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    Alumni Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School alum showcasing their work and journey after The Kubert School.

    Talent from The Kubert School

    PROFILES    

    Anna-Maria Cool

    Cartoonist, illustrator


    Interview by Michael Kraiger



    The Kubert School: What initially brought you to The Kubert School?




    Anna-Maria Cool: I wanted to learn about sequential storytelling, and when I finally discovered the school in the pages of a comic book, it seemed the perfect place to go.  Since I was little I've told stories in pictures -- animals, mostly -- and never had aspirations to be a gallery-artist.  I wanted to make pictures that appeared in books.  I fell in love with comic books around age 13 and began drawing heroic figures and making up my own characters.  After high school, I attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia for a year.  I got a good foundation there -- basic design, art history, illustration and figure drawing -- but felt I needed training more specific to the comics field.  Years later, I read that JKS ad in a Marvel comic, and eventually attended the school from 1982-85.




    TKS: Who were some of the artists you admired before attending the school?




    Anna-Maria Cool: As a kid I adored the gorgeous comic strip art of Dale Messick, Stan Drake, and Leonard Starr.  I also admired Mad Magazine cartoonists like Mort Drucker.  My 13-year-old self devoured the work of Kirby, Buscema, Romita (Sr.) and Marie Severin; in my later teens I added Colan, Windsor-Smith, Byrne, Pérez, and Brunner to my list of idols.  But I didn't limit myself to looking at comics: I also loved Medieval and Renaissance masters; classic illustrators like Wyeth, Rackham, Pogány, Gibson and Beardsley; the Pre-Raphaelites and other 19th-century painters.




    TKS: Any particular memories of the school or the classes that stand out?




    Anna-Maria Cool:There are too many to list all of them here.  I certainly loved that big old house that served as the school for my first two years; it was cramped but homey, which helped create a nice camaraderie. (The third year in the new facility was more spacious but also more institutional in feeling.)  Being one of only a handful of female students for 3 years was interesting, to say the least!  Of course, the Halloweens were amazing, and the parties tended to be crazy; those were some excellent times.  I started some lifelong friendships at TKS, and enjoyed knowing the unique and talented students and faculty that a school like this would attract.  It was so neat to learn from people like Joe, Hy Eisman, José Delbo, Greg Hildebrandt, etc.; they always had time for you, always had great stories to tell.  I suppose my favorite class was Ben Ruiz's figure-drawing class, even though he always frowned on me for doing finished drawings.  I use what he taught me to this day.  




    TKS: You graduated from the school and started working at Hallmark in Kansas City the same year. How did that come about?




    Anna-Maria Cool:The Licensing Design Studio at Hallmark was expanding, so in early 1985, my last semester, they sent two recruiters to the school (LDS creative managers) on a hunt for cartoonists who could work with licensed characters.  At the time I was actually considering leaving the school, but they encouraged me to stay and graduate because they liked my portfolio.  Graduation came and went, and no call from Hallmark.  Three of my classmates (Vincent Andriani, Richard Lapierre and Bill Schultz) got their calls by June, moved to Kansas City and started at Hallmark in July.  It was a long summer for me.  Eventually I was contacted and started there a month later.  One of the recruiters admitted that my hiring was delayed because her boss -- a man -- never heard of a woman cartoonist!  It was she who insisted the studio needed me, too, and I am eternally grateful to her.




    TKS: What was working at Hallmark like and was it much different than the environment at the school?




    Anna-Maria Cool: Except for the corporate atmosphere, cubical walls -- and the steady paycheck -- working at Hallmark was quite similar to the school environment, a community of artists.  Hallmark was really "graduate school" for me; I learned about color, painting, the finer points of design, drawing licensed characters, Mac computer, and taking direction/critique.  I suppose I also learned to think like a licensor by osmosis, which has come in handy ever since.  It was great having 3 classmates there; everyone learned from each other how to get along in that huge corporation.  Like school, I made some lifelong friends; I also met my first husband there, who remains a good friend.  Meeting Charles Schulz, Jim Davis, Friz Freleng and other big talents was pretty great, too.  Sometimes I was rewarded with research trips to cities like Colorado Springs, Santa Fe and Chicago, or working trips to studios at Disney, Warner Brothers, or Paws to learn how to draw certain characters.




    TKS: What type of work were you doing at Hallmark?




    Anna-Maria Cool: My LDS job required me to pencil, ink and paint licensed characters, mostly for greeting cards.  Sometimes I got to design 3-D product like ornaments and bookends.  Everyone had to brainstorm new card or gift ideas for projects, and everyone eventually learned the computer when the company went completely digital.  The licensors provide art banks with hundreds of poses for our use, but I drew originals for myself and other designers when they were needed.  I specialized in Disney characters, Looney Tunes, Garfield, Peanuts, Barbie and Precious Moments.  I even wrote a couple cards that were produced.  Best of all, Charles Schulz approved my Baby Snoopy character, which led to a huge line of cards, party units and gift items; I'm told it was very popular in Japan.  After Sparky's passing the licensor discontinued Baby Snoopy, but he had a good run while it lasted.




    TKS: Okay, Hugga Bunch for Marvel's Star Comics line. How did that happen?




    Anna-Maria Cool: The late, great Stan Kay, who taught the humor and panel-cartooning class at TKS, also wrote scripts for Star Comics.  He put in a good word for me with his editor, Sid Jacobsen, that I had the ability to "draw cute".  By the time I'd taken the Hallmark job and moved to Kansas City -- which just happened to be the Hugga Bunch licensor -- I was slated to pencil my first professional comics job.  The Hallmark artist who designed the Hugga Bunch called them "bread-heads" and gave me a few pointers.  The Bunch were odd little characters, but the stories were enjoyable, there were supporting characters I could design myself, and it was a foot in the door at Marvel.  Later I was told that Marie Severin, my hero, colored my issues and admired my work.  Unfortunately, I was just getting started at Hallmark, which was demanding, and so I only drew a couple issues of the comic.  I will always be grateful to Stan for that recommendation.




    TKS: How did you get involved with the Barbie comic Marvel produced?




    Anna-Maria Cool: After Star Comics ended, Sid Jacobsen started editing Barbie and Barbie Fashion, and called me at Hallmark in 1989 to ask if I was interested.  I decided to go for it and left Hallmark in 1990 on good terms.  Initially, the gimmicky intention was to have an all-girl writing and art team for the Barbie books, but that "rule" relaxed eventually as far as inkers and the rest of the team.  The writers and pencilers were always female, however -- several of us -- having a good time making great comics for little girls.  Eventually we had a female editor as well, the wonderful Hildy Mesnik.  If only Marvel knew how to market the books to young girls -- not the usual sort of comic-shop customer!  


    By the time Barbie's run ended in 1995 we were all ready for something new.  I returned to Hallmark for another stint, this time for 7 years.  During that time I also lucked into occasional work for Claypool Comics through fellow Barbie penciler Amanda Conner.  My pencils appeared in all 3 Claypool titles (until they scaled down to one online title), but mostly in Elvira, which was a blast to draw.




    TKS: Did you grow up with Barbie?




    Anna-Maria Cool: Yes, but not in a traditional sense: for some reason I had the goofy second-tier characters -- Midge, Allen and Skooter -- instead of the more glamorous Barbie, Ken and Skipper.  I also had a no-name fashion doll I loved because her face was beautiful and her arms and hands were more pliable and expressive; my dolls didn't just stand there and look nice, they had to act.  I "borrowed" my brother's GI Joe because he was more manly-looking and posable than Allen, and drew a goatee on him.  I did horrible things to my fashion dolls in an effort to customize them to look more like the characters I had in my head, like remove the hair and scalp off one doll to make a hairpiece for another.  Instead of playing "house" or "prom date" they acted out scenes from Dark Shadows and other romance-gothic stories. I dressed Midge in Allen's #7 football jersey and helmet, and made her into a super-heroine-robot, 7th Girl (my take on the classic animé 8th Man). Yes, I was a weird kid.




    TKS: You've done Licensing work for Hallmark, illustrations for two Oz novels, and comic book storytelling. Is there one particular type of work you enjoy more?




    Anna-Maria Cool: I enjoy comic book storytelling the most, because it's all there in words and pictures and the occasional sound effect.  I'm the director of my own little movie, positioning the camera for close-ups, long shots, etc.  The action can be as static or animated as the story dictates.  Illustrating the Oz novels comes in a close second, because I also ink the drawings and paint the covers.  In fact, I put so many illustrations in the Oz books they are practically graphic novels.




    TKS: What's the most important lesson you took away from the school?




    Anna-Maria Cool: I've got two lessons: networking pays off, big-time; you just never know who you've met along the way that can help you, and I've gotten more jobs this way.  Secondly, time-management is pretty critical -- Joe's "Golden Moments".  I struggle with that constantly, but I am better than I used to be.




    TKS: What's a typical day like for you now as a freelancer?




    Anna-Maria Cool: Since leaving Hallmark the second time 9 years ago (I got married again and moved away), I've had constant freelance work -- for Hallmark, Claypool, Archie, Capstone (historical graphic novels for school-age kids), the Oz Club, and various toy and storybook licensors.  My studio is at home; I usually get to my desk between 9-10 AM and work 6-8 hours, depending on whatever else is going on. My husband and I live in an old farmhouse, on the edge of prairie and farmland, in a tiny town in central Kansas.  He is a retired doctor, who now maintains our property, a fleet of old sports cars, and several rental homes in town.  I am his on-call Chief Assistant for assorted home and garden/car/rental-house-repair jobs, so my days can get fragmented.  It's very quiet out here and remote; thank god for high-speed internet.  I update my current client, by Priority Mail or email scanned work to her weekly.




    TKS: Having worked on such iconic projects as Barbie, Snoopy and Oz, are there any characters you'd like a chance to draw?




    Anna-Maria Cool: Drawing Barbie has more or less typecast me, unfortunately.  I long to tackle a story that's dramatic, scary or romantic; Doctor Strange would be great fun to draw, as would Vampirella.  I'd also love to draw a "Fables" one-shot for DC, since Bill Willingham admired my drawings at a KC show and thought that I should.  The subject matter appeals to me.  In general I like drawing Fantasy, Horror, Historical subjects, Romance, Fashion, Animals, Humor or any combination thereof.  Adult subject matter would be a very nice, very welcome change.  Notice I haven't listed traditional Super Heroes; I believe that ship has sailed for me.  




    TKS: What are you working on now?




    Anna-Maria Cool: I have just begun work on a kids' book, my sixth and last in a series.  For the last 8 years I've worked off and on for a private licensor-author in North Carolina, who is publishing a series of 32-page hardcover books about kind and glamorous tooth fairies.  They are basically Barbies with wings.  I helped design 7 main characters and layout/pencil the books; the inks and colors are handled by her art staff in NC.  Every element on the page is done separately and entered into an art bank for licensing purposes.  The books are sold on her website: http://www.therealtoothfairies.com./  I have also drawn sketches for Real Tooth Fairy doll designs.




    TKS: What's next?



    Anna-Maria Cool: Joe Kubert always told us to have something warming on the back burner.  I have several possible projects on the horizon, the most likely being a third novel by the Oz author who wrote the two previous novels I illustrated.  Also, an editor with whom I've worked at Archie Comics, a TKS graduate, assures me I'll have work there if I want it (I drew a 4-issue Katy Keene series a couple years ago for him, awaiting publication).  When I'm not drawing the current Real Tooth Fairy project, I work on an original story I'd like to illustrate for that series; the licensor is so far agreeable to doing it.  Lastly, living in the middle of nowhere is happily conducive to creative writing, and I was compelled a few years ago to start an adult fantasy novel of my own, which has somehow become a trilogy.  We'll see how that goes.  There will be pictures.  There will be blood!



    Clients

    Hallmark, Marvel Comics, Archie Comics, International Wizard of Oz Club


    Characters

    Barbie, Elvira