Cartoonist uses old school technique to produce modern art

Cartoonist Jamar Nicholas, a native of West Philadelphia, knows a thing or two about paper.

So the fact that he’s drawing his newest project “Leon: Protector of the Playground” — a graphic novel about a superhero kid — with digital tools is a bit of an achievement.

“I still fight it a little bit,” Nicholas says, half joking. “The transference of ideas to paper is really important. The paper itself is a part of that conversation.”

Nicholas is best known as the illustrator of educator Geoffrey Canada’s memoir “Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence.” He’s also lectures at Moore College of Art and Design and Drexel University, as well as working as a office manager at Acadia University. And, like many artists coming into the digital age, he’s working at the intersection of old school and new.

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Which is why Nicholas still teaches his high school students at Moore’s Summer Institute about inking.

“Using India ink in your illustrations is very archaic, especially now that everyone uses computers to do everything,” Nicholas says. “But it’s a very important skill as a cartoonist to be able to use traditional tools. So I spend a lot of time in class showing them how to do old-people things.”

Someday, he says, all the knowledge will be useful. And his students will think, “Oh! That guy taught me that.”

Nicholas’ own knowledge is largely self-gleaned. “When I was a young person growing up in the city, I didn’t really know anyone who drew,” he says.

“A lot of people drew in my neighborhood, but nobody took it seriously. Everybody draws when they’re young, and then they kind of beat it out of you,” he says.

He absorbed a lot from a book his mother bought him, called “How to Cartoon.”

“It was this really big hard cover book, and it was way too advanced for me,” he says, though it eventually proved useful.

“Once I got old enough to help other people, I decided that I wanted teach things like this, because I wished it had existed when I was young.”

Juggling teaching jobs with his cartooning career keeps Nicholas busy. On some days, he has appointments in three different parts of the city, Skype meetings and deadlines.

But in the evenings, he usually retires to his studio — which, of course, is filled to the brim with paper.


Nicholas was recently profiled on our series “Recap”.  You can listen to an audio portrait of his week below.



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