Coloring Outside The Lines

Cartoonists gather at KANEKO this week A bunch of cartoonists and gag writers will converge on KANEKO this weekend, but this time, no one will be calling security. The National Cartoonists Society North Central Chapter Conference takes place there this Saturday, Oct. 2. The weekend kicks off the night before with a KANEKO Great Minds Presentation by Josh Cooley, a lead artist from Pixar Animation Studios who has worked on films like Cars, Ratatouille and Up. Cooley’s program is entitled “Coloring Outside the Lines (And Other Creative Ways to Make People Worry About You),” and his creativity got plenty of people worried about him as a kid. “I would get good reactions, but I definitely remember getting in trouble for drawing things that were true to life … but weren’t necessarily appropriate at the time,” he said. Cooley’s grandmother took him to the circus one summer, and one of the elephants defecated in the middle of the act. Upon returning to school in the fall, his second grade teacher asked the class to draw what they saw that summer. “I did a great cartoon of an elephant doing its business,” he said. “I didn’t see that again until my parents brought it home from parent-teacher conferences.” Cooley said he loved animation and cartooning as a child, and was a huge fan of Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons. He went to art school in San Francisco to study traditional, two-dimension animation. In his last semester, he took a story class and he saw a new path. “I thought, ‘Wow — not only do you get to come up with the ideas, it’s a lot less drawing!” he said. “I discovered I could keep my creative juices flowing by doing storyboards.” He graduated from art school and got an internship at Pixar six months later, where he began working on Cars. He’s been at Pixar since. As a lead artist, Cooley’s job is to take the script and create the first round of visuals. “The same way that a building uses blueprints to be built, we draw the blueprints for the movie,” he said. “In the same way that you look at blueprints, we look at our storyboards to see what’s working, what’s not working and what needs to be changed.” Cooley said he loves that his job constantly changes. “The majority of the time, I’m drawing storyboards, but on any given day, it could be completely different — we could be in a meeting all day trying to come up with new sequences or talking about characters.” Cooley’s presentation Friday night will cover his creative process and how that is nurtured in the Pixar environment, including examples from the films he has worked on. “I’ve also got photos just to show the grounds at Pixar and what it looks like on the inside,” he said. “It doesn’t look like the typical business at all. It’s practically impossible to not be creative here.” Friday will also include the first “Cartoonists in the Classroom” program, in which several cartoonists will go to 14 local schools, holding workshops and discussions with more than 400 students. “We’ve never done anything quite like this,” said Omaha World-Herald editorial cartoonist Jeff Koterba, who helped coordinate the program. “Certainly all of us have done this on our own before … but as far as I know, nothing has ever been done like this on such a wide scale.” Saturday’s festivities mark the beginning of KANEKO’s relationship with the National Cartoonists Society. Koterba said he has been a longtime fan of KANEKO and the people who work there. “When I made the pitch to our chapter to bring this year’s meeting to Omaha, when thinking about where we could hold the event, KANEKO was on the top of the list,” he said. Koterba said the National Cartoonists Society has a history of being more of a social gathering — which includes comic strip artists, gag cartoonists, greeting card illustrators, animators and editorial cartoonists — but in recent years, there has been more of a focus on bigger issues facing cartoonists. KANEKO will host several panels Saturday, including one focused on how freelance cartoonists can make a living in the current state of the industry; another in which two cartoonists describe their trip to Iraq; and a third panel, which will include Cooley, discussing how artists develop their ideas from words to pictures. At the conclusion of the conference, many of the cartoonists’ art will be displayed in One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages, an exhibit at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts open, from 5 p.m.–7 p.m. The Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and The Criss Library at the University of Nebraska at Omaha have also partnered with KANEKO and the NCS to put together an exhibit of 40 works entitled Comics, Heroes, and American Visual Culture, which opens Friday, October 1 at 3:30 p.m. at UNO’s Criss Library. Tickets for “Coloring Outside the Lines (And Other Creative Ways to Make People Worry About You)” are $25 general admission and available at thekaneko.org. All of Saturdays programs are free and open to the public.

posted at 07:41 pm
on Thursday, September 30th, 2010

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