On Monday, August 18th, at the 95th New York Comics Symposium, the cartoonist and instructor Tom Motley presented a talk and workshop entitled “Composition Lessons from the Masters.” The talk was held at the Butler Library at Columbia University. Karen Green introduced Motley, a veteran cartoonist and educator at both SVA and Pratt. He is a prolific illustrator, and his regular comic Tragic Strip appears in the Brooklyn Rail.

After a quick demonstration, Motley explained that composition is the “invisible component we don’t think of.” He covered the basics of renaissance composition, using the now famous photo of a fight that broke out in the Ukrainian parliament, and which, coincidentally, follows the rules of the golden ratio, an ideal of classical composition.

The New York Comics And Picture-Story Symposium: Tom Motley


How awesome is Tom Motley?

Tom’s our mad scientist of comics. He’s a sorceror of formal experimentation, games, and wordplay. He has introduced characters named Suesheff and Barbac; he has swiped images from other issues of Cartozia Tales and (in the upcoming issue 7) has smuggled in some Picasso and some Alfred Jarry. Is there any length he wouldn’t travel for a puzzle, a code, or an inside joke?

A big part of our approach in making “all-ages” comics here at Cartozia Tales is not to dumb things down — because we can all remember how much more, as young readers, we preferred attempting books we couldn’t quite understand, instead of being condescended to. Tom Motley keeps Cartozia brainy. Honestly, I feel like he raises my cartooning IQ.

Will most of our kid readers know why Progrock or Fanfic is a funny name? Will they recognize the caricatures of Limbaugh (”Shrumblaw”) and Trump (”Drumpt”) in the bully boils? Will they know why Tom put Smithereens or Harm’s Way on the map? Ah, they’ll find out. We are, after all, hoping that these kids will re-read Cartozia Tales for a long time.

Tom’s also a master doodler — so much of his cartooning has the spontaneity of a rapid gesture — and his take on Cartozia looks a little scruffy. But I like that flavor: I don’t want us to seem like we have a “house style,” after all. The map’s a big place, and a ruined observatory, a desert diner’s storeroom, or the fields of Smithereens are bound to have a little crust, scruff, or scurf.

(Here’s where I remind you that Tom’s superlative savvy is available, in print or digitally, via


Composition Review Worksheet & original panel from Tom Motley’s NY Comics Symposium presentation last night.  Tom put out a bunch of panels with questionable composition choices to sketch and then revise using compositional tricks from masters Kirby, Toth & Cole.  I flew off the rails a bit and failed to properly follow the directions, but it was a good exercise, and a terrific presentation!