Zap! Pow! Kazam! Local cartoonist teaches kids super drawing skills

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Joe Del Beato, who has made his career as an artist for Marvel and DC Comics, teaches kids how to draw in a class at the Ventnor Library. Joe Del Beato, who has made his career as an artist for Marvel and DC Comics, teaches kids how to draw in a class at the Ventnor Library. He doesn’t have Batman’s utility belt, Iron Man’s armored power suit or Superman’s cape. But among comic book enthusiasts, Ventnor artist Joe Del Beato is something of a superhero.

Over a 30-year career, Del Beato has worked for the twin titans of the cartoon industry: DC and Marvel Comics. He has drawn some of the greatest characters in the comic-strip catalog: Captain America, Thor, Wolverine, GI Joe, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and many more. On Saturday mornings at the Ventnor branch of the Atlantic County Library, he shares his knowledge with aspiring young artists in a class called Comic Drawing.

During a recent class, a dozen aspiring young artists drew their favorite comic-book heroes, including Wonder Woman, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and of course the Man of Steel, as well as whimsical fairies and unicorns. Their instructor hovered over each child’s work, offering encouragement and suggestions on figure drawing, facial construction, perspective and inking technique.

“Good work,” he told the group. “Maybe someday you’ll work for Marvel or DC.”

Del Beato said he always wanted to be an artist, but studied for just a year at the Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia and did not launch his career until he was in his 30s. By that time, he was a family man with a home, a mortgage, a dog, and no experience as a professional artist. But he had talent, drive and daring, along with a portfolio he had developed in his spare time.

After several years peddling his book at comic-book conventions, he met artist Dick Giordano, the creator of characters such as Human Target, Doctor Cyber, Sergeant Steel and Peacemaker. Giordano eventually became executive editor of DC Comics.

He was impressed by Del Beato’s work and promised to call him as soon as he needed a freelancer. Within days, Del Beato got the summons. For a time, he moonlighted as a cartoonist while continuing his day job as a social worker in Cumberland County. A few years later, when Marvel Comics called, he walked away from his government position and became a full-time comic book artist.

“I told the family I wouldn’t quit my job till everything started running on that track,” says Del Beato. “Luckily, it did.”

The Comic Book Look

Comic-book art may not command space on museum walls, but it is an exacting form. The granite jaws, rippling abs and bulging biceps of these heroes and villains require a real grasp of anatomy.

“Everything has to be accurate. The fan base is so sophisticated, they will point out anything that is wrong, like a deltoid muscle that’s a little off,” Del Beato said. “You can’t fool them or be a hack and produce on a regular basis.”

Not only must superhero cartoons be drawn correctly, they must also convey energy, power and drama. They must express heartfelt principles – patriotism, self-sacrifice, uncompromising virtue – and illustrate the never-ending struggle between the forces of good and evil. With the ongoing success of movie franchises like “Batman,” “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and the like, this genre is more popular than ever.

In a 2011 article on the cultural significance of comic books, the New York Times called these artists “the Picassos of pulp.” Today, a number of colleges and universities offer comic book studies as part of their curricula. Comic book drawing has spawned other art forms, such as graphic novels and anime, which Del Beato also teaches.

Drawing on Inspiration

The students in his Ventnor class agreed that they were most challenged by anatomy, especially hands, arms and legs. By the end of the class, they had created impressive versions of their favorite superheroes and other cartoon characters.

“I could never draw like this,” said 9-year-old Chandrima Chakraborty of Ventnor. “But now I can.”

“I wanted to get better at drawing normal people and girls,” said Francesca Leonardi, 8, of Philadelphia. “I think I did get better.”

Asked to name his favorite superhero, Del Beato doesn’t hesitate.

“Captain America. He’s the figurehead who embodies the whole patriotic feeling. He’s transcended the 40s, 50s and 60s right through to today.”

His favorite villain? Red Skull.

“He embodied the tyranny and evil. It’s always a morality play.”

Del Beato also teaches at the Atlantic City Free Public Library and offers private lessons at his studio at the Noyes Art Garage in Atlantic City.

He says cartooning is a great way for kids to discover art, and possibly discover their own talent.

“That’s the first thing I tell my classes: that your first exposure to art is in cartoons,” says Del Beato. “That’s what led me to want it as a career. You can’t just have a panel and a splash of color and call it art. There’s anatomy, perspective, foreshortening, texture – all on one page. You look at it and go, ‘Wow. Look at all the work that went into it.’”

Artists at work: the young students in Del Beato’s class refer to comic books and coloring books for inspiration. Artists at work: the young students in Del Beato’s class refer to comic books and coloring books for inspiration.

 

Chandrima Chakraborty, 9, of Ventnor draws a winged fairy. Chandrima Chakraborty, 9, of Ventnor draws a winged fairy.

 

Chandrima Chakraborty, 9, of Ventnor practices her drawing with other class participants. Chandrima Chakraborty, 9, of Ventnor practices her drawing with other class participants.


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