Tags:FROM A-B TECH (full release)
A blazing orange office on the sixth floor of Asheville's Flatiron building reflects the paired creativity of two very different business partners.
Chris Sparks is an extrovert, bursting with energy, who loves to talk about his passion for comics and design. Jamie King is poised, more subdued, yet equally passionate about art with her background in painting and drawing. Both are A-B Tech Digital Media Technology graduates.
Together, they created Sparking Design where they craft branding and logos, rework and build websites from scratch and conjure vivid print pieces for clients from across the nation. One of their latest projects benefits the Michael J. Fox Foundation and brought a popular, reclusive cartoonist out of retirement to help another in the industry.
Chris says the story began in 2008 at a comic convention in Charlotte, where he met Richard Thompson, a cartoonist whose strip had been syndicated the previous fall. “Cul de Sac” follows the life of a preschool girl named Alice Otterloop, her family and friends in a suburban neighborhood.
Chris and Richard became fast friends, keeping in touch throughout the months, sharing their love for comics and storytelling. About a year after the meeting, Richard needed a website and Chris needed a systems project for a class at A-B Tech. Chris tackled the job with enthusiasm.
Knowing how well he worked with Jamie at school, Christ sought her assistance for projects outside of class. “He has abilities that I don’t, and vice versa,” Jamie said. “Chris is always the guy that sits in the back of the room and makes people laugh. He brainstorms in ways that allow me to expand my thinking and I design better because of our teamwork.”
“We just got along very well. She has the background in fine arts and she laughed at my jokes. That was important,” Chris said. “I have a good eye for talent and she’s got it.”
When Jamie and Chris graduated from A-B Tech in summer 2009 and spring 2010, respectively, the job opportunities in Asheville were limited so they created their own.
Initially working in Web design, Sparking Design quickly expanded its scope to meet client needs. “It’s been more of a branding process. We like to be able to do everything from logo design to print work,” Jamie said.
Building their portfolio, Chris and Jamie worked with local companies before going national with a branding project for aerospace company L2. They also are working with Habitat for Humanity in Washington, D.C. and a wedding and event planner in Toronto.
In the meantime, Chris learned his friend, Richard, had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Chris immediately began to research the disease and created a font of Richard’s handwriting, in case he needed it as the disease progressed and he could no longer hand draw his captions.
In the summer of 2010, Chris came up with the idea to get other illustrators to donate artwork to auction off for the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the world’s largest private funder of Parkinson’s research. He organized Team Cul de Sac to head the fundraising. “We wanted to let them draw characters of Richard’s, anyway they wanted,” Chris said.
Contacting the cream of the cartoonist world, the team was able to get appoximately150 pieces donated for the auction, including an oil painting of Richard’s character, Petey, by Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” who came out of retirement and made his first piece of public art in 16 years.
“I enjoyed comics as a kid. I learned to read on newspaper comics such as ‘Beetle Bailey,’ ‘Family Circus,’ ‘Hagar the Horrible,’ ‘Peanuts,’ ‘Family Circus,’ and ‘B.C.’ When I got older ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and the ‘Far Side’ had me hooked,” Chris said. “To have Bill Watterson come out of retirement was just amazing. Everyone who has donated knows who Richard is and they love him. It was great that he won the Reuben Award for best cartoonist this year.”
The list of cartoonists who heeded the call included 14 other Reuben winners and three Pulitzer Prize winners. Lynn Johnston, Jim Davis, Mort Walker, Stephan Pastis, Bill Amend, Garry Trudeau and Pat Oliphant are but a few of the artists who donated their work to be auctioned online in 2012.
Chris hopes to raise $250,000 for Team Cul de Sac. For those who may not be able to compete in the bidding for the original work, Chris and Jamie have been working with Andrews McMeel in Kansas City to publish a book with the artwork with a release planned for June.
“Jamie and I did help design the look of the book on the interior. We came up with the concept design,” said Chris. “As soon as we have a cover, people can go to sparkingdesign.com to preorder a copy. I am not doing this for the money, but for Richard. He is such a great guy and to have a disease that could rob you from what you love most is horrible. I hope this makes a difference and make people more aware. I am really happy with how it’s going. It is great to see so many wonderful people contribute.”
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