Back in early September I said I was okay with being more specific answering questions about Max the Mutt. I got several rather standard, easily answered questions (which I will get to shortly), but I really wasn’t prepared for the number of messages from former and current students describing very negative experiences (in addition to a few similar notes from former teachers). I’ve just received another spate of e-mails, so I think there’s been a recent spike in MtM discussion somewhere, so I better finally get on with this.
One that stood out was a long e-mail from the creator or a participant in an “Anti-Max the Mutt” blog. That last one gave me a certain amount of pause before deciding how to write this entry.
There are a number of serious issues at the school that will and do effect the education the students are paying for, but a large number of the complaints raised at that Anti-MtM blog would be experienced by attending any serious program designed to cram a great deal of skills and learning into a short period of time. You have to be able to trust that the teachers do actually know what they are talking about, do the exercises as assigned and take criticism. Inability to follow direction at the beginning of the school process is a sign that a career in comics or concept art may not be best for you. If the teacher tells you to do an exercise with a 2H pencil on bond paper and you hand it in created with 6B on newsprint, expect to fail. Enforcing directions is not about stifling creativity, it’s about ensuring that you can get the best results from the exercise.
That being said, one of the major issues at MtM is their hiring practices. Part of the problem is that the primary person making the hiring choices has no experience in any of the fields the school is preparing students for. A number of teachers are hired who have little or no experience in the field they’re teaching. This current semester the comics students are being taught Adobe Indesign in the Introduction to Digital Media for Artists course, not because comics and concept artists use Indesign, but because that’s all the teacher knows how to teach! The course was supposed to cover the fundamentals of Photoshop, Illustrator, scanning artwork, common digital practices in the industry in preparation to learning actual colouring and lettering the following semester.
This is in addition to the woefully inadequate anatomy courses. While director I was told I wasn’t allowed to review anatomy course outlines for the needs of comics artists, at one point being told to stay out of a developing issue in a Heads and Features course for my Comics students because “it was none of your business”. Comics and concept artists need to be able to construct consistent figures from their imaginations – they need constructive anatomy courses. I didn’t get to learn how poorly anatomy was taught until the end of my second year at the school. The end realization I have is that this school has fundamental flaws in its core skills training that need to be addressed before it can adequately prepare students for these fields.
I hear that good developments are underway, largely due to student dissent and I hope that the required changes occur quickly enough to compensate for the time already wasted. It would help if the school allowed the people who actually knew the industries to redesign the course from the ground up; Maxine has never worked as an animator, comics or concept artist and Tina hasn’t worked as an animator for years and, last I heard, was still ignorant of the animation industry standard computer software. I (and several of the industry vets I’ve been talking to) don’t believe they’re competent to make most of the program decisions for current industry graduates.
I’ve been asked to relate a number of anecdotes describing how psychologically toxic the school can be. I really don’t think that could be at all helpful to anyone, really. For the good of the school Maxine needs to greatly reduce her contact with the students and stop condemning the culture they are a part of when she is communicating with them.
I hope this should wrap up most of what I should ever have to say about the school; the further we move away from when I worked there the less likely anything I say will have relevance to its current situation.
A number of the questions were essentially asking the same thing, so I’m answering a few in hopes of really answering all:
“If you're that pissed at the school why are you still listed on the faculty page?”
I know the school had a problem with their web people updating their website in a timely manner. I really doubt there’s anything to be gleaned by my name being listed past the end of my relationship with the school.
“. . .there complaining about vomit buckets being evrywhere in the school.”
The school didn’t retain cleaners last year and employed students to clean up. There was an issue with unfinished drinks being left in the lunch area, so a number of plastic buckets were hung from the walls for the students to dump their remaining liquid before dropping containers into recycling or garbage containers. The problem was that the buckets weren’t emptied and cleaned with any regularity, so the appearance and odour earned them the “vomit buckets” nickname. I’ve no idea if they’re still there.
One of the e-mails I received from a former animation student asked if it was fair that a program doesn’t compensate paying students for recognized class shortcomings. Well, it isn’t. One course last year was a complete disaster, and, when I asked, the administration said there would be no offer to the students to give them the course again when it was “fixed” the next year. I was told the school couldn’t afford to do that. I guess that’s a good stance if you’re the school, but if you’re a student, it means you’ve been ripped off.
“Could you tell me what will happen to someone like me, with know experience with schools teaching comic books and art. I only have high school art and I draw alot on my own. Sorry for the wordy comment,”
. . . and. . .
“Okay, if someone were to decide to attend the school despite of all the stuff, would you still get a good enough foundation for a career as a comic book artist?”
I honestly don’t know. I hear there might be good changes in the offing due to student pressure, but it has to be a wait and see. From one year to the next there could be excellent teachers being replaced by horribly inadequate teachers or the opposite. The Director position is honorary this year, which means it probably has as little weight on its own as when I held the title. I’m sure people will keep volunteering information as things progress, so we can remain hopeful.
Most of the pros I know went through traditional arts programs and the comics end of things were largely self taught or gleaned from portfolio reviews from editors and established pros.
If you can find a good arts program that teaches real constructive drawing skills, you could build your career that way. Other comics programs do exist in Canada and they might be viable options to MtM. I’ve heard a rumor that another program might even be starting up in Toronto soon, so who knows. I will try to keep people updated.