Chalk Talk: Gareth Cowlin, Lecturer in Cartoon and Comic Arts

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ChalkTalk GarethCowlin

We chatted to Lecturer in Cartoon & Comic Arts Lecturer Gareth Cowlin about his university experiences, his opinion on Staffs, and to generally get a deeper insight in his life.

What was your university experience like?

My favourite University course was probably my Foundation year - I loved meeting new people and being given the freedom to develop an idea. Foundation courses are fantastic and I would always recommend that a potential student consider one before embarking on a Degree course. 

What do you notice is different at University today compared to when you studied?

The technology has changed massively. I was at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design studying for a Film and Video degree when the internet began. Mobile phones didn't exist, either, so the whole social side of Uni was vastly different, and writing an essay was a nightmare. 

For example, to write an essay, I'd have to: catch a bus into Cardiff (10 miles), travel to the library (20 min walk), find the book, read it, find the right quotes, go to photocopy the pages, realise I've spent my change of bus fare and I only have a note, put the book back, leave the library, go to the corner shop to by a Spira (you can't buy these today), go back to the library, find the book again, photocopy pages, put book back, walk to bus station, catch bus home and then realise that you'll need to go back because you've not made a note of the title for the bibliography. Also, the essay would then need to be typed up on a typewriter, which meant that you couldn't make any mistakes. 

What makes you proud to be a lecturer at Staffs?

The students. I love working here, and I feel that the Uni is massively supportive of the student experience. I find it very rewarding when a student finds success in their field. 

Tell us about a cause you really care about.

I'm going to adapt this question into something a little different, but more relevant to the students. When you're uni age, it's very easy to look forward to moving away from home, and to look forward to having your own independence. I understand that, and I was much the same. But, it's also important to stay in touch with your parents (or whomever) and just let them know how you are. 

Being older, I probably see things more from my parents point of view now, and I can imagine that for some, having a child go away to uni would be a bittersweet moment. 

Offer a piece of advice for current students?

Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself with others. I mentioned earlier about the Social Media element being so much more prevalent today than it was when I was in Uni and it is very easy to look at the work of others (either online, or just the person sitting next to you) and feel intimidated by their skills, especially if you're a first year student. Social Media didn't exist when I was a student, so it was far easier to just 'get on with it'. Although, I suspect I'm misremembering my Uni days, as my diary (note to readers: a diary was like a physical, printed version of Twitter) reveals much emotional tumultuousness.

Are you working on anything outside of lecturing at the moment or have you recently?

I think it's important to 'practice what you preach', so in that context, I still draw cartoons for a range of publications, such as Private Eye and The Spectator. Over the past year, I have had a range of comic strips in magazines across the country, from a Lego comic strip in 'Blocks' magazine, to a Sci-Fi feature in 'Geeky Monkey'.

Tell us something about you that people may not necessarily be aware of?

Two of my toes are conjoined (with each other, not to other toes. That would be, what, four toes making one big toe?).

What is the most interesting thing your line of work has had you involved in?

As part of my job, I once helped former Doctor Who Colin Baker go to the toilet. 

Have you ever been involved in anything of great importance due to your line of work?

That's difficult to quantify, really. The nature of comics is that you often don't see the recipient who reads your work. We have been very eager to diversify the readership of the comics that the students produce, and over the past year we have worked with various charities around Stoke. We worked with a Drop-In Centre to produce comics about the support that they offer. It's nice to think that maybe one of those comics encouraged someone see help. 

What is your favourite book and why?

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I worked in a bookshop for a number of years after uni, and I tended to avoid reading too many books at the time, as I didn't want to start resenting the books. I suppose it would be like working in a Coco Pops factory, would you still eat Coco Pops for breakfast? Actually, you'd probably get them for free, or at least have a competitive discount off them, so you probably would? It would be daft not to take advance of that situation, I suppose?

Anyway, The Secret History is a fantastic, atmospheric book and well worth a read.

What is your favourite film and why?

'Back to the Future'. It's the perfect film. Having said that, the one film that I related to as a student was 'Withnail and I'. I recorded the audio on to a cassette (note to readers: cassettes were small plastic objects, containing a length of tape, onto which audio could be recorded) so I could just listen to the speech on my Walkman (note to readers: a Walkman was a portable audio cassette player popular in the 1970s and 1980s - think of an iPhone that can old hold 10 songs).

What is your favourite album or band and why?

Suede - I think we're inherently favourable to the first music that we felt ownership of (rather than someone older suggesting that you listen to so-and-so) and around 1994, Suede were that, for me. And Pulp. Maybe R.E.M too.


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