Caleb Orecchio here with my week in Pittsburgh at the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency
I come into Pittsburgh
At six-thirty flat.
I found myself a vacant seat
An’ I put down my hat.
Lo and Behold!
or Where The Wild Cartoonists Are: A Pittsburgh Story
And thus it came to pass that I returned to Pittsburgh, PA, the land of the wild cartoonists. I say wild because they certainly are not domesticated like most cartoonists who live Brooklyn or LA. The Comics Workbook crew being the most savage and barbaric of the Pittsburghers—I should know, I am one of them. Though I am not a native, I have been taken in and raised as their own. I’ve been taught the ways of the wolf and to speak in tongues. I come out of desert and back to Pittsburgh when I am called.
This story largely documents my meeting and interacting with the young Texas cartoonist, Cameron Arthur.
with a special cameo by Nate McDonough
and narrated by me, Caleb Orecchio
Our Story begins…
I left Dayton, OH for Pittsburgh, PA on Sunday to pick up Cameron Arthur who was flying in from Houston, TX. My dog, Zoe, looked at me with the look she gives when she knows I’m leaving her for an extended period of time. Thankfully a couple friends, including comic-book blood brother Jason Hart who agreed to babysit her at his house, took care of her. I am eternally grateful for these pals.
After a four hour drive, I arrived in Pittsburgh where the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency resides. As always, Frank and Sally greeted me with the warmth and welcome that makes me feel like family. We hung out for a bit before I had to go pick up Cameron. Sally left to hold down the fort at thee Copacetic Comics Company. The proprietor of Copacetic, Bill Boichel, was “at the beach” so he unfortunately does not come into this story. I got settled in and claimed my room at the Rowhouse and went back to hangout with Frank who showed me secret works of art that left me shattered and speechless. My tongue was cut out so I couldn’t speak to him about them, but it grew back in time to talk to Cameron at the airport.
Cameron came out of the terminal glowing with excitement. He never gets to talk to cartoonists in real life so he was purging all the comics-related thoughts, and we’d had a million different conversations before we even left the airport; plus a million more on the way to Copacetic—the first stop on Cameron’s Pittsburgh journey.
Cameron Arthur is a really bright kid from Texas, the land of his heroes: Gary Panter and Matt Brinkman (what 17-year-old has the taste to know Gary Panter is the greatest? Cameron does). I’ve “known” Cameron from corresponding online for years now. He was 14 then. This is the first time we’ve met in real life. This is the summer before his senior year in high school and already he is a powerful cartoonist. The force is strong with this one. Maybe you don’t like his drawing or storytelling or whatever, but you fail to see the boundless potential that is below the surface. This week, he would start to unlock it.
Cameron and I arrive at Copacetic to find Sally working and Audra Stang shopping (I think I saw Blaise Larmee exiting the coffee shop that resides in the same building). Audra is dear friend, a terrific cartoonist, and recent Pittsburgh resident. At some point in the week she did over 40 portraits of students from the school she works at. Juan later told me, “I know those kids–she killed it.”
We chatted and hung out with the dynamic duo before closing time. As Sally was locking up and we were leaving, we saw Nate McDonough (a Pittsburgh resident with some connections to my Dayton). I love Nate. I told him we should get together this weekend and have a beer. I always say that when I’m around, but I never have time. Please forgive me Nate!
Audra went home and Sally, Frank, Cameron and I talked comics back at HQ. Frank told stories of Gary Panter and Fort Thunder and PitcureBox and Paper Rad and Francesco Clemente and Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and PeeWee Herman and Bob Dylan and Alan Moore and Cold Heat and Basquiat and Andy Warhol among many other things. Cameron and I went back to the Rowhouse full of knowledge and weary from our travels.
Our Story continues…
What follows is most of the week as I remember it. Specific days and activities are blending together so I will do without keeping track of exact times and dates. This is my impression of the week that already seems so long ago now that I’m back in the wilderness of Dayton, OH.
Cameron and I drew a lot over the week of course, but we talked just as much as we drew. I feel that we really got to know each other, like I have another brother in comics. I felt that we clicked immediately being two easy-going dudes who just want to talk about comics all day. He really schooled me in the ways of Gary Panter and Fort Thunder and the surrounding entities. I could school him in some aspects, but his breadth of knowledge at his age is staggering. He just knows whats up.
He also schooled me about his homeland, Texas. The land of western fever-dreams finally had a human face that I could talk to. He knew a lot about his homeland. Had some interesting personal stories of friends and family.
In the beginning of the week, he drew very slow. Drawing his comics almost exclusively first-take, he developed a painstaking pace. Frank, and by extension, I, would work to unlock the maniac in him. At night, when we would go to Frank’s to talk and listen, Frank would give Cameron exercises to quicken and loosen Cameron’s drawing up. He talked about the difference between Matt Brinkman and other more traditional cartoonists. Most cartoonists try really hard to get their point across. “Multiforce just is,” I remember Frank saying. He showed him how Brinkman can draw very large and very small. He talked about how Gary Panter is an artist. “Gary Panter wouldn’t have to do eight months of research to learn cubism to do a comic about cubism, Gary Panter IS cubism!” Frank showed us a photo of one of Panter’s latest paintings—our brains blew out the back of our heads and we went back to the Rowhouse and tried to be cartoonists again.
Frank, Sally, Cameron and I went to New Dimension Comics. It was amazing. More $1 back issue boxes than I’ve ever seen in one place! And we didn’t even get to see the basement that they open up to the public once or twice a year. I hardly got through a small section of the place before we there for a while and had to go. Throughout the back-issue digging, Cameron and I would show each other the cool shit we’d pull out. So many Kirby comics, Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man, Archie, Charlton comics, romance comics, sports comics, dusty comics, fresh comics, comics with covers, comics without covers, comics with artists mimicking Kirby, comics with artists mimicking Neal Adams, comics by Neal Adams, comics about Boris Karloff, propaganda comics, how to comics, how to not comics, good comics, bad comics, ugly comics, comics by men, comics by women, comics by boys, comics by Kentuckians, comics by West Virginians, comics comics comics. Frank would periodically bring over a stack, “Here a made you a stack. You don’t have to buy them…” He gave me look a of disappointment when I put back an oversized Dick Tracy collection for two Barry Smith Conan Treasury Edition books. Frank bought the Dick Tracy book. We went back to Frank’s to look at our booty and a wondrous time was had by all.
Juan Fernandez, a valiant cowboy of comics. He’s the man behind the curtain—along with rest of the CW crew—educating the young minds of Pittsburgh about comics. He stopped by to meet Cameron and chat. It was good to catch up with Juan who is a genuinely sweet guy and a great thinker of comics. His enthusiasm for comics is only outmatched by the hours in the day. Still Juan tirelessly carries on against the wind. He is a key figure in comics, though he probably won’t be truly recognized for it until later—he is one of the Wild Ones. Let no one stand in his way.
One night, Frank was showing Cameron and I how to better our respective drawing styles. When Frank teaches you something, it almost changes your entire life because you level up just by one interaction with him. He stressed to me the importance of being able to draw with one line and equated it with Dylan. He showed Cameron how to draw as his heroes draw. He showed Cameron how to draw in color. A loud “YES!” rang through the house once Cameron figured it out. Cameron went back to work on his comics, determined to fulfill his destiny. Frank also drew for me, upside down, his best Kirby impression. Frank is the best because he can draw in any way shape or form.
Another night, Frank brought out a bunch of comics and books to look at. I zeroed in on a Kirby collection that had a bunch of Xeroxed pencils of Thor, while we watched Masters of American Comic Book Art. Kirby is the greatest. We’d been talking about the great Gary Panter all week. Gary Panter an artistic and cultural phenomenon regardless if you know it or not. Really he can do it all. Panter, Mazzuchelli, Westvind, Herriman, you name ’em; true masters of the form. But anyone can learn all they want and practice and practice – there is only one Kirby. I almost had an emotional breakdown looking at his pencils, quite literally read and wept.
For most of the days, I was Cameron’s primary teacher. I quickly realized that Sally and Frank had tricked me into it. I can not thank them enough, because I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Cameron LEVEL UP:
Cameron was starting to feel the burn. Comics Workbook expects you to draw until your hands hurt. A lot of the drawing is redrawing the same thing over and over. This was starting to tax Cameron and he wondered if there had to be somewhere out of here. I sensed his pain. His drawing was starting to slow down again. “Faster!” I screamed. “NO! Don’t slow down!” I made him draw four 8-panel one-page gag strips. “You have thirty minutes to do each one! Start in color and then go to black like Frank showed you! Pretend your Gary Panter!”
We are about to make the jump to lightspeed!
The ground shook and the winds were a gail! I looked over and Cameron’s hands were on fire! Sweat poured from him and he breathed heavily. He was doing it. He was Luke doing a handstand with Yoda on his foot and moving rocks with the force. He was Goku gathering the energy of the people in the tri-state area. In the middle of the frenzy, I get a call that a friend’s relative had died. Cameron’s power was reaching the far corners of the universe. He was unstoppable. The hairs on my neck stood on end. I tried to capture the event but no man or woman could render the awesome might of Cameron’s breakthrough.
When he was done I noticed one of his hairs had turned gray in the process. He was a man now. We looked at the four comics he had done. Remember, one comic page per 30 minutes. He did each one in less than that and the last comic was his personal best at 21 minutes. These four comics were the best he’d ever done. He had willed them into existence. They floated, crackling lightning, fresh from the fire. They just were.
Our story ends…
After Cameron’s great breakthrough, we had tacos. We met up with Sally, Audra, and Frank and had a good ol’ time. I bragged about Cameron who was still recovering from it all. It was great to hang out because tomorrow we would be gone—the last hurrah. Got to talk more with Audra and Sally, while Frank had Cameron do more and more drawing.
Sally and Audra and I talked endlessly about our current and future comics. Who we liked, who we hated. Sally and I discussed the woes, pros, and cons of the daily strip. I cursed Audra for being such savage cartoonist. Sally too. We talked about our old embarrassing poetry and past adolescent romances and mix tapes and hopes and dreams. Some real solid quality time with my comics family.
As I looked around at Sally, Frank, Cameron, and Audra I felt a real sense of family. I’ve never lacked a loving family, fortunately, but this family seemed more like a wolf pack kind of family. We learn as a pack. We go to shows as a pack. We draw as a pack. We kill as a pack. We eat as a pack.
The dreaded morning came when Cameron and I had to go. I grow weary as I type this overlong account so I’ll keep it short:
I love all the cartoonists I mentioned and I feel really fortunate to have finally met Cameron in person. This stupid blog post does not do the trip justice. It was life changing–as always when I meet up with the CW crew. And now I’m back in the wilderness until it’s time to go back home again.
Goin’ back to Pittsburgh
Count up to thirty,
Round that horn and ride that herd,
Gonna thread up!
special thanks to everyone mentioned above, particularly Sally Ingraham who did a lot of the leg work to get me and Cameron here at the same time and kept the machine working; and of course Frank Santoro who is undoubtedly the master and without whom this past week (among other things) would not exist.
anyone still here? Well if you are, here are a few links
- Pepe has a lawyer.
- The ToonSeum of Pittsburgh is having a fundraiser.
- An interesting Five for Friday
Suzy and Cecil – 7-17-2017 – by Gabriella Tito
Joanie and Jordie – 7-17-2017 – by Caleb Orecchio