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Four people marched through Mort’s Grill to an alcove not entirely away from the TV commentary of the Michigan vs. Alabama football game, but away from the light Sunday traffic of the MU Student Center. From the sketchbooks they carried, I knew I had found the right group.
The drawing started immediately, and kicked off the monthly meeting of the Mid-Missouri Comics Collective at 2 p.m. Sunday. MidMoCoCo started in May 2005 and consists of comic creators and enthusiasts in Columbia.
And, on this Sunday, a VoxTalk blogger.
The overall afternoon could be summed up with two gerunds: talking and drawing. The conversation may have shifted from drink specials at The Vault to books on drawing techniques, spoiler-alert-ridden comments on the recent Dr. Who episode to the media’s coverage of political candidates and the Republican National Convention, but the drawing never stopped. Neither did the humbleness.
As a “fly on the wall,” I could tell there was no artier-than-thou feelings between the five members. Member Josh Nichols flipped briefly through a book of “Five-minute sketches,” including his rendering of Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, Bill Nye (the Science Guy), a few hipsters and Perry Mason. “They get worse as the evening goes on,” he said. Looking at these perfectly drawn faces and expressions all the way through to the end, it’s hard to believe that each one only took him five minutes to draw.*
*It takes me five minutes to draw something like this:
Member Dustin Hoffmann kept his nose down to his small sketch pad as he sketched random subjects such as a man with a mustache, monocle and top hat; a muffin and a duck. He told me that he was trying to get back into the drawing scene after spending time away from it working on GeoCaching, for which he became “sort of a Columbia celebrity.” After it went from a hobby to an “obsession,” he started backing away from it and returning to the comics scene.
Hoffmann initiated the meeting’s “Comic Jam” by drawing a single frame of a comic on a sheet of printer paper. He then passed this frame — a man shouting something about a plunger — down the table to fellow member Keith Chan. Chan worked on the next frame and passed it on to Nichols, and the story started to take shape as Indiana Jones was added, ominous rolling boulder and all. Hoffmann explained that sometimes the jams get out of hand and have no real plot, sharing this one as his favorite because of its continuity:
The group jokingly called Chan “Dr. Chan” because of his PhD in anthropology from MU. He was the only one not working in a sketch book, but on regular printer paper. When asked what he was drawing, he said it was “17″ because “15 and 16 are going to be painted on the computer.” That was enough info for the rest of the group, and he went back to his iPad, where Google Image search was supplying him with reference pictures for the assault rifle he was trying to draw.
Another member, who wished to remain unnamed, worked on a sketch of a woman from the shoulders-up. She flipped through her book briefly to show Nichols what she had been working on and laughed about how she’s come across some comics she had gotten a page into drawing but had never finished. Inside the book she had with her were several character sketches for a friend’s short story and a comic that she got “three pages into. That’s great for me!”
Around 3 p.m., a fifth member, David Cobb, entered the meeting, sitting down and immediately saying “Okay, who’s seen it?” This was the guy they had talked about before as the one who was going to come with “spoiler alerts” on the new Dr. Who episode. Sure enough, he and those who had seen the episode had to speak vaguely about the episode with an abundance of pronouns to keep the juicier surprises a secret from those who had missed it.
The best part of the conversation at the MidMoCoCo meeting: At one point they discussed the fact Aquaman should not be drawn as such a hulking mass of a man because swimming that fast should make him fairly lythe. “What about Michael Phelps?” I foolishly asked, feeling quite like an Aquawoman out of water but plunging in anyway. I mean, Phelps is a hulk of a guy but swims pretty darn fast.
“Michael Phelps has an odd torso,” Chan replied. “It’s like, if I drew that (accurately) I’d say, ‘Well, I messed that one up.’”
At that point I knew exactly who I was sitting with. This wasn’t the mid-Missouri cast of The Big Bang Theory. They may love Dr. Who and classify each other as “DCs” and “Marvels” (in conjunction with the comic brand they most like), but first and foremost, they are artists. They’re the ones who scrutinize every line, every pencil stroke. The story is still important, yes, but the technicality of the image is their devotion.
And that makes them the real artistic superheroes.
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