One of the not-so-obvious pleasures of living in a beautiful city is that we sometimes succeed in luring remarkable artists up here to check the place out. And given our size, we also sometimes get the chance to learn from these artists — the generous ones at least — in small-scale, intimate settings that probably wouldn’t be possible down South.
In town this week are two highly celebrated visual artists, Scott Campbell (who goes by Scott C. in his professional life) and Kate Beaton. Both are known for their distinctive comics (among other things), an art form they’ll be discussing with Juneauites over the next few days, along with the creative process in general.
The two artists arrived in Juneau together – Campbell from New York City and Beaton from Toronto — at the invitation of Alaska Robotics’ Pat Race, their host for the week. Race got to know Campbell over the years at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, where artists from Alaska Robotics have shown their comics, and said he has long admired both artists’ work.
“It’s a really rare experience (to have them here),” Race said. “I think people are getting an idea of how special it is... I’m excited we get a chance to learn from them and hang out with them.”
The pair will talk about their work at the Gold Town Nickelodeon Thursday at 6 p.m. and on Friday will be at the Alaska Robotics Gallery, where both their work is currently on view, from 4:30-7, for an informal opening. On Saturday, two workshops will be held at the Alaska Robotics Gallery, at 10 a.m. and at 1:30 p.m. The first, led by Campbell, will focus on character development, and the second, led by Beaton, will focus on creative voice.
A strong visual voice is one of the things that makes both artists’ work so fantastic, Race said.
“(Their work is) so distinctive,” Race said. "It’s like a signature. They could draw a picture and they don’t even have to sign it and you just know it’s theirs.”
In Campbell’s recent series of comics, “Great Showdowns,” there is no dialogue and very minimal background. The focus is on pairings of characters, or groups of characters, with each pairing depicting a rivalry or confrontation from the movies -- such as the Sharks and the Jets from “West Side Story,” or, more unconventionally, Bruce Willis and a group of smiling glass fragments (Campbell gives smiles to all his characters, including the inanimate objects), a reference to the movie “Die Hard.” Campbell doesn’t label the “Showdown” images with the movie title; part of the fun is figuring out their source.
Campbell is also well known for his video game designs, particularly “Psychonauts” and “Brütal Legend,” he was art director for both titles, which were produced by Double Fine Productions. He also does children’s books, such as “Zombie in Love,” and shows his paintings in galleries around the country. Campbell said he loves the variety and freedom of moving between mediums.
“There’s so many different options for someone to experience your art -- in a gallery, in a kids’ book or a video game,” he said. “I always think it’s pretty refreshing when an artist or creator can follow the different paths they are interested in. That keeps you creative -- and its fun,” Campbell said.
“I know some people who are super happy doing what they do for 10, 20 years but if you do have kind of a wandering eye then I think it keeps you super fresh. And whatever you are the most interested in is where you’re going to be doing your best work,” she said.
Beaton said she’s recently been getting a little burned out on doing comics -- though she’ll likely always come back to it, as it is her first love -- after five years of serious production. Beaton’s web comics, some of which are collected in her book, “Hark! a Vagrant,” garnered her a huge following on the internet, making her quite successful in a short amount of time. Her work can also be seen in the New Yorker and Harpers, among other print publications. Like Campbell’s Showdown series, Beaton’s comics are unmistakably her own, and often draw on famous historical or literary figures, such as Napoleon, Beethoven or Hamlet, whom she has speak in anachronistically modern – and sometimes spicy – language. The first comic in her book, “Dude watchin’ with the Brontës,” shows the Brontë sisters ogling their fictional male leads – Charlotte’s Rochester and Emily’s Heathcliff -- while sister Anne, who didn’t enjoy her sisters’ success, makes disapproving comments about them being jerks. A history major who worked in museums for years before making art her livelihood, Beaton does extensive research on her characters if she doesn’t know much about them so that her dialogue will have the ring of truth; this familiarity with her subjects is part of what makes them so funny.
“Hark! A Vagrant,” ended up on Time Magazine’s Top 10 Fiction Books of the Year in 2011, a high-profile honor that garnered Beaton some new opportunities, one of which she is currently working on. Though she said she wasn’t at liberty to discuss it in detail, she did say it was a book project – and a lot of work.
Both artists have a strong fan base, and said their supporters tend to follow them from project to project, happy to see what’s coming next.
“To them, if you’re presenting work, you’re presenting work,” Beaton said.
“That’s something I think is cool, when you have a success, people get behind you and you have fans that are going to follow you to the next thing you do,” Campbell said.
Though their work is very different, the couple said they are often struck by similar sources of inspiration.
“We both find inspiration in the same places, for sure,” Campbell said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for what she thinks is funny.”
“Usually we just notice when people are being funny and amazing -- when somebody’s doing something off but they’re super into it,” Beaton said. “That’s just their way of living, dressing a weird way or something and just not self conscious about it at all, just walking down the street in their crazy outfit or something.” She laughed. “I love people.”
Finding inspiration is part of what Campbell will focus on in his workshop, which begins at 10 a.m Saturday at the Alaska Robotics Gallery. He’ll also discuss creating character and telling a story through drawings. Participants should expect a relaxed atmosphere, where expressiveness is prized over technique. All ages are welcome.
“We’ll all be doing it together,” he said. “I’ll be drawing too, and we’ll have some music playing, so we can feel like we’re all in the studio together.”
Beaton’s focus at her 1:30 p.m. workshop will be on finding a personal voice -- and on loosening up enough to let that happen.
“I think that when you’re trying to learn how to draw, trying to make yourself stand out, the best thing you can do is find that uniqueness that only you are going to bring, that’s the thing that’s going to set you above the crowd, is people saying that’s your work and no one else’s,” she said. “That’s what brought me out of nowhere. People thought, ‘This is different and new.’ And it was just what I was doing for fun for myself.” She laughed. “It’s amazing to do something that you really love.”
The workshops are $15 each or $25 for both. Space is limited and registration is required.
The talk at the Gold Town on Thursday is free, as is the art opening Friday evening.
For more on Campbell, visit www.pyramidcar.com.
For more on Beaton, visit www.harkavagrant.com.
Alaska Robotics is made up of a group of local artists who run the Alaska Robotics Gallery at 220 Front Street, organize the Juneau Underground Motion Picture Society film showings, and create their own art, including films, illustrations and graphic novels, among other projects. Find out more at alaskarobotics.com.