After pulling an all nighter Wednesday, printing my comic Thursday, and weaving through and from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio, I arrived just in time to meet Sally Ingraham and Kurt Ankeny at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus for the seven o’clock John Canemaker program on Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo.
You had to see it to believe it folks. We watched McCay’s first two films and participated in the third, Gerdie the Dinosaur. Canemaker played the role of McCay as McCay would have exhibited Gerdie during his vaudeville act. I won’t even try to describe it. You had to be there.
During this dramatic occasion, Lucy Caswell sat directly in front of me. The goddess and founder of what has become the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. A year or two ago, Jeff Smith was giving a talk, a celebration of Will Eisner, at the Billy Ireland. Lucy sat in front of me then too. Then, as now during Canemaker’s Little Nemo presentation, Caswell acted as she would have in a Southern Baptist church. When the speaker made a particularly poignant remark, she said to herself and God, “That’s right.” When she saw her favorite images, she put her hand to her heart and whispered, “Amazing.” After all these years, comics and cartooning continues to astonish her. In a way, we really owe CXC to Lucy Caswell. Thank you.
I’m an Ohio native. My grandparents grew up in Columbus. All of my grandpa’s stories of getting into fights and general mayhem take place on High Street and Goodale Avenue. I grew up in Marysville which is thirty minutes NW of Columbus. I live in Dayton now, but it didn’t make this festival feel any less like a homecoming. Oh aych! Aye oh!
First thing on Friday, Juan Fernandez, Sally Ingraham, Emil Friis Ernst, and myself headed to Mardou’s comics narrative presentation. Sacha is fantastic. She read from some of her recent work which had the whole room hanging on her every word and image. The fact that she read every line of dialogue added to the charm of the hour we spent in her world.
During the exhibition portion of the festival, Sacha Mardou tabled with Comics Workbook. Her table, and the table I was manning were only a pillar apart. When I had a moment to breath, I’d look over to see if she was free to sell me her book, Sky in Stereo. Both days, she sold out. Don’t sleep on this cartoonist, she is a force to be reckon with!
CAITLIN MCGURK AND THE BILLY IRELAND
I could have wept seeing all the art at the Billy Ireland, just like every time I go there. Caitlin McGurk took us on a fantastic tour through the collection, moving through doors that would call the cops if you shut them too slow. Seth and Ben Katchor were among my fellow tourists. Seth, cane and hat and all, walked out of Dominion and to my left, gracefully listening to McGurk reveal the secrets and show off the bowels of the world’s biggest cartoon collection archive. Katchor and I drooled all over an original Krazy Kat Sunday. The center of the piece was a tree Krazy was sitting under. Herriman had scratched away the ink on top of the plant for texture. I almost broke down sobbing.
Caitlyn McGurk was an excellent guide. Her knowledge was second to none, her enthusiasm was infectious. She loves her job and you can tell. She knows everything. She pulled out some original Canffs and let us all die there on the spot and come back to life enlightened by the whole process. Did you know Caniff would draw his Sundays, then rearrange the panels for different periodical orientations? Modularity. Caniff grew up in Dayton. It seems he and I are doing our careers in reverse.
THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY “OFF THE RECORD”
A panel moderated by thee incomparable Tom Spurgeon and featuring Keith Knight, Brendan Burford, Shena Wolf, Chip Mosher, and Rich Tommaso, was excellent. Three “gatekeepers” (evidently a controversial designation) and two cartoonists. The talk provided perspective into how to make comics a career, something that should be discussed more often. Spurgeon was an excellent moderator and asked the tough questions.
Brendan Burford, General Manager of King Features Syndicate, stood out to me. Forward thinking, intelligent, and passionate about comics. He talked about trying to develop comic strips that are worthy of our medium’s history and, looking forward, how cartoonists can be secret weapons in other industries, like Virtual Reality. He sees the cartoonists as a bridge, an essential and unique group of people with skills that can elevate other media.
I talked to him a bit after the panel was over. He’s charming, social, and quick-witted. He has an extensive knowledge of the history of comics. I showed him my latest comic.
As we were talking, his longtime buddy Nate Powell came over to say Hi. Fresh off March 3, Powell was energetic and kind. I went to leave, to let them catch up, but Brendan told me to stay. It was great listening to these old friends talk and laugh and catch up.
The day was joyously interrupted; thee unstoppable Carol Tyler and thee prolific Sergio Aragones shared the honor of Masters of the Medium awards, presented by Tom Spurgeon and Jeff Smith. Spurgeon and Tyler got a bit weepy, and in response, so did others. Sergio and Smith cracked jokes which was, for me, like seeing Chaplin and Keaton high-five.
Mr. Burford flagged down Sally, Juan, Emil, and I at the after party Katie Skelly hosted. It was soon after midnight, and my brain was slowing to a halt. Brendan, however, had more energy than ever. His vision of the future of comics and cartoonists is an optimistic one. “Cartoonists are secret weapons!” he kept saying like a prophet. I was trying to keep up with him among the loud music as he floated off the floor; luckily Juan and Sally picked up my slack and hung with Brendan’s wild ideas. This guy is the guy to talk to people!
COmics! Gitcha COmics heah! Gitcha COmics!
The first day of exhibiting at the Columbus Metro Library Downtown branch – I manned the Comics Workbook table along with Sally, Juan, and Emil. We were surrounded by our CW comrades – Kurt Ankeny, Whit Taylor, Alyssa Berg, and the aforementioned Mardou. This was my first time tabling, but Sally and Juan trusted me while they were off helping, recording, and running CW workshops.
I should mention we sold out of Simon Hanselmann’s Truth Zone almost immediately. Some people would pass by and say I’ll be back later to get this. I just smiled and waved as Hanselmann’s fans came out of the shadows with their pizza stained t-shirts and Redbull in hand, handed over all their rent money to get this rare gem.
A presence many attendees and would-be-buyers noticed was missing was our fearless leader, Frank Santoro. People recognized his longboxes (the only ones at the show to my knowledge) and his amazing books. If I had played a drinking game where, whenever I heard “Is Frank here?” I had to take a shot…I’d be dead. Which is fine. It just showed me what an influence he has on people. People who only met him last year and bought a handful of bad 80’s black and white comics, missed him. I hope we did him justice as comic sellers.
EMIL FRIIS ERNST is the current resident of the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency, all the way from Denmark. A living breathing Macbeth, we had skipped the Trudeau talk the night before and walked down High Street to find cigarettes for me. Emil is not only an excellent young cartoonist, but an all-around nice guy. We bonded over being early-twenty-something introverts, weary form brushing shoulders with giants all day. He was very nice to answer all my dumb-American questions about his mystical, foreign land of Vikings and wonder. We laughed, to my amazement, to shared senses of humor. He even bought me a beer! xoxo Emil!
Once I heard the new Love and Rockets was being sold at the Fantagraphics table, I ran over and picked up my copy before it sold out. Eric Reynolds was running the joint and I introduced myself. I thanked him for the editorial input he had on the SPX Celebrates Fantagraphics 40th Anniversary book I designed. He was very friendly and approachable.
RYAN SANDS and I chatted briefly about our mutual internet acquaintance, Cameron Arthur, a teenage up-and-comer cartoonist from Texas. We talked Mickey Z too. He sees her as a great American cartoonist that should be celebrated as such. I agree. He told me a secret about Mickey Z’s next book Rav Collection 2, but it’s a secret so I can’t say. Don’t sleep on Mickey Zacchilli or Youth in Decline!
ROBIN MCCONNELL of Inkstuds fame visited the CW table and bought GG’s A Mysterious Process. Juan had him check out Emil’s book All In A Day’s Work as well. Robin noted, “I can tell that he’s part of the [Comics Workbook] cult.”
Maybe you’ve heard of him? Mr. Burns stopped by to pick up some DC romance comics. Juan and I chatted with him briefly and I asked him which was weirder, DC romance comics or Charlton romance comics? Charlton of course.
BEN KATCHOR AND KEVIN CZAP
Mr. Katchor looked through every single CW-made comic at the table thoroughly, which was exciting to see. As we started to make small talk, Tom Spurgeon announced that Kevin Czap was receiving the Emerging Talent award with $7,500 from Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer. By the end of Czap’s humble and gracious speech, Mr. Katchor had been intercepted. Next I saw him he was at Nate McDonough’s table.
What a guy. I was delighted to be right next to Nate’s table. A Pittsburgher who has ties to my Dayton, OH. So nice and so prolific. I swear he knew 50% of the attendees that passed by his table. Lot’s of hugging and catching up at Nate’s place. I bought his latest graphic novel, Naptime – a comic that has a cover I watched Nate draw on a floppy red folder, on his lap, when there was at least forty-feet of open table in front him. This was only a couple months prior to CXC.
BEN SEARS had a residency at the CW Rowhouse a couple weeks after me this past summer, and was drawing in the next room when Frank and I had an iChat meeting about some graphic design I was doing for him. I introduced myself and we traded notes on the Residency. I bought his book Night Air and he drew in it. Nice guy, that guy.
JOE MCCULLOCH picked up a copy of Matt Seneca’s 200 Deaf Boys that CW was selling and smiled. Before he spoke, I had no idea this was Jog the Blog himself. “Have you read that comic?” I asked him (and everyone else who glanced at it because it’s my favorite comic right now.) He replied, “Yeah, I’m a friend of Matt’s.” His voice and cadence were unmistakable. I told him how much I LOVE the McCloud/Sculptor take-down episode of Comic Books Are Burning in Hell. He laughed and said something like, “Some days I think that was one of my shining achievements, and other days I think I will carry it with me forever like the chains of Jacob Marley.” (note: the latest episode of Comic Books Are Burning in Hell is all about Joe and Chris’ CXC adventures – listen HERE!)
CHRIS ANTHONY DIAZ
The man behind the excellent photos. Juan introduced us. Chris is great. He’s a collector with great taste and a self-disciplined photographer. He showed me some photos of Noah Van Sciver, mustache and all, for possible future author photos. He regaled me with some fantastic Alvin Bueneventura stories. He talked about how he and Alvin were once making bookplates for a Charles Burns book in a hotel room. Chris is kind and engaging.
I drove he and I out to Mr. Burns’ presentation at CCAD and I had the good fortune to sit next to Chris and watch him in action; removing his glasses after each photo to check the lighting that didn’t seem to cooperate in the dark auditorium. Unfortunately I had to abandon Chris at CCAD for I had taken ill. My all-nighter was catching up with me and I wasn’t feeling so hot. Chris was understanding and said he could find a ride back. The next day I apologized to him and explained my workaholic situation. He was nice about it. I gave him my comics and he took my photo. Chris is such a great guy and I hope to meet up with him again in the future.
AT THE MOTEL…after abandoning Chris at CCAD and getting the key from my roommates, I turned on the Buckeye game and laid down. We were getting man-handled by Wisconsin and I fell asleep in the third quarter I think. Falling into a deep, restorative slumber was unfortunate because I had the only key! Luckily, I awoke to find all my roomies sleeping angelically. They made it in somehow, and the Buckeyes ended up winning in overtime. Go Bucks!
AS THE DEER PANTETH FOOOOR…
Last day of the festival and the last day to sell things. Sally had already sold out of one of her books. Juan, Emil, and I were fighting for second. Some stoners had a eulogy for the soldout Truth Zones. Lot’s of chatting and laughing and a grand time was had by all.
I almost forgot to mention the CXC volunteers! They were amazing! I wish I would have got their names. These nameless angels tirelessly made the expo a more comfortable place. If I needed water, they sensed it and came flying over bringing me more water bottles than I asked for. When you’re talking all day, taking periodic smoke breaks, and feeling a bit under the weather, these people are knights in shining armour. They also helped us find carts to carry the egregious amount of supplies we brought for workshops to our cars in one trip. Thank you CXC volunteers!
SALLY INGRAHAM AND JUAN FERNANDEZ
Thee Comics Workbook co-pilots never sat down until they laid down to sleep. These two are the beating heart of CW and without them, Frank would be convulsing on the Rowhouse floor, muttering about 9-panel grids and the Golden Section. They work day and night to bring the comics gospel to the world in not one, but TWO languages. I am honored to have shared the weekend with them.
It was great to finally meet Kurt. I bought his new comic, Dark Desert Dawn. All the drawing in this one is “first-take”, though you wouldn’t know it because it’s drawn so well. I hate him for that. 🙂 Look for his fresh-off-the-press graphic novel, In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home. It’s an achievement to be proud of, Kurt.
During the craziness of the festival, nobody bothered to introduce us (SORRY CALEB AND WHIT!! xo – Sally), so I introduced myself to Whit on the last day. I knew her comics and writing on comics already so it was nice to finally meet her. A veteran at this point, she brought up a lot of good points about comic festivals and what we can do better as a community.
ALYSSA BERG painted her way into my heart when she came out with Alpenglow, the 2015 Comics Workbook Composition Competition best in show. I was jealous when I first read it, but her fantastic use of color and the way she moves the reader through space were undeniable. Alyssa was the heart of the personality for the CW crew I think. Whip smart and funny as hell.
By the end of the show, the entire mystique of being around my heroes like Jeff Smith and Sergio Aragones had evaporated. I felt like I wasn’t some young buck – I felt like I belonged there.
Finally, from out of the clouds and floor above, Jeff Smith announced, “CXC is over!” We all scrambled to leave so as to avoid being pepper sprayed by the library security guards. As we were leaving Carol Tyler waved and spoke to the entire room of exhibitors shouting, “Thank YOU CXC! I LOVE YOU!”
The CW crew left the CXC expo floor, gratefully thanking a weary Tom Spurgeon for such an amazing four-day weekend. Thanks again Tom!
Time to eat and recharge.
Juan and Emil (our two bilingual crew members) left for Pittsburgh and Sacha caught a plane to St. Louis. The remaining CW crew was: Alyssa, Whit, Kurt, Sally and myself. The former three had free drink stubs for the bar at their hotel so we went back there to cash in. Kurt shared with Sally and I because he doesn’t drink. We talked, gossiped, whooped and hollered. Then the old people kicked us out and we made our way to High Street for food. We walked for what seemed like days, trying to make a nutritious decision. This was fine. We chatted, cackled, tooted and scooted our way through the streets, stopped an unwieldy child from being crushed in traffic, shared back stories, made fun of goofy store windows, and finally found a restaurant to eat at. After we ate, we parted ways. They to the last after party of CXC, and me to Dayton in hopes that I could manage a decent amount of sleep so I could make it to work on time. Which I didn’t.
But that’s okay. CXC was a blast. I look forward to seeing all my new pals again. I see why cartoonists are such a tight-knit group. You see each other maybe once or twice a year and only for a few fleeting, busy days. I’m nostalgic already. See you all again soon.
Thanks to Lucy Caswell, Jeff Smith, Tom Spurgeon, Caitlin McGurk, the Billy Ireland Museum, CCAD, The Columbus Museum of Art, Sol-Con, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus Metropolitan Library, the CXC volunteers and everyone who made CXC possible.
And a special thanks to Frank Santoro, founder, fearless leader, and Jedi master of Comics Workbook. Without whom, the life I live now in cartooning and in general, would not exist.
Thank you thank you thank you.
Caleb Orecchio makes comics in Dayton, OH. You can find more of his work HERE.