Sunday Field Trip

Yes, I am very late. My commitment was to have some kind of a column up every Friday and here it is late Sunday. But that's because this week I wanted to write about another class trip, and post a couple of pictures, and, well, the trip didn't take place until today. So here we are.

Usually when I write about my students, I'm speaking of my middle-school kids, the seventh and eighth grade kids. But I also have another group... my elementary-school bunch at the art studio. In fact, that's where the cartooning class was born. The Alki Bath House Art Studio is an outgrowth of the community center youth programs, except that the art programs have the good fortune to be segregated in a separate building, a nice little garage-type studio down on the beach.

They call it the Bath House because back in the early part of the last century, some loon thought he could actually make a Coney-island style amusement park here in Seattle where people could swim and sunbathe... on a beach where it rains 300 days a year and the temperature of the water hovers right around a bone-chilling forty degrees Fahrenheit. Needless to say, the venture was a disaster. Eventually the Seattle Parks Department bought the buildings and put them to use for storage and so on, and about thirty years ago someone had the bright idea that Parks and Rec should turn that old shack on the beach into an art studio for the youth program, and that's what it's been ever since. But because it originally really was a bath house for swimmers to shower and change, they have continued to call it the Bath House Studio. There's painting classes and pottery classes and a week-long 'art camp' during the summer... and in the northeast corner, there's me and whatever gang of would-be young cartoonists I have at the moment.

I had felt guilty about not opening up the Emerald City booth experience to the younger kids (I knew better than to try; it was enough of a logistical nightmare coordinating two groups of 6th and 7th-grade kids, and adding a third group of even younger and more rambunctious students would have had me in a rubber room by the end of the weekend.) So when I saw that Steve Miner was having one of his little one-day shows I made up a flyer letting the kids and parents know about it, explaining that the headliner this time out was Paul Gulacy, "the man who drew the page with the nunchakus."

The kids don't know Shang-Chi, of course, they're too young; but they know the page. I've used it as an example in my class for the last ten years of how to design a page utilizing sound effects and lettering as a visual element that helps lead the eye. (It's from MOKF #39, the battle between Shang-Chi and Shen Kuei.) Here it is:

Since we had just done sound effects and lettering on Tuesday, Mr. Gulacy was relatively fresh on their minds, and I thought it would be fun to shake his hand and let him know that we got a lot of classroom mileage out of his nunchucks.

The deal I always make with the kids when there's a show is, "The center won't pay for it, but if you want to go, Julie and I will be there at one, and we'll give you the guided tour through Artist's Alley." We didn't have as many takers as I'd thought we might, given the response in class on Tuesday, but Troy and Alison made it.

A teacher isn't supposed to have favorites. But we all do. I am very fond of Troy and Ali because they are just SO INTO COMICS. All comics. Any comics. If it's drawings and word balloons, they are THERE. Their sense of wonder at all of it is really catching, and their mother, who is somewhat befuddled by all of it but loves seeing the two of them having fun, is very supportive.

As always, the small-press folks were wonderful. Quenton and the gang at QEW Publishing have always been great friends to my kids in the various classes; Quenton's been a supporter of the program ever since I ended up sitting next to him on a plane back from San Diego one year and gave him one of our books to look at. I am a bad, bad man for neglecting to get the name of the young woman artist who talked to Ali and her mom for twenty minutes ("I love that you have GIRL students!" she almost sang) and let Ali flip through all her pages-in-progress for the new book she was working on, explaining about bluelines and inking and all the technical steps a page goes through. Many, many thanks to her, and I can't apologize enough for forgetting her name. All I can think is that it was Camilla or Cammy or something like that. I suck. But she was a delight and I hope her book is a smash. Certainly the pages were gorgeous. We didn't get a good shot of her or of the pages, sadly, but here's Ali looking through the portfolio pile.

And Jason Metcalf, another local boy, who's always been good with the kids. He looked a little startled to realize we've been running into each other at Steve Miner's shows for four or five years now. Jason does really nice superhero art, beautifully detailed and finely-rendered in a style that's a little reminiscent of Jim Lee but has a sort of baroque line all its own, that sort of ornate feel you get from Tony Harris. It's really a nice combination and I don't know why he doesn't get more mainstream superhero work. If I was going to revive John Carter of Mars or some property like that, something with a lot of art deco spaceships, and brawny guys with swords and maces, and half-clad princesses draped over gold-inlaid railings, it's Jason I'd be trying to get on the phone. You heard it here first. Anyway, he's very talented and always great with my kids... Jason has probably forgotten this, but he earned a place on my short-list of Really Great Comics People years ago when he made some forty-year-old geek wait for his sketch while he dropped whatever commission he was working on to show a student of mine how to draw a belt buckle and make it look real. It was both heartwarming and hilarious. And here he is talking to Ali.

As it turned out, Paul Gulacy was mobbed. But he did a nice sketch for us in our class scrapbook of Helpful Hints from Pros, a smiling Batman saying, Hey kids! Here is what I always did -- after your homework, try to do a little drawing every day before bed, even if it is a little goofy thing. If you don't want to draw, get some clay and make stuff!

"True story," Gulacy said, handing the scrapbook back to me. "I used to make these little clay guys, monsters and stuff, put 'em on sticks, crazy stuff. But anything to help you visualize!"

This endeared him utterly to my wife Julie, since she is a potter; we met in the Bathhouse pottery studio, as a matter of fact. So anyone who works with clay, even making monsters and crazy stuff, is tops in her book.

Here's Troy and Ali and... well, the top of Paul Gulacy's head, behind Troy's shoulder. But I think that was when Steve came up to talk business with him and our one inviolate rule at shows is that we never, NEVER bother artists who are doing business. Otherwise I'm sure we could have gotten him to pose with the kids, but I thought we'd imposed enough by that point.

Anyway, that was the field trip. Low-impact and fun, the best kind to have.

Did we get loot? Are you kidding? There were quarter bins and that's all my bride EVER needs to see. She spent a great deal of time at the Randy's Readers Comics booth, my first shopping stop any time I see him at a show. Julie took my shopping list and elbowed her way past the other geezer nerds with the kind of laser-like focus that only a determined woman can bring to the shopping experience. She cleaned him out of his Shang-Chi and also bowled out some early 70's Detectives I had wanted, including a couple of the ones with the Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter run that I'd been after for years. I think she dropped about thirty-some dollars there.

The real find for the day, though, were the 70's books we saw in the quarter bins at Comics Dungeon's table. Man, I dunno who they've got pricing that stuff. But somebody lost a bundle they could have made on eBay, because we walked away with NM copies of the O'Neil-Kaluta Shadow #1, New Teen Titans Annual #1 by Wolfman and Perez, and -- the big score -- Marvel Spotlight #30, featuring the Warriors Three. Quite possibly one of the funniest comics I've ever read, this was a little one-shot story featuring Thor's three pals trying to get a young lady and her nerdy fiancee back together, with Groo-like blundering good intentions that go further and further awry. Len Wein wrote it and John Buscema drew it and it's one of my favorite things either guy ever worked on. It's been sniped out from under me half-a-dozen times in online auctions over the last year, but today my wonderful determined wife found it for a measly twenty-five cents.

So that was our Sunday field trip.

See you next week, hopefully back on the regular Friday schedule.

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