Norfolk-based artist Matt Harrison is new to the Arts for Learning roster this year, teaching a popular workshop called “Make Comics Now.” Matt comes from a teaching family—his parents are retired elementary school teachers and his wife is a middle school English teacher, and he says conversations about classroom theory and its practical applications have been a constant throughout his life. Mentoring students is one of his favorite things, whether in his role as a comic artist or in his pay-the-bills job as a web developer.
Although Matt enjoyed drawing when he was a kid, he didn’t become interested in comics until he was a young adult and stumbled on a friend’s box of old comic books.
“I started with X-Men and Spider-Man. The way those shows worked, it wasn’t episodic, it was a continuous story from one to the next. It made me very curious about continuity, so once you start down that path about caring about comics and which way the story goes, it can quickly spiral out of control. So I wound up collecting way more comics than I knew what to do with.”
Eventually Matt transitioned from an interest in traditional mainstream comics to indie comics, where he says he’s now developed a “simple, cartoony, humorous aesthetic.” He’s published more than a dozen mini-comics of eight to 48-pages long and regularly exhibits his work at comic conventions. He also works as an illustrator using a different style, which he describes as somewhat realistic straight-to-ink contour drawings of people from photos. Clients include the Naro Expanded Cinema which features his posters at their cult movie nights.
When you look at Matt’s website, www.rootbeercomics.com, you see an eclectic variety of topics and styles in his comic books, zines, and comic strips. Titles range from “Ninja Turtles with Guns” and “Lincoln versus Booth” to “Harrison Ford is Old.”
“I like to do short projects because that lets me experiment with a lot of different themes and styles of drawings. I can knock out a comic in a month and then move on to the next idea of interest.”
So why Root Beer Comics? First came the impossibility of finding a domain name when you’re named Matt Harrison. Second came the need to choose something unique, memorable, and easy to spell. But root beer also has a deeper meaning to Matt.
“I love root beer. It sets the tone for the humor stuff. Also, there’s beer, which is an interest that a lot of people have, and then there’s root beer, which is kind of tangentially related to that but not really. And that’s kind of like what my comics are. If mainstream comics are beer, my comics are root beer.”Matt describes what he calls a “pivotal moment” in his life when he realized that comics don’t have to look a set way, that they can look like anything.
“That barrier falls away and you realize anyone can make a comic, I can make a comic, it doesn’t matter that it won’t look like the Spider-Man comic that I saw, it will look like my version of that,” he says. “I realized that I didn’t have to wait until I’m an amazing draftsman, which is a day that may never come, before I put pen on paper and put it out there for people to see.”
That pivotal moment still resonates with him as he teaches.
My objective with teaching is to recreate that moment in other people’s lives so the chains come off and they can get started in this creative hobby that can benefit them in a lot of ways.”
Matt led two Make Comics Now residencies in-person at summer camps and is currently teaching students virtually through Alternatives Inc’s after-school program. Although he’s found COVID-19 safety protocols have made establishing relationships with students more challenging, he hasn’t let that stand in the way.
“Ultimately, I think you just jump right in and treat them like they’re already old friends and eventually they’ll come along for the ride.”
Are you interested in learning more about Matt leading a workshop? Contact us at scheduling@Arts4LearningVA.org for more information.