From its title, “comics studies” draws expectations of action-packed graphic novels and costumed heroes a la Marvel and DC. With its second annual “Comics in the City” lecture series however, the California College of the Arts’ MFA in Comics program exhibited a diverse lineup of professionals in the industry who represent occupations beyond the mainstream superpower trade.
On July 3, the monthlong lecture series at CCA’s Timken Lecture Hall kicked off with illustrator Molly Hahn (aka mollycules), whose stage presence bubbled with a gracious, positive attitude. Hahn pens the whimsical “Buddha Doodles,” a daily cartoon that depicts a Laughing Buddha with an enlightening little adage. As CCA’s MFA students made up most of the audience, Hahn crafted her talk with vocational tips for budding artists, all written with the same optimism as her prolific Buddha character.
The chair of CCA’s MFA in Comics program, Matthew Silady, introduced the theme of the lectures in one word: diversity — in gender and ethnicity, as well as artistic style. In relation to the theme, Hahn’s storytelling and professional advice are refreshing. Her lecture was not crafted to her experiences specifically as a female artist but as the tenacious self-made artist she really is. She doesn’t present her “Buddha Doodles” as some sort of cultural role model but as philosophical and charming. She presents herself as an artist as is, not defined by her gender or art content.
A small theme punctuates Hahn’s plot line to professional illustrator: the tension between artistic purpose and financial stability. “As artists,” Hahn said, “we’ve been bombarded with the idea that our path is scarce.”
As an undergraduate at UC Santa Barbara, Hahn majored in mathematics in hopes of being practical before becoming a cartoonist for the campus paper, the Daily Nexus. In the summer of 2011, Hahn lost two family members one after the other. At the same time, a commission withdrew $10,000 of freelance work that she had been depending on. When art seemed to fail her, Hahn turned to daily mantras and meditation that ultimately inspired her now-internationally successful “Buddha Doodles,” the first of which sketched the message “This Too Shall Pass.”
With her occupational advice drawn from personal experience in promoting her brand, she concludes that “it’s possible to be an unstarving artist.”
In the followup Q&A session after the lecture, Hanh told the story of a publication’s offer to distribute her work in major bookstores across the country. The catch: she withdraw all previous work and discontinue any future self-publication, as the company would consider her a competitor against herself. In another passion vs. profit battle, Hahn’s artistic leanings won, and she continued as an independent illustrator.
Though creativity and career may seem exclusive, Hahn frames her business and branding know-how as the sidekicks to her artistry. The lecture revealed less about her art style and practices and more about her occupational history and the lessons she gained from it. The “Buddha Doodles” creator serves as a perfect complement to the MFA program where business is not the main focus of its art-intensive courses. Hahn provides an entry point for firsthand advice on becoming an illustrator, giving students and audience members a figure for inspiration and acting as a guru for surviving in the industry.
Likewise, Silady — who is personal friends with Hahn — prides the series as a showcase for “the versatility of comics as a vessel for any story.” For Hahn, her daily stand-alone “Buddha Doodles” do not tell an ongoing story but rather act as continuous messages of the optimistic mollycules attitude.
CCA’s next lecture will host Image Comics’ publisher Eric Stephenson on Friday at its Timken Lecture Hall. After Stephenson’s lecture will be “Emanata,” a work-in-progress gallery featuring the students of the MFA in comics program.