The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Joe Swarctz, custodian of the arts – and the arts campus

Custodian and artist Joe Swarctz’s work is on display in the Williams Visual Arts Building. (Photo courtesy of Joe Swarctz)

Custodian Joe Swarctz doesn’t just clean up the arts buildings — he is a published artist himself.

“Since I was in elementary school, I drew, and after I graduated high school … I went to art school,” Swarctz, who has worked for the college for 15 years, said. “After that, I worked at a couple of animation studios in New York City.”

His largest active project is a series of children’s books completed in collaboration with author Ralph Greco Jr. titled “Echo City Capers.” Swarctz and Greco were high school classmates who reconnected years later.

Most of the pair’s books are self-published, but professional publishers have picked up a few of their titles in the past year.

“This past November [or] December, we got a book published out of Canada,” Swarctz said of his and Greco’s book “Who Turned Out The Lights?” “The bigger news is that now we’re getting one of our junior books published in London in a few days.” That book, “Too Many Bunnies,” will be published by Purple Unicorn Media this week, according to Swarctz.

Swarctz and Greco’s books, for the most part, follow characters in the titular Echo City.

The books’ bright characters and vibrant palette allow them to fit in with the typical image of children’s literature, but Swarctz balances that loud color with more muted, municipal settings. Swarctz draws on both of these styles when he portrays Echo City, capturing the two extremes. This style is informed by Swarctz’s comic book reading background, one he shares with the character he employs most often, Nightbat.

“I had this character because I owned my own comic book store for five years in Jersey,” Swarctz said of Nightbat. “I made the character a little more likable and cuter, and all the other characters I made a little softer so they would be more appealing to younger kids.”

Another of Swarctz and Greco’s books, “U be U,” tells the story of an alien robot named Noofie. After receiving ridicule for being much smaller than other robots, Noofie flies to Earth and discovers she is much larger than her earthly peers. Nightbat is able to comfort the distressed Noofie and convince her to just be herself.

Swarctz and Greco also hold events for children where they talk about their books and how they make them. Swarctz said he tells the kids at those events, “You might get inspiration from anybody – your friend, your parents, your teacher. You just basically say, ‘Do you have an idea?’ or ‘I can’t do this, but can you do that?’ That’s how things work.”

When talking to Lafayette students, Swarctz takes special care in offering advice, “I even tell the students … ‘You gotta be proud of what you do. You can’t be worried about outside noises and distractions. Just concentrate on your own stuff; it’ll turn out good.’”

Swarctz said being an artist has helped him connect with students and improve their art. “It’s nice for them to know that I’m an artist, not just a custodian,” he said. “They kind of respect you a little bit more. If I can help them, I’ll help them.”

As for the faculty in the art department, Swarctz quipped, “They’re all very supportive … and sometimes I tease them and say, ‘You don’t consider what I do art.’”

Swarctz’s work is on display in the art studio in Williams Visual Arts Building and is available for purchase in bookstores across the Lehigh Valley, including the Lafayette College Store. More information about his collection of books with Greco can be found on their website,

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Benjamin Dupont
Benjamin Dupont, Business Manager

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