Gloria Rivera is a comics artist from Canyon Country, CA. An alum of the Santoro Correspondence Course for Comic Book Makers, and a member of the CW Roller Derby League, she joined us in Pittsburgh for a Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency March 23rd-29th 2017. Here are Gloria’s thoughts about her experience, in her own words.
The Quick List of What Happened:
- 22 pages completed, drawing to color w/lettering – comic 1
- 6 complete pages (B & W) – comic 2
- Yona Harvey and Ed Piskor lecture at the Harris Theater
- Visit to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
- Copacetic Comics visits
- various nature walks, incidental birding with Sally Ingraham
I had no expectations for my residency when I had arrived – only to work. I had followed Frank Santoro’s online presence for a few years prior and had taken his online correspondence course, but really couldn’t say that I had any idea of what kind of a teacher Frank was in person, or how much of a gift being in this space could be, not only referring to the Rowhouse, but to Pittsburgh – a town constantly working its bellows to support its comics scene.
The first day I had arrived, I met Sally Ingraham. I was really blown away by Sally, who works as a coordinator for the Rowhouse Residency and holds various responsibilities for Comics Workbook. She is exhaustively knowledgeable, hardworking, and compassionate. She asked me what I had come to Pittsburgh to work on, and we sort of agreed that this first day I would work in solitude on my comic that I had started half a year earlier, until I felt I had gained some momentum, and then we would go from there, gauging if/when I wanted outside conversation.
For the majority of my stay, the rhythm I kept to was non-stop working until a personal moment was offered (whether it be a walk, dinner with Frank and Sally, or short trips through the city), taking those moments, being present, and then continuing my work. Any time spent with other cartoonists (Frank, Sally, one of Sally’s 9-yr old students, cartoonists in a lecture, a.k.a Ed Piskor) was used to further my stride into my work.
On the second day of my residency I met Frank. We had dinner at his house, where he was working on his new book. He is spirited, purposeful, mindful, and has endless passion for his work. He told a brief history of Pittsburgh, intertwined with his own of growing up, leaving and returning. It’s a story of dedication and belonging which I think not many people of MY generation are comfortable with, as many seem to be constantly striving for “better”, but without knowing, really, what “better” is.
Aside from the stories Frank told about the city, he also gave me insight into the reality of living as a comics maker, which I would not have been privy to, and which until then I really was only guessing at. Some may be disheartened by these sort of conversations, but I am excited by how real it made things for me, despite it being a gauntlet. Topics for the week were: comics making process, the value of comics as a physical object/printing, the strengths of the avant-garde (non-narrative) against those of the narratively structured comic (two very different modes of storytelling), visual literacy, and comics community (inclusive of audience, publishers, comics friends, and family). The talks were long, but the time passed quickly.
I tried my best to respect both Sally and Frank’s personal time to work, as they had mine. When Frank approached my work for advisement he was very objective, and I wanted his worst, so that I could do my best. Still, I think he saw my being in the work, and was courteous with his critique.
Before coming to Pittsburgh I had half of my comic completed – 25 pages – and I completed the remaining 22 there. I completed as much as I did from August to November of 2016 in a week at the Rowhouse! I won’t say it was easy, but provided with the time to concentrate and motivation from the community, I was happy to put in any amount of time that my work demanded. Any formal education I had before comics was always for painting, and the more serious I allow myself to become about comics making, the more I see they are not so dissimilar.
Frank is really great about sharing his knowledge and relating it to that which you came with. He was generous in his talks, while asking me to be accountable for the information I did know. One night Frank had casually presented me with some reading material; recommendations – mostly comics (Yuichi Yokoyama, Rich Buckler) – and among them two catalogues of Philip Guston paintings (it turns out that Frank is not only a comics expert, he is well versed in art history as a whole).
Although in the past I have kept Guston as a sort of painting mentor (through books and image), I was surprised when I was presented with these catalogues – to be looking at his work during this comics residency. Phil Guston was a painter who understood the politics associated with images, but always kept a personal relationship with his visual library. Imagine your images are made of characters, places, things, each one a word, a letter, all making up your language. You hold this close to you. This is comics.
What follows is an excerpt from a book of collected writings on Phil Guston:
“Now, I think the original revolutionary impulse behind the New York School , as I felt it anyway, and I think my colleagues felt it, in the way we talked all the time, was that you felt as if you were driven into a corner against the wall, with no place to stand, just the place you occupied. And it’s as if the act of painting itself was not making a picture, because there are plenty of pictures in the world. Why make more pictures, clutter up the world with more pictures? But it’s as if you had to prove to yourself that truly the act of creation was still possible. Whether it was possible.” (Guston 58)
I never expected to have felt this myself, to be able to talk to a group of people about images in such an earnest way – always internal conversation, now externalized. Frank and Sally offered their criticism, and experience, and questioning. I am working everyday to be worthy of comics as my form, and regardless, I put the pen to the paper – but over time I’ve forgotten to ask the big questions.
Now I am more than willing to report that while the uninterrupted work time, the comics lectures, and accessible reading material was what whipped me into completing my goal, what I am bringing home with me – more than another book done – is a sense of what true community is, and the importance of holding your peers to standards that will benefit them in the longer run.
It’s with great enthusiasm that I support the agenda of Comics Workbook, and the Residency program, and look forward to furthering my involvement with them to make better work (my own and that of others).
For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail