Ten years ago, I took a job at Memphis College of Art because it was an opportunity to build my own program, and because the administration didn’t blink when I started talking about comics in my interview.
MCA had never had a full-time Illustration professor and did not have enough Illustration concentrators to support even three classes a semester. Enrollment was so small that sometimes I had four different courses meeting during one class period, little red schoolhouse style. But the students were spectacular, consistently making surprising and delightful work. And the numbers kept growing. Illustration became the first or second largest program in the school, semester after semester. It even split off a second concentration, Sequential Narrative (“Comics” to you and me. The meaningless title “Sequential Narrative” appeared somewhere in the approval process and then proved difficult to abandon. Seriously, how do you have a narrative without sequence? Did someone see the term “Sequential Art” and decide it needed more syllables?).
From day one, I had a plan. And now, it’s coming to fruition. Illustration and Sequential Narrative, which are presently concentrations of Design Arts, are merging into their own BFA-granting program, Illustration and Comics. The program will be supported by two faculty lines: one in Illustration and one in Comics. Imagine—someone is going to get hired to be a Professor of Comics because of something I did. I’ll be bragging about that on my death-bed.
I won’t be around to see how it pans out, however. I’ve taken a position at Penn State. I’m pretty excited about it. I won’t be running my own little empire anymore, but I’ll be facing new challenges as part of a larger academic community, and, if all goes according to plan, spending a lot more time in the studio actually drawing things.
I had planned on spending one more semester at MCA, basically doing a victory lap. I scheduled myself to teach all my favorite classes one last time, and I was going to knock them out of the park—just really cram everything I had into those 15 weeks. MCA, however, declared financial exigency, which gave me chance to slip out of my contract a little early. For a number of practical and personal reasons, I’m taking advantage of this opportunity.
To the students who may be wondering about the future of the program: Oh, it looks bright. It is better positioned than it has been at any time in its history. It has a rich pool of incredibly capable adjuncts to cover the immediate future, and two—TWO!—faculty lines to carry on in the long-term (and honestly, I think I third line shouldn’t be that far off, if the numbers continue in the direction I expect them to).
It’s been a wonderful ten years. I got to build my dream program, talk about geeky things, and watch people make work that just made every fiber of my soul vibrate with happiness.
Thank you MCA students, alumni, professors, adjuncts, staff, and administrators. And good-bye. Stay in touch.