Comics Art Workshop: Pat Grant Interview Part One

The inaugural Australian Comic Art Workshop was announced early this year, an opportunity for developing cartoonists to receive instruction from professionals during a full immersion workshop. I like the idea that cartoonists down this end of the world will be able to benefit from this sort of tuition and hope this is the start of a larger comics education initiative combining comics academics and pencil and paper tutors.

Deadline for applications for the first workshop is May 29th 2015.

From the Comics Art Workshop website,

'We're here to incubate a new generation of world class comics.'

I asked one of the facilitators and tutors of the Comics Art Workshop Pat Grant a few questions.

Matt Emery: I really like the idea of a comics art workshop, offering instruction and mentorship outside of what may be available in tertiary education (actually I don't know what is offered in this country, I presume there are no dedicated cartooning papers?). I know you attended a comic workshop in Florida a few years back, I wondered going into that, what did you hope to get out of it? And what did you end up taking away from it?

Pat Grant: The embarrassing truth is that The Comic Art Workshop hasn't come about because of some benevolent impulse. I'm personally doing this for selfish reasons. I'm having a terrible time with my current project and I wish so hard that there was a place I could go every year to get the a useful critique and technical support to help with my graphic novel. I want the support that screenwriters and novelists seem to be able to get.

For years I've been thinking through the role of education in comics. I have been asking myself: If there was a place where someone like me could go to develop as a cartoonist then what would that place look like?

I went to a residency run by the Atlantic Centre for The Arts in Florida in 2010. It was 24 cartoonists in the middle of nowhere with some impressive mentors like Craig Thompson and Paul Pope, and we're all doing our very best to figure out how to make better comics. It was immersive and intense. Without a doubt the most important educational experience of my life. But here's the really important thing, there was no 'curriculum', there was no 'teaching'. It turns out that all you have to do to create the ultimate comics school is to get a group of talented cartoonists as somewhere remote and make sure they're well fed. The rest they'll figure out for themselves.

Liz and I are amongst the few people in this country lucky enough to be able to teach comics at a tertiary level. It's great to be able to work in the education side of the field and meet some up and coming comix ninjas but, and I'm only speaking for myself here, working for a university is more often heartbreaking than it is inspiring. My feeling is that universities are actually very limited in what they can offer to any talented artist. If you really want to create a space for advanced learning in our art-form then you probably have to forget the university and build something from the ground up. That's what we're trying to do.

Emery: What inspired the setting of Tasmania for the workshop?

Grant: We picked Maria Island in Tasmania because the place is remote, affordable and unbelievably beautiful. I went down for a reccie last year and I just can;t wait to get back there. It's the ideal place to spend two weeks drawing, talking, reading, eating good food and drinking the odd tumbler of Tasmanian whiskey. I've always found arts events and festivals that are held in major cities to be droll. People turn up for the day have 37 shallow interactions and are back in their routine before bed. There'll be none of that at CAW. Real discussions about art practices and art projects need serious time and a relaxed space to properly unfold and my hope is that our choice of venue creates the right conditions.

But it's not always gonna be in Tas. The coolest thing about the CAW project design is that we don't have a building and that we're not tied down to any given place. Our next workshop might be in Central Australia or South Island New Zealand or by the beach in Indonesia.