BAM! Comics Meet Literature at UMass Lowell

Graphic Novel Exhibit Runs Through March 23

Graphic novelists, from left, Veronica Fish, Gareth Hinds and Liz Prince visited UMass Lowell in March for a panel discussion to kick off the exhibit featuring their work.

Graphic novelists, from left, Veronica Fish, Gareth Hinds and Liz Prince visited UMass Lowell in March for a panel discussion to kick off the exhibit featuring their work.

03/14/2012
By Julia Gavin

Liz Prince wanted to be a cartoon when she grew up. When that didn’t happen, she decided to draw them instead.  

Prince joined fellow graphic novelists Veronica Fish and Gareth Hinds in a recent talk on campus about life as a professional artist and writer. The talk kicked off a new exhibit in the University Gallery called “A Picture’s Worth: Contemporary Graphic Novel Artists” featuring work by several national artists including the speakers. The exhibit is co-curated by Prof. Karen Roehr and former UMass Lowell Prof. Susan Kirtley. While Roehr is a published cartoonist herself, Kirtley approaches comics from an academic perspective.

“Graphic narratives are very special,” she says. “They’re a hybrid form that brings text and image together to tell a story that couldn't be done any other way.  Comic art invites the audience to participate in making meaning and encourages a different kind of reading. While many associate comics with superheroes – and don't get me wrong, I love superheroes – graphic narratives can tell any story whether it’s autobiography, fantasy, tragedy, romance or another genre. The array of work in this show demonstrates that flexibility very well.”

Indeed. Prince’s autobiographical comics hang across from Hinds’ graphic adaptation of “The Odyssey” and selections from Fish’s in-progress “Frankenstein” graphic novel. Also in the show are witty and insightful autobiographical comics by former UMass Lowell Artist-in-Residence Lynda Barry, who is the subject of a new book by Kirtley. Matt Phelan’s young adult work is also featured, as is that of several other acclaimed and emerging artists.

Learning From the Pros

During the talk, the artists shared stories of their beginnings, inspirations and creative processes with students and disclosed a few tricks of the trade. While Fish’s and Hinds’ realistic work requires research into Civil War amputation manuals and trips to Greece, respectively, Prince’s research includes deciding which parts of her life to share with readers. 

The recent transformation of the publishing industry also came up in the conversation. While Prince mainly self-publishes and intends for all work to appear in print at some point, Hinds works with a book publisher in digital and print. Fish, who says most fans find her through her website, admitted that the idea of publishing “freaks me out” and that she just wanted to make her art and leave the marketing to others. Each artist recommended that students looking to publish their art or writing become familiar with their options and their rights before jumping into the professional world.

“It was cool to see how each of the artists draws inspiration from several areas,” says Stephanie Lyon, a graphic design student who attended the talk and the reception after. “It was good to see three different perspectives and to learn more about their combinations of comic and traditional art.”

“A Picture’s Worth: Contemporary Graphic Novel Artists” runs until March 23 in the University Gallery. Visit the Art Department’s website for more information and updated hours.