October 4, 2012
CR Newsmaker Interview: Matt Silady
is a comics creator best known for his graphic novel The Homeless Channel
, published by AiT-Planet Lar in 2007. He is also the chair of the college program at the California College Of The Arts, which after a thumbs-up last Spring is moving ahead full-bore, with events and orientation symposia and all the bells and whistles you might expect with an MFA program. I was intrigued by how quickly the program is springing into existence, and why exactly the school is offering such a program at this specific point in time. With a public lecture in support of the program by artist Phil Jimenez to come off this evening
, Silady was nice enough to take my questions. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Matt, can you talk a little bit about comics and your personal vocational history? I take it from what I've read that you've always liked comics -- and I'd like to hear about some of the comics that were personally meaningful to you -- but that you yourself came to comics late, maybe even after a couple of other careers. Is that a fair statement?
It sure is. I spent most of my twenties avoiding the one thing really I wanted to do: make comics.
A good friend of mine snapped his fingers at me once and said, "what do you really
want to be when you grow up?" I said, "a teacher." And that was that. I switched majors and found myself teaching 8th grade for six years. Don't get me wrong. I loved it. I miss it. But during the summers, I would peck away at comic book scripts.
I feel like I've always been on a trajectory to do both. The first comic I read cover to cover, [Chris] Claremont and [Alan] Davis' Excalibur
#1, switched a light on in my brain. There was something special there. Not the soap opera storyline or the guys running around in long-johns shooting laser beams out of their eyes. But something fundamental in the way that comics worked that I couldn't shake.
Fast forward to college. I picked up the zero issue of Starman
and a different switch was flipped. I went from just consuming as many comics as I could to feeling like I needed to make them. I wanted to make someone else feel the same way that Robinson and Harris made me feel when I read their comics. Unfortunately, fear of failure definitely kept me from diving right in.
My other big lightbulb books were Jinx
(which convinced me that a writer could draw) and Jimmy Corrigan
(which showed me what a real master of the craft could do). Before I knew it, I was moving west and working on a masters degree in fiction. Shortly after meeting Josh Cotter (Skyscrapers of the Midwest
) at a party, I started work on The Homeless Channel
. He pointed a finger at me when I said I was still just thinking about making comics and told me to stop making excuses and get to work. So I did.
SPURGEON: Matt, is there a reason we haven't seen a longer work from you since
Homeless Channel? Forgive me if I'm forgetting something -- and in fact, fill me in. I know that I've seen snippets of what's advertised as forthcoming work, but I'm not sure I've seen the work. Are we going to get more comics from you?
Yes. Yes, there are definitely more comics in my future.
I got the call from CCA just after The Homeless Channel
was released. I'd taken some time off from teaching to complete the book and I was really ready to get back in the classroom. It's where I'm most comfortable and often, where I'm most happy. So I jumped at the chance. I've put my heart and soul into expanding the comics curriculum at the college. It has taken time away from the two long-form projects I'm working on, but it's been totally worth it.
More than anything, it's made my comics better. If I picked up right where The Homeless Channel
left off, I don't think I'd be happy with my progress. In the last four years, I've learned so much more about my craft through teaching. In that time, books like Bottomless Belly Button
, Asterios Polyp
, What It Is
, and stunners like Brecht Evens new The Making Of
have all made it into my syllabus. By prioritizing teaching again, comics have opened up to me in a whole new way.
I do need to be more careful with carving out time for myself to work now. Sometimes it means going to some extremes. This past summer I took on a jail cell residency
at Alter Space in San Francisco. Nothing like moving your studio into a basement dungeon to clear away distractions for a bit.
SPURGEON: Okay, so you go in last Spring to pitch an MFA program related to comics. How did that opportunity come to you? What intrigued about the idea? Did you already have a relationship with the school?
For the last several years, I've been slowly and carefully building the undergraduate and graduate comics curriculum at CCA. There was a pent up demand for comics when I got there. CCA has a rich history of comics in the classroom. Barron Storey's illustration courses have seen to that. But from the moment I was asked to lead their first dedicated comics workshop all the way up to the launch of the MFA, the school never asked me to defend the legitimacy of comics in any way. We've expanded the curriculum to include everything from genre-specific courses, such as this past summer's memoir studio, to graduate-level workshops and seminars.
By bringing in top notch faculty, we've been able to put together some very special projects too. Justin Hall (True Travel Tales
) and I were able to co-teach a project-based seminar in which students helped compile an oral history of San Francisco's GLBTQ comics scene and contributed to the editing of Fantagraphics' No Straight Lines
anthology. We've also had a tremendous line-up of guest speakers including Julia Wertz, Dash Shaw, Vanessa Davis, MariNaomi, and Christophe Blaine just to name a few. By the time the administration approached me about a potential MFA in Comics, we had all the pieces in place. It was just a matter of putting it all together in a cohesive way.
SPURGEON: Why do you think they agreed to try a program like this right now? There's a line of thinking that while comics are ingrained as a part of publishing culture, and our arts culture, that they're maybe not on the upswing in the way they were three, four, five years ago. Why did you perceive of a need for this kind of program right now?
Interest in comics certainly isn't waning. I think we've just moved past the "comics aren't for kids" portion of the mainstream media's narrative. The program isn't an attempt to cash in on a trend. Comics are here for good. And thankfully, we can now spend most of our energy just getting to work.
There are two reasons the time is right for this program. First, we've got a really diverse generation of young comics creators that are more literate than ever before. They've managed to avoid a high sugar diet of made up of only superhero comics. They've grown up on manga and graphic novels as well. They're hungry to tell their stories, experiment with the page, and perfect their craft. I want to provide a structured community with top tier mentorship to help them follow their dreams.
The second reason, and one that's dear to my heart, is to empower cartoonists to make a living teaching comics. We're at a bit of a chicken and egg moment here in terms of comics education. More and more comics courses are coming on-line in higher education, yet many cartoonists who would love to teach those courses haven't had the chance to earn an advanced degree in their field. I want to help those comics creators not only land those jobs, but to really excel in the classroom as well. Just being a great artist isn't enough. That's why I'm making sure that teacher training and the study of comics education are important components of our program.
SPURGEON: The last question had the phrase "right now" and it really is "right now" -- you guys are moving extraordinarily quickly, it seems to me. Why the charge to get the degree program fully launched? What have the last few months been like from your end of things?
The last few months have been the best of my life. Seriously. As I mentioned before, we've been building the foundation for this program for several years now. Once the President gave our team the green light, we've had the full support of the entire college. Everyone's been so very supportive. It really feels like the entire school is excited about this.
The administration really saw what we were doing in each of our individual comics courses from the quality of work coming out of the classroom to the enthusiasm of our students. Now, we're just in the process of tying it all together. Personally, I couldn't be more excited. The two roads that I've followed for a long time now have finally merged.
SPURGEON: What kind of student do you hope to attract? In fact, how far along are you in terms of putting together your initial class?
We start accepting applications on November 15th. But we've already been receiving a steady stream of inquiries about the program. We're definitely looking for students coming right out of undergraduate illustration and writing programs. But the program has also been turning heads among working professional cartoonists. This is where the low-residency format of the program is really appealing. We're here to provide a supportive creative community for up-and-coming creators as well as provide graduate level training for industry veterans looking to expand their mastery of their craft.
More than anything, I'm trying to fashion the kind of graduate program that I wished had been around ten years ago when I was considering an MFA. One that honors the craft of making comics and celebrates the limitless potential of the medium.
SPURGEON: Talk me to the about the program, its parameters and functional aspects. If I were a student, what would I be in for -- how much time on campus, or project-work, or class-time would I have gotten into? Who are you drawing on for instructors and other positions?
First of all, you get to spend a month of your summer in San Francisco. If you're looking for a place to hang out and make comics for awhile, this city is hard to beat. Students will stay in the Bay Area starting in July of 2013 for a month of intensive comics seminars, workshops, and studio courses. After establishing the basic trajectory of their creative thesis projects, they return home and take the following fall and spring semesters to work on their comics with the guidance of a long-distance faculty mentor. The following July, it's back to San Francisco for another round of course work with their peers and refining their thesis projects. Student then have one more year of one-on-one mentoring before returning for a final July focusing on comics publication, pedagogy, and professional practice.
Our faculty is really shaping up. One of the incredible advantages of putting this program together at CCA is that we get to draw on the best of the best in terms of illustration instructors, design experts, and award-winning writers from our graduate creative writing program. We're also featuring a special guest workshop instructor each summer (which I get to announce very, very soon!)
SPURGEON: What kind of goals do you have for five years down the line? If this program works out to the maximum extent you'd like, what does the program look like?
Five years from now, it will all be about community. We'll have two graduated classes, three cohorts of students working their way through the program, an expanded and energized faculty, professional connections within the industry and academia, and a very tall stack of completed books. Personally, it would make me very happy to see our students teaching comics at all academic levels while continuing to explore their own gifts as artists and writers. CCA's MFA in Comics is designed to be a hub where faculty, alumni, current students, and comics professionals can regularly interact through the coursework, mentorship, and public events. I can't wait to see it all come together. I'm really proud of the work we've done so far and it's only the beginning.
* program page
* Matthew Silady's page in relation to the program
* program's facebook page
* logo from program
#1, a powerful comic in Silady's personal orbit
* page from Homeless Channel
* from program supporter MariNaomi
* headshot provided by Silady
* another image from Silady's Homeless Channel
posted 3:00 pm PST
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