My teacher and mentor, Al Baruch, created Captain Hook, Mighty Mouse, and did the artwork for Fantasia. I enrolled in his class at twelve years old, and continued to work with him until I entered high school. His class met at Hofstra University in New York on Saturday mornings, the same time as Saturday morning cartoons. Al Baruch’s class planted a seed that would eventually grow into a lifelong interest and love of comics.
Al Baruch is a sweet man who looks very much like Santa Claus. Al is now in his eighties and still teaching comics in Florida. He has a soft voice and always lights up when he talks about comics. What I learned from him is that when you have a love for something in life, whether it is comics or anything else, you can use it to help others.
I was an awkward kid, unsure of my artistic abilities. Through Al’s guidance in my comics class, I was able to grow as an artist and also as a person. I took my cartoons to a local coffee shop near where my mother worked, and they hung them. That was my first art show. My parents and I went to a frame shop, and I learned how to make my art look professional.
Al always had a steady hand and a crisp line, whereas my hand used to shake. I thought that if I practiced enough, I might be able to draw like him. He always spoke about how fun comics are, and how great it is to be able to create something from inside ourselves. Every student was encouraged equally. At first, I was nervous in a class with mostly boys. They liked drawing superheroes, and I felt like Superman didn’t quite speak to me, so I started drawing ducks, cats on roller skates, and characters I wanted to draw. This taught me that my interests mattered too.
When I was twelve, Al invited me to draw for a bunch of kids at the Long Beach Library in New York. I got there and realized that I could draw on the spot. I had watched Al create characters out of nowhere, but I never thought that I could draw something good, especially in front of fifteen other kids. He encouraged me to keep drawing into my teenage years. This is a time when a lot of kids stop drawing comics. Al’s message to me was to believe in my art. He had me draw at the library to teach other kids they could draw too.
I called Al this past summer after finding him on the internet. We spoke for over an hour. He told me about a few of his students during our class: where they are today, and how they are still making comics, illustrating books, and teaching. He said how proud he was of all of us. When I told him that I am now teaching comics, it was the one thing he cared about most. He especially taught me that having a talent is a wonderful thing, but sharing that talent is even better. Our passions and our love for what we do are always best when shared.
1. Cartooning helps self-esteem by encouraging students to create the world they wish to see, and the subject matter that suits them.
2. Cartooning is always FUN. When life is hard or you feel awkward in other areas, it’s a way to feel relaxed.
3. You can improve your cartooning skills, simply by making cartoons often.
4. Sharing cartoons with others is more fun than keeping your drawings to yourself.
5. Your lines get better with time and less shaky.
6. Your teachers care about you just as much as you care about them.
7. You can become a lot better at cartooning if you focus on yourself and don’t compare yourself to Marvel comic artists
8. Comic artists draw all types of subjects.
9. Believing in yourself and in your art go hand in hand.
10. We always remember our greatest teachers and strive to be like them, no matter how old we are or where we live in the world.