Classes begin this week for the latest term of Andy Schmidt's New York-based Comics Experience, offering beginner and advanced courses in comics writing and illustration. But with Schmidt himself relocated to San Diego as a result of his new editorial position with IDW Publishing, it has been announced that DC Comics editor Michael Siglain ("Justice Society of America") will be teaching the Introduction to Comics Art class, with “Amazing Spider-Man” scribe Dan Slott imparting his knowledge to the next generation of writers. Fabian Nicieza and Chris Batista will also appear as guest speakers. CBR News caught up with Schmidt, Siglain, and Slott to discuss the new instructors' approach to teaching and the future of Comics Experience programming.
Slott and Siglain have both been guest speakers in Schmidt's classes in the past, and have some idea of how the Comics Experience founder ran his operation. In addition, Schmidt said the classes would still be based around his notes and curricula. Yet with different experiences and perspectives, courses instructed by Slott and Siglain will necessarily differ from what has gone before. Asked about his process in entrusting these teachers with the next round of Comics Experience students, Schmidt told CBR that he had earlier discussed with Siglain possible improvements to the art course and “ all of his suggestions were spot on.” “[Siglain] also has a storyboarding and art background that makes him the ideal choice for taking over,” Schmidt said.
As to recruiting Slott, the idea of the increasingly ubiquitous Marvel writer taking over the Comics Experience classes simply came up in conversation. “I was surprised he was interested--but I'm sure glad he was!”
From Slott's perspective, the choice to take up the teaching reins was a bit more clear. Expressing excitement for his new role, the writer joked, “I've got a jacket with elbow patches, a '50s B-movie scientist's smoking pipe, and an academic cap with full tassel. And I've been working on my professorial John Houseman voice all week.”
Slott also said that his initial impressions of Comics Experience included “jealousy and envy” toward the students for having the opportunity to meet and discuss comics with working professionals, both in classes and at conventions, as these chances were much harder to come by when he was breaking in.
“Seriously though, I am excited. I'm very passionate about comics and all the nuts and bolts that make them work,” Slott added. “To run classes and workshops like this, to really get in there and to both share and explore this medium is something I'm really looking forward to.”
Of his broad philosophy toward teaching the art of writing, Slott remarked, “I think that every person's a storyteller. We all do it. From the crazy things we say to get out of jury duty, to the sports fan recounting the game winning out, or the parent explaining to their kid how the tooth fairy works. Even if you think you're not, you're a storyteller. And I think with study, practice, and checks to make sure that you're heading in the right direction, anyone can be a great storyteller.”
Slott indicated that one of the aims of his classes will be to help writers discover and establish their own distinctive voices. The writer said that everyone has “a special way of looking at things,” which should not be confused with having “a limited range.” “That viewpoint, that unique vision, is something that only they can bring to a story. I feel that too many beginning writers want to be the 'next' version of one of their favorite authors. That's what they want. But what they need is to be the best version of themselves.”
The writer also said that his classes would cover some of the more business and practical tasks associated with breaking into comics, such as pitching stories to editors, formatting scripts, and structuring plots.
As to how his approach might differ from Schmidt's, Slott suggested that changes would be generally cosmetic, focusing more on his own area of interest but otherwise upholding what's gone before. “Andy's done an excellent job setting up the syllabus and structure for this six week program. It'd be silly of me to switch it up,” Slott said. “That said, there are a number of places where I'm going to roll up my sleeves and really get into the mechanics of areas that I'm passionate about: how best to approach licensed characters and continuities, using the layout of a comic book page to best service your story, how to block out comedic/suspenseful/character beats and moments in this very 'static' medium.
“And, of course, I talk a lot. So the classes will probably go long.”
Michael Siglain also expressed appreciation for the formula Schmidt has established, and appears to relish the opportunity to mentor up and coming artists. “I've had the pleasure of speaking at a few of Andy's classes, and I've walked away impressed each and every time,” he said. “Andy was able to give his students one-on-one attention while also teaching and working with the class as a whole. For people who are just starting out or who are looking to break in, the class really does allow you to peek behind the curtain and get an insider's view of the industry. It's invaluable.”
Siglain, who worked as a storyboard artist before joining DC, sees his art background as one asset that will allow him to bring a new perspective to the Comics Experience course. “It's my experience that artists really do learn by doing. My best teachers, be they college professors or current comic book professionals and coworkers, have always led by example then made me learn by rolling up my sleeves and jumping in, and that's what I plan on doing with the art class,” Siglain told CBR. “I find that beginning artists often don't see the bigger picture. They're concerned about one thing--an action scene, a particular pose, a character's face--but they need to be concerned about all of those things and more.
“To visualize the story, the artist has to serve the story, and that's something that people who are starting out don't always realize. And to serve the story, the artist must address numerous points--from pacing to style to page layout--and that's just some of the stuff we'll be covering in class.”
The art class will cover some of the myriad tasks unique to comic book illustration, including some that, as Siglain mentioned, may be less than obvious to those just starting out. “We'll be covering a variety of topics, from breaking down a script, to pacing, to how to compose a panel and a page,” he said. “By the end of the class, each and every student will be able to take a page out of a script, visualize it, and transfer it to the page in such a way that it works best for that particular story, be it an action story, a horror story, whatever.
“We'll also cover working with the other people within the industry, from writers to inkers to colorists to editors. It may be an introductory class, but we'll be focusing on every aspect of the artist's job--including meeting one's deadlines. We're covering all the bases here!”
As for the possibility of expanding his comics classes to the West Coast, founder Andy Schmidt said the option is always on the table. “I've got a lot on my plate right now between my Senior Editor gig at IDW and running GI Joe and Star Trek, amongst other comics, and then also doing Comics Experience, but ultimately, yes, I'd very much like to do that,” he said. And though Schmidt is involved, for now, primarily on the business side of Comics Experience, he has appreciated the insights that teaching has brought him. “There are always surprises; the course has never been the same. Each class is made up of new people and that really changes how the course goes. But I think I'm definitely a better editor and writer because of Comics Experience.
“I think if I weren't learning or growing too, it might not be worth it to me to continue, but so far, Comics Experience has been great for the students and for me.”