I had a chance to sit down with an old mentor of mine the other day. He was my illustration teacher in college (or at university, as the Brits are keen of saying). He needed some slides of the work I did in his class for an upcoming presentation. He offered to take me out to lunch and I readily agreed. After we chatted for a bit, Mark asked me about what I was doing. I talked about everything that was going on with Kim & Jason from both creative and business standpoints. It was an opportunity to lay everything out on the table, literally, as I opened my portfolio in front of him. You see, in college, I was a pretty good artist, concentrating primarily on people and portraits. At one time, I was sure that’s how I’d one day make a living. And early on, I was very much against cartooning, and felt that it was a “waste” of my talents. Well, I ended up getting a gig as a sports cartoonist for the college paper, and the cartooning bug bit me. And as I explored more fully the work of Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), and Walt Kelly (Pogo), I began to realize what an art form it could be, even if it was not as highly regarded as “fine art”. And as I’ve developed Kim & Jason, I’ve incorporated a lot of my painting skills and knack for color in the print and Weekend strips. But it was still a huge thing for me to show my former teacher what I was up to. Would he be impressed? Or disappointed? I had a chance to express some of my feelings, and he was more supporting and encouraging than I would’ve guessed. He shared something I already knew; that you shouldn’t live trying to impress others, or fit yourself into their box. Do what you love. Art is art, no matter what label or significance someone wants to put on it. Even though I knew that, it still felt good to hear that from someone I respect so much artistically. One of the most poignant moments came when we were done eating and had each others portfolios in front of us. To get a full appreciation of the irony of the scene, I, of course, have a portfolio filled with cute, colorful images of childhood and innocence. His work is of the fantasy realm, complete with skeletons, dragons, and evil beasts ridden by dark warrior princesses. A complete contrast in styles, to say the least, and yet we were both reviewing each other’s work with respect and a bit of awe (although I’m sure the feelings of awe were definitely dominated by me). Then a waitress came out of nowhere and stopped i her tracks after seeing my work. MY work. Here I am, flipping through to portfolio of the greatest artist I personally know, and she is stopped in her tracks by my art. “Is one of you the artist who did this?” she asked. My mentor looked up and pointed to me. Then, she looked for a moment at his stuff, and said, “Oh, that’s…neat.” Then she apologized for interrupting, pointed back to mine, said, “That’s so CUTE”, and walked off. Even though I feel like I’ve got a long way to go to really hold a paintbrush to him, thanks to Mark’s encouraging support, and the waitress’s candid comments, I walked away emboldened and excited. As we parted ways, Mark praised my persistence and my plan, and encouraged me to keep at it. I said that it meant a lot coming from someone who knew what they were talking about. “Oh, I’ve just got you hornswaggled,” he said with a smile.
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