ROCHELLE — On Monday at the Flagg-Rochelle Public Library, Do Art Productions hosted a comic book workshop.
The workshop was one of many that have been held around the area recently by the organization that was founded by Rochelle native Jerry Moffitt and his best friend, Chester Roush. Do Art Productions creates comics and art and offers a variety of workshops in different art mediums to inspire community members.
“It's getting people into a creative realm where they can thrive and succeed,” Moffitt said. “I enjoyed doing it with my family and we're in a time now after COVID-19. I was more isolated and Chester and I thought we should reach out more. The idea of doing these workshops came about. He wanted to do writing and poetry and I'm good at the art aspect. I've always enjoyed seeing people make art out of nothing.”
Moffitt met Roush at Loyola University Chicago. They write the comics together and Moffitt creates the art. Their message is to inspire people to create art of their own. They’ve worked with family members as well, and after Moffitt convinced his aunt to paint something for his mother three years ago, she sold three paintings last year.
Moffitt was a Rochelle Township High School 2008 graduate and basketball player. He said he didn’t get into art until he was 24 or 25. He hopes the workshops will inspire younger members of the community the way he was later in life.
“I can ask them their favorite cartoon and make up a comic on the white board,” Moffitt said. “It allows you to explain the deeper meanings of comics and stories. I'm trying to show the more potent aspect that art has. You start to see patterns and how these symbols are being used by the creators. And then when you create, you have this confidence, whether it's writing a story or brainstorming to make a comic. When you're done, you feel accomplished. I want to give that to kids because when I was young, I don't think anybody explained that to me.”
Moffitt takes inspiration from artists like Frida Kahlo and writers including Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac.
“Having this relationship with these cultural icons, I wanted to try to give that to people who are up and coming and in a development stage,” Moffitt said. “There's a power at the end of finishing a book. I know that now and I feel like I'm more equipped for the world. It strengthens your mind. I want to show people how much there is to gain from reading and art."
Do Art Productions strives to do its comics in a different way, getting away from typical genres such as superheroes. Moffitt and Roush started out with books, short stories and novels before feeling that imagery was missing. Their work finally morphed into full-fledged comics.
“Seeing both the visual and the prose aspect of words combined has a very potent and powerful effect in storytelling and expression,” Moffitt said. “Not all comic books were offering that. We try to use cultural characters in our comics and our characters are inspired by historical figures. But they touch on current issues and we have fun with it. It's trying to use comics in this very slap-sticky and animated and cartoonish way, but then trying to open the doors of awareness to all of these intellectual topics. It's trying to offer larger concepts to people in a fun way."
After high school, Moffitt lived in Chicago and spent time traveling around the country. Upon returning to Rochelle with his passion for art, he found support from the library and the Flagg Township Museum in displaying art and hosting programs.
“And I have some art displayed at the Artist's Garden, Steder Tattoo and at other businesses,” Moffitt said. “All of these people were giving me reassurance in my creations. From there, I had confidence to reach out to other libraries and places in other communities showing my art. It's been nothing but welcoming experiences. Every step of the way, Rochelle has always had my back and promoted me.”
Do Art Productions has 13 workshops set up in the area for 2023. The proceeds from those events will be reinvested into a comic book to be distributed on Free Comic Book Day at area libraries on May 6.
“We only have two comic book stores in this area in DeKalb and Oregon,” Moffitt said. “Libraries have to pay for their free comics and it's mostly done by large companies. We decided to do our own off what we've made from donations and doing workshops. It's now up to 1,300 copies and I think that number will go up. On Free Comic Book Day we'll give them away at the libraries from Franklin Grove to Dixon, Hampshire, Rochelle, Ashton, Creston, Paw Paw and the list goes on. We'll do a tour over those two days talking about comics and giving presentations and giving out free comics.”
Moffitt and Roush’s art and information on their workshops can be found at doartproductions.org. They hope people can go there and find something that intrigues or inspires them or helps them to make something of their own to communicate with others.
"I was never told there was more to communicating than language,” Moffitt said. “Art allows you to try to find non-verbal communication. Whether it's writing a poem for my mom or doing a painting for my sister to show that I care. Art is huge in understanding. There's all sorts of ways to show that you care for people or how you feel. I want art to be that avenue for people."
Moffitt has found himself juggling Do Art Productions’ different forms of work including art, comics, workshops and lectures. He welcomes the work after the isolation of the pandemic and due to the chance to create and work with like-minded people.
“It's a whole whirlwind of things I'm trying to focus on daily,” Moffitt said. “It's a lot of excitement. Seeing the response from everybody and seeing people hungry for it is great. Events stopped at places like libraries during COVID-19. People stopped asking libraries to do stuff. They want to get things like what we do going again. Working with people on art and seeing them gain confidence and identity, it's a feeling you can't really describe. It's what drives me, but at the same time, art is fun.”