Rowhouse Residency Report – Jason Robinson

Jason Robinson is a comics maker, illustrator, and graphic designer living in Asbury Park, NJ. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in June of 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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Frank Santoro and Jason Robinson, 2017

My plan, initially, was to chain myself to the desk and produce so much work. All the work! I was going to get soooo much done. And I did, but not in the way I had anticipated.

I spent the first two days, working alongside fellow resident Patrick Bonato, essentially chained to the drawing table. I penciled the second chapter (16 pages) of a story that grew out of the Comics Workbook Correspondence Course I completed in 2015.

I enjoyed overlapping with Patrick, especially since I appreciate his comics and (possibly more importantly when sharing a space) we have similar tastes in music. It was nice to work in a shared space and be able to talk constructively about each other’s work and comics in general. Patrick departed the morning of my third day. I felt fortunate that I was able to share part of my residency with a fellow comics maker, but I was also looking forward to some time alone as well.

On the porch at Copacetic Comics, in Polish Hill

But first, off to Copacetic Comics with Frank & Sally—a sunny, relaxed morning and afternoon of drinking coffee and reading comics…and drinking more coffee and reading more comics. Absurdly caffeinated, I sketched the views from the Copacetic terrace while Frank kept adding to the pile of comics at my side. That morning alone was worth the whole trip.

When I got back to the Rowhouse that evening, I worked for a couple of hours. I started tallying up the days I had left and calculating what I could actually accomplish based on my output so far. I decided I would set my current story aside as it was already flowing well, and concentrate on starting something new.

Okay, so what do I work on?

Drawing blanks and feeling stir crazy, I found myself antsy to get out and see Pittsburgh. Half an hour later, riding up the old Duquenese furnicular, looking out over the city, I realized I might need to shift perspectives and expectations about this trip. It couldn’t be about pure output. I needed inspiration. So after enjoying the sunset over the city, I went to the Andy Warhol Museum. It delivers. I was particularly taken with a small, easily overlookable exhibit detailing his technique for achieving his ink-blotted pen line.

When I returned to the house I worked for another few hours, not on my comic, but just exploring different tools, brushes, nibs, and pens—experimenting—playing with different approaches.

Day four: I spent the morning drawing on index cards one after the next in a stream of consciousness. Later, I reconnected with some old friends over beer and noodles—and as I unwound, I realized how stressed I’d actually been in my daily life leading up the residency—and that this was the first time in a long time that I wasn’t beholden to someone else’s deadline.

Day five: Brunch at Spirit with Frank and Sally (and Tina), bought some choice comics from Frank while his friends dj’d and sold vintage clothing.

Came home to work, which at this point in my residency meant devouring the library of comics laying around the row house—basically all of Dash Shaw’s work, Olivier Schrauwen, Sam Alden, Noel Sickles, Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, and falling head over heels in love with everything John Stanley.

Day six was filled with daydreams and the jotting down of enough story ideas to last the next five years. In many ways, I feel like I was just getting revved up and here I am at the end, hoping I have the discipline to continue this trajectory or at least ride this wave for a long while. Because only now have the chaotic thoughts begun to settle on the floor of my brain. And I’m able to calmly wander through, picking up bits and pieces, and notice how some seem to connect—to join together like pieces of a puzzle.

Frank and Sally in Frank’s kitchen

I joined Frank and Sally for dinner on that last night. And a bit drunk on wine, I tried to convey this feeling by paraphrasing a similar concept I’d read somewhere about a scientist explaining that “it may not look like I’m working when I’m staring off into space, but what I’m really doing is constructing a 3-dimensional puzzle in my head—piecing together bits and bytes of information, and that takes time and focus to carefully construct this puzzle in my mind’s sky so that it may stand on it’s own. So, please don’t interrupt me, or you risk the pieces of the puzzle caving in on each other, imploding into a cloud of ash.

…Fortunately, Frank has a better and much more succinct iteration in his back pocket – “When I’m working, you may not see it, but I’m welding here. I have a helmet on, and my mitt, it grips a fucking torch-of-fire. So stand back, or you’re in danger!

I’ll close with some unsolicited advise to future residents:

You don’t have to chain yourself to the drawing table. Of course you may, and obviously there can be great benefits to doing so, I only argue that there are other equally constructive ways to make use of this time you’ve carved out for yourself. Paradoxically, doing “nothing” may be exactly what’s needed to do the next something.

P.S. For anyone reading this on the fence about the correspondence course or a possible residency, here’s one more gem from Frank that may help.

Remember, Yoda was just a guy rooting around in Luke’s lunch box.

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Many thanks to Jason for the housewarming gifts he brought along in 2017 (pictured above) and for his support of the creation of the Rowhouse Residency during the crowdfund of 2016! – Frank and Sally and the Comics Workbook team

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Check out work by Jason 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

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