Dear Pepper: To What Degree?

Dear Pepper is a monthly advice-column comic by Liana Finck. If you have questions for Pepper about how to act in difficult situations, please direct them to dearpepperquestions@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.

Dear Pepper,

You—being a comic dog / dog in comic form—seem like the perfect creature to ask about a conundrum I’m facing.
I’m a writer, artist, and teacher.

Sounds like a great combination, until you try to put it into practice. I have an M.F.A. in creative writing, but I often hit roadblocks in academia and the literary world when I try to:
A) Publish hybrid text-image books.
B) Teach a hybrid text-image class, such as comics or graphic literature.
C) Find a secure, full-time job.

Case in point: I recently pitched a comics course to be cross-listed in English and Visual Art, and the chair of the art department asked, “Do you have a degree in visual art?”

I found her response frustrating. I already have an M.F.A. in creative writing, and all the content I have ever produced has been comics and visual narratives. Besides, most of the “greats” in comics don’t have M.F.A. degrees! Do I need to get a second M.F.A. to be taken seriously by both the art world and the literary world?
I began looking into programs and realized that I do actually love being a student. If I can find funding, I wouldn’t mind pursuing a degree in visual art. Is that crazy? Is that a waste of time? Is that a backward trajectory? (I’m thirty-two.) Am I caving under the pressure of academic gatekeepers?

Let me know what you think, Pepper!
Master of (Not Enough) Fine Arts

Dear M.F.A.,

I️ feel two ways here. First of all, no, I️ don’t think it should be necessary to have a degree in order to make comics or to have a career as a comics artist.

I’m less sure about the academia part. Having a degree in something might indicate not that you’re better at doing the thing but that you’re better at teaching it to students, having been a student of it yourself.
If this sounds like a not-very-confident answer, it’s because I secretly don’t have much respect for academia. (I am a dog, after all.) I really wasn’t much of a university type myself—to be fair, I went to art college.

I️ hope you like art school better than I️ did. And I️ think you will. You love learning and have enough life experience to know exactly what you want to do with your degree.
First, though, do some research. You’ve heard anecdotally from one person that you’d be more likely to be able to teach a single class if you had an M.F.A. in fine art. You should ask her—and other people who might know—what doors this degree could actually open for you.
If the additional degree does seem like something that would further your career, go for it! Returning to school for a few years seems much easier than protesting the system for the rest of your life. And thirty-two is young! That’s just four-and-a-half in dog years.
Also, though I ️personally didn’t love being a student, being a professor sounds—to this dog cartoonist with a B.F.A. and a freelancer’s life style—frankly dreamy. Ivied, brick, glamorous, and all that.

Sincerely,
Pepper
P.S. Can I️ recommend a very good comic about art school? It’s “Wendy, Master of Art,” by Walter Scott.

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