Last weekend was a brilliant doozy here in Pittsburgh. I mentioned that it was a busy one, so you knew something was coming!
I was programmatically double booked, with a cartooning program, the Idea Factory, from 10am-4pm at the Children’s Museum on Saturday and Sunday, and then as one of the head organizers of the Pittsburgh Zine Fair the zine fair’s annual mixer and reading from 4pm-7pm and the main zine fair event from 2-8pm. Combining the setting up, the striking, the picking up of a U-haul and tables Sunday morning at 6am… It was a lot. Thankfully, I wasn’t afraid to ask for help and got the much-needed assistance from the cartooning team that I scheduled at the museum, and my fellow zine fair organizers. Thank you so much.
I was anxiously going over all possible scenarios, load-ins, transitions, shifts at the museum, and above all the zine fair set up. This anxiety filled all last week, so I’m happy to say that it all went swimmingly. I hate that feeling of anxiety trying to get all of your ducks in a row while an event looms ahead, especially when certain things can only come together last minute, but it’s that feeling that drives me to be careful and make sure that everything goes without a hitch. Especially when you’re in a sequence of weekend that all follow each other, in this case, SPX and CXC happening every other preceding weekend… We made it through folks!
The Idea Factory was a concept that I came up with Zena Ruiz, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s Program Manager. The idea was to create a playful space for an imaginary patent office for contraptions. The goal was to come with ideas for Rube Goldberg style contraptions and draw out blueprints for these contraptions, live, and for kids to take them home to decorate their homes. This process was to be a collaborative one between children visiting the museum and local cartoonists. I was the ringleader of this drawing circus. On hand I had a great crew that comprised of Jennifer Lisa, Audra Stang, Asia Bey, Caleb Orecchio and Camden Yandel. They were my brilliant inventors.
When visiting the Idea Factory, the kids found prompts on colored paper all around the room. These prompts invited them to make a contraption that did a certain thing, buttered toast, brushed a horse’s hair, fed a goldfish, etc. They did this on letter size sheets of white paper. When they were done, they brought their finished draft to the inventor/cartoonists. Children were visiting the museum with their parents so my team had plenty of parental assistance when kids were confused, stuck or needed a snack.
For my crew of cartoonists, their primary role was to work with kids to take their ideas to JUMBO size with writing and clear drawing. Using a big black marker, the cartoonists reviewed over the drawings with the kids asking them about what they drew. How one part connected to the next part and the next part. This was done by having the child work witht the constraints in the prompts and arrive at a workable silly or serious, though usually silly, drawing. Then they went up to the cartoonists and described their machine. The cartoonist the wrote down the play by play in the tradition of Rube Goldberg’s cartoons. Then they worked together to draw, color and label the jumbo blueprint version of their machine. It was REAL.
This was essentially a writing and editing exercise that allowed children to see how their ideas translated across forms. Of course, that was all going on under the hood. On the surface, the kids were drawing their inventions with inventors! It was such a blast.
Besides having fun, the underlying goal was to create a collaborative moment between adult and child of communication and collaborative work – where the child could see their idea fleshed out by someone else. In this sense, it would allow them to be listened to. That their ideas are worthy of attention. This sense of validation is very important to me in the workshops that I lead, with both adults and children. All of this in the tradition of Fred Rogers.
A huge thank you to Zena for inviting us to spend these two amazing days at the museum during Rube Fest. Another huge thank you to museum staff who were always on hand to solve any problems that came up!
What else? Well, the Pittsburgh Zine Fair returned to its home base, the Union Project on Sunday!
Naturally, by this point of the weekend I was beat. All of the previous week, I was on the verge of tears balancing all of this stuff all of last week on top of my day job and getting some sleep. I can’t tell you what a relief it was at 4pm when my old radio pal, dj extraordinaire Allison Cosby stepped up to the plate play a set of reggae and dub on WRCT Pittsburgh’s mobile rig. It was bliss. The sun was beaming in through the stained glass windows, the dub warmed my body with its groove, the wall of noise of chatter fluttered around me. People were smiling, trading, spending money, eating tacos, catching up, meeting for the first time. In all the wretched isolation that comics creates as a commodity form, these moments are what I live for. People really sweetly asked if I had some new comics and zines and I smiled that I’d been busy with other work. Thankfully, they got it.
In it’s eight iteration, the zine fair is a real community production. For example we don’t get access to the space until 1pm, so the first 15 minutes is us all collectively working together to get all 38 tables set up and to get all exhibitors in their spots! It’s a zine fair so we fly low to the ground and are super agile/flexible. Despite that, it was still a super stressful 15 minutes this year. Thankfully, exhibitors Max Gonzalez and Jerome Charles stepped up and helped me direct folks to where tables needed to go. And, as per usual everyone was game to lend a hand and make it happen. And, make it happen we did.
Thom Delair, Raiona Gaydos, Jennifer Lisa and Kate Harmon all pitched in and helped things flow during the fair where we received 790+ attendees from 2-8pm. Wild. We were all wearing many hats that day, organizer Christina Lee was hustling her wares and repping her new print studio, Pullproof Studio, and organizer-on-hiatus/ new-momma Maggie Negrete was there showering her yet-to-be-month-old Mora in the glow of zines. It was a family affair.
We were lucky to have Di-ay Battad snapped some photos right as we opened our doors:
We’re proud of how affordable we can keep table fees. We charge $10 for a 1/2 table and $20 for a full, this is thanks to our low overhead and the great relationship we have with our host site, the Union Project. This important to me personally. This cost allows people to experiment with publishing techniques, commit to publishing things and ideas that are hard to sell, while ensuring that they won’t have to dig themselves out of a financial hole because of their self-publishing.
This year we received 143 applicants but could only offer spots to 64 exhibitors -ACK – this put us in a pickle as to our curatorial process. Above all we wanted, as we always do, to uplift the work and voices of marginalized makers while creating a fertile and ecologically diverse intellectual and artistic landscape in Pittsburgh. The head organizers got together + 6 volunteers and we evaluate our applicants along several axes to arrive at our 64. It went smoother than any prior year, but it was a whirlwind of a process. Though it wasn’t easy, but it seems to have been successful as multiple people came to me explicitly to tell me how much they enjoyed the variety of zinesters on hand.
It’s important to take note, this is a zine fair, not comics show, not an art book fair. There’s nothing inherently wrong about those things, but there are some things that inevitably get lost in those spaces. Aesthetics and popularity before community and empowerment, more often than not.
At the Pittsburgh Zine Fair, we hold in highest regard the idea of democratic multiple and the self-authorization that zines give our community of makers. A high school poet who has been exhibiting at the fair for 3 years now mentioned that she wants to work with the zine fair to organize a high school zine fair in the coming year. What could be more exciting than that? That’s what I’m here for.
This activity originally appeared on BeetleToothRadish.com, a source for simple living and creative, frugal activities.
Time to settle in and make some comics! This should take a little over an hour and a half, so give yourself some time to be present!
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To start, here’s a thought: Comics is the visual language of encoding and decoding realities. Nibble on that for a little while you work on this week’s excercise.
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Grab a pencil and make four square boxes. These will be your panels. However big you want. I typically make mine 3” by 3”.
If you’d like, grab 4 post it notes and use each note as a panel.
It’s time for some music. Put your audio player (mp3 player, computer, what have you) on shuffle. We’re looking for songs with lyrics. Take a moment and listen for a while. You’re encouraged to doodle on a separate sheet of paper or in a notebook while you listen.
Write a lyric in pencil that catches your interest in the first box. One sentence long, at the most. Single words are OK.
Repeat in 2nd box.
repeat in 3rd box.
repeat in last box.
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It’s time to draw and get our brains to start writing in pictures. I’d like you to make a 10 by 10 grid of 1/2” by 1/2” boxes and doodle out 100 things. One drawing in each box. 30 seconds on each box max. If you think telephone, draw how you represent the idea of “telephone”. Fill up all those boxes. Don’t stop drawing! If you’re lucky you can get to a point where you no longer think in words.(Credit goes to Ivan Brunetti for this activity.)
Your warm up is complete. Look at how many things you’ve drawn!
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It’s time to make the comics magic happen. Give yourself a half hour here. Now go back to your 4 boxes with lyrics. What could you draw in each box to connect these seemingly unconnected lyrics? Draw!
Do you want to rewrite your words? Would editing these words make things click together. How will you write these words? Will they appear captions? Will some character say them? You are welcome to not use the words in one panel.
This is the puzzle. This is where your heart and your wits come in. This is the challenge that only you can master.
It is my belief that if you make the goal of your comics the communication of funny, beautiful and or interesting ideas, you can make comics with any level of drawing ability. If you do them for long enough and think about them long and hard enough each time, you’ll make comics that you love to make.
Feel free to email your comics to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like me to see them! Photos or scans are great.
See you next week!
The weekend before last I sold and shared comics during the Penn Avenue Unblurred gallery crawl. I set up shop at PULLPROOF Studio’s inaugural Mini-Market. All in all, it featured zines, prints, and jewelry by a local crew of great artists. It was really nice company. Among us were Jenna Houston, Lizzee Solomon, City Slicker Press, Max Emiliano Gonzales, Jerome “Chu” Charles, Asia Lae, Lilian Kababa!
PULLPROOF Studio is an in-progress printmaking studio in Pittsburgh, PA. They intend to offer a fully equipped silkscreen printing facility with a shared workspace and small storefront gallery at 5112 Penn Avenue in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their mission is to provide affordable access to silkscreen printing equipment, space, and time to artists in the Western Pennsylvania area. It’s going to be nice to have them in addition to the Artists Image Resource on the North Side.
I did my best Frank Santoro/Bill Boichel impersonation and brought comics to the people. Frank loaned me a stash of Colombian comics from when he’d been invited to Entreviñetas in 2014. It was nice to sell those and see them make their way into the hands of Pittsburghers.
I’ve been collecting and curating a wide array of zines and comics that express the vision of visual literacy that I’d like to see more of in the world. Among those collected comics, I also sell comics that I’ve helped produce, my own and those of the Pittsburgh Comics Salon. It’s a healthy mix.
I like to make it concretely clear to people, through in-person experience, that, yes, whatever you’re into, there’s a comic or zine you’re going to love. It’s nice to proselytize as a vendor, not just an educator or artist. I’ll be setting up shop with this set around town some more in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled.
A huge thank you to PULLPROOF, Christina Lee in specific, for inviting me and hosting this event. This is the kind of selling and sharing of comics and culture I want to see more of in Pittsburgh.
IMAGE + WORD = CULTURE
Oh boy, the last post here is from, what, two years ago? Oof, these past two years have been a bumpy ride.
Life has gone in a lot of directions and I’ve had to let go of a lot of things for my own mental and emotional health. I’m now 27 and the flow of time is getting weird. I’m not old, but I’d be lying if I told you I had the energy I had when I started this blog six years ago. Maybe that’s a blessing in disguise, though. The past 2 years have seen me double down on the things that actually matter. Not just pissing away tons of energy in 8 directions at once, to no noticeable effect.
In this energetic vein, digital communications are completely different creature today than they were in 2004, let alone 2008. These days, there’s 8 conversations going on in pieces across 4 different communications platforms. It’s overwhelming trying to stay abreast of it all. Often times I lose myself and feel out of time. Not in a good “eternal” way, more of a twilight zone type of feeling. It’s really draining.
Which is why the groundedness of Simon Moreton’s recent newsletter for his zine Minor Leagues really hit me:
Spring is here! I mean it isn’t, but it feels like it could be soon; the potatoes are chitting on the window sill, we’re turning over the soil on the allotment, and the rhubarb is growing back. The days are getting longer and the air smells good. Goldfinches on the overhead telephone wires. Sparrows in the bushes. Electric air.
The other day I was drawing the last comic for the new issue of Minor Leagues and something really weird happened. The house shook. ‘Huh’ I thought, ‘that was an earthquake’ and carried on drawing. True story.
I’ve been making Minor Leagues for two years now, and, frankly, I never want to stop. It’s my way of talking to the universe, to the world; asking if people can feel this thing that I feel, too. The world is rough, but life, well. What is it?
Yup, I love making zines. Thinking, writing, drawing, scanning, laying out, designing, tweaking; printing, assembling, stuffing envelopes; going down the post office, joking with the cashier about the cost of overseas stamps… daydreaming. Joining the dots, sowing the seeds.
It’s been a brutal personal time trying to get regrounded since I got back from studying at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
I left the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont in 2014 with my MFA and dove into a job working in water ionization, building filters for hospitals. Why I thought that was a good idea, I’ll never know. (It’s the best paying job I’ve ever had but goddamn was that an awful experience…) maybe I thought a non-arts, non-administrative job would let me have mental space for comics making? Who knows.
I do know that it created enough of a financial buffer for me to help Jenn through some tough times and I was left with some savings to take a chance kickstarting a career teaching comics and visual literacy freelance in Pittsburgh. I started working multiple gigs simultaneously, among those were a program called the Digital Corps, workshops series through the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, a couple of Artist Workshops at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and eventually through a private school, Shady Side Academy as part of their summer programs. In tandem with this I was helping Frank Santoro launch the Comics Workbook Rowhouse residency, co-organizing the Pittsburgh Zine Fair annually, and facilitating 3+ gatherings a month for the Pittsburgh Comics Salon.
Can you smell that smell of burn out? Well, I wasn’t able to at the time. If you want to know about this time, let me know and I’d be happy to talk in person. I have a hard time stringing together linear explanations of how things happen, so you’ll have to be patient with me.
For now, I’d like to just let you know where I’m at. I’m doing better. I’m more focused, despite not being as young and able. I’m currently holding down full-time work at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, tending to my personal life with Jenn Lisa, honing my comics making/analyzing chops through writing weekly for Comics Workbook, co-organizing the Pittsburgh Zine and doing some really amazing things with the Pittsburgh Comics Salon, “bringing comics to the people.”
So what’s up with the Pittsburgh Comics Salon in 2018? You may have heard about it before but weren’t quite sure what it was. Here’s the deal:
The Pittsburgh Comics Salon is a cultural organization dedicated to creating an ecosystem for comics making in Pittsburgh. This includes hosting workshops, readings, book discussion groups, gallery exhibitions and publishing solo works and anthologies by local artists. The goal of the salon is to build solidarity, get new conversations started between cartoonists and comics-makers in the area and to push the frontiers of comics.
We currently meet once a month (down from 3 times) at the Lili Cafe in Polish Hill. That is soon to change, but more on that soon.
The Pittsburgh Comics Salon strives to provide a safe and positive experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, age, or religion. As Bill Boichel and Frank Santoro have said before: commodity form as community form. meeting folks where they’re at. I’m doing my best to reach far outside of the stagnant bubble of “the comics world”, indie/alternative/commercial and mainstream alike.
It’s all one stream. I’ll go into this more at length in the future, for now though, take it in: It’s all one stream.
Anyway, the hope is to write here more often, sharing the process of growth taking the Salon to the next level as a cultural entity. This’ll be a space for public reflection that I’m accountable for 😉 thanks for joining me for the ride.
This one is my Yo La Tengo comic on the shoulders of the poetry giant, Mary Oliver. The words are excerpted from her poem, Wild Geese.
Process post on this one to come soon. Lots of details to comment on this one! For now though, I’d like to simply share the comic.
If you’d like to support my work and have a special book, order a copy for yourself or a friend.
I Can See the Birds (Juan Fernandez) – 5.5″x8.5″ – Color & Risograph – $6 postpaid
OUT OF STOCK
I Can See the Birds (Juan Fernandez) – 5.5″x8.5″ – Color & Risograph – $6 postpaid
OUT OF STOCK
I worked this all out last August, but it never made it online! Here are some thoughts I had after reflecting on a series of library workshops that I did at several branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
I’d like to talk to you a little about doing comics workshops with teens. If you’re like me, you can sometimes get a little bottled up in your art practice. You find yourself in artistic ruts that you just can’t seem to get out of for weeks. You want to be writing, drawing, sequencing, but nothing comes…
One way that I’ve found to reinvigorate my personal art practice during times like that is to teach workshops with teens. In the longterm, working with their raw talents helps me to find new perspectives in my comics making practice. At the end of the day, they just want to have fun.
Whenever I organize activities for them and they aren’t excited to engage I take note. There’s something missing from the activity. Their lack of engagement is likely due to me not thinking about the activity in a holistic enough of a way. What is it missing? Is it a sense of purpose? Is it spontaneity? Is it too confusing? Is it too collaborative?
When I figure out what these essential elements are I often realize that they are missing from my regular comics making. Whether it’s blindly collaborating, drawing from life in silly ways, or just using color at every step of the way,I hop to it and do two things. First, I plan out new and improved lesson plans and then I start a new SHORT comics project that folds in that essential element.
With a little patience, the joy comes back to my comics and the classroom.
During the month of August I led a weekly comics workshop with Teens at several branches of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. It was a blast.
As part of this months updates from the Salon, you’ve received a PDF copy of the zine that we collected highlights of our work in. It is called, The Cosmic Comics Lab. You can read our zine by downloading the attached PDF at the bottom of this page. It’s goofy, full of lots of energy and lots of learning by young comics makers from all over the city of Pittsburgh.
One of the activities that students enjoyed the most and lost themselves in was adapting songs they liked to the comics page. I got this idea from advice that Pittsburgh’s talented Sophie Goldstein gave to comics makers online:
I really want to tell stories with my art but I’m having trouble getting started. Can you give me some advice about how you start a comic?
I would suggest starting small with a one to six-page story. A lot of cartoonists begin by doing autobio comics but really you can do anything with comics–movie reviews, journalism, fairytale adaptations, &c. I think adaptations can be really great because the story is worked out and you can focus on the mechanics of storytelling.
Students often struggle when they are asked to come up with an idea for a story that will work on a single or a couple of pages out of the blue. Her advice got some wheels turning in my head and I was inspired to have teens use songs as jumping off points for their comics. Working in this way, we could focus on the mechanics of comics communication.
We printed out the lyrics of the songs and then figured out what sections of the songs would make for good comics pages. The song functioned as a loose script that they could fall back on when they felt a little lost. It wasn’t a tight narrative script, though, which meant that they could do ANYTHING with their panels so long as they found ways to fold the images around the song.
Because the students got to choose the songs they worked on they felt invested in the process and wanted to see the comics to completion.
Here are some glimpses at their processes
I will be leading more comics workshops this Summer, in libraries and DAILY at a summer camp. Who knows what we’ll get up to!
Daunted and Freed by the Script
Every month I’ve been putting together a recap of the Comics Salon happenings for supporters of the Comics Salon Patreon. I’d like to start sharing those thoughts here with you. Let me know what you think, comes to mind while you read in the comments. If you’d like to support the ongoing efforts of the Pittsburgh Comics Salon, take a look at the Patreon page I’ve set up. Be a patron of the arts in Pittsburgh, whydontcha?
The goal of the salon is to build solidarity, get new conversations started between cartoonists and comics makers in the area and to push the frontiers of comics making in an intimate and welcoming setting here in Pittsburgh, PA.
August saw Allison Strejlau, take the floor to lead an exercise in the handling of translating a tight comedy script to rough pencils. Allison has been the series illustrator for Boom!Studios‘ Regular Show comics and illustrates for Papercutz’ Nickelodeon Magazine Breadwinners series, and has had work with the Adventure Time and Uncle Grandpa comics from KaBoom!Studios. Oof, has she got comedy and narrative chops! The idea here was to give local comics makers a very structured comics prompt where they were primarily encouraged to flex their visual sequencing muscle.
The structure that one usually gets when working a work-for-hire artist can be daunting and hard to describe. Nevertheless for some cartoonists this can be an extremely freeing comics making opportunity. The “what” of the comic is already determined by the writers. The comics maker then gets to focus exclusively on the “how” of the comic. We wanted the Salon to have experience with this mode of creation.
The page that was handled happened to be the page that Allison had to draw when she applied to the open call to be the main artist on the series for BOOM! Comics.
Allison explained the demeanors of the characters Rigby and Muscle Man but did not give away what the characters looked like in the series. As a result, the characters look similar, but vastly different from page to page. It was funny to see everyone’s reaction when Allison revealed that Rigby was a racoon!
The nuts and bolts of this exercise revolved around how the panels would sit on the comics page. How many panels in the first tier? How about the second and third tiers? Seven panels on a page provided an interesting challenge in that it asked the tiers of the page to have unequal numbers of panels. The meter of the page would therefore have to deal with that AND be sure to provide a good rhythm for the visual gags.
This was Allison’s final page. For BOOM!
Be sure to compare the convergences between the pages made during the Salon and Allison’s inks. Take note of where comics makers put the three tiers and which tiers they clumped together. What effect does that have on the reading experience? What differences do you notice from comic to comic?
Needless to say, a great time was had.
P.S. Check out these pages made with children using the same script. The children who made these pages were aware of what the characters looked like.