This past weekend I was in Omaha for a two-day cartooning event sponsored by the North Central Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society (of which I am a member). The schedule was jam-packed and the public was treated to a fountain of cartoon goodies including a special headline event that kicked off the weekend: a presentation by Pixar story artist Josh Cooley. Josh has done work on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Up, and wrote the humorous “UPisodes” used in Up’s promotion.
Josh gave his presentation on Friday night to a large crowd at the Kaneko Center. (I’d love to show pictures but photography was not allowed.) Using slides and video he gave us a detailed peek behind the curtain at the story department at Pixar. He explained what the job of a story artist is, showed us some slides of the Pixar facilities (including what looked like an olympic-sized swimming pool, a fully-stocked cereal bar, daily drawing classes, even fencing lessons!), and talked about the long and winding journey that a Pixar film takes from the first kernel of an idea to finished script. We were also treated to animatics of abandoned sequences from Up and Ratatouille—including one very funny bit with a manic lab rat character that was later dropped.
Saturday morning Josh gave a closed-door workshop on storytelling. Being a filmmaking geek and a huge animation fan I ate it up. Then on Saturday afternoon there were three panel presentations given by midwest NCS members:
“Cartooning In The New Economy” – First came a discussion on some of the challenges currently facing artists in the gag cartoon biz. Cartoonists Ed Fischer, Tom Kerr, Bucky Jones, and Dave Carpenter answered a series of questions from moderator and syndicated cartoonist John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee).
“Drawing in the House of Saddam” – Next up were cartoonists Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues) and Tom Richmond (MAD Magazine). They showed slides from their recent USO trips to Germany and Iraq. When they weren’t cheering up wounded troops in the hospital they were touring the ruins from the Iraq war including a former palace of Saddam Hussein.
“Sketching As Story”– The afternoon closed with another panel discussion featuring cartoonist/storyboard artist Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys, Ice Age 3, Despicable Me), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), yours truly, and Pixar’s Josh Cooley (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up), moderated by editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba. We showed slides of our work and answered a few audience questions about visual storytelling.
After our panel I asked Hagar the Horrible artist Chris Browne for a photo. He said he would but only if I wore his viking helmet. It’s a special piece of papier-mâché headgear hand made by Chris himself using scraps of leftover drawing paper from his studio. As a kid I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma, curling up on the couch, and reading “Hagar the Horrible” in her newspaper whenever we visited. Now here I was sitting next to the Hagar artist on stage and wearing his home-made Hagar hat. Of course Chris took over the strip after his father’s death so technically he wasn’t the one who drew most of the strips I read growing up but to me that’s a minor detail. It was still quite a treat!
Pixar’s Josh Cooley is a super nice guy and was incredibly generous with his time and talent. In addition to three presentations on stage he also did interviews, signed posters, and ate his meals with our crazy group of cartoonists, most of whom were huge Pixar fans. For two days we bombarded him with geeky question after geeky question and he graciously answered them all.
After the final panel we made our way down the block to the Bemis Gallery for the opening of a special traveling exhibit, “One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages”. The exhibit featured dozens of original drawings—one from almost every syndicated cartoon strip that you would find in your daily newspaper. The exhibit was put together by John Read, who is also the publisher of the wonderful cartooning magazine “Stay Tooned!”.
During the exhibit several cartoonists hung around for a book signing. Pictured front to back: Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues), Chris Browne (Hagar the Horrible), Glenn McCoy (The Flying McCoys), John Hambrock (The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee), and Jeff Koterba (signing his memoir Inklings which is getting rave reviews).
What an inspiring weekend! Besides spending time with such inspiring and insanely talented people, Omaha was a charming town and the weather was perfect. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’m still riding high off the cartooning buzz and more excited than ever to keep drawing!