This post originally appeared on the Schulz Library Blog.
CCS Alum Sophie Goldstein (Class of 2013) is a comics powerhouse.
Although she only graduated this May, Goldstein has had an extremely productive year of cartooning. Her work has recently been appearing in a host of reputable venues. It’s been quite a year for her in terms of publications.
A slew of her extremely polished work began to appear in the world upon her graduation in May. Goldstein self-published part 1 of her psychological sci-fi drama, House of Women and exhibited it at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. After House of Women‘s publication, Goldstein got right to work and began to craft Edna 2, the story of one man’s determination to resist the society around him. This October Edna 2was published online by Study Group Magazine and in print in Irene 3, the comics anthology spearheaded by 2012 CCS graduates Dakota McFadzean, Dave Weinar and Andy Warner. If all that weren’t enough, in late October, The Good Wife, a short story written in 2012, appeared inThe Best American Comics 2013.
Just last week Goldstein launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the 360 strip long web comics series that she wrote and drew with Jenn Jordan from 2009 to 2013, Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell, into print. The campaign was successfully funded in 4 days. Suffice to say that Goldstein’s work is getting the attention it deserves.
“Darwin lives in Brooklyn, the borough of choice for hipsters, artists, deities and an assortment of mythological creatures. Darwin has a problem. Due to an unfortunate incident involving some intense snogging, an unbalanced high chair, and a framed image of the Buddha, he acquired a massive karmic deficit. Long story short, he’s going to go to Hell. Darwin doesn’t particularly want to go to Hell, so he’s doing everything he can to save his immortal soul.”
The forthcoming print collection of Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell(DCiGtH) will bring together the entire run of this series, along with behind-the-scenes commentary, concept art and other miscellanea. Those interested in copies should definitely check out the Kickstarter campaign to learn more.
I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Sophie about her adventures in webcomics withDCiGtH.
Juan Fernandez: You started DCiGtH in 2009 and kept it going until 2013. During two of those years you were a CCS student. Writing a webcomic of a high calibre without missing weekly updates is tough. How did you keep DCiGtH going strong while you balanced the work load at CCS?
Sophie Goldstein: When I first applied to CCS and I was having my phone interview with James Sturm to test whether I was insane, you know, as he does, I told him that I was doing this webcomic. He said, “Oh yeah, you probably won’t be able to keep that up while you’re here.”
So, in anticipation of that we went from updating twice a week to once a week, which caused endless consternation among our readers that we just never heard the end of! I worked up a big buffer so the first semester of the first year was buffered. After that it was very stressful, but I had been doing DCiGtH for so long that I could do it a little on automatic. We had written far ahead and I was thumb nailing it far ahead, which is itself a kind of writing. The drawing, coloring and inking I could do even when i was under a lot of pressure. I think we only missed one update and it was because I forgot to load the strip. It wasn’t that it wasn’t there. It was just that I forgot to upload it. That made me die a little inside because we went so long and it was just one update! I couldn’t ever say that we had never missed an update.
JF: Besides other webcomics, what kind of comics were you reading in college, before you started DCiGtH?
SG: Mostly Vertigo. That was probably because my friend Steve who lived across the hall had all the Vertigos. He had them as trades. He had a lot of single issue stuff but that doesn’t fit in your college dorm room. There’s only so many long boxes you can really house in an NYU dorm room.
Then I started reading more of the indie stuff, like stuff D+Q publishes and Fantagraphics publishes, Fantagraphics particulary. I was into Jaime Hernandez and Craig Thompson and I was really into Dave Cooper, which probably says something about me.
Oh, Dan Clowes! I really loved Dan Clowes. And Adrian Tomine. The big names of indie comics.
JF: DCiGtH has such a strong central arc. Did you know how you wanted to wrap up the story from the beginning or were you just starting with an interesting premise and going from there?
SG:Well, vaguely, to avoid spoilers, I think that when we had first talked about it, I remember we wanted to start a story arc right away. That would be the one story arc and then we started posting and we had shorter story lines. Our first ones were 4 strips long then our next one was 8 strips long and they just grew and grew. We enjoyed it, so we decided, “Well, we’ll just play around in the world and you know we’ll get to the longer arc later.” We always had a vague idea of “Well, darwin’s on this redemption path. that’s the big story. Darwin Carmichael is going to hell. He needs to try to avoid that.” I think in the back of my head I knew how it would end. I don’t know if Jenn had different ideas, but in the end we agreed that the ending was the only one that could be satisfying from an artistic standpoint
JF: It seems that there was a really strong creative back and forth between you and Jenn in the writing process. How did the two of you split the creative responsibilities when working on the strip?
SG: Well, there’s some strips that are called “Skittles’ Owner” and those particular strips are drawn by Skittles in crayon. Those strips are drawn by Jenn, but really by Skittles.
I did all the art for the regular strips. In terms of writing, we really wrote it together. We used a shared Google document. We would talk about the plot and would figure out what was going to happen in each strip. We would divvy up the strips and then we’d check each others stuff. It was a really collaborative process to the point that a lot of the time I don’t know who wrote particular strips or who wrote particular lines. The lines that I really remember are the ones that Jenn wrote that I find hysterically funny because those really stuck out. There’s a strip that we have about these unicorns with some very lewd language and it was the funniest. You can watch someone type in google docs, which is very weird, and I watched her write the line, then erase it. I typed “NONONONO, we absolutely have to keep that line!”
JF: DCiGtH has an extremely strong and loyal fan base. How did you build this kind of audience?
SG: When we started, really early on, Project Wonderful was a thing. It was, and still is this thing created by Ryan North, who does Dinosaur Comics. Basically, you bid on ad spaces on other webcomics. That was helpful. When you’re readership is just your mom, any more readers is a bonus.
The other big breakthrough that we had was by doing guest strips. I got introduced to Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya (Johnny Wander) IRL. Then I ended up doing a guest strip for them. It was really great. Somehow Spike from Templar, Arizona found our comic and linked to it and that was really big thing. My boyfriend Carl read my strip before we met and he found it through spike. I met other people who found my comic through Templar, Arizona. So, this link did everything for my life! I think that having that was the first really basic thing. Then you hit kind of a point where things gather their own momentum.
JF: When web cartoonists package their web comics for print, it seems that many of them retouch their early art. Are you doing any touching up of colors or redrawing of any kind? Are you redoing any strips?
SG: Oh god, I don’t think I want to even start with that because, literally, where would it end? We’re doing some color retouching because the early strips were done in RGB and a book is printed CMYK. My ignorance of that is coming to fruition right now. Then we’re going to add white panel borders to all the strips. They’re not in the early strips. We were doing black borders, that now look tacky to me. And we’re copyediting because there are some serious spelling and grammar errors that need to be rectified. They’re not charming and they interfere with the reading experience.
JF: I heard you’re no longer actively seeking to make money off of illustration or work for hire comics. Could you talk a little more about what your current relationship with comics making is now that you’ve graduated from CCS?
SG: Well, when I first came to CCS I had an attitude, that wasn’t necessarily career oriented, rather a kind of knee jerk one where I thought, “If i’m making money, then I’ve arrived.” So the idea having people pay for my comics, pay for me to do comics seemed like the goal. That’s what I wanted in my life. And then, as I did some of that, it was great, they were paying me, they liked my art, but I wasn’t proud of those comics They were not rewarding to me. It’s a huge time suck. No matter how much they pay you it’s not worth the amount of time you spend and time is a finite quantity.
So my current thing is that I have the day job and I can count on my rent and everything else. When I’m drawing comics it’s comics that I’m doing specifically for me. I have done stuff for money but it’s the kind of thing where it’s not someone who doesn’t know my work. It’s someone who is familiar with my comics is approaching me because they like my comics, not just my art. So that sort of stuff I’m still into, but there’s not enough money to really compensate for not having the time to work on the stories that are closest to my heart.
JF: On that note, are you chipping away at House of Women right now, or have you put that off to rest for a while?
SG: It’s on the back burner. At the moment, I’m working on a 72 page science fiction, story that is unrelated to House of Women. It’s more related to some of the other stuff that I’ve done. The kind that could be set in the same world. It’ll be in six twelve page installments. Which doesn’t seem very long, but it’s good, It’ll give me a deadline to get things done.
JF: Wonderful, I can’t wait to see the story unfold. Thanks for your time, Sophie.
Autumn is upon the Upper Valley and I’ve finally tied the last bow on projects that were started this summer. As such, I feel it’s an appropriate time for some kind of reflection.
At the heart of this summer were coffee, kids and comics.
In the months of July and August I got to work with Paula Levin, the head experimentalist and founder of the LAB, the Literary Arts Boom program.
Paula had me hopping across the city of Pittsburgh teaching comics workshops. At the end of my stint in Pittsburgh teaching comics to kids ages 6-12, was the Comics Club Camp, a weeklong intensive cartooning camp that provided kids with 6 hours chocabloc with writing, drawing, reading and play.
If you don’t know anything about Paula Levin’s Literary Arts Boom [The LAB] here in Pittsburgh, I suggest you read this nice little write up by Marty Levine on Pop City Media. It’s an amazing educational program in Pittsburgh.
The LAB offers free out-of-school programming to Pittsburgh youth, ages 6-18. Students practice and improve their inquiry and writing skills in a safe and unique space by participating in project-based workshops that incorporate art, technology, and communication. Mentorship and creativity inspire students to pursue their interests, find their voices, and tell their stories.
Paula, The LAB’s “head experimentalist” is focused building a culture of reading, writing, and creativity in Pittsburgh, giving youth the tools, support and resources necessary to bloom into critical minded and inspired thinkers. Given the great divides that exist across the American public education system, it’s a real honor to be involved with a program as vibrant and ambitious as the LAB.
It was a joy to work with this bunch of inkstuds. I couldn’t have done it without the assistance of Jena Tegeler and Jenn Lisa.
I love comics. You know that, reader. So you know that the opportunity to give back to the world through the teaching of comics is one I treasure being given. This was without a doubt the highlight of my summer.
I believe comics have an extremely significant impact on children (I can pull up some research and studies if you like, but I’d rather talk from my heart for a moment!). They allow children to gain a visual literacy, something crucial as they progress towards becoming a prose reader. Cartoons offer a less-structured view of literature and a creative way of learning. They make the act of holding a book feel more natural, without overwhelming young readers. (And once they have bridged that gap to traditional reading, comics present an even more nuanced kind of literacy that, at its height is the marriage between graphic design and poetry!)
Children, especially at an early age, often struggle with reading and writing, especially with the given obstacles in their schooling system and communities. Comics, however, enable them to read and tell stories at an early age. They allow for kids to communicate in their own personal way. That means so much.
Reading has always been a struggle for me, so I can relate to reluctant readers. I struggled to learn English when I moved to the United States from Venezuela. Nevertheless, I know how much reading opens up the world and I feel a responsibility to help kids develop the skills they need to experience the deeper, richer world that reading provides.
I see my role as a teacher of comics as above all a facilitator of visual communication. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you some photos from the camp!
If you’d like to see the comics that came out of the camp, check out this publication I put together! The collection contains work that each student selected from his or her portfolio. Some students were churning out so many pages during the week that the book only reflects a sliver of their output!
One of my favorite activities during the Comics Club Camp was to have kids fill in the word balloons for comics whose word balloons had been emptied. Comics mad libs if you will. I chose some pages by Tove Jansson, Lewis Trondheim and Iris Yan. The commonality was that all the characters were animals. I found that kids could relate to those comics the most easily. The results were a riot to read out loud as a group.
After reading our pages we read what the original strips said and talked about all the different ways in which we had interpreted the body language and scene changes.
If you’d like to know more about this part of my summer and would like to chat about teaching comics, send me a message or leave a comment! I’m really passionate about this and could talk your ear off about how to fold comics making into the lives of future generations.
Helping me out during the Comics Club Camp was Jenn Lisa, a talented cartoonist who I had the pleasure of meeting this summer. She found out about the camp through the fliers that’d been posted around Pittsburgh and mentioned she was interested in helping out.
Outside of the camp we met up and drew. It was really nice to talk comics and drawing with someone as seriously as I did with Jenn, especially out of White River Junction. In White River Junction I’ve felt like a minority given that my default drawing state is doodling, so meeting someone for who doodles are equally important was great.
Talking comics was fun, but the real joy was drawing with Jenn. Jamming off of her energy. She creates the coolest textures with pen and pencil and has an awesome eye for color. The following drawing was made between Jenn, Jena and me.
Cartooning-wise, Jenn focuses her comics energies in daily comics that she occasionally posts online. I really admire the her ability to capture fleeting moments in pencil. It’s a real skill. I highly suggest you check out her work. (See below!)
While in Vermont I finished off this drawing that collages several of our jam drawings. It’s really neat to collaborate this way.
Before the Comics Club Camp was in full swing, I organized an independent press show in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It was called the Little Book Fair. I scheduled it to coincide with the the monthly Unblurred Gallery Crawl on Penn Avenue in Garfield. Admission was free and it was free for artists, writers, publishers and bookstores to exhibit. (This event was an attempt to take the lessons I’d learned a year ago when I put together the ToonSeum Minicon in the Spring of 2012 and apply them first hand.)
My main motivation with this little show was to give back to the community that has given me so much in these early stages of my development as a cartoonist. I know for certain that I wouldn’t be on the path that I’m on right now if it hadn’t been for the tireless spirit of Bill Boichel, owner of Copacetic Comics. He opened my eyes to the world of independent press through the first iteration of the Pittsburgh Independent Expo (PIX).
I thought it’d be nice to put together a small, intimate show that could make this kind of publishing activity visible to a public that doesn’t necessarily self-identify as readers of comics, ‘zines and independent press books.
As a result, the Little Book Fair aimed to be a one-day celebration of the vibrant small-press and self-publishing community in Pittsburgh. Dedicated to fostering community and dialogue amongst independent artists, small publishers, bookstores and readers, the fair was a success in bringing readers and writers face to face in a welcoming space.
You might remember me posting the flier for it a while back. Here’s a photo from when I was making the fliers!
I printed the posters one evening, quick and dirty at the Artist’s Image Resource in Pittsburgh. Having access to a place like AIR made a print job like this a breeze. It’s an awesome place.
Pictured above are Pittsburgh residents Wayne Wise, Rachel Masilamani and Tom Scioli. What do they have in common? They’re all winners of the Xeric Grant! I believe that this might be the first photo of them all together holding the books that they published through the Xeric Grant. If it is, boy what an honor to have taken it!
This picture makes my eyes tear up. Jena and Jess were the best housemates I’ve ever had in Pittsburgh. I miss ’em.
As you can see, there was a great turn out!
Early in the summer I submitted several comics to the Yellow Fox Quarterly. The Yellow Fox Quarterly is a new journal of words and pictures, edited and managed by Sara Keats, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.
They decided to include several of the comics that I submitted, which was a real honor. They printed my nine page comic ode to the poet, Basho! The Quarterly is filled with lots of great fiction and poetry. It’s really nice to see my comics in the company of all those words! Sara did a bang up job putting this first issue together. I’m enthused for future issues.
While in Pittsburgh, I got in touch with my fellow classmates and the new class of students at the Center for Cartoon Studies to organize a little anthology of comics called Quick and Dirty Summer. I organized a book like this last August, and it was a great start to the academic year at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Just about everyone contributed 4 pages that explored the topic of “Summer”, which brought the total page count to a whopping 72 pages! It features broken hearts, anal probes and lemonade, among other things. What more could you ask for?
Let me know if you’d like a copy of this baby! I’ve been selling them for $5.
After I returned to White River Junction to resume my studies at the Center For Cartoon Studies, I buckled down with my pals, Simon Reinhardt and Luke Healy to assemble the second issue of Dog City, the box anthology that we curate together.
As I’ve mentioned previous posts, Dog City is a small press comics magazine dedicated to publishing quality minicomics. Each issue of Dog City consists of a curated selection of minicomics packaged in an artfully designed cardboard box. I drew the cover for this issue!
In this issue, I contributed a selection of the daily comics that I’ve been making since January. I packaged the comics as individual pages, two comics on one page, eight pages total. I like it when these comics can float around and be rearranged. It feels like a print equivalent of how many people experience them out of order on the internet.
The sleeves themselves have a screen printed design that wraps around. They’re really simple and I really like them for that. I like to imagine that folks pick out their favorite of the dailies and tape it up on their bedroom walls or on their refrigerators.
Production on this box was sped up significantly by the tireless help of friends. They helped during several production assembly sessions that we organized. We couldn’t have done this run of 100 boxes without their help.
Here’s a little peek at the making of the posters. For this box, cartoonist and designer Christina Lee designed the poster. We printed them in the lab in the Colodny building at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
We donated a copy to the Schulz Library. Pictured above is Dan Rinylo, creator of Mangy Mutt. It was a treat to see the smile on his face as he poured through the contents of this issue. That’s the moment I live for when making a book like this!
Then we took the boxes to the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. We showed off our babies to the world. That place was choc-a-bloc with great cartoonists. We had the opportunity to chat with many friends old and new.
I’m really proud of the work that Luke, Simon and I have been doing on the Dog City Project. It’s an honor to be able work with cartoonists I respect and admire in this editorial capacity.
Besides working on Dog City, I got in contact with several friends to coordinate the screen printing of illustrations and post cards. A highlight of this printing work for me was Caitlin Boyle’s illustration of Tima from the film Metropolis.
In this past year I’ve been honing my printing in skills and helping print things for friends has been one of the primary avenues for that growth to happen. I hope to incorporate a lot more printing into my thesis year here at the Center for Cartoon Studies.
Right now, I’m continuing forwards with my daily comics, writing weekly about new arrivals and archive highlights at the Schulz blog, and slowly teasing out some long form comics all while doing the other things that a guy’s gotta do to keep his head on straight. This is going to be a really interesting coming 8 months of my thesis in cartooning!