A Comics Id is Tenderness: Notes on Cartoon Crossroads 2017

by Adam Griffiths

The first book I purchased on the expo floor at this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus was Kyle Baker’s.

Earlier this year, I had seen Baker speak at the Schomburg Center in New York about his book, Nat Turner to a roomful of kids. At the time, I had been struck by his ability to communicate; his engagement with the audience seemed intrinsically connected to his unabashed and explicitly mercantile use of language. Odd, how this seemed to captivate both his panel members and the audience, young and old.

The persona of the salesman is an American motif – a motif that, under our current political climate, is being reduced to prideless status by the huckster in the Oval Office. When exactly did Americans need to believe that a good businessman’s success is dependent upon rhetorical violence and winner-take-all bullishness? I chose the term ‘A Comics Id is Tenderness’ for this write-up because Baker’s work revisited me several times during this expo. Over the course of the week, it became more and more clear to me that Baker has been a creator who has deftly championed the stories he feels are important to him alongside of his commercial work, who has kindly informed peers of his intentions, who brushes from shoulder the allegedly unforgivable concept of sacrificing creativity for financial gain.

More on this later. To the lectures!

(Editor: What follows are Adam’s notes and thoughts on the lectures and talks he attended in the two days of CXC programming held on the OSU campus (9-28/9-29), and the two days of the CXC expo which was held at the Columbus Metropolitan Library (9-30/10-1.)

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Dan Gearino on Research Methodology Applied to Comics-Making History 

(Thursday, Sept. 28th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Gearino’s new book, which he spoke about

Notes from the talk

Dan Gearino on Phil Seuling: Phil Seuling is regarded as a pioneer of comics fandom during the late 60’s and early 70’s – first when serving as organizer of the annual New York Comic Art Convention and then with his Sea Gate Distributors Company, which laid the groundwork for the direct market system of distributing comics.

Did Seuling’s arrest on March 11th, 1973 lead to the creation of the direct market as we know it today? Seemed so, but when Gearino went investigating, he found that the arrest, for ‘distribution of obscene material’, was nowhere near as simple as he thought. While fellow early comics distributors and champions of comics such as Jim Hanley sincerely believed that Seuling’s aggravation with censors was the spark for his history-making wholesale business venture, Seuling’s former business partner Jonnie Luvas could vouch for Seuling’s motivations more clearly.

Luvas sketch

The tricky part here was that Luvas, less a comics fan and more a business ingenue, had moved on from comics. To find this person who could truly vouch for Seuling’s acumen in business, Gearino had to ‘go outside of existing source records,’ and penetrate several outlying personal networks of non-comics lovers. Luvas (yes, Johnny Thunder is named for her) was a key figure in Seuling’s business life who understood that Seuling was actually seeking to escape his passionless teaching gigs.

The importance and meaning of this investigation has to do with progressive incarnations of the comics business. Before the direct market, Gearino explains, comics were sold indiscriminately as mass market objects; this was how comics ended up as a part of mainstream culture. You could find them anywhere – on newsstands, in grocery stores, dime shops. By the late sixties, however, this business model was crumbling, and store owners were clearing gluts of low-cost, low-selling comics from their retail spaces.

Seuling’s creation of the direct market paved the way for the comics specialty shops of the 1970’s and 80’s. These specialty shops saved comics as we know them, as they could not only sell new comics being made, but also the comics of yesteryear. Comics hoarding found its reward in this new market. Back issues and loyal accumulations of forgotten works could be pulled out of obscurity.

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Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum Highlights

Tales from the Vault: 40 Years / 40 Stories, curated by Jenny Robb and Caitlin McGurk

Comics history is both creativity and industry, here illustrated by selections of original works and artifacts.

“Creepy” was the first word that came to mind when regarding this bathing suit from 1950, scribbled on by cartoonists such as Ernie Bushmiller, Milton Caniff, Alfred Androla, Otto Soglow, Ham Fisher and others. The museum has six of these bathing suits, and they were drawn on by these superstar artists at a promotional party for a waterproof ink pen. Life magazine photographed the party and later, deciding the images were not family-oriented enough, declined to publish them.

Roe v. Wade Comics
Comics has a documented history in its deployment for use in the political arena. Here, we see two causes with inverse agendas using comics as propaganda. You can read either of these comics in full at http://www.ep.tc/junior/

Who Killed Junior? 1973
This comic, published by the organization Right to Life (the largest pro-life organization in the country, now called The National Right to Life), illustrates the abortion procedure from the viewpoint of a destroyed fetus.

Abortion Eve, 1973
By “Chin Lyvley” (Lyn Chevli) and “Joyce Sutton” (Joyce Farmer)
The hazards of promoting abortion in America in any way are evident here in the authors’ use of psuedonyms. The women both worked as birth control counselors at The Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California. Under the heading of their company, Nanny Goat Productions, they published this comic which provides arguments for the legality of abortion, and also personal accounts from a diverse array of women about their abortion experiences.

I Know! Let’s Drop Taxes Completely and Let Our Kids Worry About ‘Em! 1985
Jim Kammerud for Norfolk Daily Press / Times Herald

Drop Taxes Completely “Jim Kammerud Collection”

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Handwritten Notes from Talk and Teach Presentation: Kevin Huizenga on Depicting Time in Comics Form

(Thursday, Sept. 28th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Kevin Huizenga

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SÕL-CON LUNCH BREAK AND TALK-BACK
Kat Fajardo, Vicko Alvarez, Lisa Sheperd, Jiba Molei Anderson

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, in Hal Hall, on the OSU campus)

(Editor: Sol-Con is another comics festival that happens on the OSU campus simultaneously, allowing folks to move seamlessly from CXC events to Sol-Con events, as Adam did here and there. On Sat./Sun. the Sol-Con guests and exhibitors joined the CXC expo at the library.)

Aldama, child and mother in front of stage

“What is your favorite thing about comics?” was one of the questions asked by the large group of children attending SÕL-CON this year, which, in my year of absence had transformed into an intensive of workshops and instructionals on drawing and storytelling for youth. “My favorite thing,” said moderator Frederick Aldama, “is seeing the younger generations take up making comics.”

A real standout during this talk was Chicago-based Tejana Vicko Alvarez, who couldn’t stress enough that the kids present recognize that their taking part in SÕL-CON probably meant that each and every kid there was interested in a life pursuit doing what they loved. “I tried to find a career [in a 9-5 job] and got bored of it real quick,” she says, and then admits, “the one thing I enjoyed I was told not to do. It was smartest decision I ever made to come back to art.” She continued, it helps that “I had a really pushy friend,” who encouraged her to follow her calling in comics.

“How many of y’all have heard that art is gonna make you money?” Vicko asked the audience. All of the kids raised their hands. “How many of you like art?” All hands raised. At this point, Jiba Molei Anderson, who was watching the talk, joined the panelists onstage. “If I ignore something I love, my mental focus is gonna go out of whack, right?” Alvarez declared. The children agreed with her.

“We are all here for the love,” Anderson says. “Even when we’re frustrated we’re not gonna quit. Creative people, to survive we really need to create…that hamster wheel never shuts down.”

“But tethering that to real life is always a challenge to me,” said Lisa Sheperd.

Lisa Sheperd notebook drawing

Lisa Sheperd talked about how doing this expo was moving her back towards comics. “Seeing that spark in you guys’ eyes reminded me of the spark I once had [when I was getting started]. That’s a great thing that doesn’t happen everyday! I’m putting my work out again because SÕL-CON encouraged me… Don’t let it slide by and let life get in the way.”

CXC organizer Caitlin McGurk at SÕL-CON opening reception, introducing the show

More Quotes from SÕL-CON Panel

“What don’t you like about comics?” was a question from a boy who remained behind with his mother after the other children left for workshops.

– “I don’t like posers in art trying to tell me how to create,” said Jiba.

-“I don’t like what I see when people not from my community try to tell my story,” Vicko Alvarez said.“What do you see when you see Latinas in the media?” she asked the audience. “Sexy hot mammas!” A woman called out. “Most Latina women look like my mom,” Alvarez continued, and “if you don’t tell your story, somebody else will, and they’ll base it off of stereotype.”

-“Mainstream comics look to what we’re doing right here, right now. The problem is, there are not enough people of color working at DC at Marvel,” Jiba Andersen says. “the people here in this room today? Creators of color? We make our own. We do it this way because you have a community that has felt so maligned for so long… They [the mainstream] see what we’ve been doing, we’re here and we’ve been here. The problem is that the push-back can’t be handled. They know that we can talk to people who cannot listen through our art.”

-Vicko: “[In the mainstream, instead of being inclusive,] …people put out tragedy porn and that’s not changing a thing.”

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Chris Ware and Caitlin McGurk

Spotlight on Chris Ware

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, at the Wexner Center, on the OSU campus)

Analyzing the brain in motion

A near religious silence had fallen over everyone walking out of the Chris Ware dialogue at the Wexner Center. A masterful storyteller and illustrator, Ware’s talents have been visibly leading the illustration world, in the name of comics, for some time now. His discussion with Caitlin McGurk signaled that he remains unrelenting.

As I was listening I realized that Chris Ware’s humorous import is indeed a formula, but that he definitely showed up at this discussion, and probably shows up at every discussion, trying to give away that formula, which is great. Any artist worth her/his salt is always acting within a spirit of generosity. Perhaps Ware is so incurably sad because of how bad he himself believes he is at communicating; a suitable contradiction for a person who has donated their life to creating works of art.


The Chris Ware formula (or, American humor in a nutshell)

1) Declarative sentence.
2) Rebuttal of declaration (typically more complex and cruel than it needs to be, so, funny.)
3) Agreement with his own previous rebuttal finally, because self-rejection is an un-frightening, redundant horror that should make you smile warmly.

So then what Ware does is he puts the formula to work. The guise here begins with Ware saying:

1) “Comics are an art of memory.”

2) But then, because everyone in the room including Ware is, y’know, kind of old, we then have to have a discussion about how terrible we all are at remembering things. Of course we have to bring this up, because in order to remember what we were just (just!) speaking about, we have to introduce dissonance tension to our brains through aural communication with other humans. We are becoming ridiculously complex here in the service of Ware’s humor:

“When you become a cartoonist, you begin to lose track of your language.”

We as an audience, are becoming redundant in order to allow Ware to mirror the brain’s experience of memory for us. Where did Ware get the concept of “comics as an art of memory?” Why in fact, Ware states, rather meekly, he got it from a paper that his stagemate, Caitlin McGurk wrote!

The room warms to Ware as the surprised McGurk, suddenly joyful, becomes flustered and confused, flushed and slightly embarrassed. Ware has delivered his sweet, sweet punchline. It’s almost too saccharine, nearly syrupy!

Ware brings up grid cells, saying, ‘if we remember a house, it exists physically in our brain.’

3) The agreement that Ware has set us up for here is that we’ve been having a discussion about McGurk, not Ware, since we began, and that we will now remember, “Comics are an art of memory,” in all its redundant, charitable, pitiable human glory. Too clean!

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Was Herriman spoofing the political magazines of his day?

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CXC Award ceremony

(Friday, Sept. 29th 2017, at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum)

Jeff Smith, Kyle Baker, Howard Cruse, Jenny Robb

(Editor: Kyle Baker was awarded the CXC Master Cartoonist Award, and Howard Cruse won the CXC Transformative Work award.)

Revelations from the award ceremony:

Tom Spurgeon praises Kyle Baker as a “Leticious learner.”

After thanking Howard Cruse for his “Masterful work,” Tom Spurgeon asks Cruse to think about getting Stuck Rubber Baby back into print. ‘Oh my goodness, it is a shit-ton of work to re-release a treasured, nearly forgotten book,’ I scribbled. Then it dawned on me: Stuck Rubber Baby isn’t merely a political story about the Civil Rights Movement. It’s a teen mood sugar fiction that affects a whole country.”

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Kyle Baker and Connor Willumsen

The Other Mainstream: Indy Creators on Non-Indy Books
Jeff Smith, Peter Bagge, Kyle Baker, and Connor Willumsen

(Saturday, Sept. 30th 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

In this dialogue, we are revisiting Kyle Baker again. What’s unfortunate in this particular discussion is that there is no visible female contribution. However, what ended up happening was that Kyle Baker – long known for his trademark crankiness – opened up to the audience in a way that is (apologies, meme) unexpected.

Peter Bagge: “Spiderman (Bagge’s creation → Spider-Man, Startling Stories: The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man – a reinterpretation of the SP origin story) was the best-selling comic I had ever made and the worst-selling Spiderman Comic ever.”

Kyle Baker laughs at Peter Bagge’s comment, then goes on to say: Robert Morales, when developing the script for the series “Captain America: Truth,” has used the term ‘drugs’ throughout the entire story. The story details a fictional declassified experiment in which African Americans are the precursor experiment to the secret project that creates Captain America. “We gave the manuscript and art to the publishers and they loved it, but they wanted to replace the term ‘drugs’ with ‘serum,’ so essentially the term “drugs” in Morales’ story came to stand less for something like the Tuskegee experiment and more for the alleged HIV conspiracy.”

Baker then described how he revisited some of these themes from this book in Leticia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter, a short comic he completed in 1999 for the DC Elseworlds 80-Page Giant #1.

I’m going to revisit Kyle Baker’s work again at length here, to describe, I guess, what sort of happens with modern commercial illustrators in regards to their relationship with their employers. Baker is willingly immersed in comics mythology – it has replaced any previous myths imbued in him in concern to civilization – everything from religion to gender. Somehow, this deep engagement has made him an indispensable employee within a mainstream corporate media outlet. It may seem that Baker retains a sort of power through publishing these stories that are really important to him and to his progression as a drawer. However, the full picture we don’t get from Baker when he is telling us about these industrial anomalies – these stories he most cares about – is that he’s also completing an insane amount of commissioned work as he gets the access to publish these stories that mean the most to him.

Sketches of Kyle Baker and Connor Willumsen

To end here, I want to include some quotes by Connor Willumsen, a fresh cartoonist whose work I think represents the next wave of comics, which is COMICS LITERATURE.

“You can never predict what people are gonna respect or not.”

“With Witchlands, I tried to do it like uh, how these comics are invented?”

“I always found out about these rules [about how to draw and depict certain characters] the hard way.”

What was so calming about when Connor spoke of his experience in mainstream comics contemporaneously was that the industry-men sitting next to him quivered at hearing of Connor’s creative travails. Connor’s a young man, no children to take care of, no family to support; his focus remains on the mythology and drawing practice, not on salary. What luxury had those seasoned professionals grown to actually? Who cares? It was nice to see those older industry men loosen up – they all asked Connor if they could take a look at his books later. I don’t know who planned this discussion, or if anyone could foresee that this type of generational showdown might occur, but we were there to witness it.

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Howard Cruse, Emil Ferris, Mimi Pond, Derf Backderf: Quotes from Comic Memoir Discussion

(Saturday, Sept. 30th 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

Below are a few quotes from this discussion, in which Emil Ferris, creator of My Favorite Things is Monsters, comes to the realization that these comics people are in fact, her people.

Emil Ferris

“You can’t be afraid to make yourself look like an asshole” -Derf Backderf

“That guy who wrote Stuck Rubber Baby is a different guy than who I am today. The guy who wrote that book exists within the soft glow of goodwill.” -Howard Cruse

“I could see the danger of getting stuck in a place like that.” – Mimi Pond, on writing about being a waitress in Over Easy and The Customer is Always Wrong.

“Fine art was a pile of bricks accompanied by a long explanation… I finally came to the fact that this story was going to be a graphic novel.” – Mimi Pond

“When I first encountered Lynda Barry,’s work, I recognized an artist who goes to a place in her head that I’ve seen before in my own head.” – Emil Ferris

A question that came up was:
‘Is the persistence of memoir comics a novelty of identity politics these days?’

“All those labels are out the window. If it’s good comics, we want it.”
-Derf Backderf

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Quotes from SÕL-CON Panel Three: Creators of Color & Industry
Moderated by Crystal Gonzalez, J.M Hunter, Carlos Perez, Albert Morales, Andres Vera, and Verzelle James

(Sunday, Oct. 1st 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

from Verzelle James’ Edventure Guide

“You have to be proactive about finding your market.”

“They ask for diversity, and then they say,’uh, it’s a little too diverse.” – Carlos Perez

“Respect is key. If you write a story without research, it’s all that you don’t know that gets left out.” -Michael Bendis, cited.

When I saw Verzelle James’ comics earlier in the week at SOL-CON, I knew I had to have them. They were/are the best of what comics has to offer – symbology applied, in varied textures of ink, to the surface of a perfectly managed black and white newsprint surface. Seeing his work and getting to speak with him was like diving into a longbox, finding a floppy comic you like, and as you flip through it, the author sidles up and says, “Want me to sign that?”

Only eight pages of comics here from 1991.


James only had about four comics to sell, some reprints of pin-ups, and all of them were over a decade old. These were his passion projects. During this panel, James discussed how much commercial illustration work he had done. I realized, looking over his books, that whatever had happened to spur these floppies into being was something that he wished to revisit. How had he gotten this work into this conference? How do works of such creative fervor flame up again and manage to find their way into the eye-range of another creator? After the panel, James asked me how I felt about the discussion. “Insight from people in the industry is priceless,” I said. He didn’t seem to have a problem with that answer.

Reasonably though, what does success really look like for people of color in the comics industry? I could bring up a few artists, one or two writers, sure! But progress, in and of itself, can masquerade too.

I think that if Cartoon Crossroad Columbus is to continue upping the stakes for gender, age, and race inclusivity in comics, then something must be done about the SÕL-CON/CXC partnership. This year, the connection between the events became ever more evident, with Caitlin McGurk and Jenny Robb doing as much equal time as they could between both conferences, and SÕL-CON participants being flagrantly present at CXC events. The best innovation is how exhibitors from both cons are mixed in together during the expo and lectures that take place at the library during the weekend. This year, SÕL-CON took the step of educating youth about drawing, and CXC took the step of giving Kat Fajardo the emerging talent award. The first year of this conference, I remember running from one side of campus to another in order to get the most out of both cons. This year, I definitely did not have to do as much running, but I’m wondering if the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum couldn’t stand to create some dedicated programming to incubate talent outside of the OSU student body that will engage at a community and studio capacity with their collection and resources.

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Emil Ferris Spotlight

(Sunday, Oct. 1st 2017, at the Columbus Metropolitan Library)

First, if you don’t know about Emil Ferris’ My Favorite Things is Monsters, read this article so I don’t have to re-explain the miracle that this book is.

Emil Ferris interviewed by Amy Chalmers

Second, I have never read My Favorite Thing is Monsters. It was a book that came out to much acclaim this year, and it wasn’t until I saw Ferris herself, and most significantly, heard her speak that I now feel the impulse to go and get the book.

It took Emil Ferris six years to write My Favorite Thing is Monsters. What sold me about the book is what Ferris means by Chicago. “The west is nothing like everywhere else in the world. Everywhere else, the wealth you have is in the older people in your life,” she says.

Ferris means ‘old’ Chicago. In her own words, Ferris states that ‘there were all of these older actors and actresses from the silent film era, Georgette Leblanc types who were living alongside survivors of the Holocaust. It was a deeply haunted population…I realized I had access to all of these stories.”

“As I was drawing forth my smaller self [working on the book], love kept being the thing that kept me going…I realized that I wanted my kid to see me kick some ass, and we have to give our daughters badassery.”

“There’s some gender cruelty in monsters.”

[on drawing] “The line creates secret unknown things to people from the heart of the creator.”

“I began to see that each page I did had a taste. One page had a taste of rosemary and mint. Another tasted of syphillis, though I have never had syphillis…that’s what synthesia does.” [this seems to be said in regard to the fact that Ferris contracted West Nile Virus and was paralyzed from the waist-down. During her rehabilitation, she began writing MFTIS.]

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Going to close on Kyle Baker’s work. The best reason to visit a conference like Cartoon Crossroads Columbus is that you get encounters with current and historical works about modern life that aren’t going to be seen elsewhere, all in one room. There is a cornucopia of independent comics creators from all walks of life here and let’s face it: The fine art world doesn’t accommodate unknown milestone creations from the world of comics, and the mainstream world of comics doesn’t accommodate emergent comics that might be unquantifiable within the canon of superbabes, superheroes, blood, guts, and uberships. It’s an in-between world where the sentiment of western middle-class expression is never treated condescendingly as ankle-browed nostalgia or visual brik-a-brak – a place where a commercial illustrator like Baker can let loose creatively, outside of his industrial obligations and have an audience, where an unconventional illustrator like Mimi Pond can fictionalize her own biography as a waitress without interpretational friction – a place where an established editorial cartoonist like Signe Wilkenson can introduce a new audience to her work within the appropriate context of its historical footnotes.

It’s intellectual even when it’s pretending to be dumb. It’s philosophical even when it’s aping the pleasures of brain-vacancy. It’s irreverent without portending the inherent complacency of ‘fine.’

It’s comics, and it is the most central American art.

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Adam Griffiths is a comics artist from Takoma Park, MD. Catch his ongoing comic – American CRYOHERE.

Rowhouse Residency Report: Andrew White

Andrew White is a cartoonist based in Washington, D.C. He was one of Frank Santoro’s first students, served as an editor of the Comics Workbook Magazine, and has continued to be a cornerstone of the Comics Workbook community for years. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Rowhouse Residency in July 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Andrew making comics poolside in Pittsburgh

 

I visited Pittsburgh for just under two weeks in July. It was the first time in years my schedule allowed me to focus on comics full-time, and I was anthropologically curious to see if I was disciplined enough to work on comics for 8+ hours each day. I was also interested to get a sense of how the Residency is functioning and evolving just around a year after its creation. While I was there I worked on the following projects:

  • All There Is – A set of critical essays and drawings on Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges: The River at Night
  • The Life You Save May Be Your Own – An adaptation of a Flannery O’Connor short story by the same name.
  • Drowned River – A long work completed before arriving in Pittsburgh, for which Frank offered comprehensive and incisive feedback.
  • An untitled series of large format drawings. Maybe these will be incorporated into a comic eventually. I’m not sure.
  • Two untitled stories, both still at early stages. I drew pages for one and took notes for the other.

I think other reports do a good job of describing what it’s like to participate in the Residency. So instead I’ll indulge myself with a less linear list of thoughts that occurred to me while visiting Pittsburgh.

Building Institutions – I took the second iteration of Frank’s comics correspondence course in the spring of 2012. I know Connor Willumsen also took the course at that time, but I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember who else was in the Class of 2012. Frank, you should publish a list of who has taken the class when! It would be interesting to see.

Anyways, I mention the course because it was nice to see where Frank has landed as an educator, a community organizer, an institution-builder, and a creator almost exactly five years after I first got to know him and perhaps ten years after I started following his work. Having watched Frank move from occasional lectures and teaching positions, to his correspondence course, and now to the residency led me to think about the way institutions are built up and broken down in comics. It’s an interesting and regularly discussed topic, particularly when a publisher or store or school is shut down.

Many publishers in comics exist largely through the willpower and dedication of a single person. This can be sad – Picturebox, Highwater, Buenaventura, and many others did not last beyond their founder’s involvement in the company. Of course, the flipside of this flimsy infrastructure is that barriers to entry are relatively low. Even if those publishers are gone, they had a real and significant impact. The books they printed still exist, even if they might be hard to find. Many of the artists they supported are still working. The same is true for schools – if CCS or SAW or Frank stopped teaching tomorrow, students would still retain the impact of their education.

All this is just to say that while I certainly lament the occasional deaths of publisher or other institutions, I think we’re sometimes more eager to wring our hands about finances or distribution (important things!) than to celebrate the impact of these institutions and think about how that impact will carry forward after they’re gone.

[A quick tangent: Frank and I talked about departed publishers a bit. He made the interesting point that some of the work published by a place like Sparkplug isn’t necessarily that good, because Dylan Williams was so committed to supporting cartoonists early in their careers. But do we remember these early projects for their flaws, or for being a significant step in the career of important creators? What are the benefits and drawbacks, artistically and financially, of publishers waiting until a cartoonist is completely ‘ready’ before publishing their work?]

But it is also important to build something that might last beyond your personal involvement. I would say Frank has started to do this. People like Sally Ingraham and Juan Fernandez now have significant involvement in the Comics Workbook project, the Comics Workbook site offers a venue for many writers, and the yearly Comics Workbook composition contest continues to offer a platform to recognize new voices.

What lessons do the evolution of Comics Workbook and the Residency offer? Build slowly, accumulate staying power over time, stay flexible so you can respond organically to a changing world. Frank can be impulsive in his decision-making sometimes, but this allows him to react organically and shift his plans if needed. He can change course based on feedback or on his own sense of what has become important.

Another lesson: Don’t grow too quickly, and stay accessible. Frank’s correspondence course is still the same price it was in 2011. Obviously the course won’t be for everyone but I think Frank does a good job of being transparent about what he’s offering.

So where exactly does the residency stand now? It’s been running for just over a year and has accepted nearly 20 residents. Some residents aren’t very familiar with Frank and his approach, so they essentially get to take his correspondence course in person as a significant part of their residency. Others come with projects in progress and are seeking feedback on these specific works. Frank aims to check in with residents for a few hours each day at least, but also makes clear that he needs to spend time on his own work.

On that note, Frank has maintained his productivity as a cartoonist – I’d even say the past year has been especially productive – which helps residents see what the life of a working cartoonist is like. This also makes me happy as a fan of his work. Sally Ingraham manages the logistics of the residency (schedules, etc.) and also instructs residents at times, given her experience as an educator. Frank and Sally both say the residency is going well, though they’ll be taking several weeks off from hosting residents this fall as convention season begins.

In terms of the wider Comics Workbook project, Frank plans to continue working with graduates of his course and other cartoonists to offer Comics Workbook workshops at conventions like SPX and CXC, as he did for the first time in 2016. Comics Workbook isn’t producing any regular publications at the moment (though copies of Comics Workbook Magazine and Zona are still available from Copacetic Comics). I don’t think it’s my place to speak for him in depth, but like many of us Frank is reassessing his plans and his priorities after the US election last November. One of his conclusions is to try consolidating his efforts, focusing on doing a few things well and maybe stepping back from others. These plans are still very much in progress, so I’m curious to see how things develop.

I’m jumping around a bit, but I think it’s important that these detials exist in writing rather than just in people’s heads. I want some record of where the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency stood in summer 2017 to exist.

That’s another downside of comics’ flimsy institutions – they can be difficult to document. I think about Gary Groth’s efforts to secure one comprehensive interview with important creators in their twilight years; an admirable project but one that should at this point be extended to younger generations and beyond cartoonists. Did anyone conduct a comprehensive, career-spanning interview with Dylan Williams or Alvin Buenaventura before their untimely deaths, for instance? I could be wrong but I don’t think I’ve seen one. Let’s try to get this stuff recorded before it becomes an urgent need. That’s an effort we can all contribute to.

One of the projects worked on while at the Rowhouse Residency

Format Fever – I came to Pittsburgh with a few comics recently completed. I was proud of this work but unsure when/if/how to have it published. Sometimes I don’t want to make the decision of whether something is good enough to publish; I’ve thought before that I’d just like someone to just tell me what to do with a comic once I’ve finished making it. This is of course unrealistic, and an easy way out besides.

Frank has always been interested in formats, and talking about format with him led me to two insights. On one hand, there are no easy solutions to these questions. Each of Frank’s past comics has been presented in a different format, and he’s at a moment with his current project where he isn’t sure exactly what publishing approach will serve it best. Since each project is different, answering that question doesn’t get easier. On the other hand, there are solutions to be found. Some formats or publishing venues really do suit a project better than others, and in ways that might not be immediately self-evident. Thinking critically about this can yield results – I left the Residency with more concrete plans about how to publish and present my future work.

“Painting” with markers on tracing paper

Studying and Experimenting – As a cartoonist I’m often focused on Getting Things Done; I’m usually drawing for a project rather than drawing just to draw. This is useful, but it also leads to unnecessary frustration when I’m not productive. It also leads important activities like reading, planning, and experimenting with new approaches to feel less ‘valuable’ than they actually are. With so many more hours to fill than normal in Pittsburgh, I allowed myself time to read books and comics, copy images from comics or art books, and do some journaling to reflect on my progress. I do these things from time to time on my own, but they’re not a consistent part of my practice. It was nice to be reminded how valuable and pleasant these activities can be. I’ll try to do them more often going forward.

Frank also led me through a few exercises that he’s developed in the time since I took his correspondence course. Part of what I appreciate about Frank’s perspective on comics is that he’s willing to stake out territory confidently. This is provocative in the best sense of the word. By this I mean that I don’t have to imitate Frank’s approach for him to be a helpful influence – doing the opposite of what he recommends, subverting his techniques, or ignoring his advice entirely all lead me to do different things and think about my work differently.

Yearly Cycles – In my eagerness to get work done, I also sometimes jump from one project to the next without enough consideration. I don’t think I’m alone in this and I don’t think it’s always the wrong approach. But sometimes it is. Frank has talked in interviews about how the painter Francesco Clemente would sit around for days, smoking and doing nothing – but then produce huge amounts of work in sudden bursts of activity. I don’t smoke and I don’t necessarily have entire days to devote to the difficult work of thinking, but the general principle still applies.

It was interesting to listen to Frank talk about past stages of his career, current projects, and future plans. He likes to reflect on what he has done before – especially, I’m sure, for the benefit of residents – and apply this perspective to upcoming decisions. In conversations along these lines, Frank encouraged me to make key choices about my work in three months or six months rather than today or tomorrow.

We talked about planning projects in terms of yearly cycles. Frank argued that a year is the minimum amount of time needed to complete a longform work, in part due to the time needed to build momentum and uncover a fruitful approach. He talked about throwing out roughly a third of the pages completed for his current project, a ratio that happens to hold true for my most recent long comic as well.

I also spent part of my residency working alongside Ian Densford, who takes another approach to planning very different from my own. Ian is working on a long project for which he has made several key decisions – format, length, approach, etc. – in advance. He’s doing careful research and I don’t believe he throws out many completed pages. None of this is uncommon, I think, and Ian seems to also have left himself space to make many decisions about individual pages and sequences over the course of his project. It’s just interesting to think about the different ways people construct their creative lives.

One of Andrew’s first comics, found at Copacetic Comics

 

Copacetic Comics, Longboxes, and Legacies – Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics was the first retailer to buy my comics and has been among the greatest and most consistent supporters of my work. I’m far from the only person for whom this is true. Bill’s longevity also speaks to his abilities as a retailer; he has kept his doors open for more than double the length of other stores without ever sacrificing his support for great work. He has also made compelling abstract comics for decades. Plus Bill has an excellent critical eye; just the descriptions of my comics on his site are among the most insightful reviews I’ve ever received.

This was my first time visiting Pittsburgh and therefore my first visiting Copacetic. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a visit. At first you’ll see just a careful selection of newer releases, but hidden treasures abound. In just a few hours, I found several Ignatz books I hadn’t seen in years; one of Raina Telgemeier’s original Smile minicomics (left with Sally Ingraham, given her interest in the underdocumented, undervalued history of female cartoonists); nearly all issues of Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte; a huge stack of Kramers Ergot 1; and much more that I’m forgetting.

Perhaps most exciting for me, however, was discovering a copy of Kevin Huizenga’s Supermonster 11 (1999). I’ve been a fan of Huizenga’s for a while, and it seemed precipitous that I’d see an issue of Supermonster in person for the first time while writing about his work. A nice moment.

This was also another reminder that Bill has been supporting good cartoonists for years and years (he says that, given its appearance in multiple formats, the Gloriana story in Supermonster/Or Else/a Gloriana hardcover is among Copacetic’s best selling comics). Plus it’s just fun to see a skilled cartoonist’s early works. However, this was also a resonant moment because I found Supermonster not long after pulling a copy of Black Pillars 2, one of my own earliest works, out of a nearby longbox.

There was something very compelling about this for me – the idea that in Bill’s dusty longboxes, comics by you and me and Kevin Huizenga and someone who only made one comic ever are equally valued and equally likely to be discovered. Many of the Xeroxed minis in Bill’s catalogue are bagged and boarded, treated with just as much care as any other comic. It was rewarding to see the work treated with the respect it deserves. It was encouraging to imagine that someone might discover my comics at Copacetic almost 20 years in the future. It somehow made my goal of continuing to made good work in 20 years (and 30 years, and 40) more tangible. More achievable.

That seems like a good note on which to conclude. I had a good time in Pittsburgh and I did my best to work hard. The Residency is an interesting project at an interesting stage in its development. I look forward to watching it grow.

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Check out Andrew White‘s work HERE. His most recent comic is N, available for preorder and debuting at SPX 2017. The anthology he edited with Madeleine Witt – Warmer – will also be available at SPX 2017. Be sure to check out Andrew’s writing on comics – some of his essays and reviews are listed HERE. Follow Andrew on Instagram.

Rowhouse Residency Report – Patrick Bonato

Patrick Bonato is an Austrian illustrator, graphic designer, and comics maker. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency for the month of May 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Exploring Frank’s index card method

I owe one of my artistically most intense and helpful experiences to a moment of clarity, luck and just trying. I had been travelling and working abroad for half a year already, mainly to take a time-out from my client’s jobs as an illustrator and graphic designer and to focus on my personal work, which are comics. I hesitated on what to do next, but I knew what I wanted: an artist residency for comic artists especially. I tried my luck by just typing exactly that in Google.

One of the two (!) results to consider was the Rowhouse Residency, which appeared more and more fitting and interesting, the more I found out about it. I mailed them – the always helpful good soul Sally Ingraham to be more precise – and from then on everything went fast. Only two weeks later I found myself in Pittsburgh for a one month comics residency!

I arrived there in the middle of my Toubab story (above), and felt I needed some guidance and professional feedback on it, as in my education as a graphic designer and illustrator in Austria and Switzerland I never have experienced any training in comics. So the first two weeks I proceeded to create new pages of this story and showed them to Frank and Sally. Frank helped me a great deal to understand and analyze what I had been doing to that point mostly intuitively. He also revealed to me some influences of mine that I had not fully been aware of and partly even where the inspiration to my inspirations came from! So I basically got a crash course in comic’s history and traditions and left every conversation with Frank full of motivation and inspiration and a huge pile of comic books to read from his seemingly infinite library. I could have spent the whole month just reading comics and was thankful for the rainy days, making it easier just to dig in and lock the outside world away for a while.

In these first feedback sessions with Frank and in my conversations with Sally, we often talked about Frank’s “magical method” using index cards and about the online course he’s giving. At first, I adapted a modified version of the index cards to the ongoing Toubab comic and was already enthusiastic about the freedom and ease it unleashed in the drawing process. Therefore, as I felt ready to start a new story, one that had been on my mind for a long time already, I asked Frank and Sally to do the Comics Course in the second half of my stay. And that’s when I felt my residency was really taking off and getting intense. My goal was to accomplish an 8-week-course in two weeks!

I decided to simply follow instructions and completely trust my masters Frank and Sally. Which proved to be very helpful, because all I had to really think about were my drawings and the story, whereas any formal decision (format, grid, number of pages and so on) was already given. The first two assignments propelled me to a formerly unknown speed of creation, that I had not even thought to be possible. Although tough tasks, they allowed me to access a spontaneous, natural flow of my thoughts and ideas about the story. And I’ve finally realized how much more inspiring and fun that was, compared to planning everything in advance and then just executing the plan. I am not exaggerating when I say it was a revelation that really changed my ways of working.

A finished spread from the comic made during this residency

I managed to complete the 16-page comic just before the end of my residency (a teaser can be seen above!) and had accomplished something way more quickly and way better and more fluidly than anything I had worked on before. I really owe that to Frank’s method, and his and Sally’s guidance through the course. I appreciated a lot having the possibility to have real conversations during the process, being able to ask questions, discuss things further and pick the comic books that related to them.

Another very influential and unique experience to me was to see Frank work. While I was there, he was very occupied with his new book (which I hope will be available by spring 2018 as Frank assumed – learn French to read it, Americans!). So while it was not always easy to get to see him and catch some feedback on my work in this situation, at the same time it taught me how important it is, in the process of creation, to sometimes just retreat from the outside world and ignore it’s needs and wishes. I personally consider this a lesson for a lifetime, and one I constantly should remind myself of (i.e. thinking of how persistent and reckless some clients sometimes can be!). I had to travel for months and to three continents to finally get some peace and tranquility from clients, friends and family (no offense to you all, I like most of you clients and love you friends and family) – but I’ll need to find a way to just focus on my work when back to a more “normal” life.

Riding in one of Pittsburgh’s incline cars

A few more things I want to mention: the Rowhouse and Pittsburgh in general felt like a new home by the end of my stay. It’s a good place to work but also to take a break from it. I appreciated a lot that Sally introduced me to Bill Boichel and the Copacetic Comics store, to the monthly Pittsburgh Comics Salon and the lovely people who form that group. And that we had this fun ride around town and – of course one of the highlights – a canoe trip with her and Frank.

Exploring the Monongahela River

I am deeply thankful for this great experience and the many things I’ve learned about the art of comics and life, and I thank Sally and Frank in the first place for that, and everyone I had the luck to get to know during my month in Pittsburgh. I hope to be back soon!

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Check out work by Patrick on his website, and follow him on Tumblr and Instagram. For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

Meter, Geometry and Comic Form

by Jackie Kirby

Above, I have taken the opening couplet of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (1681) scanned and annotated by Phillip Hobsbaum in Metre, Rhythm, and Verse Form (1996) and translated it into an 8-panel grid spread using values of red as a accentual tool. Approaching comics with the assumption that they are or can be included within the scope of poetic practice, one is brought to draw a connection between the formal structures through which time and meaning are manifested on the page: in the comic, geometry and the grid; and in the poem, meter and verse form. Here, I will present what could generously be called “notes” towards a theory of meter and geometry. I apologize now for the inevitable imperfection of the metaphor, but I find this to be an important and positive aspect of the connection between the two, rather than a caveat negating any use the metaphor may provide.

Meter is the method of measuring verse by counting elements of it. It is a primarily mathematical system; it was called “numbers” by the Classical poets. Most often, the poet is counting syllables, as many languages exist primarily as a succession of syllables. Through different uses of meter, different methods of counting and measuring, different patterns of arrangement, writers create prosody, or a system of language. Within each language there exist many theories of organization, each of which is catered to both the language the writer uses and the purpose for which she wishes to use it. English poetry uses an accentual-syllabic metrical system, where the units being counted are syllables, and their pattern is defined by the arrangement of more or less strongly emphasized, or accented, syllables. Other languages use different systems. Languages which do not accentuate as strongly, such as French, will use something more akin to a purely syllabic meter, where forms are defined by the counting of syllables and ordering of numbers. This was also used by Ancient Irish and Welsh poets. Classical Greek and Latin poets based their prosody on the number of syllables and the length of time it takes to speak each syllable, creating patterns by arranging longer and shorter syllables. This is all to say, meter is a tool that must be developed accounting for the idiosyncrasies of the language in which one wishes to write. By looking at the metrical forms used by poets across different languages, and restructuring them for use in the language of comics, one can produce comic forms with increased complexity without decreasing (and perhaps even increasing) their legibility.

In an initial attempt at translating verse form to comic form let us equate syllables with panels, and spreads with lines. Each row of panels will represent a metrical foot. Stress is produced relationally, and in comics one can use size, color, density, and a myriad of other visual techniques to “stress” a panel. The actual size of each panel per “foot” or row is up to your own discretion but I prefer to use a more qualitative than quantitative approach to my “comics scansion.”

The first verse form I’d like to look at is dactylic hexameter, or Homer’s verse. It is the verse used in the Iliad and Odyssey, and later in Latin by Ovid and Virgil. Its historical use has equated it with the most grandiose poetic narratives, and cues a reader that she is reading a grand epic. Dactylic refers to the primary foot pattern of the poem, a dactyl being a long or stressed syllable followed by 2 short or unstressed syllables, while hexameter refers to the number of feet per line, which is 6 in this case (as opposed to pentameter [5], tetrameter [4], etc.). Using the system of translation previously established, a “dactylic hexameter” comic, would consist of spreads with 6 rows of 3 panels each, with the primary pattern being to stress the first panel of each row. Visually, this can easily lead us to a spread of 2 pages using a 9-panel grid.

Another notable element of Homer’s verse is that the third and sixth feet may be spondees rather than dactyls. A spondee is a foot composed of 2 equally weighted syllables. This could provide a spread looking something like this.

Alternatively, one could equate the panel to a metrical foot, and the page to a line. This would produce 6-panel grids, with each spread serving as a couplet.

These are only a few different, relatively conservative, attempts at translating a single poetic verse form into comics. These are not prescriptions as to what certain meters must look like in comics, but demonstrations of the ways meter and verse form can be used to develop a prosody of comics. There is such a plethora of verse forms, all with their own particular uses that can be translated into comics. As shown in the Marvell scansion above, the 8-panel grid is quite suited for translating iambic tetrameter, which is used most commonly in the ballad form. This connection could lead to all sorts of comics practices or translated ballads.

The harmony of a metered line is based on the same mathematical principals that produce visual harmony in geometric patterns. For instance, the sonnet, one of the most commonly used poetic forms, consisted originally of an octave (8-line stanza) followed by a sestet (6-line stanza). Poetry scholars have connected this with the golden ratio (8/5) with an extra line added to complete an even-numbered rhyme scheme. I have annoyed (to say the least) a number of English department chairs by insisting that poetry is simply linguistic mathematics. Certainly it’s (a bit) more than that, but much of poetics is applied mathematics, just as comics are.

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Jackie Kirby is a poet and comics maker living in New York City. A recent graduate from The New School with a BA in Cultural Studies, she has been making comics and writing poetry seriously for three years. Check out work by Jackie on her website, and follow her on Instagram. Read Jackie’s Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency Report for more thoughts on comics and poetry.

On Philippe Druillet – by RM Rhodes

RM Rhodes presents commentary on the work of Philippe Druillet

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I feel like when someone like me asks a young artist “Have you ever heard of…?” the young artist is expecting to know why the person in question is important. Or, even more simply, why they should care.

Having said that, Philippe Druillet is important because he’s one of the founding members of Les Humanoïdes Associés, the group that created Metal Hurlant (which later became Heavy Metal in America). If you’re guessing all of that French indicates Druillet’s national origin, you’d be correct.

Of even more relevance, Druillet is an amazing visual artist whose work deserves to be looked at by anyone who has any affinity for color and the use of color in art. His work is clearly influenced by Jack Kirby, but it also harkens back to European engravings that have been colored from the mid-17th Century.

His early work is black and white, but when he got his first airbrush, his entire style changed. As far as I’m concerned, Druillet levelled up when he started working color into his compositions. He clearly spent a long time working on the underlying pen illustrations, but it’s his use of color as a major element of the composition that’s worthy of note.

Speaking of composition, Druillet’s works like Lone Sloane, Salammbô, and Gail gave him ample opportunities to create some really challenging page layouts. These layouts are so distinctive that Benoit Peeters’ Four Conceptions of a Page uses Druillet as the exemplar of Decorative pages.

In the interests of show vs tell, I’m going to stop talking about how awesome Druillet is and just show you a whole bunch of his artwork. It will either resonate with you or it won’t, but I have a feeling that if it does resonate, it will resonate strongly.

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RM Rhodes is the curator of the Heavy Metal Magazine tumblr. He lives and works in Washington, D.C. His current project is a weekly online anthology called The Rumor published on the Comics Workbook tumblr – see issues of it HERE. Check out more of his comics at Louis Deux.

M. S. Harkness – Rowhouse Residency Report

M. S. Harkness lives in Minneapolis, MN. A recent graduate of MCAD, she makes comics and is a personal trainer. She joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in July 2017. Here are her thoughts about visiting the city and her Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Part of M. S. Harkness’ crowdfund campaign for her comics residency!

I wanted to participate in the Rowhouse Residency as a grad present to myself after grinding for four years in art school, under the excellent tutelage of Kevin Huizenga. I’d never been to Pittsburgh before and I wanted to see Copacetic Comics. I wasn’t sure about what the experience was, but I wanted to make it my summer trip where I could get a lot of work done but still be on vacation. I think I messaged Frank something like “I’m working on Tinderella, I’m going to have like half the book inked so I just wanna grind on that.” So I crowdfunded and made plane tickets happen.

Detail from Tinderella

It was a really cool experience. I valued the time I had and the opportunity to wander through as a guest. I dunno what the typical residency is – I came in open to doing whatever I could to see the city and improve my craft, but I had a set goal of just churning out pages. So every day I played a lot of music and stretched the shit out of my wrists so I didn’t mess them up too bad with carpal tunnel.

I got to go to the Pittsburgh Comics Salon on the 5th and meet Juan Fernandez. Frank looked at my work and gave me good insight onto what he was seeing. But for the most part, I did a lot of drawing and talking with Sally Ingraham about cartooning and teaching, and how much we cared about what we were both doing. That sort of time is really invaluable, especially since I got to do it outside of the setting of a convention, or an expo, where you’re just stressed the fuck out and tired and not really hearing what anyone was saying. I got to watch fireworks and take nature walks with other cartoonists, which is really good after a day of being inside over a table.

M. S. Harkness and Sally Ingraham on the 4th of July

In total, I inked about 11 pages, so that felt good. I left a stack of Prizefighter’s and Floor Troll minis at Copacetic Comics, so cop those if you haven’t yet. The last night I was in town I got to hang out with my auto bio BFFL Nate McDonough who lived on the whole other side of town and I spent like 60 bucks on Lyft rides to see. He was worth it though, and we stayed up late as hell screaming about the comics we were going to make.

M. S. Harkness by Nate McDonough and Nate by M. S. Harkness

I want to do an anthology with him at some point but don’t tell him that!!!

Other than Frank telling me ways to improve my process, I did a lot of ‘why’ thinking while I was in Pittsburgh, sort of meditating on my own reasons for doing what I do in comics. It was all really constructive, not that sort of awful anxious shit, just a lot of thinking about what the next steps are going to be once I get this book done and how I want to live and portray my life. I’m only 24 so everything is really cool and exciting and not dumb (in regards to my career – the world itself is shit and awful). I always just want to make things that are entertaining and worth reading.

I highly recommend the Rowhouse Residency to all folks. If you make comics but haven’t had the chance to pick the brain of someone who thinks about comics as a language and a science, Frank will give your work the combing it needs to be understood and received. Sally’s a really good resource too – if you’re interested in integrating comics into a teaching curriculum, she’s a powerhouse.

Tinderella should be out some time next year, either when it gets picked up and thrown into a publisher’s kickstarter, or when you preorder it from me personally and I get it printed myself. Follow me on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram or better yet, buy my comics on Bigcartel!

Big shout outs to Bill Boichel, it was lovely meeting you <3

Also to Frank and Sally, I’m sorry I stole the keys on accident I hope they got back to you okay in the mail.

Frank Santoro and M. S. Harkness by M. S. Harkness

xoxo

M.S. HARKNESS

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For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

Addley Walker’s Angle

Addley Walker is a comics and pattern maker from Los Angeles, CA. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in June 2017 (read about his experience HERE). While he was visiting, we realized that Addley was plugged into a different corner of the comics making community, and seeing work that we weren’t familiar with. His enthusiasm was catching, so we asked him to share with us some of the comics makers and artists that he follows and enjoys. Below is the “list” he sent. – Sally

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Crow Cillers – Cate Wurtz (http://lamezone.net/)

By far the best project of the already impressive body of work of queer webcomics wizard Cate Wurtz, Crow Cillers is an intense story about cute animal critters stuck in an oppressive world of cults and body horror. Presented in a faux-television manner where characters’ dialogue appears as closed captioning, stories change channels into others, and “episodes” in an arc are collected into season “box sets” (it, and individual episodes available monthly via her Patreon, are html documents that bring up navigable menus), Wurtz presents us casual talking sitcom characters forced to deal with increasingly violent situations while weaving in a metanarrative dealing with issues such as the absurd and often dark environment of the internet itself. Wurtz’s aesthetic and thematic odes to DeviantArt and Hot Topic not only serves as a coherent vehicle for her message, but asks the reader to re-evaluate their relationship with not only the corporate rebellion of Korn (most evident in her chopped ‘n screwed electronic music that is the suggested series soundtrack) and Shadow the Hedgehog (Sonic with GUNS), but the earnest reaction to these institutions by the fringes of internet art and fetish communities. Download the pilot and first season free on her website. Hail Gay Satan.

Music: https://partydog.bandcamp.com/

Past Comic: https://lamezone.net/comics/asscastle

https://lamezone.net/comics/punc (not so explicit)

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Angel of a Rope – Adam Buttrick (http://www.adambuttrick.com)

There were some very good stories in Kramer’s 9, but Adam Buttrick’s entry really made the book for me. Adam’s making very peculiar and powerful work, with a literary influence that, while escaping my personal understanding, draws me deeper into the situations and characters that feel so familiar after a lifetime of cartoons and video games. His incredibly busy pages have a surprisingly minimal economy of shapes, making everything clear in the mess of action that make up his world. Angel of a Rope is another excellent entry into the ouvre of someone who I find to be one of the most exciting cartoonists working today.

Work in question:
http://dominobooks.org/angelrope.html

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Now Nowhere – Elevator Teeth (http://elevatorteeth.com/)

I’m generally very wary of artists who foster a branded presentation of their work, and Elevator Teeth definitely has that aspect. Scrolling on their website I watch art posts transform into shirts, a part of an image becomes a button or patch, an illustration becomes a record cover which becomes an object that gets waggled on a talk show. It helps that the work is rendered in such a clean and minimal style, which makes it very susceptible to duplication and modification. As such, words and images will come up again, re-arranged and colored differently. This shifting quality of Elevator Teeth’s work is part of it’s magic, though, and looking at one image after the other becomes very dreamlike and hypnotic. The objects in these images hold an internal charge and react in strange and interesting ways to new compositions. The zine Now Nowhere, which came out early last year, is a great example. With work originally presented as one pagers that work very well as statements by themselves, Elevator Teeth puts them together to reveal that side-by-side they form a coherent story that lasts 28 pages. Slick and fashionable as it looks, Elevator Teeth’s work is fundamentally about consciousness, and shows the way in which digital techniques can lend themselves to powerful forms of truth seeking.

Work in question:
http://elevatorteeth.storenvy.com/products/15662373-now-nowhere-riso-zine

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Warrior Pose – Leon Sadler (http://leonsadler.com/) + Yannick Val Gesto (http://www.yannickvalgesto.com/)

Omnipresent anthology contributor Leon Sadler and fellow fine art nerd Yannick Val Gesto are a dynamic duo whose collaborations I wish I knew more about. I do not know how I found this fabulous book in the first place, probably because I am great. Presenting itself as a gentle self help manual, Warrior Pose (which was consigned along with a video of the same name) might not be comics, but those literate to the form should have an entry into some joyful collages of anime, fanart, chan imagery, and other serene weirdness, along with drawings by both. Val Gesto’s quest in particular, revealing the beauty of internet ugliness, I find incredibly compelling, much like Cate Wurtz. Leon Sadler is pretty cool, too.

Work in question:
https://battcoop.org/en/produit/warrior-pose-2/

Video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2zAoe8ShMw

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The Boys Are Back In Town – Mushbuh (http://mushbuh.com/)

This entry is a funeral for the self experience that I discovered will be forever unrealized by me not owning this zine of colorful haniwa frolics. Mushbuh is someone who initially caught me with their lively Illustrator art and comics, as well as a demo for their N64 love letter Burrito Galaxy. While Mushbuh seems to be on a more automatic, almost anti-aesthetic track today, evidence is still there of the tightly geometric, bouncy cartoon art I see still around in works of artists such as George Wysesol. Please contact me if you have evidence of rare sightings of these boys…

Work in question:
http://www.mushbuh.bigcartel.com/product/the-boys-are-back-in-town-ed-of-50

Examples:
Musbuh comics

George Wysesol
https://www.instagram.com/sassybluepanda/

George Wysesol web series(?)
https://www.instagram.com/ithinkimintrouble/

 

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Check out work by Addley Walker on his website, and follow him on Instagram

Addley Walker – Rowhouse Residency Report

Addley Walker is a comics and pattern maker from Los Angeles, CA. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in June 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Addley Walker digging through treasure at Copacetic Comics, June 2017

So I’ll go right into it:

There’s no way (no way!) I can really summarize the week I had at the Rowhouse – just that going in I had a vision of personal breakthroughs which my stay allowed me to achieve, and which put me in a mental state that I do not yet feel I have left, some days later.

It’s funny how it happened – a bit ago I went cruising on eBay for some spicy zine action when I came across a copy of CF’s Core of Caligula. I didn’t have it, I hadn’t read it, it was an instant purchase. When it showed up at my house later, I was surprised to find that in my consumer stupor that I had ordered from none other than Comics Workbook, and inside the packaging there was a slip of paper promoting the Correspondence Course and the Residency. I had taken Frank Santoro’s online course 2 years prior, and I had regretted that after graduating I never took advantage of the people and community that existed in that space, and overlapping ones, online. I found it hard to communicate while curating myself on Tumblr, and just overall couldn’t find a rhythm for myself in the community. So I took the slip’s advice and I reached out to Rowhouse Organizer and Overall Scene Badass Sally Ingraham, who heard me out, and with her encouragement I decided I needed to go to Pittsburgh.

Work by Addley Walker made for Comics Workbook in 2015

Pittsburgh is definitely a very special place. It’s hard for me to describe (I don’t really get out of California very often!), and I was very taken with it. I spent most of my time in the cozy house that served as the Residency space, which I totally adored. As Sally had told me, just the time to spend alone focused totally on creating is radical in itself, a vacation from the distractions of your life. I really spread out all over the place, and lost myself in intense sessions of reading and drawing. Oh, and music listening, because there are some real stellar records hanging out amid a small but impressive collection of comics work.

Then there’s the matter of Frank Santoro. Frank’s sincere nature coupled with a deep love and understanding of the form was an oasis. I saw him a few times in the week for dinner, which were highly energizing times of comics discussion and discovery. Access to Frank’s library of knowledge and the most insane out-of-print shit you will ever see was just totally overwhelming in the best way possible. It was almost like he was playing a game, the way Frank just continually surprised me, which he ratcheted up all the way to my last night (you really got me, check mate dude). [Editor’s Note: Frank stunned Addley by inviting Blaise Larmee over for dinner and comics talk!]

At one time Frank and Sally talked about comics as an oral history, which I think is very important. So important! Before I had come to the Residency, while I kept up with the goings on of the internet (reading, exploring, learning) I had a very strong urge to participate in the conversations happening in comics that I feel are so vital, both as an artist and as a fan. I can learn and get work done noodling in my room while playing video games, surfing Instagram, and listening to Chapo Trap House, but there is no substitute to spending a day at Copacetic Comics as Sally fielded question after question I had about creators, and printing, and the culture at large. There is no substitute to going to Frank’s house and having a master of the form talk to you about your work. There is no substitute to meeting in person people you respect, and having them take you seriously.

The connections made between people, on the ground, are what propel things forward. On the walls of the kitchen there is evidence of the Residency’s past participants – sketches, a calendar, proofs of a zine cover. I wanted to see more. I felt that sense of community that I had lacked, and I wanted to see that community succeed.

I left the Rowhouse feeling validated, and motivated. I hope to see more drawings on the wall when I come back!

Addley Walker, 2015

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Check out work by Addley on his website, and follow him on Instagram. For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

Jackie Kirby – Rowhouse Residency Report

(Memetics 0/1, Jackie Kirby 2017)

My name is Jackie Kirby. I am a poet and comics author. I am twenty-two years old, and live in New York City. Recently, I graduated from The New School with a BA in Cultural Studies. I have been making comics and writing poetry seriously for three years now. As my poetic and comics practices evolved, they became more and more intertwined. Now, the differences between what I publish as “poetry” versus “comics” has more to do with marketing and publishing than it does with genre or form—but then genre is the formal violence of marketing and publishing. But, “whatever.”

I spent a week in Pittsburgh at the Rowhouse Residency this June 2017. As recent graduate without the privilege of a future in plastics, I was anxious on how to proceed. If I was to call myself a “poet” and a “comics author,” what should I do to validate or realize those claims? Additionally, I had a bit of a foothold in the world of poetry, through school and time spent in and around the New York poetry cliques. I didn’t, however, have anything of the sort in the world of comics. Poets can often be easily impressed by the integration of visual arts into poetry, and don’t know anything of comics. I was excited, albeit nervous, to see how I could enter into the world of comics, and if my work was intelligible or interesting to comics readers in contrast to poetry readers.

With the time and space provided by the residency, I was able to develop a routine and work ethic that works for my particular habits and skills. Through my conversations with Frank Santoro, I was able to visualize a path going forward with my work, begin to feel grounded in the world of comics, affirm my beliefs in the value of my own aesthetic project, and gain valuable tools and modes of thought towards the furthering of my craft.

(Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic, Jackie Kirby 2017)

Frank’s approach to composition in comic books clicked with me as a way of connecting poetry and comics. Without sounding too prescriptive, I think poetics should seek to emancipate possibility and meaning from language, or at least restructure it. Frank and I spoke a lot about meter and geometry, but I think the integration of comics into poetry and vice versa has a greater political value. In comics, “language” as we know it is subverted through its integration with non-alphabetic symbols. The job of a poet is to keep language alive, and if poetry is to be relevant it must be written in the contemporary idiom. The integration of words and images in everyday life is increasing, and pictoral languages are becoming more common. The integration of comics and poetics is only logical considering.

(Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic, Jackie Kirby 2017)

Before coming to the residency I had spent the last year working on a set of works called Finding Eurydice. The first is a poetry chapbook subtitled “Transmissions from Orpheus,” and the second is a comic “translation” of the chapbook subtitled “A Border Comic.” In these works, I used the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a way of expressing the experience of transfeminity, and experimented formally as a way of enacting that experience.

At risk of being too pretentious, I’ll quote the introduction from my reflection on A Border Comic:

Finding Eurydice is a comic. Finding Eurydice is a poem, or book of poems. It’s both, but it’s not quite one or the other. Words are often only images. Images are abstracted into words. Its “graphic narrative” is mostly formal, and moves associatively. Much of its “text” is illegible. It doesn’t fit right. Finding Eurydice is a hybrid work. It is a comic-poem which transgresses forms and signs. This formal transgression produces a new vocabulary for the enactment of transgender subjectivities and experiences historically made impossible to verbalize. Entering the project, I asked: If an artistic production is a body, or an extension of the body, and the body is always already gendered, how can the formal restructuring of and deployment of “trans-” trajectories of movement into a literary or artistic mode of production aide in the revelation of new possibilities of gender embodiments and transgender subjectivities?

In Finding Eurydice, the comic, the poem, and Orpheus are all made trans, opening up new space for transness to exist in language.

Both works can be read online:

Finding Eurydice: Transmissions from Orpheus
Finding Eurydice: A Border Comic

(Finding Eurydice: Transmissions from Orpheus, Jackie Kirby 2017)

My conversations with Frank were thoughtful, engaging, and exciting. Among the most interesting aspects of our discussions was comparing analogies of music and poetry to comics. I know very little when it comes to music. Half-kidding – it’s one of the few popular art forms I’m not a snob about, and I’ve tried to keep it like that. Frank, on the other hand, is a total music nerd. I came into his house for espresso one afternoon and he presented me with a piece of scrap paper on which he had written “2/3 3/4 rectangle riff seen from a poet’s pov in relation to ‘meter’ / and relation to ‘the Breath’ or Dylan’s ‘long line of spit.’ 

Frank and I chatted for hours regarding this. He would riff for fifteen minutes or so about music and I would respond with a riff on poetics. Forty five minutes could go by without comics being explicitly mentioned once, but the composition and formal techniques of comics practice underlaid every moment. When I brought this up, Frank brushed it off, saying “Of course we could talk about how Robert Crumb is this or that but we both know that.” What’s interesting is what we can learn from each other.

In conclusion, I will list a few highlights of my time at the residency:

– Frank took a class with Kathy Acker and said “She was so mean! In the best way.” This is exactly what I want to hear about Kathy Acker.
– Kathy Acker chose her pen name from her husband’s last name (Acker) and a nickname extracted from her birth-name (Karen) and not because the titular character from the comic-strip Cathy says “Ack!” as her catchphrase, and is therefore a Cathy “Ack!”-er. This is exactly what I don’t want to hear about Kathy Acker.
– I fell down all the stairs at the residency. In all fairness, however, wearing slippery socks, a maxi-skirt that’s hanging too low, and carrying forty things in your arms while descending a steep wooden staircase is the set-up to a punchline involving falling down all the stairs, and Frank provided excellent first-aid.
– When Sally picked me up from the train station, we went to a bar for dinner where Anthony Bourdain had recently shot an episode of some show he does where he pretends he’s in a scene in Coffee & Cigarettes and I find Anthony Bourdain conceptually hilarious (I believe Hayes Davenport called him “the misanthrope of food television”) but realized I don’t have any solid jokes to make and ended up asking a lot of questions about the ins and outs of Anthony Bourdain’s TV production.

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Check out more work by Jackie on her website, and follow her on Instagram. For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

TCAF 2017 Recap – by Tyler Landry

Tyler Landry here: The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) is the only comics show I’ve ever attended, except for our local small-town con (held in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada) which I did for the very first time this year. There are a couple of reasons for this, and they all fall into the realm of “excuses”, but, that’s how my cookie crumbles. I have, however, been to TCAF every year since 2013, and have been told by con-hoppers of all stripes that it’s one of the best, if not THE best show of its type. To me, it’s always felt huge, diverse, and rewarding in a thousand ways – so I take those observations with considerable weight. I’ve met (and bought comics from) a huge majority of my favorite cartoonists, made loads of new comics friends, and tabled – both independently and with publishers.

I always like to arrive in Toronto early on Friday, settle in, walk around the city, have an eat and/or a drink with friends – and get comfortable before the chaos on Saturday morning.

Spent a veritable stack of cash on comics right away. Exciting new work from Anya Davidson, Ben Passmore, Connor Willumsen, and Sophie Yanow – to name only a few.

This year I spent time tabling with two publishers – signing some of last year’s comics with Study Group (The Coward’s Hole, and Lonesome), and with Retrofit, signing copies of the collected Shit and Piss, which debuted this year at TCAF. It was cool to meet some people who follow my work, and to see others discover it for the first time. This is why I attend TCAF. To participate in a significant way in the comics community, as a cartoonist, an enthusiast, and more recently as a (new) community leader and educator.

With that in mind, in addition to signing, I did something sorta new – I ran a Comics Workbook workshop on composing a comic spread. The workshop made use of a standardized 6-panel grid, a quick idea gathering on story cards, and heavy panel-by-panel editing with a printed spread in mind. It was geared towards beginners, but the process we explored is the basis for how I make comics, and can be useful to anyone telling stories in a visual medium.

Some of the essential materials I’d requested were missing from the room when we started (index cards, guys!), but we did have a fat stack of copy paper, and before long I had everyone in the (very full) room folding and tearing it into manageable chunks. I brought along some comics I’ve done, a few in-progress spreads, and the associated story cards as examples of the process from beginning to end. After a bit of discussion everyone began to get a sense of modular structure, the importance of editing oneself early, and some basic notions of pacing, dynamics thru motion, tone, and directionality across panels/the spread.

Because of our slightly later start, we didn’t delve as deep into the spread as I’d have liked – but everyone got a taste of quick drawing and editing, and at least the beginnings of controlling the flow of information across the spread. By the time we were being kicked out of the room, we were having huge open discussions about the different participants’ comics, talking in terms of pacing, making switcheroos for clarity, capitalizing on directional flow, etc. We could’ve easily spent another 2 hours together as a group and accomplished even more.

Being so busy during both days, I didn’t get to take in any additional programming, but Idid have a chance to share a few pints and meals with friends old and new. TCAF definitely does a great job of bringing us all together once a year to gush like fools about the things we love in comics.

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Check out more of Tyler’s work HERE and pick up a copy of his new book HERE.