When Dahlia Margate started her college career, she knew that she wanted to exercise her creative muscles in some capacity. As many student artists can attest, academic life often puts creative pursuits on hold. For Margate, that’s where the “Comics Studio” DeCal came in.
“In my spring semester, when I transferred here … I discovered the “Comics Studio” on the DeCal page. So I had to take it, because I felt like I was going crazy not taking any art classes,” Margate said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
Since taking the class, Margate has become one of its nine facilitators, giving students the tools to become creators in their own right, or to improve their skills. The DeCal is offered every fall and spring semester, and culminates in a showcase of students’ original comics. On Friday night, students gathered in a circle, passed around their comics, and left feedback on sticky notes.
For campus student Lucy Jiang, the DeCal offered the chance to breathe life into a long-gestating idea.
“The prompt of this final comic was to draw anything you want — just tell the story you’ve always wanted to tell. So for me, it was this cute little daydream that I’ve had … since middle school,” she said of her piece, which followed original characters battling monstrous evils.
Other comics ranged from a tongue-in-cheek, wordless yarn about a hungry robot to a more serious narrative about loneliness and anxiety. In fact, facilitator Ashley Minooka said she was happiest with the comics that dealt with surprising subjects. One such story, which many students would relate to, took a meta turn and became about its creator’s last-minute attempt to create a comic before the deadline — needless to say, the attempt was successful.
This sense of humor was something that buoyed the night. In making a playlist to score the night’s activities, facilitator Han Chong accepted students’ music picks. It wasn’t long before the Nintendo’s Wii theme song, a tune that’s pure meme material, echoed throughout the room.
The night’s lighthearted tone reflects facilitator Jordan Xiao’s view of the DeCal. He said it’s hard not to develop a sense of community through the course, which always ends with an invitation for the students to join the facilitators at dinner, and perhaps a card game or two.
“That’s why I sometimes accidentally call it a club — because it does feel like one, in that regard,” Xiao said.
Friday night’s showcase also included a chance for students to share their social media handles, so that they could follow each others’ work beyond the course’s end. This sense of supportiveness lends itself well to the DeCal, which caters to students of any artistic background.
“I think the most important takeaway is the idea that there’s no such thing as being too bad to tell a story. … It’s OK if you’ve never told a story before, or drawn anything beyond stick figures” Xiao explained — he came into the DeCal with little artistic experience.
Ultimately, though, many students took the “Comics Studio” DeCal for the chance to simply be creative in an academic context — or, as student Alex Estes put it: “to actually do art, but not feel guilty for not doing homework.”
Such a statement feels all too relatable, given the pressures of student life. More significantly, though, Estes spoke of the sense of fulfillment that can be found through creativity.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a learning disability called dysgraphia, and there’s a disconnect between (what’s) in my head and what I put on paper. And over the years, I’ve just wanted to push past that,” Estes said. “So that’s what inspires me to keep trying to get better, and learn how to actually draw these different things. Because if I don’t draw them, they’ll never exist.”
This urgency to be creative is felt by many in the DeCal. While the students came from different backgrounds, the pressing need to put pencil to paper seemed to be the common denominator — especially when doing so relieves stress, as Margate said of the humorous cartoons she draws. Even on her off days, when her “hand just suddenly forgets how to draw,” Margate said it’s best to keep pushing through.
It’s a sentiment that Sangyeon Lee, one of the DeCal’s longest-tenured facilitators, echoed. Lee explained that every artist’s ability to create art and perceive it ebbs and flows. Sometimes, one’s ability to create art is greater than one’s ability to perceive it, and vice versa.
“I actually went through those phases a lot, so one day, my art will look amazing, and then the next day, I’ll get up in the morning and look at it, and I’ll be like, ‘Wow, this is terrible,’ ” Lee said.
Lee explained, however, that both skills increase in efficacy over time, which speaks to the necessity for artists, and especially students, to keep practicing their craft.
“It’s a good way to keep everybody on the same page, and encouraged and motivated to keep drawing. Because it’s a thing that happens, and we’ve all experienced it, I think,” Lee added.
For Margate, to continue on the upward trajectory that Lee describes is to pursue a career in the arts, in addition to facilitating the “Comics Studio” DeCal once again next semester. At the moment, that means selling art through her Instagram account, setting up an Etsy shop, and never forgetting the value of doodling here and there.
Harrison Tunggal covers comic books. Contact him at [email protected].
A previous version of this article may have implied that the “Comics Studio” DeCal showcase occurred Dec. 7. In fact, the showcase occurred Nov. 30.