Tak Toyoshima

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Tak Toyoshima is the creator/illustrator of Secret Asian Man, a comic strip exploring race relations. It became the first nationally syndicated comic (United Features) with an Asian American lead. He is the art director for MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) and teaches comics to middle schoolers on the weekends.

Tak has also won awards for cover design, layout, photo illustration, and info-graphics during his 10+ years as a creative director for Boston’s alternative newspaper The Weekly Dig. He advocated for the use of illustration for covers, working with hundreds of local renowned and up-and-coming artists such as Shepard Fairey, James Jean, and Peter Max, to name a few.

Tak Toyoshima

What was your favorite book as a child?

Dr. Slump (series) by Akira Toriyama. As a child I read a lot of comics, both American and Japanese manga. Dr. Slump stands out in my mind for so many reasons. It is hilarious, thoughtful, borderline inappropriate (without being raunchy), features extremely well-designed and interesting characters, but mostly I fell in love with the art style that seemed to flow effortlessly from childish simplicity to technically stunning detail.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

I love working with kids. Not necessarily teaching AT them, but learning WITH them.

On Saturdays I teach a comics class for middle school kids to help develop their skills in writing as well as drawing. Their stories always remind me of what is at the core of my love for comics: the challenge of transferring stories in my head to blank pages. It’s important for kids to learn how to communicate and to expose them to comics as a playground where they can develop these skills in an open and non-judgmental way.

Mediums:

pencils, pen and ink, digital, coffee

Specialties:

Awards and honors:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT TAK

Art Process:

For pure illustration work-for-hire, it’s all about the client. To me the challenge is in finding my voice in the assignment. Usually the end goal is relatively simple. “We need a beer label with these elements. Use green and red.” “We need a spot illustration about the slippery slope of A.I. art. But make it funny.” Countless illustrators and designers can accomplish these goals but what is it that only I can offer? That’s what keeps me up at night.

Now, not all projects are created equal and I am certainly guilty of being less invested in some than others (gotta pay that mortgage!). But at the end of the day if I am putting my name to something I want it to stand alongside the best work. And when it comes to longer-form work like comics series and graphic novels, there are no excuses.

Available for School Visits:

I am currently represented by the American Program Bureau for speaking engagements and have been traveling to present about my comics work since about 2015. Most of my presentations have been at universities (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Georgetown, Baylor, UNLV, etc.) speaking on my journey in comics talking about Asian representation, the challenges of advocating for a minority voice, and the complexities of race relations in America.

I have presented to younger students as well, from grade school through high school, where I mostly speak of the experience of working in comics and the effort that comes with the “fun” of drawing pictures for a living. Many of these talks include hands-on workshops where kids join in and create comics.

I have also presented at professional conferences for teachers, discussing how comics can be used in school curriculum and how the art form is a powerful tool for students to use for self-expression and critical thinking.

Forthcoming books:

Published books:

The Daily Days (collection of 3 years of nationally syndicated daily comic strips distributed by United Features, 2nd printing 2023)
Make Good Choices (print and online choose-your-own-adventure style book revolving around controversial social justice topics such as abortion, police brutality, critical race theory, gun control, 2023)
Kwok (anti-Asian hate crime fundraiser for local elderly care organization in Boston’s Chinatown, 2021)
RISE: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties to Now (Mariner Books, 2022)
Enough About Me written by Richard Lui (Zondervan Books, 2021)
New Frontiers: the Many Worlds of George Takei (SI Universe Media, 2017)
Gwan Anthology (Forward Comix, 2016)
Artists Against Police Brutality (Rosarium Publishing, 2015)
Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction (Stone Bridge Press, 2012)
Out of Sequence: Underrepresented Voices in American Comics (U. of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2008)
Secret Identities: the Asian American Superhero Anthology (The New Press, 2009)
East Main Street (New York University Press, 2005)
Attitude 2: the New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists (NBM, 2004)

Location:

Hanover, MA

Visit Tak at:


Gibson Twist

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Gibson Twist is a spicy bean from Atlantic Canada, currently living in St Louis, Missouri. His long-running 8-volume webcomic series Pictures of You received critical acclaim for its rich characters and honesty with sensitive subjects, reaching a diverse audience and continuing to make its cult following cry years after its conclusion. More recently, his graphic novel Queer Drunk Punk Romance, aimed at new adult audiences, has received glowing praise from queer and non-queer readers alike. He is currently working with his partner Rori on a graphic novel adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and other stories for gloomy teens of all ages and genders.

Gibson Twist

What do you love to do for fun?

I enjoy travelling without a map, landing somewhere new and exploring it until I figure out what makes it hum, or being run out of town.

What cool travel spots would you most highly recommend?

Times Square on New Year’s Eve and a drive through the Canadian Rockies can’t be beat, for the most different reasons possible.

Mediums:

pen and ink

Art Process:

Gibson thinks his ideas up in the shower and enters a warp spasm fugue state until the work is done, screaming the whole time, remembering nothing, and running from police.

Forthcoming books:

Pictures of You Books 7-8

Wuthering Heights (Andrews McMeel, Fall 2025)

Published books:

Pictures of You Books 1-6 currently in print

Books 1-8 published digitally, self-published.


Ariel Rutland

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Ariel Rutland is an award-winning designer and illustrator whose work focuses on themes of nature, curiosity, humor, and beauty in everyday objects. She grew up in a cozy central New Jersey suburb down the street from a great big house with a pond. Many weekends of her childhood were spent strolling the neighborhood with her Grandma, who would often take the train from Manhattan down to “the country.” She credits their endless neighborhood walks spent storytelling about the squirrels, birds, and rocks that crossed their path as inspiration for her art… and ability to (bring to her art?) view nature and the world through the wondrous eyes of a child…

Ariel graduated from University of Maryland with a degree in fine art and concentration in graphic design. She worked as a product designer at Martha Stewart, followed by lead designer at a boutique branding agency. Her artwork has been licensed to American Greetings, Minted, Target, and West Elm, being featured on greeting cards and home decor. She is currently illustrating a forthcoming children’s book. When she isn’t drawing and designing, she can be found playing in the backyard with her three young boys and husband in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

What was your favorite book as a child?

My bedtime book request was always Stellaluna. The illustrations completely transported me into the night sky. I now read it to my boys, who are equally as captivated and curious about these tender characters as I was.

Who or what inspires you the most, and why?

Watching my kids grow.

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT ARIEL

Art Process:

I start by asking questions and diving into the subject matter to find answers and (hopefully) discover hidden gems that I can weave into the illustrations. I want to fully immerse myself in the world that I am about to draw. Then I do a lot of loose pencil sketches on paper, continuing to iterate until I find what’s working. Next begins my back-and-forth dance from digital to analogue and back. After I’ve sketched on paper, I create a digital version so I can easily manipulate the pieces—move the tree a little to the left, add some birds, change the season. After I’ve created this digital foundation of flat shapes, I move back to paper and use various media like watercolor, ink, and cut paper—sometimes scribbles from my kids— to create textures and other hand-made marks that I will eventually scan and layer into the digital file. I love using the Procreate app on my iPad and Photoshop for final refinements. Whether I’m working purely digital or a combination, it’s important I retain a hand-made, “perfectly imperfect,” emotive quality to the final art.

Location:

Visit Ariel at:

Awards and honors:

NYPL Best Teens Book List, 2007
Selected as one of 5 Japanese artists to meet Japanese Prime Minister Abe, 2015

Available for School Visits:

Not at this time.

Forthcoming books:

Apart, Together written by Linda Booth Sweeney (coming 2022, Balzer + Bray)


Katie Risor

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Katie Risor is a professional illustrator, author, and designer creating fantastical storybook art in San Antonio, Texas. Growing up on books like The NeverEnding Story, Mary Poppins and Winnie the Pooh and playing outside every day with her friends led her to create art and stories inspired by nature, everyday experiences, and a little bit of magic.

Professionally, Katie works on picture books, covers, advertising, product design, and book design. She also enjoys geeking out about art supplies and teaching the fun of creativity to others. You can see her tutorials on Tik Tok and Instagram.

Why do you like to draw creatures?

A lot of ingredients went into my brain and came out as my creatures. The true inciting incident is when I got The NeverEnding Story from Blockbuster when I was about ten years old. I watched that movie, and Falcor’s been flying up in my brain ever since. Before that, Snuffleupagus was my favorite Sesame Street character and I’ve always loved fairies, dragons, gnomes and such. But Falcor was life-changing.

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT KATIE

Art Process:

Every project, whether it’s a single illustration or an entire book, starts with an idea. Ideas can pop into my head anytime, but whenever I want to get a new idea I lay on the floor, close my eyes, and wait. Laying on the floor with properly inspiring music will usually give me something.

Next is brainstorming and iteration. For a whole book, this means sketching and storyboarding. For a single illustration this means doing iterative compositional sketches. I want to choose a composition that effectively delivers information to the viewer but is also pleasant, surprising, or delightful to look at, something that goes beyond the main idea.

The best illustrations I do always come from ideas I can see clearly in my head and for which I have a solid execution plan. However, I do like to leave room in the process for playing around. I think that’s why I like traditional media so much; no matter how much you know about the medium, you can’t be fully in control.

Mediums:

Location:

Visit Katie at:

Available for School Visits:

I love teaching art workshops for kids of all ages, but especially youngsters. I showcase the design process  and inspire kids to tap into their own creativity. I do demos on “what if” storytelling, comics, drawing fantasy creatures, and painting.And finally, I explain the book making process and what sort of jobs creative kids can go into.


Kaia Tseng

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Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Cupertino, California, Kaia Tseng is a Taiwanese-American illustrator, designer, and entrepreneur. Kaia has been drawing ever since she learned how to pick up a crayon, and has always loved bringing ideas to life in the form of art. By age 15, she began selling her artwork and handicrafts at local conventions. She made her lifelong hobby into her profession at age 24, with the launch of her brand, Kaiami, with the goal of designing products that make people smile and brighten up their day.

Her artwork uses dreamy colors and brings a touch of the fantastical to ordinary moments. In addition to designing for her own brand, Kaia has also produced art for books, games, fashion brands, and galleries.

What is your favorite food?

Carrots have been my favorite food since I was a kid! I have eaten them to the point where my skin turned orange. I also generally like Asian noodle soups (Taiwanese beef noodle and tonkotsu ramen are among my favorites).

What do you love to do for fun?

I love to hold tea parties! I love to get dressed up and drink delicious tea and eat small desserts, but casual tea parties where I can get together and catch up with friends are great too. Aside from that, I’m also a big fan of birdwatching and reading comics.

Mediums:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT KAIA

Art Process:

I thumbnail my ideas in a sketchbook before starting, and usually the sketch will be done with pencil and paper before moving to the lining phase. I sometimes line using a lightbox on top of my sketches, or scan and line digitally. Nowadays, I do most coloring digitally, but I started out using traditional mediums so I am comfortable with markers and colored pencils as well.

Location:

Visit Kaia at:


Misako Rocks!

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Misako Rocks! is a Japanese manga artist based in Brooklyn, NY. At age 19, she won a scholarship to come to American as an exchange student. Her first break came when The Onion decided to use her illustrations for their “Savage Love” column.

Since then, she has published seven books in both the United States and Japan, and teaches manga students privately and at several schools throughout New York City.

What do you love to do for fun?

Kickboxing! Everyday!

Why did you leave Japan to America?

When I was a kid, I watched a movie Back to the Future and got a huge crush on Michael J Fox. I wanted to be his girlfriend. That’s the main reason why I moved to America. Hahaha!

Mediums:

Specialties:

GET IN TOUCH ABOUT MISAKO

Art Process:

If I’m working on comic books, I like to start with a finished manuscript first. It’s easier for me to work this way. My thumbnails look like a bunch of eggs are talking. Once I complete the entire thumbnails, then I can move to the “pencil” process. I normally use awesome manga paper from Japan. I start drawing carefully on these papers. Meanwhile, I draw backgrounds like cities or streets separately. Then I move to the “inking” process. I use Japanese calligraphy brush pens and Copic ink pens to trace the pencil lines. Once it’s done, I scan every page to color them with Photoshop. That’s my favorite part!

Forthcoming books:

Bounce Back, Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, Fall 2021

Published books:

Biker Girl, Hyperion 2006
Rock and Roll Love, Hyperion 2007
Detective Jermain, Henry Holt 2009
How to Find a Gaijin Boyfriend Discover 21, Japan, 2014
New York Life Style: How to make your life fun and exciting Discover 21, Japan, 2015
How to speak English with Misako’s method, Ascom Publisher, Japan, 2015

Location:

Visit Misako at:

Awards and honors:

NYPL Best Teens Book List, 2007
Selected as one of 5 Japanese artists to meet Japanese Prime Minister Abe, 2015

Available for School Visits:

I’ve been teaching manga at so many schools! I offer a Manga Drawing Workshop for all ages, where I teach students how to create their own manga characters step by step. I also offer a motivational talk aimed at middle and high school student called “How Misako became a manga artist in America!” I use a slideshow with photos of Japan and comic books to talk about why and how I left Japan and became a manga artist in America.