Alum Says Time at UA Prepared Him for Unpredictable Career Path

Ken Pisani has done stand-up comedy, written for TV and won an award for a comic book. He credits the UA for preparing him for the many turns his career has taken.
Jan. 28, 2014
Ken Pisani
Ken Pisani
A page from the first issue of "Colonus."
A page from the first issue of "Colonus."

University of Arizona alumnus Ken Pisani's career has bounced from graphic design to stand-up comedy to television writing, producing and directing, all before returning to his passion: comic books. 

After more than two decades in the entertainment industry, Pisani turned his efforts to making a comic book and started writing "Colonus," a futuristic tale of a dead Earth and colonies on Mars and Venus. The dark sci-fi comic became a hit, winning the 2013 Geekie award for Best Comic Book/Graphic Novel, and will be published by Dark Horse Comics. 

"I grew up on comic books, always a big fan. But you get away from it at a certain point. Everybody does. About 10 years ago, I was a producer of a History Channel special, 'Comic Book Superheroes: Unmasked.' It was great and I got interested in the medium again," he says. 

Through the special, Pisani met several of his idols, and went on to create a television pilot with Denny O'Neil, the longtime Batman writer who returned the character to his darker roots after the campy 1960s TV show. When he couldn't get a deal for the pilot, Pisani turned his attention to Colonus, which features art from Arturo Lauria. 

Pisani, a 1983 UA graduate, says his unique mash-up of skills and meandering career path weren't what he expected. An art director when he joined Sports Illustrated, Pisani eventually moved to the magazine's TV division, where he received two Emmy nominations. That led to Los Angeles and more TV work, mostly writing for comedies – though he has continued to produce, with credits on all four broadcast networks, and cable outlets including Nickelodeon, Disney, Syfy, TNT and others. 

Pisani has returned to campus to talk with art majors, telling them to keep an open mind and develop their skills as best they can. 

"What I told the students was that if you can see your future right down to the place you live and the fabric on your sofa, that's a little scary. Your career is going to take on a life of its own and every decision will lead to something else. We all have a plan, but one thing leads to another and leads to another and that's what happened to me," he says.  

Pisani, who grew up in New York and has been a dedicated cartoonist since grade school, wanted to make a big leap for college. 

"I didn't want to go to art school like the Rhode Island School of Design. I wanted to go to a university. I was looking for a school that had a good art department and a good business school and very few schools do both things well," he says. "I didn't want to graduate only knowing art. I took astronomy, I took humanities, I took business courses and creative writing classes, and that strong foundation is all stuff that helps you in any career."

Pisani credits his professors, especially Jackson Boelts, for encouraging him to explore more than just his then-current interest in cartooning. 

"What I took away from a major in visual communications was that everything I continue to do — graphically or in television or with the written word — is about communicating something, an idea, a concept, and that's been the common denominator in every strange turn of my career."