Coming up for Air

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I’m now in Pittsburgh, coming up for air, finally able to look back to the wacky world of comics I’ve been knee-deep in for the past couple of months.

It’s been quite a spring. For now, the dailies are on hiatus, I’m teaching kids how to hone their comics making skills, working on some large screen prints, doodling daily and trying to wrangle some longer form stories.

As you may have heard, I’ve been editing a new comics magazine called Dog City with two friends Luke Healy and Simon Reinhardt. The first issue is out!

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It feels like we’re on the right track with Dog City, seeing as how some folks have even liked it enough to write about the first issue. Steve Bissette gave his detailed impressions on his blog and Jose Luis Olivares even named it his “book of convention” in his write-up of the Maine Comic Arts Festival just a few weeks ago!

Here’s a look at what you can find in this first issue.

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This self-published magazine aims to curate a collection of minicomics of the highest calibre. We’re really excited by the work of all our contributors and we hope Dog City will help make their work more widely available to readers around the world.

This first issue contains the following stories:

Pigs Incorporated by Iris YanLanding by Ben EvansLuke HealyJosh Lees and Iris YanAll Set by Simon ReinhardtVisits by Luke HealyHelene by Me!, Dead Bulb by Mathew NewStarship Booby-Prize by Eleri Mai Harris and Restricted by Ben Gowen.

Though we’re starting out small, we have high hopes for Dog City.

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The first finished box.

Dog City has been a great project for honing my screen printing skills. With as many screen-printed objects as we included in the collection, it seemed inevitable that I’d become a proficient printer.

The decision to hand craft so many of these covers stems from the printing culture at the Center for Cartoon Studies. Self-publishing, both physically and digitally is a huge part of the ethos at CCS. You make a comic, you print a comic.

Instructors like Robyn Chapman and Jon Chad  and graduates like Sean Knickerbocker provided invaluable support in making this potpourri of books a possibility. Countless thanks goes to them for their advice and support.

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Working with Simon and Luke has been an invaluable experience given that the three of us are quite different. We think differently, we work differently, we read differently. Despite that, a shared love for quality cartooning and top-notch storytelling trumps these differences.

We provide great checks and balances to each other while trusting each other editorially. It’s very satisfying work.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Dog City Issue 1, hop on over to our shop!

Besides Dog City, this Spring saw me spend a lot of time crafting an 80 page full color book of 4 panel comics, but I can tell you about that another day!

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the Drawing Power Report

This article was co-written with Simon Reinhardt. It originally appeared at Dog City Press.
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This past weekend a couple of us from Dog City trekked down from Vermont to Pittsburgh, PA for the Drawing Power conference at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The museum setting established a wonderful tone for the conference. It was a breath of fresh air to go to an intimate event with such a clear focus on discussing comics.

A big thanks is due to Jude Vachon, zine librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Vachon was the core organizer of this event and responsible for steering it toward such a success.

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The days events ran from 10 AM until 5 PM. Each panel was a jam packed 45 minutes.

The first panel of the day was moderated by Bill Boichel, owner of the Copacetic Comics Company. It focused on the idiosyncrasies of the local Pittsburgh comics scene. The panel consisted of Lizzee SolomonAndy ScottPaulette Poullet and Nate Mcdonough.

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The panelists spoke about their experiences self-publishing and the role that the Pittsburgh community played in their work practices.

Scott spoke about his anthology, Andromeda and the restructuring of the publication in late 2012 from a monthly to a quarterly format. Solomon spoke about cartooning being at the core of her multi-disciplinary work practices while Nate McDonough retold the beginnings of hisGrixly publication.

McDonough, Solomon and Scott spoke of their times drawing together during the early issues of Andromeda and the competitive one-upmanship that their drawing parties would foster.

The panel explored the inroads that the four cartoonists had made into self-publishing and the external factors in their lives that had driven them to continue to self-publish in Pittsburgh.

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Following the Pittsburgh cartoonists panel, French cartoonist, Boulet (Gilles Roussel) , author of the 24-hour comic Darkness took the stage to give a lecture on the evolution of his cartooning practices.

He spoke about streamlining his creative process and the increased emphasis on improvisation that he had developed in his work. He spoke about working with Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim on the series, Dungeon along with the exquisite corpse comic, Chicou Chicou, that he developed with several French cartoonists.

The aim of Chicou Chicou was to create a fictional “auto-bio” group comics blog. The cartoonists would pass strips back and forth over the internet adding pages until they were complete. Each of the cartoonists involved created a persona and crafted a drawing style that suited their character. Boulet played a small, geeky girl named Ella.

Besides discussing the subtleties of drawing stories from the perspective of a female character, Boulet talked about the harassment he received online when writing under a female pen-name. He reported receiving unsolicited love letters and invitations on dates and noted that when he got into disputes people would ask “are you on your period or something?”

At the end of his talk, Boulet spoke succinctly of his influences and of his current project, a 200 page improvised story in which he is neither pencilling nor scripting. He showed several of the 60 pages that he’d  completed and the audience was in awe.

Freelance writer, illustrator and graphic designer, Joan Reilly then took the stage and talked about her work editing the forthcoming feminist anthology, The Big Feminist But. Joan presented the book’s contents and the genesis of the project.

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The Big Feminist But arose from Reilly and O’Leary’s attempts to learn why so many of us, women and men, couch discussions around feminism with the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…” or “I am a feminist, but…”. They decided to embark on the journey of making a comics anthology as the first step in starting a conversation about the issue.

The result is a promising book that features “graphic musings on life, love, lust and liberation,” by talents such as Jeffrey Brown, Gabrielle Bell, and Lauren Weinstein.

The book’s list of contributors is especially notable for including a number of couples working together, as well as single men and women. Reilly mentioned that a number of Kickstarter backers expressed their gratitude that men were involved with the book as well– an observation that highlights The Big Feminist But’s drive to create an expansive and inclusive conversation about feminism.

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Subsequently, John Porcellino,  took the stage to talk about the story of his life of zine-making and distribution. He talked about the story of King Cat,  and the Spit and a Half zine and comix distribution service.

Porcellino touched on his artistic development and the early years of King Cat (focusing on the first 50 issues, collected in King Cat Classix). Porcellino has created books, comics, and publications since he was 7 or 8, and was creating zines for years before he discovered Factsheet 5 and learned that other people were doing it too.

He read some highlights from early King Cat issues and talked about his work processes and goals in creating that work. One revelation from this portion of the talk was the influence of Marvel’s monster comics from the 50s and early 60s.

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While the relationship between these fantastic stories and Porcellino’s chronicles of everyday life might not be immediately apparent, Porcellino emphasized the drab, repetitive nature of the monster stories as well as the alienation of their typical mad scientist protagonists. “As an artist I’m very interested in repetition and boredom,” he said.

Porcellino also talked about the sales and distribution history of King Cat, which was instructive for the many self-publishers in the audience. Gesturing to the cover of the first issue of King Cat to be sold in stores, Porcellino noted the 35 cent cover price and remarked “in true zine fashion, I probably charged 35 cents because it cost me 36 cents to print.”

He also talked about his history of working bizarre or menial jobs to support his comics, and pinpointed King Cat issue 42, which he wrote, drew, and edited entirely on company time, as “the point I became a professional cartoonist, because I was being paid to draw comics.”

Porcellino spoke about his interest in the idea of real life and the ineffable experience of being alive. One thing he mentioned—and we think this is a big part of what makes King Cat so special—is that he tried not just to describe the event of his experience, but to communicate the feeling of that experience. Porcellino characterized the subject matter of his comics as “this weird feeling I had… [of] the underlying mystery in every moment,” a description we think King Cat readers will agree is quite fitting.

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Caitlin McGurk, librarian at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum moderated the following panel on self-publishing. Porcellino remained on stage to join Ramsey Beyer, Rachel Masilamani and Bill Boichel to chat about their experiences self-publishing in the United States.

Similar to the first panel of the day, the panelists spoke of how they’d found their way to comics and more generally towards self-publishing.

Masilamani recounted first encountering zines through Christina Kelly’s zine of the month column in Sassy magazine. She spoke about the experience of receiving the Xeric grant and the consequences that it brought along with it. It allowed for her to get her first comics into the world and to hit the ground running with her first collection of RPM, but from the get go she was on her own.

The panelists thoughts on the pricing of mini comics were particularly interesting. Not surprisingly, Boichel as a vendor and Porcellino as a distributor had a lot to bring to the discussion of the relationship between self-expression and the commodification of desire. Boichel mentioned that artists sometimes come to him with $20 minicomics, reporting that they sold a lot of copies in New York, but he knows they won’t sell at that price point in Pittsburgh.

Beyer emphasized the importance she placed on the ethics of the production process and mentioned having worked with 1984 Press in Oakland California.

Boichel, suggested that aspiring cartoonists always pick someone to write to; a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, someone.  By thinking of their audience’s interests and their budget, they could be more likely to create works that would move through the world more freely.

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Dash Shaw followed the self-publishing panel. He began his talk by showing some recent animation work. One of the most striking animations that he played was the music video,Seraph, which he had made in collaboration with Frank Santoro and other artists for Sigur Ros’ valtari film experiment. 

Shaw took the audience through a brief survey of his cartooning work, starting with his three current publications– the minicomic New Jobs, published by Uncivilized Books, the pamphlet3 New Stories, and the graphic novel New School, both published by Fantagraphics– and working his way backward to the mammoth graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button.

One through-line of Shaw’s talk was his thoughts regarding line and color. “I could talk about color forever,” he said, and it’s hard not to get excited by his original and distinctive ideas.

Many of the pages Shaw showed from New School use color in ways that are entirely divorced from traditional comic book coloring. Shaw rarely uses colors  to simply fill out the drawing, preferring instead to use the collision between the color and the line-art to create meaning and emotion, often in oblique and subtle ways.

This unwillingness to spell things out directly for the reader was evident in Shaw’s discussion of line and drawing as well. He spoke of being inspired by David Mazzucchelli’s idea of the “dumb line,” (which he describes in more detail here) and by trying to push back against the conventions of “good” illustration.

“So much illustration is about telling people what something is and how to feel about it,” Shaw said, adding that he wanted to make drawings that don’t tell their reader how to feel.

He also spoke about his fascination with the house styles found, among other places, in manga and Archie comics, speculating about an ideal, impossible Archie style. In Shaw’s conception, even the best Archie artists fall short of this Platonic style, and their own personal style would be the accumulation of their failings at achieving a true Archie drawing.

All in all, it was a dense, stimulating talk, and we can’t wait to dive into New School and read it with the attention Shaw’s work demands.

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The final panel of the day, “A Career in Comics” was moderated by Caitlin McGurk and featured Jim RuggEd PiskorFrank Santoro and Dash Shaw.

The fluidity of the discussion was really satisfying. Without much effort it hopped from discussions of style (and avoiding “style”) to explorations of narrative collapse. Of course, a highlight of the panel was the discussion of the differences between making money around comics and making money in comics.

Career development and survival were recurring topics, and every member of the panel had a different way of approaching making a living as a cartoonist. The common thread was work ethic and hustle.

Santoro half-jokingly described himself as “basically a used book dealer at this point.” Rugg spoke about doing design work and also discussed the Flight School fellowship , a professional development program for Pittsburgh artists he recently participated in.

To see the comics medium getting the attention of an established institution like the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and for it to occur at the Carnegie Museum was inspiring. Here’s hoping for more small events around the country with this level of intimacy and intensity of dialogue.

all in all, you could say…

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Leading a Cartooning Workshop at Assemble

This past Saturday I travelled to Pittsburgh to lead a 3-hour cartooning workshop with Andy Scott at the community space for arts and technology, Assemble.
Have a look at the goings on. It was a blast.

imageimage-3image-4One of my favorite things to do is to make comics with kids. They know what’s up.

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To get into the nitty gritty about the workshop, Andy and I facilitated three primary activities.

To cover the basics and to make sure that kids didn’t feel much pressure regarding their drawings, we has a station dedicated entirely to covering the step by step construction of cartoons. Andy and I provided materials that would allow them to draw both famous characters and entire simplified worlds a la Ed Emberley. The kids would have the opportunity to copy them by sight or by using tracing paper.

I wanted to make sure that we harped on copying as a positive learning tool and not as something to be ashamed of. I know first hand how empowering it can be to know how to draw a character that you see on tv and on billboards. In my mind, an activity like this one would allow the kids to go home having nailed down Homer Simpson or Sponge Bob, a brag worthy skill that’d be a great boost to their self-esteem.

Besides step by step cartooning, we set up a self-portrait station, where kids were encouraged to draw themselves as animals, robots, bugs, superheroes or their favorite household items. These drawings would then be used to create a poster design for the following week’s Crafternoon.

In addition to that there was a large collaborative megacomic on a massive sheet of butcher paper. For this megacomic, Andy laid down a basic structure of frames, a couple of “meanwhiles” and “BUT”s and a few city skylines. After that, we let the kids go to town, encouraging them to take the stories to the outer limits of believability.

Of course, given that the space is oriented towards drop-ins, kids were welcome to follow their cartooning muses in any way they pleased. Some kids wanted individual attention, so I spent time with many of them making one sheet minicomics. The chief approach to my process was by collaborating with the kids, trading off our comics frame by frame.

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Everyweek, the crafternoons offer a different engaging activity free of cost to kids from around Pittsburgh, but particularly to those from the Bloomfield, Garfield and Friendship communities. Have a look at their varied March offerings:

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If you’re living in Pittsburgh and are interested in the possibility of volunteering your time to lead a crafternoon, please do so. The more we share our talents with kids in spaces like Assemble, the more opportunities for growth we give ourselves and the children in our communities. You can get in touch with assemble via the following email: outreach@assemblepgh.org

Next week’s Crafternoon will be a screen printing session with Steph Tsong and the friendly folks from the Artist’s Image Resource in Pittsburgh. Using the contributions of the workshops attendees, I put together a little poster for the kids to try their hand at printing.

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The goal of the poster was to create something that would work as promotional material for the crafternoons that would playfully capture the high energy environment which typifies the Crafternoons at Assemble and that could also be customizeable by the kids on their own. (Thus the empty word balloons.)

It was a blast to run a workshop like this. I hope to work with Assemble and similar organizations in the future to create spaces for kids to draw and work on comics fundamentals.

If I could do this for a living, well, that’d be a dream come true!

WRCT: an inked zine

gettin’ there. now I’ve got to get it into a printer friendly mode so that my good friends in pittsburgh can print, staple and distribute.  I’ll have some photos of it being distributed sometime soon. For now, enjoy the meat and potatoes of it…

Much love goes out to all the freeform freaks out there in radio-land.

The kind folks at WRCT took some photos from their recent orientation event and sent some my way. Gotta say that it gives me an immense amount of joy to see these little guys being put to use in the hands of folks interested in the station.