It is the middle of winter, and school is back in session after a long holiday break. Teachers and librarians may be ready to hit the books, but some students may not have mentally returned from their time away. What is an educator to do?
Ivan Brunetti may have the answer with his latest book, Comics: Easy as ABC! (Toon Books, 2019). It is enjoyable to view and features easy-to-understand instructions and relevant vocabulary. Through the book, Brunetti guides youngsters through drawing lessons while helping them understand cartooning terminology and encouraging them to find their own styles of illustration. Further, the text will assist students in becoming familiar with concepts important to understanding graphic novels.
Brunetti, a college professor at Columbia College Chicago, teaches courses on illustration, cartooning, graphic novels, and visual narrative. In fact, in 2011 he published Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (Yale University Press) which reads as an instructional syllabus or self-guided course for university-level students. With Comics, he is bringing a different and significantly scaled-back version of instruction to younger students.
“I think, more than anything, instill a love of reading in your students. The best cartoonists love books, love reading. That’s the root of it all.”
“I use much of the Cartooning book in the classes that I teach,” says Brunetti, “so it’s always there in the back of my head; but I tried actively not to refer to it when writing Comics: Easy as ABC! The books really are meant for entirely different age groups, and the ABC! book is intentionally much more visual and less wordy. Also, the ABC! book is much more collaborative, as Françoise Mouly [publisher of Toon Books] and I hammered it out together, while Cartooning came out of the fevered vacuum of my own brain.”
Growing up in a small town in Italy, Brunetti was introduced to comics by Disney. “I remember trying to copy the drawings and learning how to read because I desperately wanted to know what was going on inside the word balloons.”
“There are more people reading comics than ever, and I feel that this will help the medium survive and thrive. I also think comics can and will be whatever cartoonists decide they are, and the form is still evolving.”
Except for a few years during high school, Brunetti has continued to read and enjoy comic books and comic strips in newspapers. “My interest in comics continues because there are so many great cartoonists still working today, as well as a whole new generation of artists passionate about the art form.”
When it comes to providing an introduction to comics and cartooning to the youngest of students, Brunetti strongly encourages making it enjoyable. “I think just let the kids have fun with it,” suggests Brunetti, “and not worry too much if the drawing is ‘right’; the best ideas come out of experimenting and letting your mind (and hand) roam free on the paper. The more you draw, the more your style will naturally emerge and develop, and there is no need to force it. The world is full of interesting things, and drawing helps us slow down and focus and really take it all in.”
Who is Ivan Brunetti?
Ivan Brunetti is an art teacher as well as an artist and a cartoonist. His drawings have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and McSweeney’s, among other publications. Ivan has published many acclaimed books for adults, including Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice. Wordplay, his first book for children, shows kids how to imagine compound words as the words that comprise them. His second children’s book, 3×4, also encourages kids to visualize playfully—this time with numbers. Comics: Easy as ABC! provides an essential guide for kids interested in creating comics.
“My advice is simply: don’t give up. It’s hard to see yourself objectively. Give it time. As you get older, things become clearer. And you accept yourself more, because, well, you’re kind of stuck with yourself, so why not make the most of it? All you can do is your best, within your limitations (and everyone has limitations, it’s just that they’re all different). There’s “success” based on how others see you, but there’s success in doing your best, just for your own satisfaction. And anyway, it’s good to always have something to strive for, so maybe success isn’t the point; rather, it’s the effort that counts.”
Brunetti’s instructional and educational work extends beyond teaching comics and cartooning. He also has two other books written for children that encourage them to explore the world around them. Wordplay! (Toon Books, 2017) discusses compound words in new and imaginative ways, and 3×4 (Toon Books, 2018) introduces multiplication concepts as a creative game. “I don’t have another book for kids planned at the moment,” says Brunetti, “but I’m not ruling it out. It always depends on if and when inspiration hits me. Which I can never predict.”
As with most artists, inspiration leads in unexpected directions. Lately, Brunetti’s inspiration seems to be focused on discussing comics in addition to creating them. “I’ve started writing essays on the comics that have inspired me. I’m working on a new comic/story that will someday be collected along with the other strips that I’ve been publishing over the years. This collection won’t be ready for a few years, since I work at a snail’s pace (actually, snails are much faster, so no offense to snails). Truth be told, most of my time is taken up by my teaching duties, and this leaves almost no time for anything else.”
“I started copying the drawings from comic books when I was very little, too young to remember exactly when, but it seems like I was always drawing. Those early efforts are still my best drawings. These days, I’m just trying to rekindle that magic, but I feel like the older I get, the less I know.”
Though busy, Brunetti does treasure fan mail even if he is unable to respond. But don’t contact him on social media: “It kind of scares me, so I avoid it.”