My first thought when invited: What have I got to say to Design students? My second through fifth thoughts: maybe a lot. Dr. Housefield talks about comics in his curriculum. His students have read Scott McCloud and thought a lot about expressing concepts visually in a variety of media. I've got some practical experience and a perspective they haven't heard before. This idea's just crazy enough to work!
The morning class was Design 1, with about 170 mostly freshmen who Dr. Housefield explained had just survived their first round of university midterms and were a bit shell-shocked. The lecture hall was a great old-school "Paper Chase"-style auditorium with seats that soared steeply to the back of the room. Dr. Housefield opens every class asking the students to do a five-minute sketch, which I expect generates some loose creative energy. Yesterday, in my honor, he asked them to sketch that famous "Learn to Draw" pitchman as seen in millions of matchbooks and comic books, Patchy the Pirate.
Since we already had the AV for my PowerPoint slides set up and I had some nervous energy of my own to dissipate, I also took the opportunity to Draw Patchy on the big blackboard behind the lectern. After that, Dr. Housefield had the students break into small groups to brainstorm questions they'd like to ask a working (heh) cartoonist. That terrified me; they'd come prepared.
Then for about an hour and half I used examples from both Mom's Cancer and WHTTWOT to talk about why I think comics are a particularly powerful medium of communication--their economy of expression, use of symbolism, metaphor, and manipulation of space and time--my approach to designing characters, the different roles color played in my two books. I described the huge amount of research I did on WHTTWOT, and how that manifested itself in details that I didn't expect readers to notice but I hoped might make the story feel authentic and "right" just the same. I talked about the nuts and bolts of how I physically turn blank sheets of paper into published work, CMYK versus RGB, and the process of collaborating with editors and designers on projects like designing a book cover. I tried to be honest about what I thought worked and what maybe hadn't worked so well. I've given a lot of different types of talks to different groups, but this was definitely the most exhaustive (and exhausting) explanation of process I'd ever attempted.
And I think it went well! Here's one student's review. The students had good questions, none of which stumped me. Some of them had read my books in preparation for the lecture, so I got to do some signing and sketching out in the hall afterward. Dr. Housefield then treated me and a small group of his class mentors--students who'd already had the class and come back to lead discussions and such--to lunch. I appreciated the chance to meet them one-on-one. Nice, smart people.
In the afternoon I basically repeated my talk in a much smaller room with a few of Dr. Housefield's graduate students. He'd also extended an invitation universitywide so we had maybe seven or eight people altogether, and a nice opportunity for a more casual, intimate discussion.
So I got to spend a beautiful sunny day back on my college campus, which always makes me feel like I'm 20 again. I think I added some value to some students' educations without wasting anybody's time. Four hours of speechifying and another four hours on the road made for a long day but, as I told Dr. Housefield, I'd be happy to go back and do it anytime. Thanks to him and his students for making me so welcome.