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Interview with MazeToons artist Joe Wos

I have a treat for you today!  While I was researching ideas for a maze art project, I came across some really intriguing and fun mazes by an artist name Joe Wos.

I am totally in love with the creativity, fun and artistry of these mazes.

Joe has made a career out of his illustrated comic mazes, which he calls MazeToons.  Joe agreed to be interviewed for my blog.  Here is the interview.

1.  Tell us about yourself.  How did you end up making mazes?

I started drawing when I was 4 years old. My parents caught me drawing on the walls with a crayon! They didn’t get mad, they just taped paper up on the walls and said “go ahead!” I’ve been drawing ever since.

 

I probably started drawing mazes when I was around 6 or 7. They were at a high point in the 1970’s as a trend and me and my friends would make them to challenge one another. But mine were always a little different, I incorporated cartoons directly into the mazes as solvable elements.
I would take long breaks from drawing mazes as my interest would be literally drawn elsewhere. I drew them for a little while again in High School and then again when I was in my early 20’s. I would drew one or two now and then every few years. I found them very relaxing. They were a form of meditation or mindfulness for me in many ways.

Here is Joe creating the world’s largest hand-drawn maze.

One day, about 5 years ago,  it just sort of clicked that this was my unique niche. This was something I could do and be one of the best at. So I set out to create the world’s largest hand-drawn maze. After I set that record I decided I would pursue other avenues for my mazes in books, syndication and museum exhibitions.

2.  What in your career are you most proud of?

I often say my career has had as many twist and turns as one of my mazes. There is an old saying about coming to a fork in the road and choosing the path less traveled, well when I came to the fork in the road I decided to create my own path!
 I like being in small company with what I do. I was the founder and executive director of the ToonSeum, one of only a handful of cartoon museums in the nation. I was a cartoonist storyteller, drawing stories on stage live, probably one of the only nationally touring ones in the US, I’ve been an author, writer, maze artist, and so on… If I had to pick what I enjoy most then it is the creative process. And that radiates through everything I do. I enjoy the act of creating not just copying. That’s why I love cartooning so much, you are able to create a world without the usual restrictions of how things “should be.” A cartoonist sees all the wild and wonderful possibilities in the world and creates one of their own.

3.  Describe your process for drawing a maze.

I just draw. That is the entire process. I don’t sketch first I just draw and see what happens. I don’t have a path in mind or a solution. I will usually draw the start first and then work out from there. I always keep a couple paths open and will close off the ones I don’t use as I split it off into new ones. It’s like building a neural network of connections, paths and dead ends. I usually have some idea of what theme or characters etc.. I am going to draw in the maze, but I don’t know what they will look like until I draw them. It usually all comes together. If I make a mistake I often start over. I also usually will draw half way from the start and then half way from the finish. I started doing this because most people realize mazes are easier if you start from the finish because there is usually only one path out from that direction. So I decided to make mine more difficult so that no matter which side you start from, it’s technically the start. 

4. What maze-drawing tips can you share?

For kids who want to draw mazes my advice is get a ream of good old copy paper and a nice flair felt tip pen and just start drawing. Try drawing different types of paths, spirals, squiggles, zig zags and so forth. Learn to draw the elements of the mazes first and then put them together in interesting ways.  Treat your mazes like doodles, just free association, draw whatever comes into your head without over thinking it. Just let it happen.  There is no one way to draw, no right or wrong, just different. You all have your own unique style and technique. Let it develop and grow. The best way to do that is just to draw and draw and draw….

4. Tell us about your experiences with cartoon museums.

I became the visiting resident cartoonist of the Charles M. Schulz Museum when it opened 15 years ago. I have returned every year since, often twice a year. I usually teach a few day of cartooning camps and then on the weekend I do performances in the theater and mini workshops in the classroom. My performances are a combination of storytelling and live cartoon illustration, I draw stories as I tell them.  I love the Schulz Museum. My earliest memories as an artist are of drawing Snoopy. Charles Schulz was my lifelong hero. So it’s a great honor to have the relationship I do with the museum.
My visits to that museum and the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco inspired me to start a cartoon art museum in Pittsburgh. The ToonSeum. I had been a performer with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh for two decades so I had a good grounding in museum operations. I started the museum in 2007 and helped it grow and expand as the executive director for 7 years. I left to focus on my own cartooning career. After almost a decade of hanging up other people’s art it was time to return to creating more of my own.

5. Are you working on any big projects at the moment?

I just signed a contract with my publisher Barron’s Educational Books for two more books! I’ve already begun them. The first is titled “Maze-o-Zoic: 50 Dinosaur Mazes, and the other is A-Maze-Ing America: 50 mazes of the 50 states. I am very excited for both titles and am certain there will be many more. I continue to draw my syndicated feature MazeToons, which runs in newspapers everyday and I still tour, performing at schools, festivals and libraries. So I have been keeping very busy with all my projects and look forward to many more.

6. Anything else you’d like to share…

My books are available in bookstores nationwide and online. If you enjoy my work, and I hope you do, there are a few things you can do to see it everyday! Ask your local newspaper editor to carry MazeToons from Creators Syndicate. You can also view mazes every day by subscribing for free to MazeToons on gocomics.com and of course visit my website www.mazetoons.com
Here are his two books currently for sale:

 

 

 

 

Thanks for reading this special interview with Joe Wos.  Can you think of some interesting ways you can bring his artwork into your classroom?  Some of my students recently created some of their own mazes, which I will share with you later.

For now, here is one final maze to leave you with.  Ha ha!

(All images shared with permission from Joe Wos. Copyright belongs to Joe Wos/MazeToons.)

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About Marcia Beckett

Marcia is an elementary art teacher and loves painting, drawing, sculpture, art journaling and clay. Her blog, Art is Basic, features many exciting art projects for kids.

5 Responses to Interview with MazeToons artist Joe Wos

  1. What a great post! I LOVE mazes and have done several maze lessons with 5th graders. I am also working a a logo for a local Ted talk event that includes a maze. What coincidence to run across your post. I love Joe Woos’ style and I think students would eat this up! I suggest having students create the solution from start to finish first, then break it open in a few places to add the dead ends. Not a free-form as Joe, but for a beginner (or fail-safe) approach, this might work for students.

  2. Jan says:

    These are great!

  3. Joe Wos says:

    Thanks for the great interview. I wanted to also remind teachers that they may reproduce any of the mazes from my site freely for classroom use. Thanks!