New museum director shares art of comic books

By Derek Meurer
Prescott, Arizona (AP) 9-07

Comic books are an art form, according to Ryan Huna Smith, the new director of the Smoki Museum. Smith, a versatile artist who works with traditional native art styles, as well as comic-style art, led a comic book drawing class Sept. 15 as part of the Sharlot Hall Museum’s book festival.

“I’ve done classes with Pima College in Tucson. I always enjoyed doing comic book drawing classes, cause when I was in college, there was always a lot of demand, but there were no classes on comic book production,” said Smith. “So my friends and I would get together for drawing sessions on our own, and work on our stuff.”

Smith said that despite the demand from students, the school did not introduce classes on comic book production until years later, after he left the school.

He said it is becoming harder for schools and the mainstream public to ignore comic books as a serious medium for storytelling.

“I think that of late there’s been a surge of interest in comics largely due to Hollywood. ‘X-Men,’ ‘Ghost Rider,’ ‘Spider-Man’ all of those movies bring interest to the traditional uperhero comics,” said Smith. “Also, movies like ‘Sin City’ and ‘300,’ gorgeous movies, show people comics can tell stories they never imagined. I think it’s all added together to really grab people’s attention to comics, all over again.”

Smith, who plans to conduct similar classes at the Smoki, said since his class is only an hour and a half long, he focuses more on general principles of comic production rather than going into specifics, as he would with a longer course.

“It’s a lot to get into in such a short time, but we’ll discover what we can in an hour and a half,” Smith said. “I hope to at least cover basics of character design, how to translate a script into comic book panels, and (convey) what sequential art storytelling means.”

Smith stressed that, to him, comic book art is all about telling stories.

“The art tells the story, more than anything. You really have to learn to make the most of your space, draw the eye along from panel to panel, and be the best storyteller you can be, all with the visuals, the art.”

He said he has had experience in creating his own comic book, “Tribal Force,” which he fondly remembers, despite its early discontinuance.

“The publisher we were with was going under, and I had some creative differences with a partner, so it did fall apart before we could get more of it out, unfortunately,” Smith said. “Still, I really loved ‘Tribal Force,’ and so did a lot of fans. It was basically Native American X-Men. Each member came from a different tribe, had their own power and weakness that made them unique, and they had to learn to work together. I thought that was a great message.”

Smith said he hopes to help young would-be comic artists find their own vision and style, and develop the skills they need for effective visual storytelling.

“I know for me, personally, comics are still really important, and I would love to help some young person find their way into that.”

Information from: The Daily Courier,