“Growing up, my favorite thing about the newspaper was always the funny pages,” says Jeanna Pappas (B.F.A., illustration, 2017; M.F.A., sequential art). “I think I was drawing before I learned how to talk, and in some ways, I haven’t changed — give me a pencil and a napkin, and I’ll have a good time.”
Seated at a sunlit, windowfront table inside Neighborhood Comics in Savannah, Pappas is happy as a cat. Midway through a monthlong in-store residency, the artist can be found three afternoons a week drawing comics, engaging with interested patrons, and showing off fab feline merch: t-shirts, posters, and the newest issues of Jeanna’s Mini Cat Comic! and Cat Nap.
In conversation, Pappas correlates a wide swathe of interests and influences, from the banjo stylings of Rhiannon Giddens to shoujo manga series Fruits Basket. Much like the cute comics on display, there’s more to this artist than meets the eye.
I applied online for the Neighborhood Comics residency and owner Lee Heidel got back to me within 24 hours. Lee said, we want you to be here being friendly, drawing, and speaking to customers. Which is great, because I get to talk to kids who are fascinated to see someone creating comics. One family came in, and the daughter was looking at my handmade cat comic and said to her mother, “Hey my brother always gets something, can I get this?” It was really heartwarming.
I create my comics in a limited palette and print them on toned paper, so they have an old newsprint feel. I print them myself at home, and every issue has a different linocut cover. I stamp them individually and hand-tie the binding with twine. The final product feels great in your hands.
There’s something alluring about a page of funny cat antics. There have been cat comics for a long time — Garfield, Fat Freddy’s Cat [from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers], George Herriman’s Krazy Kat — I collect all the cat comics I can. I’ll write my master’s thesis expanding on the existing scholarship of the history of cat comics.
When I graduated from Greenwich High School, I came to SCAD and started studying game development. I loved game design and 3D design, but realized I had to be more tactile with my practice. I switched my major to illustration, with a scientific illustration minor. Professor Kristie Bruzenak taught me gestalt principles and continuation theory. She showed how art nouveau pieces contain geometry — Fibonacci sequences, perfect circles, radiating lines. Even in decorative art, there’s science.
I graduated in 2017 and decided to stay in Savannah. I was working at Planet Fun and around comics all day. I was still wondering, what’s my trajectory? At the time I’d illustrated my first book, Tea With Death, by the poet Abigail Wildes, and had found my niche making illustrations in ink. I wanted to gain more technical ability and learn storytelling, so I decided to pursue my master’s degree in sequential art.
This quarter I’m taking Writing for Sequential Art (SEQA 745) with professor Mark Kneece, writing a comic book script. I love writing and delivering zingers, but I was nervous about longform storytelling. Professor Kneece told me to write a story I want to read, and now I have a pitch about an all-girl biker gang who sweeps up another girl who doesn’t necessarily want to be on the adventure but has a special skill….
I’m committed to having fun with comics. People today scroll through Instagram and look at images, and it shows that the short-form comic format endures, even on smart phones. Now you’ve got the four panel Instagram layout, but it’s the same concept. The comic strip is doing just fine.
Put your cat mask on and come meet Jeanna at Neighborhood Comics!
Written by Peter Relic.