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Perseverance Pays Off for Illustration Student Turned Graphic Novelist

Posted June 5, 2014 in Prototype (student spotlight)

In this installment of Prototype, we profile Jim Towe (Senior, Illustration)

Illustration student Jim Towe has loved comic books from a young age, but during senior year of high school he experienced something that opened him up to a whole new world of creative possibility. Towe’s media literacy teacher assigned Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the landmark work that became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

“We read Maus and I was like, ‘Whoa. This is not what I remember from my childhood,’” Towe recalled. “I got completely immersed in graphic novels and would pick them up every Wednesday at the local comic shop.”

student Jim ToweJim Towe

Once he got to KCAD, it didn’t take long for Towe’s other passion – illustration – to spark his own experimentation with the medium. He began creating and illustrating short graphic stories, and in early 2013 he decided to take his efforts to the next level. In collaboration with friends and writers Rob Weber and Keith Magna, Towe spent the year creating and self-publishing his first original graphic novel, The Art of Guilt.

cover of "The Art of Guilt" by Jim ToweFront cover of "The Art of Guilt"

Unlike comic books, which are typically short and keep things at surface level, graphic novels delve deeper, providing rich character development and a full narrative arc. Maus showed Towe that he could do anything he wanted with a graphic novel without having to worry about satisfying the tropes of the comic book genre.

“I think comics are over-saturated with superheroes and all that stuff, so with [The Art of Guilt] I wanted to pull back from that and kind of go to the exact opposite,” he said. “This is a slice of life story about four college students – the opposite of the superhero comic.”

The Art of Guilt follows Curtis, Heather, Jameson, and Aimee as they unravel a story of lies, secrets, cheating, lust, and deceit while exploring the question of what’s worth losing a friend over. While Weber’s and Magna’s dialogue gives the characters voice and personality, Towe’s illustrations help shape their development and drive the narrative forward. By drawing characters’ expressions or body language in a certain way, or inserting objects or atmospheres into the background, he provides the reader with important visual cues that reveal the bigger meaning of the story.

sample page from "The Art of Guilt" by Jim ToweSample page from "The Art of Guilt"

“Graphic novels are the perfect middle ground between film and literature,” said Towe. “It was a really fun exercise to capture that expression of emotion in each panel.”

It was also a lot of work. Towe did all of the illustrations in the 100-plus pages of The Art of Guilt in pencil before shading them with ink, scanning them into digital format, and finalizing them in Photoshop--a process that routinely took six or seven hours per page to finish. Throughout the process, Towe kept himself on track by sticking to a regular work schedule and strictly enforcing self-imposed deadlines.

sample page from "The Art of Guilt" by Jim ToweSample page from "The Art of Guilt"

“Just work on it every day and put everything you have into it,” he advised. “Of course, life’s getting in the way, so some of those deadlines get missed, but you’ve got to stick with it.” For him, the satisfaction of holding a finished, original, self-published book in his hands was worth all the effort and then some. “It’s almost surreal, this feeling of having all the blood, sweat, and tears finally pay off.”

student Jim Towe drawingTowe following his own advice - "Work on it every day and put everything you have into it."

Ultimately, Towe wants to make a career out of doing commissioned drawings for publishers, and he’s already working on getting his name out there. Since The Art of Guilt was published, he’s been attending comic conventions across the country, networking with everyone from comic fans to fellow illustrators to entertainment industry professionals.

And while he may have spent more money producing The Art of Guilt than he’s earned from it at this point, he considers it all part of the process.

“There’s the loftier ideas of keeping this going until the day I die, but right now I’m just taking it one step at a time,” he said. “[Graphic novels] are my passion, so I’d be depressed if I wasn’t making them regardless.”

You can check out The Art of Guilt in its entirety at theartofguilt.tumblr.com.


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