By Philip Schweier
Feb 22, 2004 - 8:19
The Bristol Board Jungle: A Review
On the surface, it presents an interesting read on the efforts of two art school professors and a class of 11 students of a variety of personalities. It partly involves the lessons taught by the instructors, as well as the lessons shared by the pupils.
But the multi-layered narrative also touches on the sometimes misplaced confidence of both the teachers and students, and their personal lives. Any former student is likely to recongize a bit of themselves or someone they know.
It is an accurate depiction of art school life, illustrated by six talented students and one instructor, conveying the diversity of skills one would discover in any graphic arts program.
However, in a book featuring so many different talents, there are bound to be a few wrinkles. By featuring 11 student characters drawn by six illustrators, keeping track of the roles of the students in the book can be difficult.
Chapter two presents a challenge in that the dialogue in some panels refer to Kallie, but the person depicted in those panels is Gina. Sarah Zaidan’s rendering of characters is very feminine in style, including the males.
One must remember the illustrators are not seasoned professionals with years in the business. While one may not care for all the styles presented, the emphasis is on neither writing nor art, but on the ability to blend the two into storytelling.
Some comic readers get very hung up on the issue of continuity, expecting even the most insignificant detail to be rationally accounted for. Others are content to look at the so-called “big picture,” and not fret about minutiae.
To challenge such minor aspects is to miss one of the points of the narrative. It is not a “how-to,” nor is it necesssary for every single plot point to be spoon-fed to the reader. The understanding should be that the entire narrative does not take place over a single school term, and not every moment needs to be explored in depth. In the context of creating comics, it is enough to know they such details exist without dwelling on them.
The book’s greatest strength is it’s honesty. Without trying to squash personal expression, there are certain expectations between a student and instructor, and eventually an artist and client. A true craftsman may suffer for their art, but a true professional follows instructions and meets deadlines.
It is stated in chapter 5 that relatively few artists will achieve their goal of being a professional comics artist. Though brutally frank, it is an accurate assessment of the comics industry today. It is a very competitive field to break into, and some professionals spend many years honing their abilities until their big break.
Such a bold statement may shatter the illusions of the students, but the instructors themselves also suffer the same fate. While just about any teacher of any type may end the day secure in their efforts, somewhere there is a student cursing that teacher’s name. One approach may be to write that student off as “not getting it,” but a healthier, more productive solution would be to make a greater effort to reach that student.
This book may serve as a sign post for would-be comic artists as to what is expected of them in the professional world. Demonstrating a willingness to listen to constructive criticism without allowing one’s ego to interfere will only serve as a platform on which to further one’s talent.
The lessons espoused in The Bristol Board Jungle may discourage some readers, but artists worth their mettle should view it as a challenge, and pay attention to ideas laid out in the book. With hard work and by making the most of the opportunities that come along, any one may some day earn a living creating comics.
When viewed as a narrative, it is an honest and heartfelt tale well told, offering a glimpse of life at an art school.
The 144-page black and white book is available from NBM Publishing for $11.95.
Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Articles by Philip Schweier