SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Cartooning Educator Is a Cable Hit

By day, Curtis Visca walks the campus of San Juan Elementary School as vice principal, keeping the peace among rambunctious students.

By night, Visca is "Sammy Surf," "Mr. Wizard the Wiz" or "Lester Lunker Smith," television characters he uses to entertain viewers while teaching them how to draw cartoons. Correction, CURTtoons.

Visca, 28, of San Clemente, has produced his own cartoon show in his home for the last three years. The program had aired on Dimension Cable Service's public access channel until this season, when Dimension started broadcasting it each night at 5:30 p.m. on Channel 3.

"We saw the value of his program as a teaching and entertaining piece, and we decided to put him on our community local programming," said C. Yvette Welch, Dimension's programming director.

On the set of a recent taping, Visca wore a Hawaiian-print shirt, multicolored shorts, black sunglasses and a huge straw hat. He was "Sammy Surf," teaching viewers how to draw "simple and silly" cartoons.

Without a script, step by step, Visca instructed viewers how to draw with simple commands for a mouth and eyes like, "draw a small 'c' " and "make an oval on the left, then an oval on the right."

As a surfer, he practically sang his instructions, which were peppered with terms like "dudes," "dudiclettes."

For "Mr. Wizard the Wiz," Visca talked with a high-pitched squeaky voice. He donned a long purple robe, fake gray beard and wig topped by a purple cone hat. Visca called viewers "little wizards."

Visca said his show serves purposes besides teaching. "It boosts self-esteem of anybody who can hold a pencil and follow directions, all the way up to senior citizens," he said.

Before becoming an administrator two years ago, Visca taught in the Capistrano Unified School District for three years. In the classroom, he used his cartooning skills to reward students with sketches.

"Some teachers would give candy, I'd draw cartoons," he said. "I could draw a cartoon on the spot."

Although he majored in art and advertising in college, Visca has no formal training in cartooning. He said he taught himself to draw as a distracted elementary school student.

When he pursued his drawing in college, Visca found that his own personal style violated too many rules for him to be successful. As an advertising major, he again found his style too unconventional; however, it earned him praise, he said.

After graduating from Cal State Fullerton in 1985, Visca found himself working as a janitor at Disneyland because he could not find an easy way to combine his love of artwork with a need to be outdoors.

It was his parents who pushed him toward education, where he enjoys working with children and drawing. "There are not many jobs where you can apply your art skills and move around," he said.

A drawing of a former class hangs on the wall of his tiny office. In it, he has sketched the children as he remembers them. One boy looks like the puppet "Howdy Dowdy" and is saying, "Who made you king?"

When he is not in character as a vice principal or a television cartoonist, Visca does free-lance drawing for private companies. Work takes the fun out of it for him, though.

"I like to draw, but when people are critical," he said, "it becomes less fun. It's a job."

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