In the 1970s Arvell Jones and Keith Pollard were among the artists who came out of Detroit and made a splash in the world of comic books.
They honed their craft in some of the biggest books in the industry, including Marvel and DC Comics, and co-created some memorable characters for both.
Jones was the co-creator of Marvel’s Misty Knight, who appears in the new Luke Cage Netflix series, and also worked on the Avengers and many others. He also worked on some of the Superman comics for DC.
Pollard is probably best known for co-creating the Spider-Man femme fatale Black Cat for Marvel. He also did work on Green Lantern and the Justice League of America for DC. In addition, he and Stan Lee produced the Silver Surfer: The Enslavers graphic novel in 1990.
Since early 1990s Jones and Pollard have taken the skills they perfected and taught classes in their home town, Detroit, at the Comic Art Workshop (CAW).
The primary class is the “adult class” for those 18 and older, which teaches the basics of comic book creation. It starts with figure drawing and a look at how to design and properly capture every angle of your creation.
From there it moves forward to teach everything you need to know to understand the world of comics.
The next class begins in January.
“We learn from the students as well,” is how Pollard expressed the relationship between teacher and student. He also says there is “always a sense of challenge. As they get better, new challenges come up.”
The class is not just for those who want to become comic illustrators. Plenty of people show up from all walks of life. From lawyers to assembly line workers they have come in – some because they love the medium, others because they like to draw in their spare time and just want to get better. There is no right or wrong reason to take the class, and a multi-part system makes sure that you can get a much or little as you want out of it.
There is a new edition to the workshop team. Michigan’s own William Mensser-Loebs now teaches a writing class. He has done a lot of work in the field, but is probably best known for his work on The Flash in the 1990s.
The workshop classes are held once a week for 5-8 weeks in the CAW Southfield office and include storytelling (writing and layout) and drawing, finishing (inking/ color). Appointments are available for those who seek to build a portfolio for major comic company submission. Those interested must provide a portfolio and do an interview
CAW also offers offer a one day seminar on self-publishing.
“If you’re interested in getting into the business, it’s probably the most fun way of doing it,” says Jones.
Jones and Pollard have had an impact on the comic landscape in Detroit for more than 30 years. Artists have gotten into the business with the skills they learned from them and their experiences. A few have found work at the two biggest companies, Marvel and DC, and one has done art chores for a publisher as far away as Japan. For those who don’t know, in Japan comics are called manga and are a much more integrated part of society.
The classes have helped many get into the industry. Alumni and their work include:
- David Perrin – Dark Horse, Harris Comics, Marvel
- Gerald “Teon” Walker – DC Comics, Marvel Comics
- Joseph Cooper – Image, Marvel, DC
- Andrew Barlow – Caliber Comics
- Jeremy Baskin – Pirate Girl
Others have gotten jobs as storyboard artists or have gone on to become graphic designers, Illustrators or art directors.
To sign up to the CAW website.
The way the classes form is that Jones and Pollard wait until there is enough interest and then they start putting the pieces together, drawing from their previous life as freelancers. They used to get the word out with flyers at comic shops and shows, but have since moved on to their website and a planned Facebook page.
The classes also have become a way to pass on not only what they have learned, but also to grow the comic art culture of metro Detroit and counter the teenage dropout rate. Their skills and experienced from books like Spider-Man and the Avengers have, has given Jones and Pollard the ability to teach multiple levels of art skills to young people and at the same time encourage them to stay in school.
The CAW has had a kids’ program in the past and Jones and Pollard are more than willing to do it again if there is interest. Those classes help young students understand the importance of learning while having fun. The idea is to mix what they learned in school with creating comics and works of art. The skills they used included;
- Research – science – history – civics – legal
- Communication – brainstorming – pitching ideas – writing – grammar – team building
- Drawing- math – sizing – geometry – ruling – perspective –
- Business – marketing – sales – advertising – accounting – distribution – promotion – ethics – copyright – trademark
Classes for students 8 to 10 were held all over town at various locations like libraries, community centers, schools and churches. They used a trading card model to help them create characters.
Classes for students 11 to 16 were held on Saturday for four weeks and included drawing, creating pin ups and basic storytelling.
The youth classes required parental permission.
The kids’ class started out in an apartment complex’s common room, but due to an overwhelming interest, every class from the second one on was at Oakland Mall. This provided a perfect place for the group, since the mothers could go off and shop or what have you, while the kids learned.
In the past the CAW has teamed up with Wayne County RESA, The Easter Seals, Michigan Arts Foundation, National Council of Artists, Crockett Vocational Center, Alternative Design Advertising, impact! interactive! inc!, Oak Park Library, Highland Park Public Schools, Gotham Knights Bookstore, Project Link, Information Plus Advertising and Encode Media Group Inc.
The workshop is always looking for partners for both the kids program and the adult workshops. If you are interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back when Jones and Pollard got to together with the rest of the Detroit Mob in the early days of fandom, there was nothing but the aspiring artists who met at a used book store in Hamtramck and at Detroit Triple Fanfare.
The Detroit Mob was a group of artists from the city that took the comic world by storm in the 1970s.
Jones, for instance, was active in the world of fanzines (a magazine written and published by fans of a genre or medium) and interviewed seasoned pros. The problem was that Detroit didn’t have any comic book or cartooning artists. He would have to travel to Chicago or Cleveland for the closest masters of his aspired craft.
Now it has come full circle. With the classes offered in Detroit, budding artists can learn from the best right here and create their own collaborative group.
Jones and Pollard have helped foster a new type of community. In the new world of comics, independent works are a bigger part the dream than many realize. Several graduates of the class have this aspiration, and meet at a local library to show off their works top each other and hopefully gain from the connections they have made.
The most telling aspect of the classes and the effect it has had on the artistic community are how many students have come back to help teach. One example is Teon Walker, who did work for both Marvel and DC in the 1990s and has since gone on to create comics of his own.
These alumni have joined with established creators to help stoke the creative flames of Detroit. Four of them are from Detroit.
- (The Late) Dwayne McDuffie
- Tom Orzechowski
- Rich Buckler
- Teon Walker
Other contributors are:
- John Rozum
- Denys Cowan
- Tony Isabella
- Eddie Newell
- David Perrin
Teaching budding comic artists is a simple way to pass on what they learned in the business.
What Jones and Pollard had to develop on their own has become a 30-year cultural institution in Detroit’s comic book community. Mentoring budding comic book artists lets them follow the CAW mission – to use comics as a learning tool and expand the market for new forms of expression and creative outlets.
Pollard and Jones’ saying for the class is, “you have to learn the rules before you can break them.”
Once you consider where they started and where they are now, it seems like it is more than a catchy slogan. It is a living mantra that will help others follow in their footsteps.
If you are interested in finding out more check out the website https://comicartworkshop.wordpress.com/about/