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Cougar Comics produces the first edition of Tier One

Prof. Mat Johnson’s graphic novel workshop students publish short-story anthology

Tier One - cougar comics first edition cover

In his course, Graphic Novel Workshop, Professor Mat Johnson helps student writers navigate new creative waters. Although illustrated storytelling is not a new concept to his students, the techniques and craft used to write and design comic books and graphic novels often are.

Prof. Johnson’s experience as a graphic novelist helped the students use what they learned in the classroom to complete five-page stories illustrated by professional artists. Those stories were compiled into the first edition of Cougar Comics’ Tier One. The anthology is the first printed collection of student graphic novel works.

The first 100 attendees at a free reception on May 6 received a copy of Tier One. Student authors, some artists and Prof. Johnson were on hand to sign copies.

“This class has helped me better understand what the reader expects from each page,” said student Olga Feliciano. “I had never thought about that before. Writing for a graphic novel has made me more conscious of a story’s pacing and not spending time being self-indulgent. It’s helped me write more for the audience.”

Feliciano’s story, “The Sacrifice,” was illustrated by artist Jarrod Perez. It details a young woman’s loss of faith after her uncle dies from AIDS. The story takes place as the woman is preparing for her confirmation in the Catholic church.

Just as Feliciano learned from the process of scripting an illustrated story, her classmate Diego Vicent also discovered that graphic novels are more than just developing a good story. Even for someone, who grew up on comics, writing a graphic novel provided many lessons in creativity and collaboration, he said.

“I never thought it was so much work,” he said. “I thought you’d write a story, sit down with someone and draw it. There was a lot of exchange between the artist and me. It was a big process for a five-page story. So, when I look at graphic novels and comics, I have a new appreciation for the people who worked on them.”

Vicent’s story, “One More Drink,” was illustrated by Alex Riegel. It focuses on a failed drunken detective who may be on the verge of finally apprehending the bad guys.

Other stories in Tier One Comics include:

  • Night Study” by Bryan Owens, art by Brett Owen
  • “You Think This Is Your House?” by Dickson Lam, art by Ted Closson
  • “Non Attingre Monstra” by Thomas Frey, art by Maria-Elisa Heg
  • “Tar Feather” written and illustratedby Laura Fletcher
  • “Abraham and Isaac” byZach Martin, art by Annamaria Bryant

Now in its third semester, Johnson’s Graphic Novel Workshop helps students develop their abilities as visual storytellers. It is conducted every other spring in the Creative Writing Program of the Department of English andd is supported by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts.

A professor of creative writing, Johnson has authored graphic novels Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story, Incognegro and Hellblazer – Papa Midnight. His published novels are Pym, Drop and Hunting in Harlem. He has also published the non-fiction work The Great Negro Plot.

- By Mike Emery