the most out of his advices. BEWARE though, he corrects you by drawing on your art! At first I felt uneasy by that, but later on I didn’t care anymore. It actually helped me a lot to loosen up. Because these are 20-min poses, no drawing in that class is actually good enough to post it here :(

Another class that I really have enjoyed so far is Digital Coloring. This is an elective and it consists on coloring comic book pages by using Photoshop. Since I really love drawing this is a perfect complement because by coloring a black and white drawing (or ink) makes the art seem more complete.  Bear in mind that in the industry there is the penciller, the inker, and the colorist. If you are the penciller you may do your own inking, although it takes a lot of time or you could in fact be an awful inker. Nevertheless, it is uncommon for the penciller or the inker to do the colors. It is still a lot of hard work and time consuming but I guess is the less difficult discipline of the three. Right now we are learning the basic stuff, which is coloring in flats (plain colors) and rendering some shadows and highlights (this is harder than it looks). Still, It is easy to be a colorist, but it is really hard to be a GREAT colorist, and knowing this stuff would make it easier for me in the future to communicate my wishes to the assigned colorist. I had to color this Wonder Woman page by myself. It's not that well done, but as I stated before, it looks more finished.

Another elective that I chose is Gouache Techniques. I get really frustrated with this class, mainly because there are so much talented kids in my class that make my work look like my nephew’s art (which is pretty good for his age). We have to put our homework on the wall and criticize it. I have to admit I feel a little ashamed and even though I try hard, this technique is difficult to master. I really enjoyed oil painting last year, but this is completely different. It is a very meticulous way of painting. Also, It is so challenging for me to really get the right colors, or for lack of a better word, values. For instance, what color is the sky? Some will say blue, and you won’t be completely wrong, but certainly incomplete. Assuming you can see the clouds on a clear day, the colors bouncing from the sky are blue, white, grey, purple, or even yellow. It doesn’t seem that way, but you actually have to concentrate really hard in order to get the right colors. Forget about what you think you are seeing because form, or line, can be misleading; you just have to see the values, and once you get that you’re ready to be a painter. I hate my pieces in this class, but I like the fact that I’m learning more about color, although I’d really like to show my drawings to my classmates in order for me not to feel as an untalented excuse of an artist.


Now let’s cover my junior classes: Pictorial Problems and Culture Survey (It seems that as you advance in this program the course titles just seem more ambiguous and intellectual). To tell the story short, Pictorial Problems is about making your first comic book. It is like the thesis project and that’s why I’m kind of worried that I’m also taking Principles of Cartooning simultaneously. I mean, to do this thesis I should know the principles by now. Anyways, I see that my drawings are not bad but they do need more perspective, shadows and overall, composition. Saying that, I’m working my ass off so I can get a decent grade and most important, I could learn more from this class. The theme of this year is “Man-made Monster”, which is a very broad subject. You can go from Frankenstein to Charles Manson. The approach is based on a lot of research and references. My comic is an accurate adaptation of the book by Robert Louis Stevenson “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. It is classic and most of you know more or less what this book is all about, but if you haven’t, don’t panic!!! Because you’ll be reading my awesome comic at the end of April ;) I’ve even gone to the New York Library Picture Collection in order to get a lot of references of London, Interior shots from the late nineteenth century, and of course, the monstrous Mr. Hyde. It’s going to be fun and I hope the end result will be satisfactory because it'll be my first official comic book. Here I’ve done some portraits of the main characters. Also we had an assignment to do a mini-comic about myself so I hope you enjoy it.


Finally, my Culture Survey class shares the same theme as my Pictorial problem class "Man-made monster". This is basically a Literature class. I can honestly admit that I love it. So far we have read “Othello” by Shakespeare and “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, which I found macabre. It’s only five acts so I highly recommend reading this, preferably at night. Here’s the link: This class is amazing but most of all is having the privilege of taking it with this particular teacher. So much passion about literature is not easy to find anymore.

I just turned 34 and I feel good. I’m not going to lie to you, it is unavoidable to feel a little depressed by the fact that I’m much older than my classmates and that at this age I’m just starting out my career. I don’t know, I feel like even though I work twice as much as my classmates I will never achieve the greatness I’m aiming for. After all, they have all their life ahead of them. I don’t want to sound fatalistic, I’m not that old, but watching these kids talk and share their ideas make me feel even that way. I guess it all falls on your perspective and your surroundings. Just a day before I turned 34, a new girl from my Gouache class asked me if I was the professor. It shouldn’t affect me, but somehow it does, because I can’t stop doing math in my head and figuring out where will I be in 16 years from now when they’ll be 36 and I’ll be 50. Ok, enough about that! I feel good because I love what I’m doing, and maybe I’m just over thinking it way too much. Saying that, could you imagine a responsible 34 year-old doing this:


The ambiguous art word of this month is CREATIVITY. We can all agree that now creativity is as important as literacy, but can you teach someone to be creative? Am I creative? And if I am, am I creative enough to compete? I don’t know, this word cracks my head open as much as the word “composition”.

And to wrap this up: a quote, a pledge, and a request:
  1. “If you are afraid to be wrong, you’ll never have anything original” (Sir Ken Robinson from TED: Ideas worth spreading
  2.  I swear that I’m going to get through this year. It is my commitment to my fellow readers and to myself!
  3.  Please bring back Wally West (The Flash) to the DC continuity.

Thanks for reading and as always...


José Luis Molestina