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by Writing Workshops Staff

8 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Visualizing Memories, A Graphic Memoir Primer with Robert James Russell

by Writing Workshops Staff

8 months ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: Visualizing Memories, A Graphic Memoir Primer with Robert James Russell

by Writing Workshops Staff

8 months ago

Discover the captivating world of graphic memoirs with instructor Robert James Russell! Rob, an accomplished author and illustrator, has designed a new 6-week Zoom class for us titled Visualizing Memories: A Graphic Memoir Primer.

With a forthcoming graphic memoir titled Hard Body: A Personal History of My Form on Display scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in 2025, Rob brings a wealth of experience to his instruction. As the founding editor of the literary journal Cheap Pop and with his work published by NPR, The Rumpus, and The Florida Review, Rob is the prefect guide for this class.

In Rob's innovative workshop, students will embark on a journey to harness the transformative power of graphic memoirs. Beyond traditional writing, comics offer a unique avenue to delve deep into personal narratives. Rob's class is designed for students of all levels, from beginners exploring the art form to experienced artists seeking to elevate their storytelling.

Through studying works by renowned graphic memoirists such as Kristen Radtke, Adrian Tomine, and Alison Bechdel, students will learn to express themselves and reflect on their lives in fresh, profound ways. With a focus on avatars, genre exploration, script writing, and comic creation, participants will not only gain a deeper understanding of the graphic memoir genre but also craft their own short comics. Join us on this creative journey, where you'll not only hone your skills but also gain the confidence to continue your storytelling in a safe and supportive environment. Don't miss the opportunity to explore this dynamic blend of words and art with Robert James Russell.

Hi, Rob! Please introduce yourself to our audience.

I'm a Michigan-born, Nebraska-based illustrator-writer who is obsessed with wild spaces, his cat, Bernadette, and, lately, drawing frogs.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?

I'm deep at work on a graphic memoir and wanted to offer a space for others to dissect the craft in a safe, meaningful way. I've taught workshops in the past about exploring comicsmaking and nonfiction comics, but I really want to explore what it means to be a GRAPHIC memoir: how this form differs from a traditional memoir, how we put our selves on the page, and how we nurture our narratives in a visual medium. This is a new-ish genre that's starting to really take off, so also want to cultivate a space to discuss practicalities, too, like what to do with our pieces when they're ready for publication.

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

Each week we'll be focusing on a different element of the graphic narrative, resulting in the creation of short finished comics that we'll share during our final class. I'll be providing a good amount of examples of the medium by some of our greatest living writers/illustrators; we'll discuss these as well as various craft components, and have lots of time to draw in each class. I'm a big fan of creating intimate spaces where we feel safe to ask questions and share what's on our mind; each class, students will get a chance to pick my brain, talk with each other, and share where they're at with their work, what inspires them, etc.

What was your first literary crush?

I'm going to cheat a little and make this my first *author* crush, then, now, and forever: Shel Silverstein.

What are you currently reading?

Mexikid by Pedro Martín; Naked: The Confessions of a Normal Woman by Éloïse Marseille; The Creative Act by Rick Rubin

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

I've always believed you go where the heat is. Sometimes it's not that simple, of course: new ideas are intoxicating, and you can get lost in worldbuilding and just the idea of a thing before you have to actually get your hands in the clay and start sculpting. So, you need to look beyond the excitement a bit: outline, draft, write character bios, sketch characters, etc. Give it time, make sure you're ready for the long-haul. I can always tell when an idea is my next THING because it consumes me, my thoughts during the day, my dreams at night; I'll find myself wanting to live there in that narrative until it's all out on the page.

Where do you find inspiration?

Even when my work doesn't deal with it directly, I'm deeply inspired by being outside. I'm easily awed on my daily walks looking down at the grass poking through concrete, the house sparrows flitting over head, the shapes of clouds, the conversations I overhear as I pass by others out and about.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

"Wherever you are, drink the world in around you. Don't leave a single stone unturned." I know this may seem obvious, but no matter the genre/medium we work in, it's imperative we understand the miscellanea of life: our small and fleeting gestures, how the wind feels against our cheek, how our bodies move in space, the specific color of the sky as it purples into dusk, shared looks and grimaces and what is not said aloud. It's imperative I understand what it means to be alive in the ways we might not typically look for. To me, this is what makes a story sing; this is what brings the world in our pages to life.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison. It gave me permission to explore narrative form in a way no other ever had.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

High school art teacher meets surf instructor. 

Learn More About Working with Rob:

You can learn more about Rob's upcoming class, Visualizing Memories: A Graphic Memoir Primer 6-Week Zoom Workshop, and sign up now.

Instructor Robert James Russell
is the author of the forthcoming graphic memoir Hard Body: A Personal History of My Form on Display (Simon & Schuster, 2025). He is also the author of the novellas MESILLA and SEA OF TREES, as well as the chapbook DON’T ASK ME TO SPELL IT OUT. He is the founding editor of the literary journal CHEAP POP. His illustrations and writing have appeared in print and online at NPR, The Rumpus, The Offing, Shenandoah, Gulf Coast, New South, and Passages North, among others. A native of Michigan, Robert lives and works in Lincoln, Nebraska. You can find his art and writing HERE.

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