Anything but lowbrow: A new home for comic art opens at Rice

A new space at Rice will officially open this month as a repository for original comic art and books. Located in a former conference room on the fourth floor of Sewall Hall, the Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop is available to Rice students and faculty interested in drawing and learning more about linear visual narratives, also known as sequential art.

Rice Associate Professor of Painting and Drawing Christopher Sperandio (second from left) discusses the art of comic-book making with undergraduate students (from left) Amelia Meyer, Colin Howman and Ben Laun. Photos by Jeff Fitlow

The space is the brainchild of Christopher Sperandio, a comic book artist and associate professor in the School of Humanities’ Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts.

“Our hope with the Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop is that we’ll be able to grow this into first and foremost a drawing resource, because these are beautiful drawings regardless of their commercial point of origin,” Sperandio said. “It’s great to be able to teach students by bringing them in here and showing them the original things and looking at how the artist moved their hand, how they organized the page.”

Sperandio said drawing is one of the most popular art courses at Rice for nonmajors. He said comics, formerly considered a “low” form of art, have now been embraced by the mainstream as a vital and quintessential American art. The study of sequential art is of importance to writers, filmmakers, painters, designers, printmakers and others who use drawing in any context, including engineers.

“One can view comics creation as technology, much like film,” Sperandio said. “The workshop is also an effort by the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department to make this technology more widely accessible across disciplines. One of the things scientists do is build evermore accurate models of the invisible world and tell stories about how things work. The arts can play a big role in this moving forward, as building things and telling stories are things at which we excel.”

The workshop operates both as a research space and as an annex classroom for Sewall Hall’s studio art area. In addition to supporting the study of drawing, the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts plans to develop a student organization dedicated to sequential art that will be based in the workshop.

Students in Sperandio’s Sequential Art course this fall are able to make full use of the space. The course provides an introduction to combining words and pictures. Diverse applications such as storyboarding for stage and screen, comic books and graphic novels, and serial or multiples in a variety of media all fall under the umbrella of sequential art.

Sperandio shares a laugh with Emily Hoang, a McMurtry College freshman in his Sequential Art course. Meyer, a Brown College freshman, is in the foreground

“I’ve pretty much been immersed in and obsessed with comic books and similar art forms for my entire life,” said Ben Laun, a Wiess College senior majoring in English. “The fact that we have a class on it in a dedicated space to teaching about comics is amazing. What I’m learning from this class is how to convey my ideas in a logical and concise fashion.”

The Rice community is invited to view the space, located in Room 417, at 7 p.m. Sept. 24. The reception will also celebrate the 98th birthday of American comic artist Jack Kirby and feature a display of his work. Wildly innovative, Kirby is arguably considered to be the foremost comic book artist of his day, Sperandio said. His work has generated more than $3 billion dollars internationally and Kirby is best known by the characters he created: The Avengers, Captain American, Iron Man, The Hulk, Ant-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Thor and many more.

For more information about the Comic Art Teaching and Study Workshop, visit http://arts.rice.edu/cats. To view a Rice News video about the workshop, go to http://youtu.be/p6Wqu6jZqkY.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.