Art student tells visual stories through comics

Sabrina Claman sketches narratives that tell everyday life stories, including ones from her small town of Calmar, Iowa.


Katie Goodale

UI senior Sabrina Claman poses for a portrait in the Visual Arts Building on Friday, March 13, 2020.

Madison Lotenschtein, Arts Editor

A pencil-drawn image of a girl looking down a hillside toward a cow laying on its side sets the scene of a comic strip drawn by Sabrina Claman, a B.F.A. drawing student at the University of Iowa. The comic depicts the story of a girl trying to help her father’s cow because one of its horns has gotten stuck in the ground. Listening to her father on the phone, she fetches a pail of water, and feeds the scared mammal oats in hopes of improving the situation.

The comic is one of the many Claman created for her documentary-style comic series based on her hometown of Calmar, Iowa, which she was able to complete with the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates grant.

When the artist first arrived at the UI, she was invested in her Japanese minor until her interest in the art program was sparked by Rachel Williams, an Art and Art History Professor at the UI who encouraged Claman to apply for the grant.

Claman says that she is interested in the aspects that shape a narrative or tell a story, and strays away from what she describes as “typical superhero comics.” Instead, she sketches a narrative on what people do on a day-to-day basis.

“I really enjoy the psychological, emotional things, not necessarily adequately emotional, but things that explain or illustrate how someone’s feeling,” she said.

At her B.F.A. show — which was held from Feb. 10 -15 — the theme was centered around death and loss, and focused on the feeling of being in a space that used to belong to someone. Much of her show was inspired by the death of her grandparents, and the home they left behind.

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“I wanted to create a space that a character cherished that was left the way they would have left it,” she said.

Along with her own artwork, Claman is finishing illustrating a children’s book.

The comic-artist has always had an affinity for art since she was little, and laughed as she recalled a photo she had seen of herself fast asleep with markers in her hand at age 3. Now coming up on her last few months at the UI, Claman plans to continue creating narrative art following graduation.

“I really want to get to a point where I can work on stories and narrative,” she said. “Whether it’s the final product or the storyboarding, the building, designing, I really enjoy that kind of work so it wouldn’t bother me to be whichever part of the process.”

Due to the UI’s shift to virtual instruction due to the spread of COVID-19, Claman’s last semester at the UI will be spent online. The current situation has allotted Claman the opportunity to work at her own pace, but this doesn’t mean the artist isn’t stressed about the pandemic.

“I feel restless not knowing who is going to be affected or the next time my friends and I see each other,” Claman said. “Especially since this is our final semester together. I am one big cup of depresso espresso.”

As of March 19, only authorized personnel have access to the Visual Arts Building, where Claman worked in her studio. She has also recognized that online art classes are an ineffective way of teaching with specific classes within the art department.

“There was a huge influx of crying and frustration in [the] VAB this [past] week,” Claman said. “My two student positions at VAB have been officially canceled. Life is troubling.”