Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sticks or Stones

After graduating the High School of Art and Design, I didn't really want any more schooling and thought I'd take a chance and see what would come of persuing an art career. Seeing published work on the art boards around the school by artists who got gigs as professionals right after they graduated the school, like Joe Jusko, was encouraging. I knew I wasn't that good, but I was determined to try and break into that world.

My friend Lance Tooks was an intern at Marvel Comics from the 11th grade and worked there many years after graduation, editing scores of books. After months, almost a year after high school, at Lance's insistence, I went up to Marvel Comics to see about the whole interning thing. I was asked to bring a portfolio of some of my work, so I did. I was no child prodigy able to paint beyond my years, and I knew it. But I've always had a thing for drawing anatomy which I've always worked on to get better.

So, I went on up to Marvel Comics one afternoon, not really looking to impress anyone, but just hoping be around artists to learn the comics business. After meeting with Lance I was told the only person available to see me was an editor named Larry Hama. I had no idea who this was, but he was an editor who I was told I had to deal with. After a handshake, I sat across Mr. Hama's desk as he picked up my portfolio just as he answered his phone. While chatting on the phone, he flipped through my work rather bruskly, finished his conversation, closed my porfolio and, after sliding it back across the desk to me very blandly said "It sucks".

Like I wrote, I wasn't looking to impress anyone.

Strangely enough, that experience didn't mean much to me. Being a young, aspiring artist, it didn't have any negative affect on me. It could be because I had no idea who this guy was and he didn't make any impression on me. I just knew he had a job at Marvel Comics. I know many artists who told me they had similar experiences with editors and were so devestated that they couldn't draw for a while. After that incident, I had lunch with my friends, went back to my job as a messenger then went home and drew all night-like I usually did then.

A few weeks later, I went to meet with Lance again at Marvel for lunch and was hanging out in the lobby waiting while talking to the receptionist. I just happened to have my portfolio, but with only a few large drawings and a sketchbook. After a few minutes the door to the offices open and out comes Marie Severin. I thought, "Hey, that's Marie Severin!" Almost immediately she spots my portfolio and says to me "How ya doin'? You an artist?" I think I said something intelligible and she says "Mind if I have a look?" I again muttered something and before my head cleared, Ms. Severin was sitting next to me looking through my sketchbook, then the larger drawings that I had-and she did so with her complete attention. The best part was she kept commenting on how good my art anatomy was and asking where did I study. I knew she was being sincere-if those lines had come from an editor, it would have come off as sarcasm. I was talking with an artist. And I knew who SHE was.

Ready for the rest?

Before Ms. Severin was through looking at my work-and she sat with me for no less than a half hour-the door opens again and out strolls John Romita Sr. "Hey, that's Jazzy John Romita", I scream in my head. And Ms. Severin says, "Hey, Johnnie, come look at this guy's work." And there I was, on a sofa with Marie Severin and John Romita checking out my work, both giving me laurels for my figure drawing. Afterwards, they both shook my hand and recommended I put more work together and keep knocking on the comic book doors. I then had lunch with my friends and related the whole story. Now, THAT experience affected me.

Years after that, after going my own way and self publishing, I would look at the work I had shown Ms. Severin and Mr. Romita back then, and realized just how bad I was, and how gracious they were in taking the time to encourage another artist. And even though I've developed my own style over the years, it's very difficult to say anything negative to a young person who asks me to critique their work. I just think maybe they'll develop a style that I can learn from and they'll be succesful with it. Since leaving the hospital last month, I've thought a lot about what I've done with my art and there've been quite a few things, the most rewarding being I've gotten better. The picture above is from 1998 after I've finished installing my pieces for my first exhibition at the International Erotic Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain. I'll save that story for another time, but, man, it was wild.

I've been wanting to show my work to Ms. Severin and Mr. Romita now for the last few years and recount my story to them. I'm sure they've forgotten. But I know they'd still be just as gracious, regardless of whether they personally liked my work or not. It would still mean a lot to me now, just as it did then.

One thing is for certain: I will never tell any aspiring artist that his or her work 'sucks'. There's a name for people who do that: they're called "editors".