by Keith Salowich
It seems that a humorous cartoon poking fun at modern society would produce little more than a chuckle, but award-winning cartoonist and Ferris alum John Vestevich has proved otherwise.
Vestevich, who is currently employed at Cultivate Studios and based in Chicago, spent years drawing editorial comics for the Ferris State Torch, won numerous national awards including the Charles Schultz Award that came with a check for $10,000 and even sparked a fiery debate over the merits and drawbacks of Greek life.
“The editorials were like a segue into interpersonal stuff. With those I was portraying things that happened in people’s everyday lives, interactions between people and just the absurdity of modern society, and people relate to that and react to it.”
Vestevich began drawing comics as a child, and it is a passion that has stayed with him ever since.
“I’ve been drawing comics forever. I made up superheroes and everything, and when I was about ten, I had this whole Avengers style pantheon of heroes and villains, so I was really into that for a while.”
This clearly evident drive to create inspired Vestevich to actively seek out opportunities to get his work in print.
“Eventually I decided that before I graduate, I have to find a way to start making some comics, but I just didn’t know what I could do for money through that. I grew up in a part of the country that just wasn’t exposed to that.”
So Vestevich returned to the place his cartooning began: his parents’ basement.
“My goal at that point was to draw up a comic, and it would be a proposal for a big graphic novel or something. I sent out maybe a dozen proposals, and every single one of them was rejected. That was really hard at first, but looking back it was really valuable, because I learned a lot. I learned to really take a critical look at my work, and now I can’t even look at my really old stuff because it’s just so bad.”
Vestevich is a firm believer that failure provides great opportunity to grow.
“The only way you’re going to get good at making comics is by making comics. You just have to keep working at it and get the bad ones out. So at the point when I started working at the Torch, I had already had a few years of making really bad comics under my belt, so I was ready to improve.”
Yet Vestevich would have never started working at The Torch had he not chosen to go back to school for a second degree.
“It took me a while to really figure out what graphic design was. My girlfriend at the time was an alum of Ferris graphic design program, and she told me that everyone in her graduating class got a job, and that happens every year.”
A statement like that would interest any wayward soul searching for a career, so Vestevich inquired about a graphic design degree.
“I talked to the program head, then I took a visit and liked what I saw, so I started a whole new degree at Ferris when I was 26. It was a tough decision, because a lot of people my age probably wouldn’t want to go back to school for four years, but in retrospect, it was totally worth it. I’m in a really good place now and I have a job that I love, and it only took four years to get here.”
During those years, Vestevich lived the life of a college student for a second time, and documented it through comics.
“I think that a lot of the perspective that I put into the comics was influenced by the fact that I was 26 when I started drawing them. I had already done the whole college cycle, and coming back and seeing it all again helped me to see it clearly.”
Of course, seeing it clearly and from the eyes of an older and more mature individual led to some increased criticism of the college culture.
“I was definitely hypercritical of college kids, and I think most of that has to do with how it was at Michigan State. I was partying all the time back then, and I was the guy that I was making fun of in all of the Torch comics. That’s why it felt justified, because I had been there.”
Despite the fact that he produced over a hundred comics for the Torch, Vestevich can quickly point to his favorite.
“I think that my favorite one is drawn up like a Facebook profile, and it says something like, ‘The girl you like is in a relationship with some idiot.’ Then there were pictures of some beautiful girl with a big fat slob. It was a lot like the whole Homer and Marge Simpson scenario.”
Though that is not the only notable comic that Vestevich had published. During his time as the Torch’s cartoonist, he created a comic depicting a sorority girl hugging a toilet, perceivably suffering after a long night of bad decisions. This comic stirred up mass hysteria for a handful of ensuing days, as much of the Greek community saw it as an attack on their demographic.
“The Internet blew up, the server crashed and somebody told me that sorority recruitment was down the next term. That’s something, and that happened. It wasn’t necessarily my goal, but it proves that comics have power.”
However, Vestevich believes that he was simply recording what he was seeing, and even lived the life of the character just days after.
“That comic went out on a Wednesday, and what’s funny is that I went out with some of my friends to The Pub on the following Friday night. We were drinking, and doing shots and stuff, and the next morning I was really hungover. I was so hungover that I had to puke in the toilet, so in the same week that the comic ran, I was sitting in the exact same position as the drunk sorority girl.”
Based on the amount of backlash that this lone comic instigated, it seems obvious that comics can hold some pretty significant influence over their audience. Yet the state of college cartooning is not as vibrant as it could be.
“I’ve been thinking about the power of comics, and why it might be kind of dead. I think that I won those awards because there just wasn’t much competition. I feel like if it was as robust as it should be, I wouldn’t have had a chance in hell.”
Vestevich isn’t just playing modest with this statement, as he’s also trying to shine a light on a field in decline.
“In my opinion, college cartooning is dead. I think it’s because editorial cartooning is dead. A lot of cartooning is slanted towards an older audience, and people are just not interested, and I don’t think they should be. I think it should die and be forced to evolve into something else.”
Though college cartoons in print are on the decline, Vestevich’s body of work and accolades prove that the work is valued, and can certainly rile up an audience.