“The cover of a comic book is like a single panel cartoon or a Sunday funny,” says Marvel comic artist Leonard Kirk. It’s Saturday afternoon, and he’s standing in front of a class of students at the Toronto Cartoonists Workshop on College Street.
“You need to tell everything – boom – with one image.” Today, Kirk will be teaching the aspiring comic artists in attendance about cover illustration.
He pauses, then tosses another descriptive simile at his rapt audience: “It’s like a movie trailer – you have to pick the most exciting parts without giving away the climax.”
“I would say that Toronto is one of the meccas for comic book writers and artists,” says Sean Menard. “There is an unbelievable amount of talent working for the majors publishers.” He’s a co-founder of the two-year-old Toronto Cartoonist Workshop, an art school that specializes in comic book art instruction. The school was started by Menard and his friend Walter Dickinson, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and is the only art school of its kind in Canada.
Dickinson had always been interested in drawing comics, but couldn’t find the classes he was hoping to take. So he sought out local working professionals in the comic and illustration field, and created a curriculum. Today, Kirk is just one of an impressive roster of comic industry professionals teaching classes like writing, penciling, inking, storytelling, lettering, colouring and web comics.
The school is not accredited by the Ontario government, but Menard points out that the close connection with industry insiders can provide students with both knowledge and access to potential employment that an accredited art school like OCAD just can’t match. He emphasizes that there are no promises of work, but also says some students have gone on to create artwork for major publishers like Marvel and DC Comics.
And Kirk, for his part, is doing everything he can to help his students achieve that goal. “I did a cover for Supergirl once with a scene where it was raining toads, and I had a couple of toads hanging off the logo,” says Kirk with a chuckle. “You can work that in there sometimes.” It’s the sort of awesomely nerdy insider scoop that you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Canada.