From ‘Mad Magazine’ to mad paneling

Katie Gile

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By: Katie Gile, Staff Reporter

Comic books, once considered the domain of bespectacled nerds with tape on their nose-pieces and protectors on their pockets, have taken a dive into the mainstream. With a mob of super-hyped superhero blockbusters soon to storm the summer movie scene, all things geek are coming out to play — and in more places than celluloid.

One UNF professor, James Greene, couldn’t be more thrilled.

Greene, who is also a sequential artist, was one of four speakers illustrating the life of comics to a crowd of more than 60 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville’s “Pop Art, Comic Books and the High Art of Roy Lichtenstein” panel discussion March 1.

Greene and his fellow speakers, moderator Al Letson, MOCA Director Marcelle Polednik and Postmodern Cartoon Expressionism Inventor David Le Batard, regaled guests with the colorful history, evolution and possible future of comic art, including its rise to the top of pop culture.

“It’s funny what’s happened in the last 10 years or so,” Letson said. “Nerds became cool, and I’m cashing in.”

Greene said comics’ rise in popularity made it easier to draw crowds to an artistic gathering like the one at MOCA.

“Any time that MOCA can engage a mainstream audience, it’s a great thing,” he said.

David Sexton, a UNF mechanical engineering freshman, learned a great deal about the art side of comic art.

“It’s so much more than writing and drawing put together,” Sexton said. “It’s fun; there’s a story, and you get to use your imagination.”

While the panel kept the atmosphere entertaining and academic, Greene’s energy and passion for all things comic bubbled over at the mention of a Special Topics course he will teach in the fall semester at UNF.

In “Comics and Sequential Art,” the students filling the one section offered will not only learn the history, mechanics and theory of comic art, but in this production-based class, will focus on doing it themselves, Greene said.

While the course will be offered under the visual arts umbrella, Greene encourages majors ranging from English to physics to sign up, provided they know a little about drawing to begin with.

“That’s going to be the great thing about this class,” Greene said. “It’s something that people outside of art could do.”

He said the final project for the class will take the most creativity, when students are tasked with self-publishing their own short graphic novel via ebook, zine or other medium.

“It’s a chance to create your own exciting, fun piece of work,” Greene said.

For Greene, this class will give him the avenue to teach what he’s loved his entire life.

Greene recalled snagging his brother’s issues of “Mad Magazine” at 5 years old and poring over the words, images and raunchy jokes.

“It taught me a lot,” he said.

To Greene, weekends didn’t just mean school was out. They meant Saturday morning cartoons and a huge, full-color spread of Sunday funnies.

Idolizing artists like “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson, “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoonist Bill Griffith and “Bizarro” creator Dan Piraro, Greene created editorial cartoons for his junior high, high school and college papers, he said.

Greene said in college, he even created a frequent installation in the “Northern Iowan” called “The Riot Act.”

As he’s made the move down to Florida and away from his college years, Greene still remembers what he loved about comics in the first place as he recollects “Mad Magazine” cartoonists Al Jaffee and Don Martin with a chuckle.

Greene said now he’s come back to his medium of choice and is excited to teach his students about it.

“I’m taking myself back to school, so to speak,” he said. “This is such a great opportunity, and I hope my students will be amped.”

Email Katie Gile at [email protected]