'Artists have a place' says 'B.C.' cartoonist Mastroianni
From a school boy’s sketchbooks to syndication in newspapers internationally and a possible Netflix deal, Mason Mastroianni has spent his life pursuing art.
On Thursday, the current cartoonist behind the comic strips “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id” made his second visit to Piedmont Technical College. The college’s visiting artist lecture series brings in working artists to speak with students. Hosted by the commercial arts department Director Kendall Adams and professor and fellow cartoonist Mike Beckom, the session attracted dozens of curious students.
“I really think it will be beneficial to them in the long run,” Adams said. “The things he mentioned — never being afraid to fail, capitalizing on your failures, that kind of thing — we tell our students that all the time.”
Mastroianni is the grandson of “B.C.” and “The Wizard of Id” creator Johnny Hart, and when his grandfather died in 2007 he took over the strips alongside his brother, mother, aunt and grandmother.
But he started on scrap paper and notebooks as a child. He showed the students pictures of the first mural he painted with his best friend in his young school days, and his self-painted car as a young man. His early sketches and figure drawings garnered attention, with some works winning awards.
“I remember not really caring about the awards, but caring a lot about the money that came with them,” he said with a laugh.
He attended a design and arts school, seeking out 3D rendering jobs for films and TV shows. He once found work through a disagreement with another artist who thought he had stolen a design from her; they ended up becoming friends.
After a few jobs doing art for animated shows, in 2007 his grandfather’s sudden death prompted a shift in his career. He said he wanted to be a steward of his grandfather’s work, so he returned to the family business and after a few weeks’ hiatus, continued Hart’s strips.
The early days of taking over the strips were a challenge in modernizing the style and trying to maintain consistency readers had come to expect. He received hate mail over a few gags readers found unseemly, and there was a lot of on-the-job learning.
He strives to take the strip past its newsprint roots.
“It’s no secret newspapers aren’t the way of the future,” he said. “I resisted drawing digitally for years, because I didn’t think I was as good at it.”
He started doing comics for local charities and artwork for nonprofits. He even took a shot at designing NFT’s during the cryptocurrency boom, which as fun even if the family didn’t make any money from it.
Now he draws often on an iPad Pro, using a software called Procreate. He said he feels he can be more imaginative when drawing digitally, and showed some of the work he practiced digital art with. Enormous mechanical spiders crawled along dusty desert landscapes, moonlight-drenched castle towers stood shrouded by mist and even the wizard from “Wizard of Id” plunged the ocean’s depths to confront a monstrous eel in one drawing.
Even AI has a place in his artistic process: Programs like ChatGPT provide a platform to type out ideas and have a dialogue with an AI. He can pitch comic ideas and get responses — he treats the AI like a team of novice writers. The ideas the program spits out are mostly terrible, but they’re great fodder for generating his own ideas.
“Making art, I see it sort of like going to the gym,” he said. “Do it. Just keep on doing it until you want to do it.”
He’s even had the chance to pitch “Wizard of Id” as a streaming animated series, and worked with his family in their Upstate New York studio home to develop a 10-episode series as a dark, adult comedy.
He shared that he’s had countless failures along the way — ideas that petered out or never caught traction. It’s essential to overcome the fear of failure and step past that discomfort, he said, and to take jobs that you’re unsure about.
“Artists have a place,” he said. “It may not be a perfect place ... but something will come.”
Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.