At the 2008 New York Comiccon in April, I came across a small booth with a two college girls selling student produced comics for a dollar. Before I could I even peruse an issue’s contents, I was immediately sold. On one of the covers was an exquisitely illustrated young girl thigh deep in water trapped in two six-pack plastic rings. The quality of art was astounding before I could even open a page, and for a college publication’s, that’s an incredible achievement.
As I read the stories, I wanted to know more about the book itself and its contributors. Static Fish started back in 1985 at the Pratt Institute by student Marcus McLaurin, who would go onto become an editor at Marvel Comics and its imprint Epic, working on such projects as Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels and the first American publication of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.
“Back then there wasn’t a budget for Static Fish so the printing quality was minimal,” explains current Editor-in-Chief Evan Schmidt and Chelsea Lewyta, editorial assistant, Webmaster, and designer. The magazine now, however, is printed on 8.5” x 11” thick card stock that showcases students full color art. Schmidt and Lewyta look for student contributors with interesting ideas, concepts, but most importantly well told stories first and artwork second. “But amazing artwork is always the exception,” they confess.
And those stories are wide and varied. Under one cover you’ll read an allegorical fairytale, cute little animal jokes, a lewd traverse through social mores, and a gory thriller. The panoply of themes, styles, and stories are arranged so the reader doesn’t know what to expect next. “I try not to have a dark story followed by another dark one. I like to give the reader palette cleansers,” Schmidt reveals. “When assembling the book I try to stick to my motto: ‘Now for something completely different.’”
Steven Bari: Why do you work in the sequential form?
Chelsea Lewyta: I’m really interested in illustrating stories, especially children’s books. I began to use Static Fish as another outlet. It was a bit of a challenge at first to pace stories in short comic form, but I think my comic work has steadily improved. I also think working in a variety of sequential art forms strengthens the artist’s visual vocabulary and story telling skills.
Kristen Mukai: I love stories and I love the hybrid visual-literary language of comics, it is unique to its art form
Edward Swanson: I don’t. Well at least not very often. Although I would not consider myself a sequential artist, from the few attempts at creating comics that I have endeavored upon, sequential art has proven itself to be a powerful tool in conveying a story. As an illustrator I work within the confines of narrative and as such by using sequential art as the means to depict a story, the result is much more articulate in content, intuitive in readability and easily accessible to a wide audience.
Dan Masso: I’ve wanted to work in comic since I was little because it really is all I’ve been doing since I first picked up a pencil. I’ve been making up stories with pictures since I can remember. Then of course I discovered comic books and realized that’s what I want to do.
SB: What are your influences?
CL: I could list a number of artists, but to be less specific: vintage children illustration, art nouveau, Japanese wood block prints, golden age of illustration, and contemporary illustration are some places where I draw inspiration. As for content, many of my stories and characters are recreated from childhood memories, and also Korean and Ukrainian folklore that I grew up with.
ES: My major influence with comics has really been my dad. As a child he would tell me all sorts of story, about our family, or wild nights he used to have when he was young. So my love of story telling really blossomed out of that as I grew up.
KM: I read a lot of manga as a kid, which influenced my technical aspects of my comics (layout, pacing, and story-telling style), but it’s independent comic artists from the Americas that inspire me to create those stories and to really push my artists boarders!
Edward Swanson: My influences are very wide ranging and would be difficult to list them all. Macabre, surrealist, metaphysical, and panoptic spiritual themes tend to be constant aspect in much of my work. In addition, the importance of culture, community and knowing your roots are also incredibly important factors that influence my projects. Artists that have influenced me are Holbein, Hieronymus Bosch, H.R. Giger, Brom, Dave Mckean, Barron Storey, Michael Hussar, and Andrew Jones.
DM: My major influences come from mainstream comics from Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse. I also take a lot from commercial illustrators, manga and anime, and Art Nouveau. I really love looking at many different artists and trying to draw from different aspects of their art. I love artists like James Jean, Alex Maleev, Alex Ross, David Mack, Stuart Immonen, Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha and Kazuma Kaneko.
SB: What are your goals artistically?
CL: I like to create images that at first glace are very aesthetically pleasing, but something doesn’t seem quite right. I think it entices the viewer to read into the illustration a little deeper and provokes them to think about the subtle signs and hidden meanings I’m sometimes trying to convey.
ES: Artistically I want to show people something different.
ES: Ideally I want to reach out to people with my work and spread whatever social, cultural, political, or spiritual insight that may be bubbling out of my head at the given moment. Illustration appears to an ideal vehicle for this. Because of its mass distributed nature, it has no desire to disenfranchise. However, the nature of print is somewhat limiting in variety. Eventually I would like to see my work expand into as many creative genres as possible and not be restricted by the trifling elitism of artistic enclaves.
DM: My goals are to use my skills to infiltrate as many different media forms as I can. I feel that it would be silly for my to restrict what I can do with my art. My main goal is to create a comic series that will spawn a successful franchise and get me a lot of fanboy love.
Special thanks go to all the contributors of Static Fish. To get in contact with Static Fish, find them at www.pratt.edu/~statfish, or find out more about the Pratt Institute programs at www.pratt.edu. You can also check out more of Chelsea Lewyta’s work at www.pratt.edu/~clewyta/.