Jim Zub, left, and Steve Orlando '08 talk about their work as graphic novelists.

We are all too familiar with the pressing question of our childhood: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Our answers were often times idealistic but impractical, typically inspired by the superheroes we looked up to, the fairies we read about in books, or the astronauts we imagined as we peered up into space.

As a kid, Steve Orlando ’08 knew that he wanted to be a comic book author, and gets to fulfill his childhood dream daily. He wrote his first comic at the age of 12, and now, over 20 years later, he still writes comics, but now, for the publisher of the comics that fascinated him as a child — DC Comics.

On Feb. 12, Orlando and fellow comic writer Jim Zub returned to Hamilton to lead the Comics and the Power of Graphic Narrative Workshop. The event provided students with firsthand insights into the world of comics and some descriptions of the creative processes of Orlando and Zub’s works.

Why comics? The question reemerged throughout the presentation, and, according to Orlando and Zub, is one that those involved in the comic industry have faced and continue to face each and every day. Some general answers that they presented included the ability to create complex worlds through simple stories, to engage in effective graphic visual storytelling, and to appeal to readers with expansive and experimental ideas. On a more personal note, however, Zub recognizes his prevailing love for storytelling.

Steve Orlando Illustration
Orlando was one of 10 alumni featured in the spring 2018 Alumni Review article “They're Writing the Playbook.” Illustration: Ryan Sook

A big appeal to both writers is also the inescapably collaborative nature of the industry. After initially developing the story, a comic writer must work closely with artists and editors to successfully produce the projected story. The goal of everyone involved in the process is to tell a convincing story and continue a prior narrative — all while respecting prior decades of successful comics. 

Orlando recalled some of the formative experiences of his time at Hamilton, such as when he created a graphic narrative based on Paradise Lost. When asked to provide advice to current students interested in writing comics, or writing more generally, he says that the most important move is to take advantage of the college’s amenities and use these as excuses to put effort into achieving your goals. “Hamilton is an invaluable incubator,” he said, where you have opportunities to be productive and grow both in and out of class. It’s also the only time in your life in which you do not have to directly worry about food or living expenses — something, he commented, you do not truly appreciate until it is gone.

The event was sponsored by the Dean of Faculty and hosted by the Literature and Creative Writing Department.

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