Graphic novel program could become new major

by Beacon Staff • March 26, 2008

Graphic novelist Andy Fish intends to find and teach his profession's next generation in Emerson's new Graphic Novel Writing and Illustration program, available through the Office of Professional Studies and Continued Education.,The next great Batman, Wolverine or Spiderman artist may be dwelling here at Emerson.

Graphic novelist Andy Fish intends to find and teach his profession's next generation in Emerson's new Graphic Novel Writing and Illustration program, available through the Office of Professional Studies and Continued Education.

Fish said the program could become a major if it succeeds.

The classes will be offered through the Office of Professional Studies and Special Programs, a non-credit department that offers courses to gain a certificate in fields such as copy editing, performing arts administration, screen writing and now graphic novel writing and illustration.

A graphic novel is a comic book with a lengthy and complex storyline similar to those of literary novels. They are usually aimed at mature audiences and contain darker themes.

Though inside the pages are that of a comic book, graphic novels are bound like books and sold mainly in book stores.

Darian Eck, 25, said he enrolled in the program because he feels the certificate will help him pursue a career in graphic novels.

"I think Emerson is accomodating a great thing and I wish everyone knew about it," he said.

Fish will begin teaching one of the classes, Illustrating the Graphic Novel I, in the 10-session offered in the summer for $625. Classes will be held weekday nights and are open to anyone with a minimum of a high school diploma or GED.

The course objective, according to the Emerson course directory, is to focus on developing an effective story idea, structuring the graphic novel, writing effective dialogue and completing an outline for his or her original graphic novel.

"The courses are making me a better artist and storyteller," Eck said. "The classes are a workshop environment and it is great to have the support of my peers and instructor."

The new program was designed by Director of Professional Studies Trent Bagley, Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Moore and Mike Brennan, who is also a graphic novelist.

Sophomore Matt Fetonti said he is not enrolled in the program, but regularly purchases graphic novels.

Fetoni said he thinks a school that focuses on the entertainment industry should offer classes on the lesser-known art form and that there is a connection among comic book fans, graphic novelists and film students.

"Graphic novels are not new by any means, but it is great they are gaining more acceptance," the television production major said. "I think it will hopefully get more aspiring directors to consider basing their next work off of a graphic novel or using some comic book themes in their work."

Fish also acknowledged the connection. He said the new class will focus largely on storytelling.

"Storytelling refers to the way in which an artist depicts a scene in comics form, using compositional elements like character placement, body language, light and shadow, mood, atmosphere and pacing," he said. "Basically the same way a writer does with words an artist must do with pictures."

Bagley said Fish was invited to teach the class last November because of the positive response to his presentation at Industry Night, an event for students and professors to network with professionals in similar disciplines.

"People kept asking me if Andy would be returning to campus to teach courses," Bagley said.

He said student interest in a graphic-novel program continued to grow long after the forum.

The only other venue for graphic study in New England is The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt.

Bagley said the school wanted to become the second place to offer classes on the subject because graphic novels are a growing genre sweeping the literature, film and marketing industries. Movies such as Sin City, V for Vendetta, Persepolis and 300 were all based on graphic novels.

"The awareness was eminent of how much of a subculture there is in graphic novels," Bagley said. "This program is what Emerson College does; creating innovation in the metropolitan area."

Fish said he was drawn to the darker world of graphic novels as a child. The more comics he read, the more he saw their deeper narrative aspects.

"I was blown away by [Marvel Comics artist] Stan Lee's ability to create a strong supporting cast and tell a story," he said.

As an undergraduate, Fish attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he studied under Will Eisner, one of the pioneers of the 1970s creation of the graphic novel.

His education also allowed him to enter the world of fine art. His paintings have been hung in Aurora Gallery in Worcester, The Chashama Gallery in Manhattan and the Ad Hoc Gallery in Brooklyn.

His first love-his comics- have appeared in Sports Illustrated, The New Yorker and The Boston Globe.

He is currently working on a DC comic project illustrating the graphic novel "BATMAN 1939" and his own comic "The Boy Who Wished He Could Fly."

Fish and his long-term girlfriend and drawing partner, Veronica Hebard, also teach about 40 workshops a year for comic lovers.

As for Emerson, Fish said he wants to keep the job part-time for now and said he agreed to teach at the college for one specific reason.

"Who knows if walking among the student body, or hanging out in the Dunkin Donuts on the corner is the next Frank Miller or Will Eisner?," Fish said. "Graphic novels have been gaining respect among the squares, and I think it is great that Emerson is offering this program, and I'm delighted to be a part of it."