Carol Tyler Draws a Comic Career One Line at a Time
Graphic novelist and UC adjunct instructor of fine art Carol Tyler has one graphic novel already published and another underway. While thus working creatively, she’s also teaching comic art technique and cultural history to a new generation.
Date: 11/19/2007Carol Tyler’s creative career has been anything but a straight line. She first earned fine art degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and then from Syracuse University and later went into any number of creative endeavors.
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre
These included everything from museum exhibit design, stand-up comedy and teaching in California (where young teen-not-yet-turned-actor Leonardo DiCaprio was her daughter’s babysitter) to serving as educational director for Cincinnati’s Tall Stacks event. She was the first to create and organize the “Sawyertown” education and family fun area as part of Tall Stacks.
In fact, it was when working on Tall Stacks that Tyler decided to finally “declare her major” as she puts it and focus all her energy on comics.
“I was suffering through yet another boring planning meeting and thought, ‘What do I care about the placement of trash cans?! I’m the only one in this room who can draw one!’ I realized right then and there that although I’d been getting stuff published on and off for the last 20 years, it was time to get serious about comics,” she recalled.
Tyler then headed for the University of Cincinnati’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), where her daughter, Julia, was already enrolled as a fashion design student.
She showed her credentials and a portfolio of her completed work which included her 2005 graphic novel Late Bloomer and offered to teach a course on comic art. And so, Tyler began teaching in UC’s School of Art in fall 2006. The maximum of 15 students enrolled, and demand was so strong that she was asked to offer sequels the following quarters.
She admitted, “Really, I offered to teach with the thought of seeing where it would go. Well, so far, it’s going very well, and I’d like to see it go further.”
By that, Tyler means she has ambitions to see UC match other schools in the United States already offering full programs of study in what’s formally known as sequential art (comics). There are now only a handful, and none are local. The only U.S. schools offering degrees in sequential art are in Georgia, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.
For now, Tyler is integrating her organizational and artistic skills to teach. Her “office” consists of three distinctive “treasure trove” lockers at DAAP. They are replete with inspiration for her students, packed with comic collectibles and art tools spanning decades.
From those lockers, Tyler can pull out almost the entire history of comics in this country, everything from 1930s classics to 1950s comic magazines teaching aspects of African American history (regarding Harriet Tubman and Crispus Attucks) to an original of the first issue of the iconoclastic Mad Magazine.
For sheer whimsy in her class, Tyler employs a variety of other tools, also to be found in her DAAP lockers. For instance, she’s borrowed her father’s fedora hat and acquired a pair of horn-rimmed eyeglass frames. Students then wear fedora and glasses – assuming a “Clark Kent reporter” identity – when giving their research reports on selected comic artists, since they are serving as “reporters.”
The fedora represents the intimate family connections to be found in Tyler’s creative efforts and teaching. One student in her winter 2006 course on comics was her daughter, Julia, now a fashion design junior working on her own 30-page autobiographical story. And her husband, comix legend Justin Green, often comes to class to share his expertise.
The subject of Tyler’s current graphic novel is her own 88-year-old father, Chuck, who fought on the front lines – in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany – during World War II. That work-in-progress is titled You’ll Never Know and is due out in two years. When it’s finally complete, Tyler estimates she’ll have worked on the book for as long as her father served in the war (almost five years). It will mark her physically, just as World War II marked her father.
“I’ve spent a lifetime at the drawing board. I’ve had to make adjustments over the years for family, moneymaking, tendonitis. These days (working on You’ll Never Know), acid reflux has forced me to work standing up. But none of this will stop me… . Everything has tried to stop me, but I’m still standing.”