Interview: Tom Hart Pt. 3

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We continue our conversation about Tom Hart’s soon-to-be-launched Sequential Artists Workshop, an independent cartooning school based out of Gainesville, Florida. In this third part, we discuss how the school is different than CCS, Hart’s launch timeline, and location, location, location.

[Part One][Part Two]

Is there anything inherent in your plan for the school that you think will differentiate it from CCS, or is that something you expect to happen organically?

It’s definitely going to happen organically, because everything I do happens organically. I’ve got a lot of experience starting projects and finishing them, and I know by now how they work, and I tend to get enough things up in the air so that something happens, and then I respond to whatever is happening [laughs]. I’m not a control freak, and I don’t have the ability to make my plans happen precisely.

That’s a long way of saying that I think it’s going to happen organically. Though there are some values that I’d love to hold on to, and I think I can. One of them is keeping it affordable. I really think that affordability is important.

That’s something that you can offer in a place like Gainesville, but not Manhattan.

Well, certainly. But I don’t know what the factors are. I’m one of these pessimistic people like Ted Rall who think that the whole American education system has gone to shit—I don’t know what Ted Rall thinks after that… But I think we’d all be better finding informal teaching experiences that make us into better people. And if it’s about employment, then there are any number of ways to gain the skills to become employable. If it’s about just being a responsive, creative person, there are a number of ways to teach that.

The cost of private education is so enormous, it breaks my heart. I’d love to be able to counter that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to succeed. I don’t see any reason why, if you want to learn comics, you can’t pick up your stakes, move to a small town with a small amount of money—not a small amount, a reasonable amount—and learn it, without too much worry. I really don’t know after that.

I don’t think I’ll teach too differently than I do at SVA. I think the methods that I teach are pretty sound. I don’t know what kind of students I’ll get, so I don’t know how to respond to them. I may get a completely different kind of student population. I actually think I have a good ability to adapt to different kinds of students, so whatever comes our way, I’ll work with. And with whoever winds up teaching with us, I’ll make sure that the students get what they need.

It’s a very affordable town to be a young person in. It’s a great town to be a young person in, for any number of reasons. They’re already on the Website, but I’ll mention that it’s already full of DIY people. They are a couple of great, organic health food stores, but somebody decided that that wasn’t enough, and they needed to start their own local co-op.

There are some people who decided that they didn’t like corporate-owned video stores, so they started their own video store. As far as I know, it’s still running fine, now that Blockbuster is going out of business, even with downloads… It’s really small, it’s got really choice material, and it’s completely its own thing.

Another set of people—though I think there’s some overlap with the video people—started an alternative film festival that happens every spring. People just do things there. They decide that something needs to happen and it can happen. That happens in New York, too, but it happens with a lot of cost and, frankly, I just like the idea that there’s one video store in town and one film festival. Anything else, I can find on the Internet, frankly.

I know I have some very fixed ideas about Florida. I was a bit surprised when you announced that you were opening the school down there.

Oh yeah. Well, it’s the only place in Florida worth living in—though I’m sure some people could make that argument about Miami. I’ve lived in Austin, Texas, and it’s the same thing, it’s the only place in Texas I’d want to live. Gainesville is a weird little enclave. It’s the biggest university town in Florida, so it’s full of smart people wanting good books and good movies. It’s a very smart and forward thinking.

And there are actually people at the school studying comics. It’s actually kind of coincidental, but I’ve known about it as long as I’ve known about Gainesville—almost 15 years. There are a large number of people in the English department who are dedicated to comics. There’s one guy down there who’s writing a book about Frederick Opper. And one of the department heads has written a book about Carl Barks. And they have an academic symposium every year.

So, it wasn’t random. There were a lot of nice coincidences. It’s a perfect spot to have a school like that.

Will being so involved behind the scenes take away some potential teaching time? Will you be teaching less than you are now?

I don’t know. Honestly, I think that’s the thing that’s going to bite me in the ass the hardest, how complicated it is to keep the whole thing running. I’m aware that that will probably happen, but I’m not prepared for it [laughs]. In fact, a lot of the reponse I get when I tell people that I’m going to run a school is, “you’re going to need a Michelle [Ollie],” referring to James [Sturm]’s partner up at CCS, the administrative head who moved from a college in Minnesota where she was the head of the department there, and now she’s running CCS. “You’re gonna need a Michelle, you’re gonna need a Michelle.” I know.

I’ll worry about that sooner or later. Honestly, there are enough overeducated, slightly idle people in Gainesville that that person is probably there waiting for me already, and I just haven’t him or her yet.

Speaking of timelines, do you have a vague one set?

Yeah, I do. We’re gonna move in August, at the end of summer. Actually, we’re going to keep coming back for the summer. I want to keep teaching here. We don’t hate New York [laughs].

Isn’t the summer the worst time to be in New York?

It’s also the worst time to be in Florida.

Fair enough.

So, at the end of this summer, we’re going to move down. I hope by then the word is out enough that I can spend a year drumming up business and then have our first class in fall 2010. And maybe a summer class in 2012, also. I might try some kind of summer class that first year—I don’t know exactly.

I’m going to work with the university and talk to them about small workshops. There’s actually two schools there. There’s the University of Florida and then there’s Santa Fe College. I’ve been in some contact with people down there, and as soon as I can get some small workshops going, I’ll do that. If there’s funds to have a person come down for a month to do a workshop, I’ll try that.

I’m willing to try anything, but I would love to have a regular year-long class in fall 2012. That’s roughly two years from now. It’s gonna take some work on my part to get that to happen, but I think we can do it.

[Concluded in Part Four.]

–Brian Heater

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