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Words, pictures, teamwork

JMU students write and illustrate stories for the IVS Spring 2010 Studio Seminar
By Chris Edwards

Move at the Zoo Like the Animals Do was one of several illustrated stories on exhibit at the IVS Spring 2010 Studio Seminar

"Move at the Zoo Like the Animals Do" was one of several illustrated stories on exhibit at the IVS Spring 2010 Studio Seminar.

Teacher-trainee Katie Duffy had her future classrooms in mind while writing "Move at the Zoo Like the Animals Do." Project-partner Melisa Alvarez created the book's lively figures inspiring children to hop like kangaroos, stretch like giraffes and waddle like penguins.

Chris Parthemos and Julia Lichtblau — a couple, also collaborating for the course, Writing and Illustrating Literature — drew inspiration from mythology and science fiction for their graphic novel, "The Gilgamesh Machine."

Parthemos's tale encompasses gene-experimentation blowback and a human-versus-computer showdown. Lichtblau's forest landscapes, starting in black and white, become colorful as mythic figures emerge.

These were among projects exhibited to culminate this spring's Studio Seminar course. JMU's Institute for Visual Studies offers one such multidisciplinary, team-taught, collaborative course each semester, explains IVS Director David Ehrenpreis. In this instance, students with literature or writing-related concentrations paired with visual-arts majors.

"It's an interesting dynamic. It's a shotgun wedding, of sorts. It can go well, or bad," says illustrator Rich Hilliard, who taught the course with writer Jared Featherstone. The profs' own collaboration, "Sharklegs," appeared beside their students' works in the IVS gallery. Earlier, students examined classic graphic novels (such as Spiegelman's "Maus") alongside lighter examples by guest artist Julia Wertz.

To remake Dickens' "Pickwick Papers" in the graphic mode, student author Peter Riggs explained he and illustrator Aaron Shifflett took the befuddled Pickwickians — gentlemen "living in a bubble" — and transferred the world outside that bubble from 19th-Century London to a contemporary metropolis. To accompany Riggs' text — marked by un-Dickensian, 21st-Century brevity — Shifflett staged his quaintly-garbed Pickwickians against urban backdrops located online. He added photos of his brother as a guide, mediating between Pickwickians and characters including a suspicious cabbie.

Move at the Zoo Like the Animals Do was one of several illustrated stories on exhibit at the IVS Spring 2010 Studio Seminar

"The Gilgamesh Machine" drew inspiration from mythology and science fiction.

"Dr. Seuss of La Mancha" began with an ink drawing by Vincent Sales. It's abstract, but his then-new project partner, Jennifer Sappington, saw "a little figure with a sword" emerging from it. That sparked her handwritten narrative for their diary-sized multimedia book, about a young woman grieving for a lifelong friend while reminiscing on their childhood Quixote-legend re-enactments.

Creativity can entail breaking rules, such as Callie McLean working solo in the odd-numbered class. To write and illustrate her cartoon series, "Cupcakes Goes to College," she says she depicted characters as baked goods with faces because she cannot draw people.

At semester's end, Hilliard and Featherstone addressed publication: how-to's; contacts.

Asked about blogging versus print, Hilliard says, "With self-publishing, you can be your best client and worst critic, but there's nothing line the prestige of having your work chosen by a publisher." He sees that potential in a few students' projects — a learning-experience bonus.