Updated Monday Nov 11, 2013: The kickstarter for Sean Murphy's new Apprenticeship program is now live! Check out the video, then read the original interview below to find out what Murphy has planned for young artists to help their development.
Original Story: In early August of this year, Sean Gordon Murphy announced he would be opening the doors to his home in Maine to a select few up-and-coming artists who would make up the first cohort to the "Sean Murphy Apprenticeship" program. Soon after, details were made public for hopeful freelancers who wanted to apply for this limited opportunity to learn from one of the industry's hottest artists – known best for his work on creator-owned projects such as Punk Rock Jesus, American Vampire, and The Wake.
We talked with Murphy to find out what inspired him to organize it, what these artists will learn about, and what the future holds for Murphy and his future students.
Newsarama: Sean thanks for taking the time to talk with Newsarama a bit about your upcoming “Sean Murphy Apprenticeship” program. It sounds like an interesting opportunity for up-and-coming artists to get some firsthand, intensive experience working with someone who has definitely found success in the comics publishing community. What made you come up with the two-week program?
Sean Gordon Murphy: Thanks for giving me this interview! We're trying something new here, and stuff like this really helps spread the word.
How did this start? Over the years, I've had a lot of offers from younger artists looking to intern, but I was never able to justify it. I like working alone, and my studio is really small, and because drawing comics is such a simple job, I didn't feel like I had anything to offer them. But I'm a big fan of the classic master/apprentice relationship when it comes to learning a craft, so I've been trying to think of ways of do something that gave back to my community.
When my wife and I bought a house in Portland (Maine), the idea suddenly struck: instead of getting tenants, why not leave it empty and use it as a retreat? So for two weeks in February I'll be taking in 6 students and setting them up in my new studio for two weeks while we work on a group project designed to teach them my perspective on certain aspects of comic art.
Nrama: From what you laid out on your website (first hereand then here), it sounds as though the “program of study” is going to be comprehensive. This might come across as a bit obvious to many creators in the business, but why do you think an artist or writer needs to better understand all aspects of what goes into making comics?
Murphy: There are plenty of ways to learn how to do comics: books you can buy and degrees you can get. And most people engage in some form of self-education. But for me, I found that the one-on-one teaching approach was the best way to learn. But it's hard finding this relationship because you need an artist who's willing to spend the time, who can communicate well, and who has the space to set up.
Nrama: In your project overview, you also mentioned that you think this would be a good experience for students currently in college or art school. Have you considered reaching out to any colleges or universities to create a sort of internship program?
Murphy: I have! I'm happy to fill out any paperwork provided by an apprentice's college in order for them to get internship credit, but I can't guarantee it because I'm not accredited.
Nrama: Depending on the response to this first group of students, do you think that is an option you'll pursue?
Murphy: Yes. If it makes sense to expand, then I will.
Nrama: You also referred to a juried selection process for hopeful applicants – any hints on who might be involved in this process and what you think a successful portfolio might look like?
Murphy: I'm the only judge for the portfolios, and because I can only take in a handful of apprentices, I'm allowed to be more picky with whom I accept. Not only am I looking for the basics of drawing and storytelling, I'm also looking for artists who can sell themselves, who act like professionals, and who take their work seriously. Part of the process is a Skype interview where I can make sure each apprentice has the right stuff.
Nrama: Okay, so you're running the show when it comes to selecting who will and will not become one of your select apprentices. Any possibility you'll be bringing in any guest instructors to help guide your students during this intensive two-week program?
Murphy: Yes, I'll be having the legendary Klaus Janson as my first guest speaker. I also have offers from other friends of mine in the biz, but I'll hold off on naming them until it's further confirmed. I'm lucky to have such great support from other pros to want to help out.
Nrama: One of the major takeaways from this apprenticeship would be that each student would have contributed to an anthology, in which would serve as the creative editor. What direction do you see this anthology taking in terms of content?
Murphy: This first anthology will be called Cafe Racer. It's about a half Japanese WW2 survivor whose reckless behavior gets her caught up in the cafe racer society of 1950s England. One of the focuses of the apprenticeship is to focus on drawing technical objects. Cafe Racer is designed to challenge the students with object many comic artists hate drawing: motorcycles.
Nrama: You mention you're seeking to push these artists outside of their comfort zone through having them work with challenging material. Did this desire to raise the bar for your students influence your decision to a period piece as the subject for this anthology? Where did you come with this idea?
Murphy: I came up with the idea a year ago while I was stranded in Paris during Hurricane Sandy. The city is filled with motorcycles and cafes, so I started thinking of ideas for a book that I might want to do in the future (I'm always coming up with new stories that I'd like to write/draw one day, but I never seem to find the time). When I suddenly needed a subject for this apprenticeship's anthology, I felt that my Café Racer material fit it perfectly: not only is it a drawing challenge, but the color/cover would also be very iconic. Plus it fits my brand.
Nrama: Changing gears a little bit, how did you “come of age” as a comics creator? Were there any specific lessons you learned early on that stand out that you’d want to convey in your program? Did you have a mentor of sorts who helped you learn the ropes early on or was it more along the lines of figuring it out on your own?
Murphy: I had an art mentor from ages 8-16 named Leslie Swank – he was a local cartoonist and WW2 vet working in Salem, NH. He put a brush in my hand at a very young age, and insisted on a non "artsy-fartsy" approach to art: very professional and business minded. Approaching the industry in this way has been as helpful as knowing how to draw, so a huge part of the apprenticeship will be reinforcing professional business etiquette to give the artists an edge.
Nrama: What are some of the ways you see up-and-coming creators "missing the mark" when it comes to this professional business etiquette?
Murphy: I think it's in an artist's nature to feel some sense of insecurity, and most people let that insecurity out in ways that are unhealthy for their careers: maybe they have a detrimental Twitter presence, or maybe they seize up when talking to editors, or maybe they lack the backbone to defend themselves against a publisher that plays hardball. When most people go to the office each day, they wear a mask that's more appropriate for the work environment. I'd like my students to learn to do the same.
Nrama: What’s the best way for people to find out more about this apprenticeship opportunity in terms of what they should send in their portfolio and when they can submit it?
Murphy: The application process is closed, but we might do this again for a summer session. Our Kickstarter campaign is about to begin, so I'll get you the info when I have it.