Communicating with Comics

Professor Receives Honors for Use of Illustration in Highlighting Social Movements

Prolific playwright Tennessee Williams once said, “America has three great cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”

These words served as inspiration to illustrator Christopher Darling as he completed one of many special projects he has worked on in the past year. Darling, assistant professor in the Kent State University School of Visual Communication Design, has recently been nationally recognized for the work he has done both inside and outside the classroom.

Darling’s Cleveland vignettes, inspired by the Williams quote, were selected for and featured in the New York Society of Illustrators (SOI) annual publication and exhibition. His work impressed such judges as the art director of the New York Times, the art director of the Wall Street Journal and the design director of the New Yorker, among others.

“My Cleveland series was inspired by the people in Cleveland and places I like to go or visit within the city,” Darling said. “The works began as reportage or observational studies on location and ended up a bit more imaginative, embellished and nostalgic. […] This general past-and-present attitude made me want to showcase different aspects of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. I was happy that the images were selected into the New York Society of Illustrators publication and exhibition, as the SOI selects the best national and international illustration each year.”

Darling’s work for the United Nation’s High Refugee Agency was also selected for the SOI’s Comic & Cartoon Art Annual and exhibition in New York City this past year. He illustrated an advertising campaign for the agency that showcased the global refugee crisis in a single-page comic.

“Using comics to approach very serious issues and being recognized within that particular medium was meaningful, as comics historically have been considered lowbrow or a frivolous way to graphically communicate serious information,” Darling said.

Darling also helped to bring one of the world’s most iconic female cartoon characters to life last September by collaborating with fellow Kent State faculty and the Cleveland Public Library to create the Wonder Woman Symposium.

“The symposium celebrated the intersections of public literacy, comics and feminism,” Darling said. “I helped design and illustrate for the conference and conducted a workshop at the library along with Cameron Stewart (writer and artist for ‘Batgirl’) and Phil Jimenez (writer and artist for ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Superwoman’).”

Darling said the conference was meaningful because it focused on social consciousness and female empowerment.

“Laura Siegel, whose father grew up in Cleveland and wrote ‘Superman,’ spoke. Trina Robbins, who published ‘Pretty In Ink–the definitive history of women in comics,’ spoke,” Darling said. “We always read or hear about male roles in illustration and comics, but rarely are women's contributions within the field celebrated.”

As an instructor, Darling is tasked with teaching upcoming contributors to the industry. Last year, he worked with College of Architecture and Environmental Design Assistant Professor Jon Yoder, Ph.D., on the college’s Graphic Novels/Novel Architecture interdisciplinary graduate course. Throughout the semester, Darling lectured, conducted a workshop and offered critiques. The course ended with a symposium of work from both students and professionals at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

For his contributions to the course, Darling was awarded the 2016 Studio Prize in Architect Magazine.

“Being recognized for the 2016 Studio Prize in Architect Magazine was a phenomenal accomplishment for the College of Architecture and Kent State University,” Darling said. “I was happy to be a part of that success. The College of Communication and Information’s contributions helped bring in many notable scholars that informed the studio's work. Jon should also be applauded for his unique interdisciplinary vision as well as the graduate students who worked incredibly hard to earn the award.”

For his next big project, Darling plans to collaborate with Akron-based nonprofit Oriana House, which partners with Cuyahoga Correctional Facility and Northstar Neighborhood Reentry Resource Center in Cleveland to reintegrate incarcerated individuals back into society.

“We will begin planning how to best provide art and illustration education to clients in the spring and work on a large-scale collaborative mural in East Cleveland over the summer of 2017,” Darling said.

To learn more and see Darling’s work, visit his website at  

POSTED: Sunday, January 8, 2017 - 1:14pm
UPDATED: Sunday, January 8, 2017 - 1:17pm
Meghan Caprez