FLASH Writer Opens Door To Mentoring Aspiring Creators with ART COACH

"Flash #37" variant cover by Darwyn Cooke
Credit: Darwyn Cooke (DC Comics)
Credit: Brett Booth (DC Comics)

It's a dream of a lot of comic book fans — becoming a creator themselves, joining the ranks of their favorite writers and artists on the stories they love to read. A brand new website, Art Coach, is teaming up with working professionals to connect with people whose goal is to become writers, artists, poets and other creative types.

First up for the website is Van Jensen, writer on hit series like The Flash, who's offering a few different services. The first webinar, on January 27, will show aspiring writers how to beat writers block, and he'll soon have sessions on reviewing a pitch or a script. Future sessions will cover making comic books, getting published and related topics.

And although Jensen is the debut teacher, the website is recruiting other creators to become coaches, as the site expands the roster in the coming months. Newsarama talked to Jensen to find out more.

Newsarama: How did you get involved with Art Coach, and how did this opportunity to "coach" come about?

Van Jensen: Really, this goes back to about 2001. The Art Coach co-founder and CEO, Dan Leamen, and I lived on the same dorm floor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We even won an intramural basketball championship together. We were both writing then and sharing aspirations, and then we each pursued careers. Years later, we reconnected. I'd kind of stumbled into comics, and Dan was coming off of a tough MFA experience in poetry. He had this idea of changing the way that arts education works, moving back toward the apprenticeship model.

Dan and I would get on Skype and have long talks about writing, and he started to tell me about Art Coach. I actually had reported quite a bit about disruptive education models — MOOCs and the like — as a journalist, so it was something that piqued my interest. When Dan asked me to be a coach, I was honored and immediately said yes.

Nrama: Why do you think this is something that not only people want, but that you'd be good at doing?

Jensen: Every year, at conventions and signings I hear from hundreds of people who want to break into comics. I talk to students at all levels who aspire to be professional writers. But it's a tough world to break into, and traditional education doesn't equip people with all of the necessary tools, especially when it comes to developing a career.

I certainly am still learning (I was just pestering Scott Snyder about letting me listen in on his new DC class), but I've been a working professional in comic books for almost seven years now. I've been writing professionally for 15 years. In that time, I've learned a lot from editors, friends and collaborators about how the comics industry works, and how to forge a career. I've worked on top-tier work-for-hire gigs, I've worked on creator-owned projects and I've put out self-published books. I understand the business.

And, again, I still have so much room to grow as a writer, but I do put out work that is successful, and I understand how to be consistent, how to always hit deadlines. These are all specific skills, ones that can be taught.

Nrama: How does it work?

Jensen: You just go to the Art Coach website, and you look over the class and services offered there and then sign up. With me, you can take webinars, which are live classes. The first one will be Jan. 27, and it'll give you the tools needed to beat writer's block.

I'm also doing script and pitch review sessions, which include phone or Skype workshops. And then I'm offering an apprenticeship, which is really a chance to work closely together, allowing me to give some hands-on guidance as you develop your comic book. Everything is focused on practical results. I want you to come out of it more productive, on a clear path toward becoming a published writer.

Each class/webinar/apprenticeship has a different cost. A small portion of those fees goes to administrative costs, and the rest goes to the coach. So you not only get to learn, you get to support the artists that you admire.

Credit: Brett Booth (DC Comics)

Nrama: Who comes up with the subjects for the services you offer? Is this stuff you've been challenged by before?

Jensen: The coaches all create their own offerings, which is a cool thing. It allows coaches to specialize in areas of strength. For me, I think I'm especially good at approaching writing as a discipline, being organized and maximizing productivity. Certainly, writing is always a struggle. So this is really me sharing the skills and tools that I've developed that are central to my growth as a writer.

Nrama: What's the feedback been like?

Jensen: People seem really excited about it. We've had a lot of people signing up already, including a first apprentice on board. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing it grow as more coaches come online and the services expand.

It just doesn't typically make sense to shell out tens of thousands of dollars (or more) to try to break into the arts, which offer careers that are hugely fulfilling but often terribly under-paid. This is a different path.

Nrama: Anything else you want to share about the upcoming classes, services, or anything else?

Jensen: Just stay tuned to the Art Coach site and Twitter account for more updates. Classes and coaches will be added regularly. Anyone interested in my offerings specifically is welcome to ask me questions on Twitter.

Also, for creators and artists who are interested in becoming a coach, feel free to get in touch with me or with the Art Coach team. They're looking to expand the roster in the months ahead.

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