We kicked off the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency over Memorial Day Weekend with a visit from Matthew Conway and Mahmoud Hashemi. Matt is an architect and very recent Harvard grad (congrats Matt!), and Mahmoud is the lead developer of the Python Infrastructure team at eBay/PayPal. Neither of them had ever made a comic before.
However, Matt and Mahmoud were men on a mission. They arrived at the Rowhouse with the clear intention of using its many resources and the full breadth and depth of Frank’s knowledge and techniques to make something great. They were challenged and inspired during their time here, and in return they challenged and inspired the whole Comics Workbook team. And yes, they did end up making their first comic!
During his flight home Mahmoud wrote a detailed report of his experience at the Rowhouse, and it offers a lot of insight into what made the experience extraordinary for everyone involved.
Below you will find excerpts from Mahmoud’s report along with some commentary from me. There’s a lot to unpack! – Sally
Mahmoud Hashemi wrote:
“From May 28th to June 2nd, 2016, I visited Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I went to work with Frank Santoro on Matt Conway’s game Homemake. Overall it was a great vacation because it wasn’t your typical beachside retreat. Rather, it was mounting an effort to renew creativity and productivity on Matt Conway’s longstanding project, Homemake. The timing was great, as it was right before Ramadan for me, and right after Matt Conway’s graduation from Harvard GSD.
Started in 2013 and Kickstarted to the tune of 18,000 in 2014, Homemake is an experimental art game that is unique for its focus on architecture and music, and its lack of traditional game elements like enemies and time limits.”
Mahmoud, who serves as an editor, instigator, and cheerleader for Matt and the game, recognized that his friend needed a burst of new energy and that the game itself needed more concentrated story development.
“Homemake was designed as a system, meaning that it was designed nonlinearly. It was a procedural way to achieve certain preconceived moments. But there were no sentences between the punctuation.
Almost all games, including HM, result in linear gameplay. The player [moves through] sequential acts or chapters. My goal became to quickly build the best linear structure with what was already there. In a way, there was a middle act, but no opening or closing. So, the goal was to use a comic book as a storyboard to create the opening act.”
Sally here – like I said, these fellows arrived at the Rowhouse with a fire under their tails! Mahmoud had known for a while that he needed to sit down with Matt and really hash out a narrative for the game. When he discovered Frank’s Kickstarter for the Rowhouse last fall, Mahmoud knew that he wanted to support this new comic book institution, and guessed that a residency might provide the right sort of space for he and Matt to work. He wasn’t 100% sure that Frank’s methods would be the magic pill they needed, but he was willing to come to Pittsburgh to find out.
Back to Mahmoud’s report:
“Frank’s own creative methods have a focus on systems, especially jazz-inspired rhythmic systems, making them an exceptional fit with Homemake‘s motivations and goals. I was skeptical at first, but it worked wonders.
This effectiveness may have been magnified because half of Homemake‘s vision was disparate moments, a grab bag of mental notes about certain aesthetics. This method allowed Matt to express all his thoughts and editors, like me and Frank, to come through, see the patterns a reader would want to see, and develop the most coherent narrative. Everyone wins.”
‘With Frank’s method, images come first, then words. There should be no script. The images tell almost the whole story, and those images must be allowed to find their own rhythm. A script disrupts that.
Similarly, a grid is like an empty script. Frank’s method of modular, card-based creation was as effective as it was simple. Hard-earned simplicity. …
Matt ended up drawing 52 cards. I found a cohesive story with 40, and we expanded that to use 48 cards to create 6 pages, 3 spreads. …
With this new direction, and Conway’s drive, I expect that development will continue on the comic book and game. For the comic book, we’ll start having real deliverables within a couple months. The game has 80% of what it needs now, and may be approaching a playable version within the year.”
Matt and Mahmoud did more work in about three days than most people get through in three weeks. They also found time to explore Pittsburgh a bit, catch a hockey game, and even read a few comics in the midst of drawing their own.
However, the majority of Matt and Mahmoud’s time here was spent in a lively discussion which looped back to comics regularly, but ranged all over the place. It was almost a bonus that some work got done, but really it was this discourse, this rapid-fire exchange of ideas and experiences that made the time uniquely valuable. It certainly made the line between “teacher” and “student” very fluid.
Mahmoud had incredibly generous things to say about the experience as a whole, and I’ll let him finish this report in his own words.
“Frank is inspirational, completely earnest, and almost totally pure. He is not jaded, not burned out. He is hopeful and hard working. He has lived a lot of places, from Pittsburgh to New York to San Francisco to New Mexico and back to Pittsburgh, just down the street from his mom (who is very nice).
Compared to my expectations of independent comics artists, Frank is well-adjusted and well-equipped, with good taste in more than just comics. This expectation is likely skewed by my reading of so many “journal comics” artists. I feel like I learned about creating and collecting in general, not just about comics.
Frank never stops relating things to comics, education, and community-building. Passion is fleeting compared to this. His motivation is closer to second nature.
This nature was my original hopeful realization with Frank, before I met him. I feel a deep kinship with him, as I think about creating code the same way he thinks about creating comics. Independent, expressive, and individually valuable. Corporate partnerships are inevitable and, while they can be good, ultimately these looming entities don’t care about the potential of comics/code, they just use creators opportunistically.
I see Frank doing for independent print comics what E-40 does in hip hop. He seems to know everyone past and present. E-40 and Frank both act upon this knowledge, combining it with the deeply ingrained understanding that respect is the real currency of the business. Money is an inescapable reality, but it’s possible and laudable to address the group as a community first and an industry second.
Economies have a tendency to be treated as zero-sum. But respect is not zero-sum. Through his music, E-40 pulls everyone together, adding to their respect, and his own. And above all he respects himself, setting a good example. So it is with Frank.
Suffice it to say, we need more creator-mentor-educators like Frank (as well as Sally, who I think recognizes all this and more, and actively assists Frank in the mission). In my ideal world I would be able to spend one week per year with a creator of his caliber, but I feel lucky to even have this one trip. …
Long story short, I wish Frank and team the best of luck in “reddin up” the residency in time for another visit in the next year or two.”
– Mahmoud Hashemi
Many thanks to Mahmoud and Matt for coming to the Rowhouse and contributing their considerable energy and talents to Comics Workbook. We’re humbled and thrilled to have hosted them, and look forward to channeling what we learned from them into future residencies.
Please take a moment to check out Homemake, as well as some of Mahmoud and Matt’s other interesting projects.
Homemake (coming soon! – keep up with the progress)
Chill Anime Beats (a musical curation collaboration)
Sedimental (Accretionary thoughts by Mahmoud Hashemi)
Listen to Wikipedia (seriously, check this out it is SO COOL!)
Here’s a taste of what Homemake will offer –
P.S. Mahmoud and Matt had a funny encounter with Frank’s Mom and a real pap-pap (Mr. Greene) at the airport. Check it out below.