Phil Lohmeyer figured there were kids in Greenwich who didn't just want to read comic books or watch cartoons; they wanted to draw their own Sponge Bob, Scooby-Doo or Spider Man and create adventures for them. Just like he did when he was growing up in Greenwich.
These were the kids who got in trouble for doodling in the margins of their math homework. Or they were the gifted students who finished their work early in class and were doodling to pass the time. They wanted to draw their favorite cartoon characters, but they didn't know how.
So, the Greenwich substitute art teacher started an after-school cartoon class in 2004 with eight elementary school students. The 10-week program has grown this fall to 60 kids from second to fifth grade from several Greenwich public schools: Cos Cob, North Mianus, North Street, Julian Curtiss, Eastern Middle School and International School at Dundee. Lohmeyer, who left teaching in 2005 to found a Cos Cob-based event-planning company, Golden Ticket Events, teaches his program in both the fall and spring.
The program is for children with any amount of talent. Lohmeyer says they're at a wonderful age where they haven't yet learned to be self-conscious about their work and worry that it isn't any good. The course allows even the most inexperienced artist to take basic shapes and turn them into realistic cartoon sketches. He's showing his students not only how to draw their favorite cartoon characters, but he is encouraging them to create their own characters and adventures as well.
To celebrate these budding cartoonists, the Citizen will feature a different student's work each week as our "Cartoon of the Week," with commentary from Lohmeyer about the cartoon. The students' work also will be featured in "The Greenwich Cartooning Chronicles," a 12-page compilation of student drawings in December 2010, which will circulate throughout Greenwich elementary schools.
The Citizen talked with Lohmeyer about his popular program, about the art of cartooning -- and about some of his favorite toons.
What makes a great cartoon?
You know you've seen a great comic strip, comic book or cartoon show if you can instantly relate to it. The best cartoons involve characters that the audience really cares about, making it easier for the reader to empathize, laugh along with the situation, or feel happy when the hero succeeds. When it comes to the look of a character, I try to create figures that are easy to draw yet memorable.
How do the kids come up with their ideas?
The students usually brainstorm with each other to come up with their ideas. Sometimes I help them come up with a concept, then we figure out where the joke is so we can create a comic strip. We use a lot of real-life experiences to come up with ideas for comics, such as field trips, vacations, and student hobbies or talents.
What skills do the kids learn besides drawing in the class?
Since we usually work in groups, the kids rely on each other and learn how to produce art as a team. We often create new characters as a class, and figure out ways that they can interact with each other. The students learn to respect the opinion of their fellow cartoonists, and how to take artistic criticism from their peers. We also work on storytelling and determining the most important or the funniest points of any narrative.
What's the most rewarding part of teaching the class?
The most rewarding part of teaching the cartooning class is helping a student or group of students invent a cast of characters and write comic strips. By the end of the semester, most kids are surprised at the amount of original artwork that we were able to create. The cartooning class has been developing since 2003, so it has been amazing to watch it grow, evolve, and attract more cartoonists every semester. Our most recent issue of "The Greenwich Cartooning Chronicles" had more than 60 student contributors -- when we first started, we had about five students in the class!
Who are your favorite cartoonists? Why?
I still read a lot of comic strips and like them all for different reasons. I love the characters of Bill Amend (Foxtrot), the backgrounds of Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), the lettering of Jim Davis (Garfield), the style of Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), and the wit of Jerry Dumas (Sam & Silo). My best cartoonist in my opinion is Matt Groening. Groening's free-form comic strips about Binky & Bongo were the precursor to the smash hit cartoon "The Simpsons," my favorite animated show.