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Comic Book Illustrator to Future Advertiser: An Interview with Steve Buccellato


Illustration by DCA graduate Steve Buccellato.

One thing I love about meeting and advising students in the DCA program is their diversity. People come from all sorts of professional backgrounds and have goals that run the gamut. Steve Buccellato, who recently completed the Advanced Print and Graphic Communication certificate, is one of such people. He’s had what many consider to be a dream job… comic book illustrator! Where does an artist go from there?

Why did you decide to go for the advanced print and graphic certificate? I wanted something more out of my career, I guess. I felt like I was starting to stagnate and needed some new challenges. When I thought about it, the richest, most rewarding points in my career were when I was working in a studio environment, collaboration with other creative professionals. I wanted to get that back, but felt my portfolio was a bit too illustration and comic book centric to seriously compete for the Art Director positions I was looking at.

At first, I saw the program as a means to that end–to build up my portfolio with design projects. What I found was that I really enjoyed engaging with all the students and instructors on a high creative level. After years of working on “real” jobs, I loved being able to experiment and push myself creatively; to go past my comfort level. The past year has been incredibly stimulating.

You’re working to transition to an advertising role from the comic book world. What’s involved? Right now, I’m fighting the urge to start “fresh” and “disown” my past experiences in comic book publishing. First of all, that’s impossible! I’ve been in that game too long, and it’s a big part of who I am. Secondly, that would just be stupid. Comic books are in the spotlight of popular culture today, as they have never been before. I have to believe that my experience creating content for that world is extremely valuable to anyone who wants to market to a mainstream entertainment audience.

My other big challenge is related. It’s explaining to people in the advertising industry just where my skills and experiences overlap and duplicate their own. Some people get it immediately–they see the cross-over. But often, it needs to be explained…very clearly. It can be tricky. I’ve been in more than one situation where I thought I’d presented my case very well and was answered with, “but we don’t make comic books!”

In the end, there’s not much difference between creating comics/graphic novels (and associated collateral such as their ads & posters) and many of the works that ad agencies produce. It’s all images & type, right? Yes, that’s a HUGE oversimplification, but the differences are largely aesthetic; the technical aspects of print production are fairly identical. In any case, I know I can do both. Personally, I’m excited by the idea of creating entertaining content, regardless of the intended audience or delivery.

You did a mentorship with a DCA instructor, Marc Mertens. What was that like? Marc is a really inspiring teacher. I took Advertising Design with him last fall and it really solidified my interest in advertising as a career choice. I was already interested, but my practical knowledge was pretty spotty. Most of what I knew was from speaking to friends in advertising, or from occasional work as a freelance illustrator in the field. And from Mad Men, of course!

Marc’s course was very conceptual, and he ran the class as if it were a small agency. We approached each campaign using real Design Thinking, and did a lot of research into the products, competing brands and the consumer. We had to create “personas” & “brand houses” and we had to present our concepts often. I loved the entire process. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of this kind of brainstorming.

Honestly, I was sad when the course ended and my mentorship with Marc was, in a way, an opportunity to extend it. The mentorship started with huge impossible goals that were ultimately pared down and brought into focus. In the end, the product we were branding was ME. It was fascinating to take the methods of Design Thinking and apply them to myself and my own career goals.

Do you know what your dream job is? I like the idea of keeping myself open to whatever exciting opportunities may come my way. That sort-of Taoist idea appeals to me; to be the “Uncarved Block” that goes with the flow and lets things good come to him. I like the idea, but unfortunately, I’m way too practical and goal-oriented for that!

While I can imagine myself working at many different types of jobs, today I am very focused on finding an “in” at an ad agency. I think I’m really good at leading creative people and projects, so my ultimate goal would be to become Creative Director of a super-cool agency. I have a real passion for visual storytelling, and want to apply it to creating advertising content–in any and all media.

Today, I’m just looking to get my foot in the door as an Art Director…but frankly, I’d consider a more junior position if paying dues is what I need to do to get in there. I’m not proud…but I am determined to do what it takes to achieve my goals. I guess I have to admit that I’m not a Taoist…

Often DCA students are freaked out about drawing. Any advice? In the spirit of great advertising I’ll say: “Just do it!” In my opinion, anyone can draw. Everyone DID draw, when they were children. People stop when they lose interest or confidence; usually because other kids (who are interested and encouraged) keep at it and improve. If you want to draw, then draw often. Carry a sketchbook and draw from life, get a couple books on perspective & anatomy. Take some classes. Copy masters at a museum. Find a mentor. If you’re seriously interested, you just need to put in the time. If not, don’t sweat it; you can always hire a professional. 😉

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