As a fan of comics, I’m happy to attend a convention or otherwise any comic-related event. When the event is in my backyard, my happiness increases ten fold. Such was the case with this year’s MSU Comics Forum, which is held yearly in East Lansing.
Stationed on the lovely, snow-dusted campus of Michigan State University, this free event packed a lot in just two days.¹
MSU Comics Forum: Friday – Nick Bertozzi’s Keynote Address
The keynote address by guest of honor Nick Bertozzi was informative, inspirational, and entertaining. Bertozzi is an excellent speaker—which I’m sure comes in handy as a teacher of comics. I enjoy hearing about an artist’s creative process, their own experiences with success and failure, and especially their inspirations. Bertozzi walked us through his comic creating career, with its ups and downs—including his early failure with self-publishing. I can relate to some of his experiences in that regard.²
What I really took away from Bertozzi’s keynote address was an appreciation for studying your inspirations or the works of older artists. Bertozzi talked about redrawing Tintin comics to learn panel flow and such—not tracing, but recreating character poses and scenes. Bertozzi mentioned studying Archie comics and coming to love their simplicity—pointing out how dialog in Archie comics almost never ends in a period: it is usually either an exclamation point or a question mark. Zounds!
Bertozzi touched on perhaps the biggest course correction in his comic creating career: when, on the advice of a friend, he stopped trying to capture the superhero fan base, and made the comics he wanted to make. This echoes advice I’ve heard and read from other cartoonists and writers: tell the stories you want to tell. It is more genuine, and you likely will enjoy the process more.
Sure, there comes a time when you need to pump the brakes on such a method, lest you veer off the cliff of self-indulgence. In the beginning, this is the way to go—you aren’t chasing ‘hot topics’ or going after audiences your style will never appeal to in the first place. It helps you find and develop your own style or voice (something I’m still working on with my own comics).
Any creative endeavor (writing, cartooning, music, constructing bird houses out of gourds) can be mentally and physically exhausting. An event like Bertozzi’s keynote address, and the MSU Comics Forum as a whole, is a much needed visit to a creative oasis. I felt filled with inspiration and my creative energy was renewed.
MSU Comics Forum: Saturday – Artist’s Alley
My visit to the MSU Comics Forum on Saturday was short and sweet. Even given my limited time, I made the most of the visit. I chatted with local comic creators Ryan Claytor, Jay Jacot, and Dean Stahl. I regret not chatting with more artists, but I didn’t have the time. The amount of artists this year made me smile—two rooms were filled. I was not able to attend any of the panel talks, which was a disappointment, but there is always next year.
Speaking of next year, I cannot wait to see how the MSU Comics Forum continues to grow. It pleases me to no end to have such an event right here in Lansing.
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¹ There were other events which began before Friday and Saturday, but the biggest events were Friday and Saturday.
² Not that I necessarily consider my own self-publishing adventure a total failure. In some ways, maybe (“I didn’t sell a million books!”). But in other ways, not at all (I met a bunch of great creative folks, and it opened many doors for me. I was even invited to an upcoming local author signing).
³ I also bought a couple Usagi Yojimbo books. More on this later. I own McCloud’s other comic-related books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. While I enjoy McCloud’s books, Making Comics is teaching me A LOT.