Get to know... Jane Harris Luongo, cartooning instructor at Darien Arts Center
DARIEN — Jane Harris Luongo joined the Darien Arts Center in September as an instructor in cartooning, a passion that stemmed from her childhood.
“Creativity is in my family,” Harris Luongo said. “Drawing and artwork, music, writing, it’s all in the family.”
Her father did realistic pencil portraits of people and animals. Growing up, she said she loved reading Harvey comics like “Casper” and “Richie Rich;” her family also enjoyed cartoons from the New Yorker.
“My parents used to rip them out,” Harris Luongo said. “Now I find myself ripping them out.”
Harris Luongo’s passion led her to do one-panel comics for Hit magazine in the late 1980s. While attending the University of Connecticut, she worked at Chemical Color Plate in Bridgeport as a colorist, working on some of the most recognizable comics in the country.
“What I learned later was they were the place where all the color separation work was done,” she said. “There would be Marvel, DC and Archie Comics drawn and sent to this factory in Bridgeport. I absolutely loved that job.”
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Harris Luongo’s work there would further fuel her fascination with comics and art. In college, she got a degree to teach elementary school students, and now working at the Darien Arts Center has given her the opportunity to combine these passions, she said.
“I also do my own artwork on the side,” Harris Luongo said. “My style really lends itself to childrens’ book illustrations.”
Her style originated from the numerous books her mother would bring to her from the library. Harris Luongo said every week they would get a stack of books.
“Before I could even read, I would pore over those books,” she said. “I’ve always loved childrens’ books. I’ve definitely loved comic books too.”
Harris Luongo said she enjoyed the format of comics and telling a story in a short space. Cartooning is a way to combine storytelling with art, she said.
“You’re creating characters. You’re creating often humorous, but not always, situations,” she said.
In her cartooning class at the Arts Center, students learn how to write within a comic format, the fundamentals of storytelling, character development and more.
“There’s a sequence for the fall course where I lead them through studying a one-panel cartoon then a three- or four-panel,” she said. “Now we’re doing a full page.”
Students also do various drawing games and participate in skill-oriented activities, though Harris Luongo makes sure to keep it a fun and creative experience.
“The class I have is extremley talented,” she said. “They all come in here with ideas of their own.”
One thing she finds impressive is the class’ combination of creativity and sense of humor. Her students, ages 7 to 12, grasp comedic timing and how to place it in their cartoons, she said.
“They understand the concepts of humor,” Harris Luongo said. “It’s really amazing they’re quite young to understand that.”
Schools and art centers are important, she said, and teaching children art and fostering their creativity is important for not only them, but society as a whole.
“That creativity leads to problem-solving, invention and innovation in the future for all of us,” Harris Luongo said.