When I first interviewed Tom Hart, way back in March, I labeled the piece the first of a multi-part interview—Hart was attending a comics-related conference in Gainesville, and we had a limited amount of time with which to speak.
All these months later, we’ve never gotten around to conducting a second installment. After all, we’re both busy people, me with my drinking, womanizing, and playing the ponies, and Hart with his daily strip, Hutch Owen, the courses he teaches at Manhattan’s School for the Visual Arts, and the fact that, like clockwork, he seems to show up at ever single comic-related function in the greater New York area.
After bumping into one another at MoCCA, a few times, we decided it was about time to schedule a rematch. Being that the first round occurred so many months ago, we’ve scrapped it, reasoning that even the most devout Hart fans and Cross Hatch readers have likely forgotten or just given up on the promise of a second installment.
With that in mind, I now present a new part one. The good news, this time around, is that we did a full length, multi-part interview, in one sitting, ensuring that now, no cliff hangers will go unhung.
What’s the first thing that you attempt to impart on your students, upon beginning a course?
It depends on the mood that year. Every September it’ll be something else. I remember one year I started by trying to address what it was that might springboard comics into a career. It’s also nice to put into students’ minds some of the things that they might be learning, such as manipulating time, learning to envision shots, learning to tell stories with pictures, and learning to put pictures together and negotiate. And other times it’s just about clarity. I’ll start a class without knowing anything about anybody, and I’ll have them introduce themselves with a comic strip, to see how they can make their comic strip more clear and introduce someone to their own ideas. Ultimately—it may not be the first thing I go into—but ultimately the most important thing is clarity.
Are there any major misconceptions that people tend have about the form, going into a class?
It depends on the age. Nineteen-year-old kids think that it’s all about the graphic novel or the monthly action comic. It’s not—there’s any number of things, like storyboarding. They also don’t often realize how much there is to think about. I find that a lot. It’s like, “I had no idea there were so many things to think about, every time you draw a panel.” I mean, I was 19 once, I know how it is—you’re not very skilled at thinking, at all. That’s a whole different ballgame. You have to teach them how to think. They just don’t realize how much there is to think about, but they’re ready for the challenge.
You said that most people think about the graphic novel. I don’t know if it’s the case so much anymore, but for a long time, it seemed like the newspaper strip was people’s entry into the world of comics.
I’m always surprised with young people—20-year-olds and such—that the strip is their entry point into comics. I guess it was mine, at that point, too… But for adults, I don’t know, I think the word is getting out. A lot of them have seen things floating around. A lot of adults have read Maus or Persepolis. I had one student walk in this semester, who not only knew who Dan Clowes was, and had actually been in Art Speigelman’s studio, and all of these other pearls that she keeps revealing in the class, like “when I was talking to Charles Burns…” “You were talking to Charles Burns?” But I think she’s new to actually drawing them. She’s been thinking about them a lot, and even writing about them, perhaps. There’s a weird amount of knowledge out there that isn’t on the surface. But I think the high profile books like Maus and Persepolis have helped a lot, and The New York Times Magazine. There’s a weird point that we’ve reached, where it’s not so strange to talk about these things.
Do you think the strip isn’t getting quite as much credit as the graphic novel? Like you said, you see all of these Times and New Yorker pieces about the high art of the graphic novel. The strip has been left out in the cold.
Yeah, well, the strip deserves to be out in the cold. I know I’m wasting my time doing it—I shouldn’t worry about how it’s looked upon in the outside world. And I think they’re seeing some great stuff in weeklies, like Maakies or This Modern World. But there’s no love for the dailies, and if they’ve been ignored, it’s because they deserve it.
In the history of comics, though, some of the greatest pieces of art were done in strip form.
And that’s the crazy thing. A lot of times in these classes, where some sort of graphic novel is the ultimate goal, you’re showing them a lot of work that’s a hundred years old, and appeared on one single Sunday page, or you showing them Dick Tracy, or Walt Kelly, and come the 60s, you show them some superhero thing, despite the fact that you hate superheroes.
You don’t hate Walt Kelly, though—
No, no, no! I don’t hate Walt Kelly. I appreciate Jack Kirby as much as anyone, but I don’t love the superheroes or comics strips now.
Do you feel that doing this daily strip for the Metro is taking away from time that might be better spent working on some longer form piece?
Well, ultimately, I don’t think so. Maybe there’s 10-percent of me that does, but I’m perfectly happy engaging in some deeper understanding of the form and craft and pacing and idea generation–all of this stuff. I’m really in the middle of this long form project that, on the surface, is less penetrating than a graphic novel might be. But it continues to be really deep for me.
Ultimately, I’d like to expand it, but I think I’d need some commercial access. I’d like it to be something that was profound like Thimble Theater or Little Orphan Annie was. If that doesn’t happen, I think I will move onto something longer, at some point. For now I’m very happy doing this. Any part of that wishes I was doing longer form stuff, I’ll just file that drive and those ideas away, and I’ll get to them at some other point. It’ll still be there when I stop doing this.
[Continued in Part Two–seriously.]