Look, up in the sky, it’s … it’s … Dad?
Ken Steacy’s father was a fighter pilot in the RCAF – an occupation, one would think, as glamorous as it gets, at least in the eyes of a child. But growing up in the 1960s, Steacy’s fascination was reserved for the likes of Captain America and Spider-Man, not his pop in a plane.
“When he’s your dad, you don’t think about it,” says Steacy, a successful figure in the comic-book industry for decades. “Just like my own children didn’t think it was all that cool that their father was a comic-book artist.”
Steacy is more than an artist, having also worked in the field as an author, editor and publisher over his career. Since 2012, he’s been an instructor at Camosun College in Victoria – where, with his wife, Joan, he co-founded the Comics and Graphic Novels certificate program, a course of study uniquely concentrated in its focus.
“It’s about telling stories,” Steacy, 63, explains. “Sure, we have students who can draw like a hot damn, but this is about visual storytelling – that wonderful collision of words and pictures.”
The two-semester program covers structural drawing, character design, storytelling layout and scriptwriting, along with entrepreneurial skills in publishing and promotion. Tuition and costs for the 20 students, or less, each year run to an estimated $10,450. The capstone project is a 28-page colour comic, produced in both traditional and digital media, to be presented at the annual Camosun Comic Arts Festival (April 14, this year).
Steacy, the storytelling artist behind NOW Comics’s Astro Boy, is currently collaborating with the great Canadian author Margaret Atwood on War Bears, a historical-fiction comic series that began as an illustrated short story commissioned by The Globe and Mail. The three-issue miniseries (due for an early September launch) celebrates the Golden Age of comic books, with a Nazi-battling superheroine as its star.
But while Atwood, Steacy and Hollywood studios appreciate supermen and wondrous women, the students at Camosun College aren’t so engrossed with fab-fictional exploits.
“They’re not interested in superheroes,” Joan Steacy says, noting enrolment is increasingly leaning more toward women. “They want to tell their own stories.”
The students of the Steacys range in age from 17 to 70. Although they come from as far away as the Bahamas, many enrollees are local. As it is not uncommon for a student to have issues with mental health, social anxiety or gender identity, the program’s environment is aimed to be creative and comfortable, with a nurturing of personal styles rather than a grooming toward mainstream aesthetics.
“I knew I’d never be able to draw Superman,” says Joan, who uses the word “quirky” to describe her own artistic method. “It wasn’t my shtick. So, you might feel if you’re an outsider, but, in my classes, you’re an insider.”
Her husband says teaching has been a “self-reflective” experience. “If you want to learn something, teach it,” he says. “I’m a much better storyteller now than I was six years ago, I can tell you that.”
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