Monday, 17 November 2008

The (Hopefully) Last Max the Mutt Entry

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.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Damn, I missed the anti-mtm blog.. And I really wanted to read it!

I would of loved compensation for that thing they called an anatomy class.

caanantheartboy said...

Wow. I used to live near Max the Mutt and always wondered if it was any good. Maybe not? :o[]

Wasn't Ty Templeton working there? I went to one of his 'Anyone can make comics' seminar things at Fan Expo and thought he had a lot of good points. Certainly some things I'd never heard others say - ie. drawing is not a talent. It's a skill. And anyone can learn a skill.

I'm so used to people saying you need some kind of artistic disposition or you'll just never be any good, so it made me sit up and listen to what he was saying.

Fallen Soldier said...

To Anonymous: I took down the blog for two reasons:

1) She-who-must-not-be-named threatened legal action if I didn't take it down, for libel as well as misuse of a trademark. Although I don't think she has much of a case against me, I complied with her request anyway to avoid the burden of legal battles. Later on, I may bring it back, once I've consulted a lawyer and know for sure what I can and can't say online (although it is a big maybe).

2) Most of the comments I received were of an abusive, hateful nature from angry students. Many of them got the wrong impression that I was trying to attack the school's image through slanderous hate speech. Although I tried to make it clear several times that this was not my intention, it simply didn't fly with them. The final straw was a thread at CA.org, which opened a huge can of worms for everyone on both sides. Even Richard got caught in the crossfire, for which I am deeply sorry.


If I do decide to resume my efforts against the school, I'll make sure its purpose is made clear before people start flying off the handle and clawing at each other's throats. All I wanted was to create a community for students who had been through the same greivance I experienced, and to provide information so that more students do not suffer the same fate. But all I succeeded in doing was pissing off a bunch of devotees who could not accept the idea of someone questioning Maxine's authority.

That said, I'm still available for communication. If you'd like to discuss matters privately, simply contact me at mtmtruth@gmail.com.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I realize that you posted this last year, but I have a question for you. I'm attending MtM in September, and after reading this I'm really worried. I've already paid a heck of a lot of money to go to this school, but is it really worth my effort? I've heard both pros and cons, but now I'm not sure what to do. Any other advice? :-/

Richard said...

Hi -- I really have no idea who's teaching what at the school anymore. With Ty quitting, the only person with serious comics credentials is Dave Ross. Last time I talked about this with Ty, he felt the people he brought in weren't returning (Kalman, Ramon), which leaves actual working comics pros teaching there at the grand total of one.

I really won't know what's going on there until after the new school year starts and people start debriefing about the situation there.

If you really feel that nervous about attending, I'd carefully read over your agreement and see what outlets you have to withdraw. There are some pretty strident rules protecting students attending career colleges and you might be able to get most of any fees paid returned if you act quickly.

I believe Ty's Comic Book Boot Camp is starting up in the Fall:
http://www.cartoonistsworkshop.com/

should have more info.

Best of luck.

~Richard

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm currently a high school student looking into post secondary. I didn't realize that MTM had so much drama with its name, finding out only after I made a walk through appointment with Maxine. When I spoke with her on the phone she seemed kind enough, but what I'm reading online begs to differ in some way. I'm just curious as to what went on at the school and with her that made everyone on edge. My walk though at the school is this Sunday, what should I be asking and what should I ask to see while I'm there?

MTM isn't the only school I'm looking in, I've toured Ringling CoAD (though I'm not a millionaire so probably not lol) and Sheridan. Can MTM compete with them to any degree?

Richard Pace said...

Hi Anonymous.

The best thing to do is to to talk to more recent graduates of the program, since this blog entry is over 8 years old. That said, it's a small industry and I'm regularly contacted by former MtM students with their own horror stories to share.

That said, Maxine did contact me this year and insisted I take it down, declaring her lawyer advised her she could sue. It was just another lie and behaviour of the sort that got her banned from various forums online. The window to sue over this closed many years ago, but she kept claiming her lawyer disagreed. As you can see, this entry is still up.

Just based on reputation, Sheridan would be the program I'd recommend.

Best of luck!

Richard Pace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Izak van Langevelde said...

Don't bother about Maxine and her 'lawyer'. During my days at MtM, I made an issue of Maxine adding the course 'Drawing for Animation' to an already packed curriculum. The course content was a joke, the teacher didn't have a clue, and the only reason for adding the course was that Sheridan had a course with the same name. I argued changing the curriculum for enrolled students boils down to changing a contract after it is signed, but Maxine maintained she had the right to do so, as the owner of the school. She was wise enough to consult a lawyer, and the course was silently changed into an elective.

In my final term, I agreed an exemption for the ToonBoom course, because the school didn't have enough computers for all students. I have an extensive background in computers and software, so I would better teach this myself. The agreement was made by email, but by graduation time, the school refused to pay back the tuition for this course, as well as the Advanced Life Drawing course I had mistakenly paid twice for. After a discussion that lasted almost one year, and me initiating a procedure with the Ontario Government, Maxine finally yielded, and paid me back the tuition for both courses.

On the conceptart.org forum I have expressed my opinion that the owners of the school do not have the skills, knowledge, experience and industry contacts to guide aspiring students towards a career in concept art. Maxine sent me an email with a cc to her lawyer, telling me to cease and desist, or else she had no other choice but taking legal action; she had taken a screenshot as proof! Needless to say, I have never heard a word from her lawyer.

The sheer fact that Maxine counters critique with intimidation of her students, and false legal claims, once more confirms that Max the Mutt has turned into a scam which serves its owners, at the cost of its students, and which protects its assets through intimidation, violence and lies.