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Graphic novel workshop debuts comic book ‘Kolache’


Graphic novel students gathered at the Moody Towers Commons to celebrate the launch of their comic book, “Kolache.” | Justin Cross/ The Cougar

Students of the Graphic Novel Workshop celebrated the publication of their collective comic book, “Kolache,” on Wednesday at Moody Towers.

Creative writing professor and graphic novelist Mat Johnson and artist and professor of painting Michael Ray Charles have taught the course for eight years.

“It’s always chaos,” Johnson said. “Every time we start the class, it’s all new people. It’s all new skill sets, and you are trying to rearrange things and figure out who is gonna do what. It’s always a miracle when it comes together. And it always does come together.”

Every student in the Spring 2016 class created a five-page comic book, either alone or with the help of a writer. The production process was fairly lengthy with each panel, or frame, of the 15 comic books written, drawn and inked individually.

The separate comic books were then assembled to produce “Kolache” and was published over the summer.

“The only challenging thing is pacing yourself in the class because there is a deadline, so you have to be meticulous about how you plan,” Painting graduate Jiwei Saw said. “Because (when) making a comic, people think, ‘Oh, it’s just drawing,’ but a page can take you anywhere from six to eight hours. A panel can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours — depending on how detailed it is.”

Although the workshop is a collaboration between the creative writing program and the School of Art, students come from a range of disciplines.

“It’s been a really successful program,” Johnson said. “It helps my writing students because they learn to think visual as opposed to just on the page and it helps the artist because they learn to tell a story as opposed to just having static images.”

Each student’s work was displayed, for the first time, last spring as part of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts’ CounterCurrent festival in the “Sequence: Graphic Storytelling” exhibition.

The best part about the class and working on the book was the gallery. It was my first time getting art out there,” painting junior Donovan Johnson said. “It was nice having our work displayed in a professional gallery setting.”


The work was displayed at MATCH last April as part of CounterCurrent. | Justin Cross/ The Cougar

The workshop offers students an opportunity to explore graphic novels and gain experience in creating a comic book. Students are given the chance to experience the medium and the message comic books can convey.

“A lot of the stories in ‘Kolache’ are very grim,” Saw said. “I find when people do that kind of stuff it touches people very easily. When I tackle comics, I prefer to take people out of their state of mind and kind of give them a break from reality.”

“Kolache” is a varied collection of comics based on the interests of each individual artist. The diversity in the book exemplifies the diversity of UH and the comic book medium.

“We wanted something that was uniquely Houston, and ‘Kolache’ is uniquely Houston,” Johnson said. “Then we also thought it would be interesting if the book itself was also a surprise. It is UH. It is incredibly diverse. When you open it up, you get a surprise — like a kolache.”

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