Upcoming Intro to Comics instructor, Walker Mettling took some time out to chat with Frequency about his approach to making.
Frequency: I see this course as a chance for students to unlock their own creativity or even their own blocks and fears and be adventurous or experimental. When you begin a class do you have an intention or a desire for your students?
Walker Mettling: Well, I think there are a couple of distinct parts of the class. The first half is about drawing games, getting loose, and mind-melding as a group, so folks need to be ready to be relatively open and game. And I think that sets the vibe for the rest of the class which is a more focused on the solitary brain labor of laying out pages and a story… And I kinda tailor the second half to the needs of the group.
FW: Can you tell us a little bit about Providence Comics Consortium?
WM: I co-created the PCC in 2010 for a series of free comics-making workshops at the Providence Community Libraries, and the first 6 libraries produced a 200 page book called “A Guy Fighting a Monster Out of Nowhere.” It’s long out of print but you can find it at most of the libraries. Since then we’ve made tons of books, zines, trading cards and have dipped our legs into spectacle with parades, advice booths and all sorts of other kinds of stuff. A bunch of the PCC kids have grown up to be artists and own weird art businesses in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and other places. But since comics started as a printed medium, publishing has always been a big component of the project. Lately along with perpetual workshops at the libraries for kids, I’ve been hosting a sunday morning drawing project called, perhaps ill-advisedly, “Sketchbook Church.”
FW: I really love your egalitarian approach to drawing—it really meshes with Frequency’s own ethos. Do you remember if you always advocated for this playful, inclusive approach or if it was something you had to learn as you grew as an artist and an educator?
WM: Thanks! Yeah, that vibe preceded art or teaching for me.
The d.i.y. “art of everyday life” philosophy is probably the main reason I’m interested in improvisation, group drawing games, and weird publishing projects and the stuff that grows out of those.
FW: You casually dropped into one of our conversations reading comics for the blind—I am dying to hear about that and how /if it influenced your own reading or drawing of work?
WM: WRBH 88.3 FM is a radio station in New Orleans, colloquially called “Radio for the Blind” and they read the entire Times Picayune newspaper aloud everyday, along with the television listings, serialized readings of kids books and old time radio shows at night. When I lived down there, I would tune in because I love the radio and it was so unique. For a while, I did a stint reading a few of the “Dr. Dolittle” novels that got chopped up for the afternoon kids book slot and the guy who had read the Sunday Comics Section (for years and years) got sick so I covered for him for a few weeks. And reading comic strips on the radio is maybe the only stranger experience than listening to them. You are taking comics a super-visual medium and translating it verbally into aural radio form, which is also a strangely visual medium. But most comics are sight gags and it’s like taking a standup comedian routine and explaining the jokes. I was instructed by the engineer to laugh or approximate laughter at the end of each strip to signal to the audience that the strip ended. It probably influenced me philosophically… it’s such a strange assignment.
FW: Comics you’d recommend to our audience?
WM: Some might not know the alt-weekly cartoonist titan turned Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity at University of Wisconsin-Madison, Lynda Barry.
She wrote a killer memoir/writing prompt book called What It Is that was a brilliant meditation on what images are and how our brains access, store and use them.
Also, I love the book Conditions on the Ground by Kevin Hooyman. It’s a collection of monthly comics he did for a few years, of the same name, that is heavy with philosophical questions, creatures, fatherhood, and taxonomies of various things from types of whales to space vehicles.