Who is Bob “Ana May” Pendarvis?
Sequential Art Professor Bob Pendarvis created and taught the first comics illustration classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design, going on to co-create (and name) their comics-based Sequential Art BFA and MFA degree programs. He is currently working on a number of graphic novels devoted to teaching art and visual storytelling. The first book, A GIRL CALLED ANA TEACHES KITTENS HOW TO DRAW AND STUFF, aimed at young girls, is also meant to provide a solid overview of drawing and design basics for artists of all ages. The second book will focus on the art of visual storytelling, primarily writing and drawing comic books. Bob is available for personal appearances and workshops, and interested schools, libraries, and conventions can email him personally.
Many moons ago, while simultaneously teaching k-5 art classes for the Chatham County public school system, Professor Bob Pendarvis created and taught the very first Comic Book Illustration classes at the Savannah College of Art and Design, his alma mater. The classes were an instant hit and he was swiftly given the go-ahead to develop additional classes, equally successful. A year later, he was asked by the powers-that-were to hit the comics convention circuit and recruit a few more professors, with the ultimate goal of founding a new comics-based BFA and MFA degree program.
At Atlanta’s Dragon Con, Bob was introduced to Bo Hampton, a celebrated graphic novel painter/illustrator, who along with writer Mark Kneece, had recently worked on a two-part Batman story for DC Comics. They agreed to help Bob create the original version of the new major, which he dubbed Sequential Art, using the term coined by Will Eisner. Bob’s reasoning was two-fold. First, he thought that it sounded just vague and pretentious enough to help convince wary parents that this new major, the first full BFA and MFA comics-based degree programs in the country, was a worthy investment. Bob also thought that “sequential art” would allow for other types of visual storytelling classes, such as storyboarding for animation and children’s picture book illustration. The key focus with all the classes would be storytelling with words and pictures, whether via comic strips, comic books, picture books, or animated cartoons.
Right from the start, Bob wanted to make certain that this new major was done right, which was one reason he was happy to bring in Bo and Mark, who had very different sensibilities, as well as industry credentials. Bob had zero interest in creating a department that emphasized a house-style, he wanted to provide a comics-friendly environment that allowed students to create stories and artwork using their own storytelling and illustration techniques.
While making sure to provide a heaping helping of “the basics,” Bob’s approach was to tell students that they had a destination to reach, but that HOW they got there was pretty much up to them. This was tricky for some to grasp, as many students were used to being told by “experts” that they had to follow their instructions to the letter in order to properly learn the “correct” way to produce assignments. Bob knew better than that and he felt his role as a professor was to help students figure out their own solutions, using comments and suggestions provided by everyone in the class.
Over the 18 years that Bob taught at SCAD, he had the great pleasure of working with a very diverse group of students, including a large number of female creators. This was a source of particular pride for Bob, as he’d always intended that the program not mirror the decades-long “boys club” attitude so prevalent in the mainstream comics industry. All the other majors at SCAD were gender neutral and he saw no reason that Sequential Art should be any different.
Sadly, the history of mainstream comics is filled with less-than-positive portrayals of women and minorities, resulting in a gradual loss of respect for the art form, with most adults writing them off as barely even suitable for children, much less any intelligent adult reader. Bob was determined to fight this perception and promote the idea that the students in the Sequential Art program would hone skills that would allow them to create stories and artwork that would challenge people’s expectations, not conform to them. Visiting prospective students realized that SCAD’s Sequential Art program was not designed to turn out hack artists cranking out the latest version of company-owned superheroes, but was instead intended to give students the storytelling skills to create ANY kind of story for any kind of market.
This emphasis away from focusing on mainstream superheroes, while not ignoring them completely, was a major factor in the surprisingly large number of female students who decided to take a chance on the Sequential Art program. It didn’t happen right away, but the numbers of girls just kept going up and up, defying all the odds. Perhaps Bob’s famous homemade HELLO KITTY costumes helped them realize that this was a different approach to teaching comics classes.
As for his "Ana May" nickname, Bob created the sweetly optimistic, unapologetically girly-girl cartoon character, as a direct response to seeing too many of the guys (and some girls) in his comics classes display anti-feminine attitudes during class critiques. When Bob was growing up, he read all manner of comics, some of which were clearly intended to appeal to children and young girls, including Little Lulu, Betty &Veronica, and Wendy the Good Little Witch. Bob likes action and adventure as much as anyone, but he wanted his students to feel free to express themselves using non-superhero styles and subject matter. Using a deceptively childlike approach, the Ana May character and stories are meant to illustrate the concept that comics storytelling can work in many ways and formats, whether following "rules" or not.
The number of guys joining the program kept going up, too. resulting in the Sequential Art program at SCAD becoming one of the most popular majors at the school. Many alumni (including Andy Robinson, Heidi Arnhold, Christy Lijewski, Kat Shea, Sam Ellis, Chris Lie, Ramanda Kamarga, Erica Leigh Currey, Ross Campbell, Rob Atkins, Gally Articola, Phil Craven, Dave Guertin, Jacen Burrows, Matt Milberger, Brad Walker, Tracy Yardley, Nate Bowden, Jennie Breeden, Crissy Delk, Marty LeGrow, David Silva, Michael Stribling, Dean Trippe, Tom Feister, Ron Chan, and Becky Dreistadt) have gone on to work for a wide number of companies like MARVEL, DC COMICS, DARKHORSE, TOKYOPOP, ONI, ARCHIE, DREAMWORKS, HASBRO, SONY PLAYSTATION and the producers of the ARCHER TV series.
Some of those former students draw “realistically,” while others like using cartoony images. Some prefer western-styled drawing and storytelling, while others would rather produce manga/anime influenced work. Some create scripts, while others like drawing from prepared scripts. Many like to write and draw their own original material. In addition, many others have become colorists, toners, inkers, designers, animators, and even editors.
Halfway through his 19th year teaching at SCAD, Bob discovered that it would be his last. While no longer maintaining any official ties to the program, he remains committed to promoting his former students. Originally intending for the SUGAR NINJAS anthology as a way to showcase the too-often overlooked and under-appreciated female students that took his classes, Bob decided to expand the idea to promote the very concept of female sequential artists and storytellers. Each volume of SUGAR NINJAS has included material from creators located around the world.
Since leaving SCAD in 2009, Bob has written, produced, and performed in a musical stage show called Midnite Garden Party, featuring a dozen of his own songs. The cast and crew included many talented former students, some of whom are also proud members of the SUGAR NINJAS.
He has also worked on a number of yet-to-be-produced screenplays, as well as two sequential art textbooks. One of these textbooks, a graphic novel titled A GIRL CALLED ANA TEACHES KITTENS HOW TO DRAW AND STUFF, is the first of a two-part series designed to simultaneously appeal to both younger readers, especially girls, as well as college-level art students. Bob has long felt that there should be more Sequential Art programs at schools throughout the country and he hopes the ANA series will help convince others to feel the same way.
Ultimately, the success of SCAD’s Sequential Art program shouldn’t solely be credited to Bob, and he’d be the first to say that many of the students in his classes didn’t need his help to learn how to become working professionals. Still, few could argue that Bob’s devotion to the Sequential Art program he originally conceived, as well as the students who took his classes, was anything less than genuine. He looks forward to one day having an opportunity to do it all over again.