Interview: Tom Hart Pt. 2

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In this second part of our conversation with Tom Hart by discussing the eventual end of his tenure at SVA, why his upcoming Sequential Art Workshop won’t just be CCS south, and why everyone should move to Gainesville.

[Part One]

Based on conversations I’ve had with Al Jaffee, Harvey Kurtzman [a former SVA professor] seemed like someone who never had to struggle to make art. He had been creating really amazing work since he was, like, 15. Does being so effortlessly artistic almost put someone at a disadvantage as an educator? Does it make it difficult to explain the process?

I don’t know. I’m sure that’s true for some people. But I bet that’s not true of everyone who’s a natural. Craig Thompson’s a natural, but I bet he’d be a great teacher. Clearly he meets people on their level, and I think he understands the process and the desire to know how- he understands wanting to be taught something.

I don’t know how Harvey was as a teacher, partially because he was suffering from Parkinson’s by the time I got there and his assistant was helping to teach his class. I didn’t actually take it—I just sat in a few times, went on field trips.

But I don’t think this is a correlation that always holds. I do think that there are people that aren’t interested in teaching and people who really are. I don’t know why.

It can be hard finding a cartoonist who genuinely enjoys talking to people and being up in front of a crowd, explaining things to them. There are a lot of introverted people in the field.

Sure, sure. In a lot of the arts. I sort of want to contradict the idea that cartoonists are the only introverted ones. The arts are full of insane people, schizophrenic people, autistic pepole, all sorts of people who are ill-suited to socialize. But there are lots who are very well suited for it. And it’s not like it’s only the crazy people who don’t want to teach.

I just saw on your site that you were talking to Jaime Hernandez. He was making his own process a little more mystical than I believe it to be. Even he was saying, “there are people who do and people who teach.” I think he’s made a choice not to think about it and he’s put himself in a place where he doesn’t have to talk about it, but there are plenty of people who can both do, and talk about it. David Mazzuchelli is a great teacher and so is Gary Panter.

There’s a lot to the art process—any of the arts—that is not magical. There are some things that may be innate, magical, god given gifts, and obviously Jaime Hernandez has most of them [laughs]. in fact, Leela [Corman, Hart’s wife] and I were just last night saying, “there’s not a cartoonist alive that doesn’t want to be Jaime Hernandez.

Were you involved with the creation of CCS at all?

No, no. Not at all. Well, that’s not exactly true. I think I was on some sort of advisory board when he started the National Society for Cartoon Educators. But that doesn’t mean anything. That just means that we traded some e-mails.

He had that sort of organization going for a couple of years, before he started the school, but I had nothing to do with that. I would see him every once in a while and ask him how it was going.

I started teaching at SVA very close to 9/11, and I saw him at the SP-Exiles that we had in Brooklyn. Instead of SPX, which was supposed to be on September 16th, we had it at Charlie Orr’s warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

It was terrific. It was really one of the best experiences. Everyone got together. It was only slightly somber. It was a bonding experience for all of us. We got to share the things that meant a lot to us in very low-key environment. All of us were sitting on the floor with our comics on blankets.

I remember talking to James a lot about it then, because, at that point, he had been teaching at SCAD for a few years, so I asked him for a lot of advice.

Did the creation of CCS plant a seed for your own school?

Totally. I’ve never done anything original [laughs]. I’m often second to do these sorts of things. I’ve never done anything first. I think, in the same way that I’ve always wanted to teach, there’s a part of me that said, when James opened up his school, ‘I want to do that.’

It’s a great inspiration. I think, in the long run, the school is really going to prove to be quite different, but I really can’t predict that quite yet.

Why not join forces with him? Why not go up to CCS and help him up there?

Well, he doesn’t need any more cartoonists to move to Vermont to hang around and help teach. He’s got plenty of those, and they come and they go.

I did ask him, at some point, “would you want to open up an offshoot of your school in Gainesville, because I want to move there, and I want to start a school. This was a long time ago—a year or maybe two ago.

I thought it was a great idea, and frankly, it would have made my job much easier.

A satellite.

Yeah, exactly. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that anything like that would have to go through the board of directors, bureaucratic processes etc. I think he just didn’t want his life any more complicated, frankly. I think he’s got his life as complicated as he wants it, already, which is probably too complicated.

Do you feel as though you’ve run your course with SVA? Are there certain things you can’t do in the context of that institution?

No, it’s more about New York. I think Leela and I just decided that we were ready to not be in New Yorks City anymore. SVA has been fantastic, and there’s a lot I can do there, and I feel that I’ve had some great experiences with the students there.

I do like being in charge, I should say, even if I’m full of mistakes, I want those mistakes to be mine. I don’t want to have to sigh heavily about mistakes I’m not responsible for. But we were just ready to get out of New York. We’d had our eyes set on Gainesville for a really long time.

We’d been talking around it for a number of years, during our frequent visits there, and we just decided it was time.

Big Tom Petty fans?

No, we’re big Bo Diddley fans. He’s from there, too.

What is it about Gainesville?

Weirdly I moved there because Jon Lewis was there, in ’96 or something. Jon Lewis and I were working together for Kodansha. We were working on an original manga sort of based on the Hutch Owen character, more just based on my drawing style, which they really adored. We gave them sort of a cleaned up version of Hutch, but weirder and with a sillier hat.

Even at that point, I didn’t feel like I had the writing chops to handle anything long, so I asked Jon. By the time I moved to Gainesville, it was because working for Kodansha was getting more and more difficult. They were turning down more and more ideas. This was in an era of fax machines. It was just difficult for us to get together.

I had just fled Morocco, where I broke up with a girl I was living with. I needed a place to move to. He said I should move to Gainesville. Jeff Mason was there, and Jon Lewis’s girlfriend at the time was there. And I loved it. It was this quiet, rustic, experience that I wanted.

I lived in a really small one bedroom cottage with anoles, geckos, and huge trees dripping with moss. It was really a wonderful spot, for really cheap. I got a lot of work done in that time period. It was a very creative atmosphere, and there were a lot of really creative people there. Tons of super creative, energetic people there. It was a really great time in my life.

I’ve lived in a lot of great places, but it felt like this was one to return to, when I had a family.

Is New York just to hard to have a family in?

I think it’s too hard to have a soul in, these days. I’ll be honest, we are really mournful. The Bush years did us in, and there’s just so much pummeling us, all of the time, commercially. I used to love that there are eight million people here, but now I don’t love it. Most of them are dispirited, grumpy, or poor. It’s a hard place. I’m becoming dispirited, grumpy and poor too.

With so much negativity in the world, I feel too surrounded by negativity in New York, or too many reasons to be sad. Leela feels the same way. We just want to have a garden and live slower and more cheaply. That’s part of it.

[Continued in Part Three]

–Brian Heater

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