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.
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
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.
dear diary, I want to fill you in on what’s happened since the last time we talked.
I moved back to Pittsburgh to be by Jenn’s side. We’ve been making lots of little books and spending lots of time together.
As I type this I’m settled in Pittsburgh, I live and work here again. But something big happened before I moved back.
That’s right, I finished my studies at the Center for Cartoon Studies with this fine crew of cartoonists.
Aaron Shrewsbury, Simon Reinhardt, Ben Evans, Josh Lees, Eleri Harris, Allison Banister, Will Payne, Mathew New, Tom O’Brien, Ben Gowen, Steven Krall, Luke Healy and Sara Sarmiento. (Not picture, but adored : Iris Yan)
So how did I graduate? My studies culminated in what you see below.
I challenged myself to make a book every month. and wouldn’t you know it from November through the month of May I churned 6 books. Every month I explored different terrain, but for the most part I held on tight to the 4 panel grid. I wanted to use my time at CCS to learn my comics scales. I wanted to learn first hand how rich a world of comics I could create on my own with only four panels. I’m really proud of the result. (I built 12 of these little drawer boxes.)
These comics ended up being ruminations on love, fantasy, and moments both big and small. I collaged, watercolored, doodled, and digital painted my way to my deadlines. I was hoping to create a work situation where I could blend playful experimentation with a committed publication schedule. I feel I succeeded in that.
The time at CCS was balanced between my thesis, two part time jobs and lots and lots of talking to Jenn over the phone. I missed her. I was extremely focused, but it’ll come as no surprise that by March I was getting worn down. A monthly deadline is nothing to sneeze. It can drain you. When my spirits were low I had friends and family that blew rejuvenating winds in my sails. I couldn’t have done this without you.
Since I’ve been back I’ve been up to a lot of things.
We’ve been going to a couple of little comics expositions.
We even got a chance to go back to Assemble to facilitate another comics making Crafternoon!
I’m so proud of everyone’s work in this box. It has been an honor to bring this work into the world.
We brought this issue into the world in style by celebrating its release at Copacetic Comics, along with the release of the third issue of Maple Key Comics!
I started organizing the Pittsburgh comics salon with Frank Santoro.
We meet up every month to do drawing and comics sequencing exercises, catch up with each others’ comics making, share what we’re reading/watching and drink hearty amounts of coffee. The goal of these salons is to help build solidarity across Pittsburgh’s fertile comics making community. I want to make a welcoming space where experimentation and playfulness in comics making are encouraged and fostered.
So, it’s been 8 months what are we up to now round these parts?
Well, I’m transitioning into new work teaching in the city. I’m focusing on linguistic explorations of visual language, using comics as the basis for those studies, soaking up all the work of Neil Cohn, planning some book making projects for PIX, the Pittsburgh Indy Comics Expo, traveling back and forth between Ohio and Pennsylvania to see my family and staying cozy by Jenn’s side.
That’s about it for now.
How about you, what are you up to?
A couple of weeks ago, Carl Antonowicz who writes for the Schulz Library Blog sat down with me and the Dog City boys to chat about what we’ve published in the past year as Dog City Press. The interview is now up on the blog. We talk about the editorial process, our philosophies and our aims for the future.
If you want to learn more about what we’ve been up to, this is as good a time as any!
Big ups to Carl for taking the time to interview us about this. It means so much!
My friend Sean Knickerbocker has just put out a new 3-color risograph 28 page comics ‘zine! It’s called AWESOME SOUND. This is the beginning of a beautiful, beautiful thing.
If you’d like to pick up a copy, hop on over to Sean’s online shop. They’re just $5!
Chinese opera character drawn by a child (Chen Keyan) for this 1935 cover.
In a more historical vein, I’d like to share with you an amazing cartooning resource that I came across recently, Modern Sketch. I recommend you take a moment to acquaint yourself with this classic Chinese cartooning and illustration magazine!
Published in Shanghai monthly from January 1934 to June 1937, Modern Sketch conveyed a range of political and social commentary through lively and sophisticated graphics. Topics included eroticized women, foreign aggression—particularly the rise of fascism in Europe and militarized Japan, domestic politics and exploitation, and modernity-at-large as envisioned through both the cosmopolitan “Modern Girl/Modern Boy” and the modernist grotesque.
I urge you to take a moment out of your day to read John A. Crespi’s essay “China’s Modern Sketch: The Golden Era of Cartoon Art, 1934-1937” at MIT Visualizing Cultures. There’s a lot to soak up.
Every issue can be seen in high resolution at Colgate Digital Collections. What a treat!
Hu Kao, “Swimsuits of 1934” (issue 7, July 1934)
Crespi highlights a few comics of the era. Be sure to have a look!
Jin Mo “Smoking,” “Quitting,” “After Quitting”
Liao Bingxiong “A Wise Man” January 1936
It was awesome. I’ll be doing a write up soon, so that you can get all of the juicy details. Obviously, you can expect some pictures so that you can be bummed out that you didn’t come by.
I organized the event in under two weeks, so there sure was a lot anxiety on my part as to whether or not Pittsburgh cartoonists were going to be willing to take a leap of faith with me in changing up the notions of what a independent press expo could be like. Not to mention, whether or not anyone was going to show up!
I’m so grateful for everyone that helped out and participated.