“I was an ADHD kid with no interest in joining mainstream reality, so what could school possibly offer me?” said Dan James Bandit, a famous Oyster River alum.
Bandit was a student who hated tests, hated sitting still, and hated homework, but he found his passion to be art. He is most commonly known as Ghostshrimp and for being the former lead background designer for the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time.
Bandit gives an immense amount of credit to the art department at ORHS. “Big shoutout to the Resource Room and the Art Department, because without those people—Mrs. Stoddard, Mr. Lawrence, and Mrs. Bilynsky—I would definitely not have graduated. They genuinely cared about my future, probably more than I did at the time, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” states Bandit.
Bandit’s style of art is unique and Art teacher at ORHS, Tim Lawrence saw true talent in him. “When drawing figures, some people draw very, very accurately without any deviations. With Dan’s figures, they had a certain quality of characteristic…Dan took a lot of liberties in his art and it served him so well later on in life. You look at figures in his work now and you can’t mistake them for anything else.”
.Bandit credits Mr. Lawrence with supporting his art. “Mr. Lawrence really pushed me to get serious about drawing, and that was definitely important, having some positive reinforcement for something that I was doing was helpful. I always loved to draw but he was the one who really got me thinking about it as a career.” Mr. Lawrence had gone to Pratt in Brooklyn, NY, the same school that Bandit ended up going to as well.
Bandit excelled at Pratt since he was able to put all of his time into making art. “I loved college because I got to draw almost all the time and I realized that my ADHD gave me unlimited energy for things that I loved to do,” explained Bandit.
One of Bandit professors at Pratt, Rudy Gutierrez, saw something in Bandit from day one that would make him a special student. “Dan stood out at Pratt right away because of his enthusiasm, energy, and desire to soak in all that he could. He truly was a light that was present in my classes.” What most impressed Professor Gutierrez was that Bandit was not afraid to be who he is, not afraid to explore, learn and run against the so-called norms that exist out there in the world, “where labels, borders, boundaries and categories, develop into these homogenous boxes that restrain us from learning about ourselves and each other.”
After he graduated from Pratt Institute, Bandit moved back to New Hampshire, having aspirations to purchase a chunk of land in Northern New England and some day to start a family. All he needed was some money. Bandit moved back in with his parents for a year where he was working everyday on illustrations to build up his brand. Once Bandit was making enough money, he moved out and rented apartments in Portsmouth and Dover. He then eventually built a little solar powered cabin in his cousins forest in Farmington. “I lived there for a few years, building up my career, thinking about who I wanted to become, and developing a vision of my future and a plan to accomplish my goals,” said Bandit. Along came Cartoon Network who valued Bandit’s freelance work and offered him a job.
He then moved to Los Angeles for three and a half years to develop the world of Adventure Time and also to be the head background designer on Seasons 1-4. While in LA working, he met his wife and they changed their last name to Bandit and had their first child, Wolf, and just recently had a baby girl named Juniper. They then bought 25 acres in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont and settled down.
Bandit now runs a thirty-day training camp for young artists and draws upon all he learned from teachers at ORHS and Pratt. Eight “cadets” are selected specifically to spend those thirty days in the woods on Bandit’s property, where they practice the skills such as drawing in the forest, building forts, and other creative projects.
When asked to reflect on his experience at ORHS, Bandit recalls two things in particular. “The good part of ORHS for me was the friendships. I met several of my best friends there, and they are a big part of my life today, so I am very thankful for that.” He also knows that without teachers who believed in him – a not so great student who was figuring out who he was – he would have not been able to create his own reality, which he calls “his dream reality.”
Written by Owen Kurtiak