Artist Sean Murphy (American Vampire, The Wake, Punk Rock Jesus) and Essential Sequential have started a Kickstarter to help fund the production of the very cool looking anthology ‘Cafe Racer’. ‘Cafe Racer’ will be the end result of Murphy’s artist apprenticeship program. In 2014 Murphy will be hosting six up and coming artists for two weeks who will each produce five pages for the anthology and learn storytelling, the business of comics, and comic art from Murphy over the two weeks. The program is an experiment by Murphy and as a researcher interested in comic book creators I think it is a fascinating one.
The more I read about Murphy’s apprenticeship program (they need a catchy name like Romita’s Raiders quick smart, Murphy’s Misfits/Marauders anyone?) the more I wish I lived in America as I think it would be an amazing academic opportunity. As it is the first program Murphy is running I think it would be a great opportunity for a research project that looks at the role and history of apprenticeships and mentoring in the comic book industry, as well as an opportunity to look at identity in the comic book industry particularly with the next generation of creators. The project would be a longitudinal study that covers not only the two week program but tracks the progress of the six artists after completing the apprenticeship and look at the impact they think the apprenticeship has had on their career and decision making.
The project would begin by talking to Murphy about why he is running the apprenticeship program. It would focus on Murphy’s own experiences in the comic book industry, the idea behind the apprenticeship program, why he feels it is necessary to prepare the next generation in this way, and what the expected outcomes of the program are, for both the artists involved and Murphy himself.
After focusing on Murphy the project would then look at the selection process (which in reality has already passed). Murphy has sole choice over who will be involved in the program. By focusing on Murphy’s selection process the project would examine the idea’s of creativity, professional standards, critique and ‘good work’ in the comic book industry. It would look at why Murphy chose each participant for the program.
Once the applicants had been chosen the project would then focus on them. Interviews would be conducted with the artists to establish their background, their artist narrative up to this point. The conversation would then shift to the apprenticeship and why they chose to do it, what they hope to get out of it, why they want a career in comics, what they think such a career would be like, and their plans for the future. It may also be interesting to look at applicants who were on the cusp of being selected and talk to them in a similar manner and find out what they plan to do now. This may create a useful point of comparison later on.
The researcher would then embed themselves in Murphy’s program for the two weeks of the apprenticeship. The research would be able to observe the content of the apprenticeship and talk to the participants and Murphy about the program as it is happening. At the end of the two weeks the researcher would interview everyone involved. This interview would give the participants and Murphy an opportunity to reflect on the experience while also readdressing the questions of what the participants are planning to do in the future (both in the short and long term) and how the apprenticeship program has prepared them for it.
The project would then revisit the artists and Murphy in six months, a year or even at both times. The interviews would again allow the participants, including Murphy, to reflect on the apprenticeship program and experience and how it has impacted their careers/decision making at this stage. It would look at what they have been doing in that time and the progress they have made towards their career goals and future plans. It would again ask them what their plans are for the future and look at any difficulties or successes they have experienced post-apprenticeship. These interviews would track the participants development as professional artists and track Murphy’s development as a mentor. If the project did look at some of those applicants who were not successful then they could similarly be interviewed at this stage to see how their progression compares to Murphy’s apprentices.
Anyway these are just my musings as a wannabe academic and the TLDR version is this is an interesting program that Sean Murphy is running and it could provide fruitful grounds for academic inquiry into comic book professionals, comic book work, and the industry.