Outside of the classroom, Juniata College biology professor Jay Hosler is a comics fan and graphic novelist who melds his interests in his work. An exhibit on display at the Juniata College Museum of Art traces the development of Hosler’s work and gives visitors an up-close look at comics.
The title of the installation, “Drawing Flies,” has both literal and figurative meanings, Hosler said.
“My science comics usually focus on insects, so I literally spend a lot of my time drawing flies,” he said. “The second meaning is self-deprecating. When I was growing up in rural Indiana, if someone said you were drawing flies, it meant that you stink.”
“Drawing Flies” features Hosler’s art, as well as some full stories and insect displays.
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“Folks visiting the exhibit can see a number of different pieces,” Hosler said. “There are two full stories on display to read, a time lapse video of me creating a comics page and samples of pages that have gone through multiple drafts and revisions. There is also a display of insects and a place to hang out and read some comic books that are available to the public.”
Hosler is a lifelong fan of comics, and his passion shows in his work.
“I have loved comics for as long as I can remember,” he said. “Their unique interplay of words and pictures has always captured my imagination. As a scientist and professor, I also appreciate the incredible power images and stories play in explaining big ideas and engaging readers. Comics invite reader participation and involvement. Readers must knit together the sequence of images and words into action, movement and emotion. This is not a passive medium.”
Influenced by the greats, Hosler’s work focuses on visual storytelling while still paying homage to his heroes.
“I was inspired by Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts,’ Gary Larson’s ‘The Far Side’ and the superhero comics of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby,” Hosler said. “They were all masters of visual and written storytelling.”
The artist/professor has found inspiration from several sources, including his own children.
“The short story ‘Dr. NoNoNo’ is all about what my children taught me about being a scientist,” Hosler said. “It captures the sense of wonder they have helped reignite in me.”
The exhibit was set up at the request of Juniata College Museum of Art. Hosler said he was approached by Kathryn Blake, director of the Juniata College Museum of Art, following a public talk on his latest graphic novel, “The Last of the Sandwalkers.”
“Along with Jennnifer Streb, associate professor of art history and curator of the Juniata College Museum of Art, we developed an interactive exhibit that focuses on the process of making comics and how comics can be used to ex plain science,” he said.
Hosler thinks it is an exciting time to be involved in the comics business.
“This is a great time to be an aspiring cartoonist,” he said. “When I was young, high school and college newspapers were about the only way to get published and receive feedback from a readership. Now a sufficiently motivated cartoonist can set up a website and post their work for the world to see. Then it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice and listen to the feedback you get. Most importantly, make your work personal.”
Comics may be more accepted in the mainstream, but Hosler thinks they could still be more recognized as an art form.
“Despite a growing acceptance, comics remain misunderstood and under appreciated in the United States,” he said. “This exhibit is a small example of what can be done with the art form. Even if science and bugs aren’t your thing, it might worthwhile to work by someone trying to do something unique with a familiar medium.”
The exhibit will run through Sept. 9.
“There is so much wonder that we ignore everyday,” Hosler said. “My goal is to show people the aliens that live underfoot and perhaps inspire them to learn more on their own.”
IF YOU GO
▪ What: “Drawing Flies: Jay Hosler’s Science Comics”
▪ When: through Sept. 9
▪ Where: Juniata College Museum of Art, 17th Street, Huntingdon
▪ Info: www.juniata.edu/academics/museum