Rowhouse Residency Report – Bronson Smillie

Bronson Smillie is a cartoonist based in Montréal, QC, where he is finishing a painting and drawing undergrad at Concordia University. He joined us in Pittsburgh, PA, for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in July of 2018. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.


Bronson Smillie here: I arrived in Pittsburgh from Montreal in the middle of July, with just a carry-on full of art supplies and a few carefully selected articles of summer attire that would allow me to beat the record-breaking heatwave that had been plaguing Montreal and most of Eastern Canada for weeks. Prior to my departure, I had been trying to gather intel from friends as to what to expect during my stay in Pittsburgh. No matter how hard I dug, it seemed practically no one, apart from a few internet acquaintances, had much information to offer. So, without expectations, I rode the bus from the airport into downtown to meet Sally who would take me to my home for the week.

Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the hilliest city I have ever been to. As someone who enjoys walking as a means of sight-seeing, I fantasized about the thigh muscles I would develop after a week navigating the city’s steep inclines. The Residency itself is located in a neighbourhood called Swissvale. As a longterm resident of the neighbourhood, Frank has some really interesting anecdotes about the history of Swissvale that are worth pining for in order to better understand the space and energy of the Residency.

Frank’s historical knowledge of the city combined with his historical knowledge of comics affirmed and contradicted preconceived notions I had about the “North American Comics Industry”. It’s all super valuable information, and it was interesting for me to stack his old school values against my new school ideals. It’s safe to say that the rose coloured glasses I showed up to the Residency wearing have been now replaced with a more practical pair of shades.

The ! air conditioned ! bedroom/work-space was the perfect place to dive head first into my work. As someone that is easily distracted in new environments, it was nice to be able to shut myself into a quiet space. Each morning I would devour a handful of comics/zines selected from the extensive and ever-growing library at the Residency. I would recommend spending as much time reading comics as you do drawing them while you are a resident. They offer such an amazing resource and I got to read things that I had never had access to before. I worked on a 10 page mini-comic that I’ve since completed and took time to digitize my entire stamp collection (boring but satisfying). I wanted to explore a new way of image-making while I was at the residency and broke away from the more rigid, panel-based comic making I was used to in order to explore more experimental ideas I had been tossing around for a while.

It was an extremely rewarding week – for both my thighs and my craft – topped off with drives around the city with both Frank and Sally as well as a trip to visit the uh-may-zing Copacetic Comics to drop off some of my own comics and choose a few to bring back with me as well.

Before I headed off to the airport and back to Montreal – Frank handed me a folded newsprint copy of something that he forbid me to open in his presence. I awkwardly shoved it into my carry on and as I sat down on my bus headed back to the airport I opened the gift. It was a short comic by Frank that acted as a first person reflection on Swissvale as well as Frank’s personal memories attached to it. I flipped through pages illustrated by someone with a lifetime of experiences attached to a place I had spent just one week. I realized, by my surprisingly emotional response to what I was reading, that Pittsburgh had effectively gotten under my skin. I understand why, after leaving for many years, Frank has decided to come back to his roots. Frank and Sally are creating a special place for comic makers to come develop and I’m super thankful that I had the opportunity to be a part of it!

Bronson Smillie at Copacetic Comics in Polish Hill, Pittsburgh

Keep up with Bronson Smillie HERE!

For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email

Rowhouse Residency Report – Nick Fowler

Nick Fowler is a cartoonist based in San Francisco, CA. He joined us in Pittsburgh, PA, for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in June of 2018. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.


Nick Fowler here: I was very nervous on my Greyhound ride from New York to Pittsburgh. I didn’t know exactly what to expect from my time at the Rowhouse and it was a fairly spontaneous decision to take part in it. The weeks leading up to my residency were spent packing all my belongings from my three years in New York City at The School Of Visual Arts, and then shipping them back home to San Francisco. It just so happened that there was a last-minute opening at the Rowhouse the week I was scheduled to move back home, so I jumped at the opportunity, thinking it would serve as a buffer between three confusing years of art school (think Art School Confidential with cartoonists) and my indefinite time back home. There, I would be looking for part-time jobs, reacquainting myself with the friends I had left and relearning, in some ways, a vastly different San Francisco from the one I left three years ago.

Panel from Love and Rockets

In an attempt to quell my fears and distract myself, I read Connor Willumsen’s Anti-Gone on the Greyhound. It blew me away – a comic about the role of entertainment in a capitalist dystopia reminiscent of J.G. Ballard’s Drowned World by way of Moebius’ Airtight Garage in which, for the majority of the comic, the main characters spend their time buying things. Talking about this comic any more would require writing an entire article.

The first night, Sally Ingraham picked me up from the Greyhound station and we talked about our respective comic-making histories. She showed me around the Rowhouse and introduced me to the other permanent resident, Audra Stang.

The first day at the residency, Caleb Orecchio drove me to Copacetic Comics where Sally was working. On the car ride over, we talked about Dash Shaw, Connor Willumsen and SVA.
I have been going to comic book stores my whole life, and I honestly think Copacetic is one of the best, if not the best I’ve ever been to. It’s often hard to find a comic store that has a thorough collection of both old back issues and small press stuff. Usually, I find that if a store specializes in one, it’s significantly lacking in the other. Despite being a fairly small store, Copacetic somehow has both in spades (and more).

While at Copacetic, Caleb and Juan Jose Fernandez started a conversation about why Craig Thompson’s Blankets doesn’t hold up for them. The conversation, as I remember it, was centered around the way Craig’s loss of faith was portrayed in the comic. The details would be hard for me to articulate here, as it was gloriously convoluted and drew from their past experiences with Christianity and Catholicism, most of which was lost on me, as I was raised culturally Jewish. Nevertheless, to hear such an impassioned discussion about Blankets and its place in the pantheon of comics history was a thrill. I stood there smiling like a doofus. I felt like I was where I needed to be.

Afterwards, seeing how overwhelmed I was with the store, Juan gave me some great recommendations and I went home with an issue of Street Angel and the 2003 edition of The Ganzfeld.

One of the most important things that was cemented for me during my time at the Rowhouse was the immense importance of environment. In both a social sense (as demonstrated above) and a more literal, spatial sense. The room at the Rowhouse had a bed, a table and a box of Love and Rockets (#17-28 if I remember correctly). And nothing else. Every day I would wake up and take two steps to the drawing table to either draw, or to read Love and Rockets and then draw. For the week I was there, there was nothing else I had to do. It felt like a splash of cold water on my face.

The Rowhouse drawing table

On my fourth day, I decided to take a break from drawing and walk around the neighborhood. Pittsburgh itself feels special. It’s a quiet, beautiful city with tons of history. It’s the kind of place where people watch Frasier with the door open.

Eventually I found a baseball field in an alcove down a long set of stairs, surrounded by trees. I sat there as the sun set, watching a man fly a drone in the middle of the diamond while a deer looked on and the sound of passing trains echoed throughout the park.

The day before I left, I went down the block to Frank’s house. Having both lived in San Francisco, we compared our respective SF’s. His being the romantic-sounding post-earthquake, pre-dot com boom and mine being the nebulous post-dot com boom, pre-tech boom. The conversation eventually turned to bay area punk, Cometbus, Kembra Pfahler, and inevitably, comics. Having just returned from a trip to Europe, Frank was ready to lay out his bountiful experience and frustrations with the North American comics landscape. Frank is a walking comic history course. At a certain point, he mentioned how when he was younger, he would listen to Bill Boichel of Copacetic Comics go on these long, weaving tangential rants, and just say, “What next?” Egging him on and soaking up everything he could. This was exactly how I felt talking to Frank. He ended the conversation by telling me, “You’re going to struggle.”

The various car rides and conversations with Sally, Caleb, Audra and Frank were equally as inspiring as having unlimited drawing time. Advice I’d give to future residents is to balance your time between drawing and socializing with the Rowhouse crew. I tried to achieve a balance myself, but ended up spending most of the time indoors drawing.

Some pages from my stay:


Keep up with Nick Fowler HERE!

For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email


Sam Ombiri is visiting family for a few weeks, and finished writing this review while traveling to Kenya. He sent it to us during brief access to the Internet, and wrote: “Hopefully it’s not too late – I don’t know what day it is there,” and apologized for a possible lack of focus while typing this review “because mosquitoes kept biting me”. Thanks for persevering, Sam, and bringing us your thoughts on comics this week! – Sally Ingraham


Sam Ombiri here: Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen (Koyama Press, 2017) is a really, really fantastic comic. It is horrifically insane. There’s such focus on the emotional responses of consumers that I got a kind of vertigo from it all. In fact, at the beginning of the comic I related to Lynxa throwing up from seasickness – it was that intense for me.

To me the comic has a horrifically calm space where everything is desperately made to be as satisfactory as possible. The twist in this case is that we don’t see the desperation – the ideal environment is rendered without any question.

When reading the comic the environments felt sudden, but rhythmically so – it was so deeply preoccupied with the rhythm in it’s sequencing to the point where it felt like me holding the book in my hands was just as much a matter of rhythm as Connor transitioning from one panel to the other.

This is true too of the various enviroments’ sudden appearances, at the service of rhythm. These places feel somehow alive, and this serves to really solidify the nature of the purchases made – which further displays the emotions evoked through transaction; and it’s real. Everything feels all too real! This book is the world we live in.

Connor, at least from my vantage point, isn’t interested in the negative aspects of being forced into just being a consumer; he treats the negative aspect as a given, and works from there. He is then, through the comics form, redesigning the world to his liking, in the sense that he shows us what he’d like to see. Or to be more specific, how he sees what he’d like to see. He does it through his superb cartooning, sequencing, and such.

The book boldly attempts to pinpoint the emotional impacts that are ordinarily obscured, often despised or purely intellectualized as opposed to being felt when presented to us – the public. Well, how could it be felt? Maybe it’s because of my ignorance, but I’m not aware of another comic that has struck this specific nerve so precicly, and so amazingly.

After reading Anti-Gone I got the feeling that if Connor was staring at the sun, he’d sooner describing the beauty of being blinded by the sun than the beauty of the sun itself. He’d be extensively designing a space in which he’s able to display the beauty of being blinded by the sun.

Connor’s art often is making that which is seemingly mundane or ugly beautiful; he redsigns what appears to be ugly and mundane and turns it all beautiful. Even when drawing something grotesque, Connor will simultaneously communicate the subject or object or scenario as grotesque and to what capacity something’s grotesque, but it’s done beautifully. So then whatever the ugly/grotesque thing is, it’ll have beauty in it. Then we as the readers, through Connor’s cartooning, can see what he finds beautiful in the midst of ugliness, and feel that sense of beauty he has discovered. Or in the case of Anti-Gone, where we are forced by the circumstances we live in to find beauty in the fact that we have to be consumers.

What’s so exciting to me about Anti-Gone is that it doesn’t demand that I be excited about the various things it’s doing or accomplishing. For example, there’s was an incredible moment at the beginning of Anti-Gone that didn’t call any attention to itself, where on the last panel of the physical page Lynxa flips a page in the drawing and then we the readers flip the page, as if to certify something with a lot of feeling as opposed to a detached sequence in which something of this nature transpires.

With this book Connor has really made the reader – with the dialogue, with the cartooning, with the sequencing – free to explore this space, and it’s just amazing to read. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Anti-Gone by Connor Willumsen HERE.


Joanie and Jordie – 7-26-18 – by Caleb Orecchio



Sam Ombiri here: I found myself reading and re-reading Ganges 4 by Kevin Huizenga. Of course I have to re-read it as it is a very intricate comic. There’s a lot of information conveyed, but especially for this comic it seems that for Huizenga it’s important for the nature of the encounter to be felt. I very much felt the nature of the concepts, thoughts, and anxieties that Glenn Ganges encounters.

At one point, for example, Huizenga’s stand-in (whom we know as Glenn) attempts to bore himself to sleep with information. This bland and life-less information that we, the readers, are given, is through the comics form brought to life. This information, being juxtaposed cohesively with a bunch of goofy nonsense, is delivered in the same fashion as actual facts. As a result, the comic stirs a deep emotional reaction from me as a reader, in a manner that isn’t contrived in any way shape or form.

It’s often off-putting when a comic is contrived. It’s often off-putting when a maker demands that the reader be compelled, as opposed to allowing the reader to just feel what they feel. I realize that measuring how contrived something comes off as is difficult, and it’s even more difficult to design a system that avoids it, but following a construct can back an artist’s honesty and sincerity – as it does in this installment of Ganges.

This issue showed me that serving a construct can really vouch for an artist’s sincerity. Part of the what makes reading this comic an amazing experience comes from me knowing the intent of Huizenga’s experimentation. I mean knowing this from reading his work as opposed to reading his interviews. I know that the comic is first and foremost concerned (but not too concerned) with me as the reader comprehending these moments that transpire all throughout the comic, and more importantly, it’s at the service of a construct. This in turn vouches for the sincerity of the work.

The comic, while dealing with these various concepts, is at its core inviting the reader to think of those moments where sleep refuses to come. Which is something all humans have experienced. Huizenga is working in this setting; this space in order to reveal certain patterns in “being”. Like the spontaneous way our thoughts manifest and then vanish even quicker than they came. In the comic it’s all brilliantly displayed at the service of the comics form, and by the nature of the story itself. There are some moments we only catch brief glimpses of as in the majority of the panel cuts off at the bottom of the book. That these events stretch beyond the book. As we only see some speech bubbles without seeing the part of the panel that shows the characters, or sometimes we catch brief glances of moments we can’t fully perceive as readers.

There’s an aspect of this method of sequencing that resonates with the idea of seeking the truth or the essence of the moment by cutting crucial aspects. By implying that there’s a comic to read, that the reader has been reading. Then this comic that’s at the service of a construct, that has intricate rhythm, suddenly deprives the reader of moments the reader has been made so keen to read. The comic plays with the reader’s patience.

All that’s happening in the comic feels to me as if it’s at the service of delivering these delightful punchlines which are at times hilarious, at times melancholic. Even the melancholic punchlines in Ganges 4 are delightful. For example Glenn’s conversation with Death which was discouraging because it displays a way we ourselves may approach life. What was portrayed was discouraging. Death is attempting to comfort Glenn in the most earnest way it can, and the whole encounter with Death is thankfully not turned into a punchline. Rhythm didn’t dictate that Death in itself to be the punchline. Rather, it’s treated as something to pass over – that Death’s presence in the following panels aren’t supposed to be registered as a spectacle. Likewise in those panels that Death spoke in, Death didn’t speak in a fashion that would be perceived as a spectacle. It was still an incredibly emotional moment. Death’s ultimate morbid punchline was being delivered by the running gag in which instead of seeing an actual book title and author on a book’s cover, we’re given Glenn’s idiosyncratic goofy projection of what a book contains according to him. Even this running gag doesn’t present itself as a spectacle. The moments leading up to Death’s timely arrival is of equal weight and distinction. It’s up to the reader to engage with what’s given, and Huizenga is incredibly generous with what he has given to engage with.

I’m still re-reading it! – Sam Ombiri

Pompei (001 Edizioni) review and interview on C4 Comic

An interview with Frank Santoro and a review of Pompei (001 Edizioni, 2018) were published on C4 Comic in June of 2018. They are excerpted from below (we will have complete translations from the Italian to English soon!)

Photo by Pietro Badiali

Noman Alani has an interview with Frank up on C4 Comic, part of the C4 Chatter column. The interview was conducted during the Naples Comicon 2018. Here is part of the interview:

C4C: How was the choice of Pompeii created to set your comic book?

FS: I was living in New York during the attack on the Twin Towers of September 11th. When the planes hit the buildings we were all motionless to stare at the scene. I remember that by the time the towers collapsed and an immense cloud of smoke rose, I thought that we could relive an experience similar to that in Pompeii. Obviously it didn’t happen, but it left me thinking for a long time. Some time after I visited the ruins of Pompeii and so I decided to tell something about where I come from and that is such a powerful concentrate of stories and sensations different for every visitor. In my intentions, at a time when everyone was facing the world of graphic novels, it was also to create a product accessible to all and not hermetic and in this the fact of talking about one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world was definitely helpful. I could concentrate so much more on what I wanted to tell seriously, behind the costumes and facts that are known there were people with their stories and there was the pathos.

Read the whole interview HERE!

Also on C4 Comic there is a review of Pompei by Luca Parri. Titled Pompei, between classic and theoretical experimentalism, it begins:

Almost as if it were a virtual return to the homeland of Ameriana Memory, Pompeii of Frank Santoro lands on Italian soil five years after its original American publication. And we can only rejoice in knowing that a comic that treats an episode so tragic but at the same time founding of our cultural heritage, realized with wise love by a foreigner, has finally arrived in our bookstores.

But it is not only for the engaging and convincing celebration of Classical culture Mediterranean (and Italian in particular) that this volume should be recognized as one of the most important comics of the Decade; The Book of Santoro is also fundamental for a theoretical-scientific progress within the Ninth art.

The review continues:

The research and the educational process to a markedly theoretical conception of the comic is a question which concerns and concerns Santoro both as a cartoonist but also and above all as theorist, scholar and teacher. Pompeiè therefore almost to be understood as a wise omni-comprehensive of all that the author has been able to collect and elaborate in several years of research and practice alternating three figures (the reader, the teacher and the author) until they are converged towards a single entity ; The individual parts communicate and coexist by influencing each other. All that the American has been able to learn about the harmonies, the rhythms and the emphasis that can be evoked in an unintentional way, but then meticulously and mathematically desired, recur in the Centoquarantaquattro pages of his comic strip.

Read the whole review HERE.

Rowhouse Residency Report – Ian Densford

Ian Densford is a cartoonist based in New York state. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in July of 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.


The cover of the original version of Trench Dogs

Ian Densford here: The Rowhouse Residency is great opportunity to get away from the all your distractions and focus on your work. You will be exposed to excellent comics, find interesting reading material on subjects like sacred geometry and interviews with cartoonists, and you will hold interesting conversations with both Frank & Sally, as they are both passionate, intelligent, and creative. You will learn new skills, discover new influences, and talk about comics history in contrast to today’s sphere.

In the summer of 2017, from August 23-26, I briefly held a room at the Rowhouse Residency in Pittsburgh, PA. I drove seven hours from the NYC area, and it was a hot week! I shared the house with fellow Comics Workbook Correspondence alum Andrew White, and we spent our time drawing, talking with Frank & Sally, and diving into books from Frank’s unique collection. I came to the residency with a halfway-finished project called Trench Dogs, a collection of first hand accounts from soldiers in World War One. It was something that had originally been created for the Comics Workbook tumblr around 2015, a simple 16 page mini that was now becoming a 180 page book, so it felt like completing the circle to me. During my time there, I inked about 16 pages of naval warfare, big steel hulks exploding and sinking, full of sailors. It was some pretty dark stuff. I can still vividly recall being hunched over a lamplit desk, on one of those hot nights with the fan on, inking the creepy submarine interiors from a reference image. I loved it.

Pittsburgh is a strange land, the steep tree covered hills and countless stairs amongst the winding rivers and old buildings. The Residency is a two story rowhouse on a small street by the train tracks. Since I had a large project to focus on, I mostly chose to lock myself in, though the Residency is essentially tailored to your wishes, including exercises and lessons if you want. But the city has alot of great exploring to offer. Sally and Frank also provided occasional outings in the city, such as a visit to Copacetic Comics, or the pool if its hot; and while I was there the library held a special talk with Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor that we attended. During these excursions, the conversations we had were in depth and revealing, everyone had so much experience and knowledge, and those were some of my favorite moments. Frank is indeed a wealth of knowledge, and understands a great deal about the craft and its history up until now. Ask him about numerology, its great. I really connected with Sally too, we had a lot of similar interests and inspiration, and I really appreciated having her voice and insight alongside Frank during my final critique.

During that final critique, as we discussed all kinds of things, Frank suggested I share certain details about my creative process. Here is my attempt to do so:

I was going for a handmade look, so I inked with a single 1 size brush, and the pages are close to 1:1 ratio with the final print size. I prefer to work on pages together as a two page spread on a single sheet. Trench Dogs was drawn on 11 x 17 watercolor paper, using Frank’s layout template to make sure every page had good balance and movement throughout the spread. I copy each panel from my sketches, but I do not trace. I find tracing makes things very stiff and lifeless, I prefer artists that have some movement and excitement in their line work, so I aspire towards that. I like to keep the pencil drawing very loose, with few details, blocking in the space and characters with simple boxes and circles mostly, very basic “puppet-like” figures, making sure everything has enough room to breathe. Frank thought this aspect was important to mention: I save the actual “drawing” for the inking part of the process, I enjoy the spontaneity and mark making. Its ok to be messy, its fun, plus I like being able to see the artists hand in the work.

I used watercolors to paint everything, I love how quick and messy they are, the soft colors and texture. With everything colored in the appropriate solid, I would go back and do two layers of shadows. One layer was dark blue and applied everywhere, the second was dark purple and only applied to the foreground. This helped pull my foreground elements towards the front, because they were darker with a second shadow color, plus the warmer tones of the purple come forward while the cooler ones get pushed back. I was also conscious of my overall color key, and tried to make each section have different tones, so there is a progression of color through the story. After scanning a page, I would add a layer of white highlights in photoshop here and there, which helped the foreground stand out even more, and would focus the eye on certain important details. I also did my sound effects on the same overlaying white layer, which was a nice pop, as it was the only true white on the page.

A page from Trench Dogs (Dead Reckoning, Sept. 15th 2018)

Drawing from reference was great, and almost every panel had at least one ref picture to go along with it. Deciding how to turn everything “toonsy” was a fun challenge, to simplify and reduce to lumpy shapes. I like how drawings by John Pham or Ben Sears look like simple little clay sculptures, with nice curves, and characters like Andrea Falkas, and the carefree linework of Gipi. I chose animal people as a nod to Art Spiegelman, but reaching back to Richard Scarry’s Busy Town and PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go, with strong influences from Herge’s TinTin and Miyazaki’s Dream Diary Hobby Magazine war comics. Animal type was a fun way to distinguish the different armies, but you also feel a different kind of pity for these animal people, I think.

That is all I have for this report. I had a blast, got a lot of drawing accomplished, expanded my knowledge and influences, and learned more than I expected. This has been Ian Densford, signing off.


Trench Dogs by Ian Densford will debut at NY Comic Con 2018 – find it at the Dead Reckoning table and in stores after Sept. 15th 2018. 184 pages, color, $18.95 – you can preorder it from Dead Reckoning HERE (use Discount Code FALL18 to get 25% off!)


Ian Densford is a cartoonist living in New York state with his wife, Tae, and their son, Anderson. When not animating on the computer, or drawing in his sketchbook, you can find him frolicking in the nearby forest and rocky hillsides. 


For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail


Sam Ombiri shares thoughts on C.F.’s collection “Mere”.


Sam Ombiri here: The satisfaction in reading Mere by C.F. (PictureBox, 2012) is that C.F. isn’t deconstructing comics in a smart or clever way – one that’s lacking catharsis – but in an incredibly personal way.

These comics are amazing as a document, but I don’t want to reduce the work to just “document”. Art to me, as it’s considered a superfluous endeavor, is made 1000 times more useless, 1000 times less potent, when it’s forcefully made to pander to ideas of usefulness outside of art. To impose that brand of efficiency on art contradicts the final product as a work of art.

I was thinking of how in the comic Pompeii by Frank Santoro, Flavius’ paintings in that story are just used to block other things – one painting blocks all the ash and lava and fumes from the volcanic explosion taking place, while his other painting – the landscape – it’s only purpose is to cover up the affair he’s having with the princess. I was thinking about how Flavius’ paintings were reduced to props, to serve the one function of blocking a window (though I’m sure against Flavius’s will) and his other earlier painting, the landscape, just exists to cover up Flavius’ lies.

This is what I perceive to happen when art is forced to be made useful, when it’s made to lose all quality of being art, for the sake of being made useful. I mean, of what artistic value is Flavius’ painting? If the painting’s only function is to block all the ash, all the lava, all the sulfur, of what artistic value is Flavius’ painting? It was only Marcus’s drawing on the wall that was truly evocative and comforting in that moment when Marcus and Lucia were trapped in Flavius’ burning studio.

So back to C.F. – when I say Mere is a document, I mean a personal document of art in that it doesn’t care what it’s documenting. Rather it is more preoccupied with how it’s documenting it. I mean to say C.F. knows what he’s doucumenting, but we readers don’t know. Instead we feel. We feel what he’s documenting, based on comics we read in the book, and what C.F. has said about the comics that he made in this period. I can discern that the work is a personal document. Mere is a great document of many things that couldn’t otherwise be written by words.

a panel from “Face It,” December 2012

This might be a cop out on my part, except that I have a strong conviction that this is the case. While the work is all over the place – it is a collection of minicomics after all – there’s still a distinct focus throughout it in functioning as a personal document. C.F. had to invoke the environment in which it’s some manga he’d be reading – the whole thing with Main Dice for example isn’t isolated. The story is really straightforward, with undeniable moments that are undeniable perhaps because they are at the service of construct.

There’s a saying, “In rhythm there is image, in image there is knowing, in knowing there’s a construct” – so that’s to say there’s a real construct in the comic which gives us so little, yet because the comics are at the service of a construct, so deeply. I might add, when approached not as an obligation, but with natural sense of pleasure, it’s a privilege to be at the service of this construct. It’s the phrase “work of art” that I take to mean work coming out of art.

In the story Crossdown the wrong part of the broken projector falls down and continues it’s decent, past the character who was deeply affected by a movie at the beginning of the story. The story doesn’t focus on this character, so we don’t even know this character’s name. This scared character is coming out of the movie theater, still experiencing terror from the movie which was being projected at the same theater where that broken part was tossed out the window. This broken part is then kicked down by the scared man into the basement or underground passage in which Main Dice is navigating. Main Dice is hit on the head by this part – the scene is drawn with the anticipation of the broken part falling on his head. This prompts Main Dice to shine the light to see what hit him as it had landed on the floor of this now dark room. This leads him to discover a motorcycle. Now, the plausibility of these moments especially register. This story is at the service of a construct – it has rhythm (which it later purposefully forsakes in order to rush itself in a different direction, to make some sort of a discovery – my guess is that it was the scenario taking priority, maybe becoming self aware or rather portrayed as becoming self aware, and then portrayed as becoming completely selfish in that it engulfs the entire comic, forsaking all other elements that made it up).

A panel from Worst Comics, April 2012

When reading C.F.’s contribution to Kramers Ergot 8, (which I believe was done around the same time as some of the comics in Mere) I have to wonder where did this comic surface from? The placement in Kramers #8 makes it out to be something that somehow just makes sense for it to exist – but it doesn’t make any sense for the comic itself to exist, despite its existence. I heard C.F. say that if you find a zine just anywhere, you just don’t know. With these comics in Mere I just don’t know. C.F. was saying he wanted to make a that has a manga attitude, and he suggested that for manga the editors are more preoccupied with the characters, rather than the scenarios. This immediately made me think of Sammy Harkham, who was C.F.’s editor (for Kramers #8) talking about how before anything else he wants to know where a story takes place, and what that place might say about a character. What I take away from that, is that the reality of the comic might as well be a character in an empty space (like one of those comics Anders Nielsen did when switching up his style in Monologues For The Coming Plague.) Personally that’s what drew me to reading comics, but not in such a conscientious visceral manner – it was rather just something at the back of my mind.

I know C.F. is always claiming that his work is made for him to be comfortable and that he likes how his work challenges him. He enjoys that the challenge presented in front of him is scary. That it’s scary is what makes it interesting, and he wouldn’t enjoy it otherwise. So his work is at the service of the art form as a result. When talking of the nature of the work in Mere there was a vaguely apologetic tone and small sense of regret that the work is selfish and not serving the form as it ideally should for him (or so it would seem). This form that utilizes, or rather is utilized by, simple shapes like circles, squares, triangles which according to C.F. seem too universal to penetrate, because they’re too simple and refer to too many things. In the same way a basic shape like a circle or square or a triangle is broad, C.F. is presenting the idea of comics in the broadest sense.

A two-page spread from Easter Mercury, April 2012

In the same way simple shapes are difficult to penetrate these comics are also difficult, because in a personal way C.F. has condensed genre, and what not. As the reader, I can only guess at how it conceptually ties to how comics function. However, C.F. himself said if he was condensing genre it’s in a personal way. Similar to his name when making comics (C.F.) it is aesthetically driven, not imbued with the idea of efficiency. If it were otherwise, the other aliases he’s had would be shorter for the sake of simplicity. Case in point – his other aliases like Brown Recluse Alpha or Universal Cell Unlock. If efficiency was in mind with the name C.F. as opposed to Christopher Forgues, it’s to reflect the inefficient efficiency of cartooning. The most efficient thing when wanting to show an image is taking a photo, or rendering something as realistically as possible so that there’s no opportunity for failure in communicating; not cartooning.

It’s like the title Mere. Mere what? How many more marks can evoke with so little? Not that the significance lies purely on this aspect of a little doing a lot. Again, it’s not doing a lot. Again, not for the sake of efficiency; to optimize what can be accomplished and what can be done with so little. If comics were at the service of efficiency and optimization, in the sense that it’s already been made known ahead of time everything that a comic is exclusively able to do, what possible need is there for to work to be read? If work is purely to pander 100% to one’s sensibility of cool, because it exists only for the sake of efficiency and nothing else whatsoever, what can it possibly offer as art?

a page from Comb, November 2012

To an extent in the comics in Mere these questions are asked. It takes so much to convey things sometimes, and sometimes so little. One often needs to pander to the more in-optimized zone of cartoon or as C.F. put it, in a more romanticized fashion, “Turning your back on everyone you know, turning your back on your whole life so that things can come out that you didn’t plan or you don’t intend, things you don’t understand because that’s what art is for, that’s what creativity is for, to ask questions. Questions you have aren’t always the questions you think you have.

Mere possesses comics that subvert genre by condensing them in personal ways, possibly in ways that change our outlook entirely or have shifted our outlook in a direction that hasn’t been determined – rather it’s all questioned, i.e. “turning your back.” There are certain stories in Mere that are purely straightforward. That the focus is more on the scenario takes priority, and so the story carries on in this way. Like this character Main Dice, who we know next to nothing about. In fact, in his second appearance, he is completely redesigned. From my vantage point, this is not done in order to comment on how in manga a timeskip happened and all the characters are completely redesigned, for example like when Dragon Ball became Dragon Ball Z, and the characters have grown up. Then there’s the element in American comics there are multiple versions of superheros – like how there’s the Blue Beetle called Ted Kord, and the Blue Beetle called Jaime Reyes; or how there’s the Robin called Dick Grayson or the Robin called Jason Todd and there’s the Robin called Tim Drake.

Main Dice’s redesigns, to my understanding, aren’t a comment on all this. It seems to me that what it is instead is a document of the personal effect these aspects of comics have had on C.F. Even as I had recently, on a whim, read the third volume of Dragon Ball Z (which is really amazing,) I couldn’t help but identify with what C.F. had said – that the tendency in manga is that the editors are more preoccupied by the scenario than the characters. I’d zipped through 174 pages of action without realizing it, and the nature in which the action was being communicated was the same nature in which most of the comics in Mere unfolded – especially the first two comics in Mere that feature Main Dice. – Sam Ombiri

Get a copy of Mere by C.F. HERE!


Joanie and Jordie – 6-28-18 – by Caleb Orecchio

Pompei (001 Edizioni) review by Francesco Boille

Francesco Boille wrote about Pompei for Internazionale – you can see the magazine article in Italian above. Valerio Stivè translates it into English below.

Pompeii fluidly tells a story of happy every day life of two couples from different social backgrounds, before the apocalypse that happened in August of the year 79 B.C. Santoro uses almost unfinished images that remind us of so many things from the History of Art, from cave painting onwards. He focuses on the act of drawing rather than on the act of painting – as Manuele Fior points out in his afterword – which “offers itself to the reader in its most direct essence”. This serves as a metaphor of the fact that images are only shadows, ghosts of the past, just like every one of us will be someday. Sketches of life and sketches of drawings are mixed up, and Santoro reverses the intense petrified physicality of the molds produced from human bodies in Pompeii into a totally lighter dimension. Looks like Frank Santoro, in contrast to the caducity of all things, is showing that the idea of how the strength of poetry expresses itself at best in its most ethereal form, as a unique way to go beyond time and space. To the cold and conceptual approach of most of American graphic novels, Santoro prefers a European approach, based on a free, soft and aerial line. Redesigned in a such a personal way. He comes up with a masterpiece of poetry in its most pure form, a masterpiece about the idea of poetry itself; and he does that while putting together frail and incomplete fragments of an artistic greatness that once was.

Francesco Boille, for Internazionale May 2018

Pompei (001 Edizioni) review by Simona Di Rosa

Simona Di Rosa wrote a review of Pompei for FuoriPosto on May 23rd 2018. Valerio Stivè translates it from Italian below.

Premiered at Napoli COMICON, Pompeii – a graphic novel published by 001 Edizioni from Torino – is written and drawn by Frank Santoro, and set in Pompeii a few days before the eruption that destroyed the city. The book – a large softcover edition – was published in collaboration with COMICON and the Archeological Museum of Naples, where until May 31st will be hosted an exhibition of original artwork from the book.

Frank Santoro resides in Pittsburgh, where he manages artists’ residencies hosting and helping fellow cartoonists. He is not well known in Italy, and yet he is among the most original voices in contemporary avant garde American comics scene, thanks to Pompeii, published in the USA five years ago. Santoro has an artisanal approach to comics making, using poor tools – mostly pencils and markers – perfect to tell a story set in the ancient Pompeii, showing its historic value while supporting a touching plot, deeply touching despite the unavoidable outcome.

We are in the city of Pompeii, a few day before the eruption. The main character, Marcus, works as an apprentice for Flavius, a portrait painter of some fame. Flavius is married to Alba but has an affair with a princess, from whom he expects love and protection. Marcus has left Paestum along with his girlfriend Lucia, to study as a portrait artist, but his master uses him more to hide his mischiefs to the wife than to work on his art; but Marcus’s search for compensation and success will bring him to make a decision from which one cannot come back. Despite being apparently simple, the story rises from page to page, taking us to an astonishing ending. Most of the script relies on the character’s dialogues, always at a rapid pace and always really plausible. The text, hand lettered by the artist in the original version, in the Italian edition is hand lettered by Silvia Rocchi, adding value to a book that, despite looking so spontaneous, is well thought out in its every detail.

In the pages of Pompeii, the artist draws and writes; at a first glance, the art, made only with pencil and brown marker, looks rough. It feels like reading a story board, rather than a finished work. This partly has to do with the parietal art found in Pompeii, and also, I think, to the way the artist conceived the story: so strong that it does not require more than what it offers. Regardless of the spontaneity of the stroke, there are well pondered panels, effective as much as the expressions of the characters.

The art, in the end, is not just a “piece” of the whole work in its form – it is also a fundamental subject of the story, as a possibility to be something different, representing reality as a desire rather than living it. This multiplicity and intersection of levels is probably striking in terms of color, which are missing in the book, while having an important role in the story – Marcus is the one making the colors for the painter.

Pompeii is a recommended reading, maybe not very accessible (someone could find the book expensive) and maybe arduous for the average reader that would judge a book for its drawings. Now we just have to be ambassadors of this book, to let people discover it over and over, so that it won’t be victim to one of the most dangerous perils of a book the current market: being forgotten before being read. – Simona Di Rosa, for FuoriPosto May 2018