Saanich-based comic book artist Ken Steacy in his studio

Camosun appeals to aspiring comic artists

Comics and graphic novels program begins in the fall

Before Ken Steacy was honoured for his lifetime of achievement in the comic book industry, he was just a guy with a pathological need to draw.

The co-creator of a newly developed comic and graphic novels certificate program at Camosun College, Steacy says the budding artists he meets have that same drive to tell stories – though everything else about the creation of comics has changed.

“I was like that,” Steacy said. “I would get really nervous if I didn’t have a pencil in my hand and a pad of paper to draw on.”

Since first creating fan ’zines in the 1970s, Steacy has written and illustrated the escapades of Astro Boy, Harry Potter, Batman, Ultraman, Spider-Man and The X-Men. His collaborators include the likes of George Lucas, Douglas Coupland and his wife Joan Steacy, a visual artist and author/illustrator of graphic novels.

The couple, who have lived in Greater Victoria since 1987, co-created the program to fill a void in comic arts training on the West Coast and to offer opportunities that weren’t available while they were embarking on their own careers.

“Everything has changed since we got into the industry,” Steacy said. “You had to live and work in New York City. Comics were distributed through a very archaic and wasteful distribution system. That has been changing and evolving over time. This is such a wonderful time to be here.”

The eight-month program follows the success of a single visual storytelling course the Steacys taught last October through the college’s continuing education department.

While the comic book industry remains robust despite the economy, Steacy said, the course is aimed at students who wish to work in graphic novels, web comics, comic strips, “edutainment” comics and storyboards for film, television and video games. It covers technique and life drawing, as well as printing, publishing and promotion. Students will also take part in a festival to showcase their work at the end of the program.

The writing component of the class will be taught by Camosun creative writing instructors.

“These aren’t just illustrated stories. It really is a way of making words and pictures work together to make that wonderful synergy where one-plus-one equals three.”

The eight-month program will cost students $9,166 in tuition and fees.

As of Monday, the course was nearly at capacity.

For aspiring artists who won’t be among the 16 registered for the fall, Steacy suggests they follow his lead and hold onto their pencils.

“Draw. Draw all the time. Never stop drawing. … Draw for the absolute love of drawing.”

Life on the page

Part two of Joan Steacy’s four-part autobiographic novel, Aurora Borealice will debut at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival 2012 next month (May 5 to 6). The series inspired Ken Steacy to create his own autobiographic novel, currently in development. n Tentatively titled T-Bird, the narrative draws on his own experience in a military family through the fictionalized characters of a retired air force pilot and his son as the two rebuild their relationship.

Cutting communications for comics?

Camosun College’s announcement of the new comic arts program mere weeks after suspending the popular applied communications program may raise a few eyebrows, but it’s not fair to compare the two offerings, said a spokesperson for the college.

The comics and graphic novel certificate program is considered an entrepreneurial activity and does not fall under the school’s base budget. The popular media generalist applied communication program did.

The “top dollar” tuition of the comic arts program goes beyond covering costs and is intended to generate revenue, similar to the college’s international student enrolment, spokesperson Joan Yates said.

“It’s a ‘let’s see if it’ll fly and make us some money’ type of program, quite frankly,” she said.

While she could not confirm how profit the program is expected to generate, the average for other money-making classes is between 18 to 22 per cent profit.

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