RETURN TO HOME PAGE
Alexis Fajardo Pursues the Fine Art of Cartooning
By Rosie Ruley Atkins
For cartoonist Alexis Fajardo, reading Beowulf, the seventh-century epic poem, wasn't the stuff of a summer-reading nightmare or a last-minute cramming session to prepare for an exam. Rather, he was reading the ancient classic for fun.
"I was trying to come up with a new character for a cartoon, and it occurred to me that I couldn't really imagine Beowulf [the epic poem's hero] as a kid," says Fajardo, 28, who lives on Chattanooga Street. "I wanted to do something with him, but I couldn't quite figure it out. Then I realized I could make up a childhood for him, and everything sort of fell together."
Once the creative urge struck, Fajardo, who majored in classics in college, set out to write a comicbook version of Beowulf's imagined childhood. He turned the hero's nemesis, the monster Grendel, into his separated-at-birth twin brother and set the pair on a series of decidedly tongue-in-cheek adventures.
Of course, epic heroes of ancient literature, even cheekily reimagined ones, are not exactly the kapowie stuff of Marvel Comics, so Fajardo, along with his friend and fellow cartoonist Jonathan Meyers, created Ambition Studios as a vehicle for publishing their more cerebral work. "We got tired of getting ridiculous rejection letters," says Fajardo. "So we decided the hell with them. We'll do it ourselves."
While the nascent venture, whose headquarters doubles as Fajardo's apartment, is currently devoted to publishing only the work of Fajardo and Meyers, they believe that someday they'll be able to give the industry giants a run for their money. "We hope the studio will eventually be a space where cartoonists can create their own ideas based on history and literature, paired with good storytelling, good graphics, and classic cartooning," says Fajardo, who counts Walt Kelly, creator of the classic Pogo strip among his key influences. "If you look at what Marvel and DC [Detective Comics] are doing, it's wham-bam storytelling. It's garish. We want to reach people who don't necessarily read comics."
For Fajardo, one way of reaching that audience is through his extremely popular cartooning classes at Artsake on 24th Street. His first session last spring sold out, and now he's expanded to two classes--one for beginners and one for more advanced students. Both classes tend to draw both younger artists and adults, a mix that Fajardo believes enhances the experience for everyone.
"I was surprised that so many adults wanted to take my class," says Fajardo. "But it's actually a great mix. The kids tend to be more playful and fearless. They remind you that the creative process is fluid. The best stuff comes out of recklessness, but it's hard to imbue that spirit in adults."
Fajardo has also been pleased by the diversity of talent and ideas that his students bring to the classroom in the back of the 24th Street art supply store.
"Some people come with fully developed character studies and story lines," he says. "We've got dragons and chickens and superheroes. It's such a wide range of interests and ideas. It's been really rewarding for me."
For Fajardo, having kids in the class makes perfect sense. He created a character called Plato the Platypus, at the age of 7 in his hometown of Binghamton, N.Y. He has continued to produce the strip, Plato's Republic, publishing a weekly strip during his years at Earlham College in Indiana, and now posting online updates at www.platosrepublic.com.
These days, the duck-billed philosopher may waddle through Noe Valley. "Plato's not awake until he has his Martha and Brothers coffee," Fajardo says. "And maybe he'll show up at the Dubliner at some point. But he also sometimes goes to Washington. He's had conversations with Donald Rumsfeld and Ari Fleischer. I don't want to give the strip an actual setting."
That said, Fajardo finds the San Francisco cartooning scene invigorating. He moved to the city from Binghamton a little over a year ago and has been inspired by the change.
"It's a great place for cartooning," he says. "You bump into a lot of inky-fingered artists who you can hand out cartoons to. Also, there are so many outlets for comics and graphic novels. People just seem to be open to a wide range of ideas."
In addition to Artsake and Just for Fun on 24th Street, Fajardo has been able to sell his publications at Phoenix and Dog-Eared Books, Comix Experience, and several other locally-owned, independent outlets.
"It's cool that the comic store and bookstore owners are open to getting new stuff and supporting it," he says.
He has also found fans at the frequent comic-book and small-press expositions.
"I realize my subject matter isn't mainstream," he says. "But when people stop by the booth and chuckle or if there's that spark of recognition, that's great. The expos are a great place to meet other artist and publishers, too."
Fajardo is currently soliciting work for an anthology of literary and historically based comics, a process that he's finding surprisingly educational.
"We work really hard to evaluate the submissions carefully," he says. "I had to write my first rejection letter, and it was two pages long. The [artist's] idea was really good, but the execution wasn't up to snuff. I hope the guy will resubmit. A lot of talent is wasted by people who give up because of a pile of rejection letters."
Meanwhile, Fajardo will continue to encourage artists, from Noe Valley and beyond, with his classes. He is also heading east this month to present the newest edition of Kid Beowulf at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Md.
Alexis Fajardo's next class series, a five-week course in Cartooning and Comic Strip Art, begins Oct. 9 at Artsake, 3961 24th St. For information, call 695-0506 or go to www.artsakesf.com. To see more of Fajardo's work, go to www.kidbeowulf.com.