Funny pages: Cochranton-inspired comic strip finds success (2024)

At a time when digital art and photography — much of it created not just with but by computers — one Cochranton native has found success with traditional drawings in an old-school format.

“I was pretty amazed and awestruck when they chose my comic strip to be in the gallery,” Mercyhurst University senior Zach Hansen said last week. “I feel like it’s partly because most of them were digitally created in Photoshop and Illustrator, but with my comic strip I did it all by hand — I used pencil and ink.”

A four-panel strip by Hansen, 23, was selected for Mercyhurst’s Patricia S. Yahn ‘50 Juried Student Art Show, which was held last month at the school’s Cummings Art Gallery in Erie. The strip was among more than 100 entries for the show, roughly half of which were selected, according to Jodi Staniunas Hopper, dean of the School of the Arts at Mercyhurst. The strip, like other works selected for the show, also appears in Lumen, the university’s student arts magazine.

“Zach’s comics are in the line of ‘Nancy’ or ‘Peanuts,’” Hopper said in an email, referring to two still-running syndicated strips that date back to the mid-20th century. “They are life situational and have a ‘nice’ quality about them — not snarky or sarcastic at all.”

The strip included in the gallery show is among more than 80 that Hansen has produced in his spare time while pursuing the degree in graphic design he will receive in May.

Hansen traced his interest in comics and animation back to a Disney videotape he watched as a child. “The Spirit of Mickey” was released in 1998 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of Mickey Mouse.

“It kind of captivated me,” the 2019 Cochranton Junior-Senior High graduate said. “It really poked my interest, knowing how cartoon characters and their personalities can evolve over time.”

Hansen’s interest was further fueled by his reading of classic long-running strips, including “Peanuts,” “Garfield,” and “Calvin and Hobbes.”

When he began composing his own strips, he extended the familiar workshop advice to “write what you know” to include drawing as well. Drawing inspiration from himself, his friends and his hometown, Hansen created his comic protagonist and alter-ego Zach Hansten, a good-natured innocent who lives across the street from his uncle’s farm in “Cochrantown.”

“He is naive enough to get into trouble, but clever enough to figure a way out of it and/or make it right,” Hansen explained of his namesake. “Zach has also proven to be the unexpected hero, as he is usually the one to come to the characters’ rescue when needed.”

In the tradition of comedy teams like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, the comic Zach is paired with his constant companion, the impulsive Nick, who dreams of bowling a 300 game but whose determination often ends up sabotaging himself.

“They’re old enough to be considered adults but young enough to still be learning about the world around them,” Hansen said of the pair and their cast of friends in the strip. Hansen has sketched out bios for another 10 characters or so, about half regulars and half recurring occasionally, with enough variety in gender and age that the strip could appeal to a variety of readers. Similarly, Hansen has worked on developing different comedy strategies, from slapstick interactions to more sophisticated observations of young people “trying to cope with this world.”

While some are inspired by friends or relatives, Hansen said each of the characters contains semi-autobiographical characteristics.

“I feel like comic strips tell the reader who the cartoonist is as a person,” he said.

While the protagonist draws on Hansen’s creative and eccentric qualities, another character — Luke, the daredevil troublemaker — draws on other parts of his personality.

“Right now, I’m just doing this for fun,” he said. “I haven’t fully understood who the characters are.”

The characters are likely to evolve. Their names may change, even the name of the strip is, at this stage, a work in progress — perhaps “ZACH” or “ZACH & Company.” The fact that Hansen has that sort of control over his creation explains much of the appeal of the format so familiar to newspaper readers.

“It’s just you at your drawing board, filling in squares, putting characters within those squares, thinking of a situation,” he said, “creating an entire story.”

Funny pages: Cochranton-inspired comic strip finds success (2024)
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