I graduated from The Center for Cartoon Studies yesterday. It was a great ceremony and I was proud to be a part of it. Here's the speech I gave.
D. Saint’s graduation speech
So, here we are. (pause)The scary thing about being up on this stage is I have the school behind me, and the real world in front of me (waves to indicate school and classmates and then the audience as the real world), “hi real world”, I can see my family in there.
What should I say? I went to comic book school and now somehow I have to defend that? No, really, you guys are cool with it, or you wouldn’t be here, thank you for coming. As far as the real world goes you guys are great. You’re a much nicer version of it than most.
Coming to this school was a risk. It was the great unknown. We all had to sacrifice to come here, for many of us there was personal cost, not to mention the financial, and for what reason? To learn how to make comic books better. Questions come up. First of all, can you even teach creativity; secondly, are comic books worth it? Funny books, the goofem ups? This little weird medium for rejects and weirdos?
So, to my point, what have I learned here? I learned that you can call us artist if you want to, or writers, or even graphic novelists, but what we are is cartoonists. It’s a simpler word, and without the pretense of importance like artist, but it means we can do more, we don’t limit ourselves to the power of one image, we don’t describe everything with words, we tell full stories, with pictures! So yes, it’s worth it.
why was it worth it? What’s so important about it all that I have to get up here and tell y’all about it? Well, to get that I think you have to know a little about me, my dad’s a college professor, who’s big focus is to get more people into college and then here’s me. I always liked school, but I was a bad student, okay, honestly I was worse than just bad. Even classes I thought were good I couldn’t pay enough attention, or force myself to do the homework. I was always doodling in class, getting caught drawing rude pictures of the teacher, and this is college I’m talking about, not elementary school.
By some strange circumstances there I was two years ago, a college drop out. I had an okay life, plenty of friends, etc. I was doing other creative things, helping with movie making and performing and stuff, but I wasn’t making comics. I was trying to, but I really wasn’t doing a good job of it, I didn’t know how. and then a friend of mine found this school’s website and showed it to me. Now, here, all of the sudden I’m a good student.
Okay, this is the difficult part, because I know the school isn’t perfect, it’s new and I don’t want to sound to self-congratulatory or too nepotistic, but (clears throat) Everything about this school is awesome. I know, I know, I sound lame, but seriously. I mean, James Sturm, Jason Lutes, Steve Bissette, I read all of them in classes at college, they were among the few required reading I actually did. Not to mention all the other visiting artists and teachers, and Sarah Taylor and Peter Money, and Michelle Ollie, I’m a serial procrastinator, and this speech would be improvised if it wasn’t for her keeping me to deadline.
But all the faculty in the world, and this is where I really get into the cronyism, wouldn’t mean much if there wasn’t good crew of students. There are only 14 of us left in this class, and you’re not likely to find a group like us anywhere else, much less one that functions well. At times it’s like a high school dynamic, but it’s all just the freaks and the geeks, with none of the jocks, jerks, cool kids, normals, or even the regular smart kids, no offense. At times it’s better than high school, it’s more like family.
But when I talk about how tight a crew we are I’m not just talking about my buddies up on stage right now about to graduate, I’m talking about most of the school and the surrounding community. I’m talking about little things like walking to the convenience store 5 minutes before they close, I’m talking about playing four square with big groups of classmates, alumni, and other friends, I’m talking about playing poker every Thursday with cool people, and group drawing parties, and just running into people on the street, I’m talking bout playing D & D, I’m talking about parties and I’m talking about movie nights and hair cutting parties. (pause to comb hair)
But back to talking about the graduating class in particular, we’re more than just friends. That would be fun but not much of an education. We’re also colleagues, peers, inspiration, and competition. Keeping up with my classmates as they get better and better has been a constant challenge. When I look at these people draw, some so seemingly effortlessly, others like every line is a struggle to force something out of the head and into the world I feel inspired and jealous, it does something to my brain. I always hear that comics are solitary work and it definitely is, but without my class I couldn’t be making what I am, and hopefully that mixed up feeling will stay with me past graduation, hopefully I’ll stay friends with them, but my biggest hope is that we all keep drawing. Because, again not to get too self-congratulatory, but each and every one of us is awesome, and the worst thing that could happen is if any of us quit.
This brings me to my last topic, the future. Over winter break my uncle asked me what I wanted to do for a living when I got out of school, I answered him with what I thought was a reasonable but hopeful pile of crap, what I thought I could actually be doing. He stopped me, and said No, what do you really want to do? Whatever that is, whether it’s reasonable or not, write it down on paper and reread it out loud every day.(do this, like with a pen on the back of the paper) I want to make comic books.
Who can tell what the future of comics is. Comics on the Internet, graphic novels in bookstores, selling them on the corner like drugs? However we sell them it won’t be easy. It’s hard to sell a lot of pamphlet comics, bookstores are over hyped, the internet is weird and mysterious, making a living seems almost impossible, a lot harder than you in the real world probably know. We’re not going to be selling our original art for a thousand dollars a page like it’s some fancy-schmancy “art”. Plus, these are tough times and it looks like life is only going to get tougher. However, I think if any one can eek out a living in comics it’s going to be us, eventually, because the people with me right now are working so hard, and making such good stuff that there just has to be a way to survive in comics. Not just making any comics, but our own comics, exactly the way we want to be making them. Whether their personal stories about relationships, or personal stories about religious beliefs, or personal stories about the state of the world, or sci-fi epics about the state of the world, or strange idiosyncratic improvised stories, or long cartoony sagas about the birth of the world, or noir-ish small town mysteries, or maladjusted character tales set in strange cities, or children’s fantasy stories, or superhero parodies, or monster stories, or styles and stories that haven’t been defined yet
Time for me to get off the podium, I need to conclude strong. I feel like I’ve had a few good sentences here and there, but I never really got into what drives us to be cartoonists in the first place. I don’t really know, it’s in the heart maybe. One of my favorite stories of me as a kid speaks to that. I was young, maybe four? I was sitting at the kitchen table working on my art, and I turned to my mom and said in all earnestness, “I live to draw”, combine that with an obsessive storytelling gene and there you go. It’s not much of an origin story, but maybe I don’t need one, because it’s not a choice, nobody in their right mind would choose to try and make comics for a living, it’s insane. We do it because we have to, we’re in love with the medium, it’s inside us, where our blood should be. And I want to thank The Center for Cartoon Studies for teaching how to get it out of us and onto paper. And I’ll be selling my comic, Monsters & Girls, after graduation if anyone’s interested.
today Steve Bissette gave me a nice shout out and link to my blog.
You can see my graduation photos taken mostly by my mom here
and the photos taken by member of the 2007 graduation class, Colleen Frakes,here