Gem City Style: Back to School
An interview with artist and teacher Brad Pattullo
Jessica Hunter (JH): Brad, you are a multifaceted individual. Please tell us a little bit about who you are and how you got to where you are today.
Brad Pattullo (BP): I'm from Michigan originally and I studied animation in Savannah, Georgia. I've always loved art and I've always loved theater, so animation became a natural fit since it combines those processes. I was a production artist doing stop motion character animation for several television shows back in the late 1990s/early 2000s (Gary and Mike, Celebrity Deathmatch, etc.) before my teaching career began. I've been teaching in the art department at Edinboro University (PennWest) for 20 years now. In that time, I've done a lot of commission work — ranging from directing segments for Sesame Street and music videos to painting portraits of people's houses. My career has been so varied because I'm the kind of person that likes to constantly challenge myself and learn new things, and teaching affords a lot of opportunities to do that. I also have a wide variety of artistic influences: MAD Magazine, Moebius, Jack Kirby, Norman Rockwell, Stanley Kubrick, Chuck Jones, Jan Svankmajer, and the Garbage Pail Kids, to name a few. I enjoy all types of art, film, and animation. When I see a thing that looks cool, I always want to try it.
JH: You designed this issue's cover for the Erie Reader, my alma mater (Collegiate Academy), and it's awesome! You have also been a contributing comic artist for the Erie Reader for years! Can you describe your inspiration and process for the cover and comics?
BP: Thank you! I don't have any personal history with the location. I love to draw buildings and I've always loved the Academy building's architecture. I was in conversations with the folks at the Reader about a cover illustration, and the "Back to School" issue theme came up. I had done a fairly detailed pen-and-ink drawing of a General McLane football game that served as inspiration for the mood I wanted to create. Most everyone has memories of high school football games and Academy High is an iconic Erie location, so the concept came together. The entire piece was drawn and painted digitally in Procreate. This allowed me to tweak the composition without having to redraw individual elements. I enjoy drawing crowd scenes — I come up with back stories for each figure and I try to imagine what they are thinking or how they are feeling at that moment. I use the same process for animation — it's character-based storytelling. There weren't a lot of notes from the people at the Reader — everyone seemed to really like the piece!
My comics are a lot of meta, self-referential dad jokes. If I don't have any other ideas, I'll just tell a personal story and add a punchline. I've gotten jokes from memes, television commercials, and work emails. I mean, how does a college professor not know the difference between "reply" and "reply all?" Some are just pithy observations that are made funny by a visual gag. Five Guys gives you a lot of fries, but what if they gave you a LOT of fries? Like, so many that they need a dump truck? I think comics are good for visually bringing out the absurdity in everyday situations. I also occasionally like to throw in what I've been calling a non-joke; the joke is that the audience is expecting a joke and there isn't one. I've had to explain many of these to my mom, who doesn't share my dark, absurdist sense of humor.
JH: AI has been everywhere lately. How do you see its role in the future of animation and film? Are you using it currently?
BP: At this point in history, it seems like technological achievement has outpaced human evolution — our ability to adapt is slower than the scientific progress around us. I'm always slow to embrace new technology — as a species we have a bad habit of leaping before we look. In the end I think AI for artists will probably end up being just another tool. You really can't replace human experience and human connection.
JH: Can you share your opinion on how art has influenced Erie culturally?
BP: I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm only tangentially involved with Erie's art scene and that, as an animator, I don't get out much. Every time I go to an event like the Erie Art Museum's gallery night, I'm always amazed by the level of talent and the vibrant community around it. That said, I would love to see more film and animation being done here.
JH: As a professor of animation and film at Penn West Edinboro, what is your opinion of the talent in our region?
BP: It's great! The students we get at PennWest (mostly from around the area) always surprise and inspire me. The Spring Show at Erie Art Museum is always incredible.
JH: What has been your biggest professional accomplishment (or failure) to date?
BP: I'm really proud of the work I've done here, in Edinboro. Over the past two decades, a handful of colleagues and I have designed, built, and maintained an animation program that's just as popular and successful now as it has ever been. I love teaching because it connects you to other people's creativity. Our program exists within a strong, diverse art department within a public institution, so our students are getting a quality education for literally a fraction of what a private art school would cost.
JH: If you could animate a celebrity death match today, who would it be between?
BP: A YouTuber battle might be fun. Mr. Beast versus Markiplier, maybe? My generation had rock stars, my kids' generation has YouTubers.