Idyllwild Arts: Fantastic

Published : Wednesday, October 11, 2017 | 1:27 PM

The name of the year-old, ochre-colored cat that Mara Lund Montano patiently walks across the Idyllwild Arts campus says something about her interests.

Bilbo is not named—in case you were worried—after Mississippi’s infamous segregationist governor and United States senator, Theodore Bilbo (1877-1947). He is named, of course, after Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit son of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took whom J.R.R. Tolkien made famous.

“Yes,” Mara says, “I’m a fantasy person.”

As a member of both the Creative Writing and the Humanities faculties at the Academy, she has plenty of chances to teach fantasy. That’s especially true of her Graphic Storytelling class, which she took as a student on the way to her 2005 graduation from the Academy.

“I always loved comic books and comic strips. I was a little slow to learn how to write as a child, so I told my stories through pictures.”

From Idyllwild, Mara went on to Hampshire College, in Massachusetts, to study Creative Writing, Cinema, and Graphic Storytelling, and then to Savannah College of Art and Design, in Georgia, which awarded her an M.A. in Sequential Art in 2015.

After two years of teaching at the Academy, she reports that “I love teaching here” because the students “have so much heart.”

One place where heart is mandatory is in Creative Writing classes.

“When I was a student here, the critiques were brutal. But people are trying to help you improve your work. You have to remember that criticism isn’t personal.”

Remembering that can be hard, though.

“So I try to be as nice as I can by pointing out the good qualities as well as what isn’t working.”

Anyone who has seen Mara walking Bilbo—the cat, not the segregationist politician or the Hobbit—knows that she can be very nice, indeed.


Idyllwild Arts, 52500 Temecula Road, Idyllwild, CA 92549-0038, (951) 659-2171 or visit





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