Residency Report: Pokémon GO Edition

Audra Stang visited the Rowhouse in July of 2016. She accomplished an incredible amount in the three days she was in Pittsburgh, setting new Rowhouse records for “crushing it”.

She shared some journal notes with us recently that describe many of her impressions and experiences of her residency. I’ve shared excerpts from them below, mixed with some of the process drawings and doodles that she made while she was here. – Sally


Audra Stang wrote:

My visit to the Rowhouse was my first ever residency… I came with the goal of totally drawing out a story that I only had a hazy idea of called Pale, Sick, and Magic; this seemed fitting, considering I only had a vague idea of what a residency would entail.

early psm
Pre-Rowhouse Residency test drawings for Pale, Sick, and Magic

While I had corresponded with Frank during and following his Spring 2014 Correspondence Course, I wasn’t sure how the transition from online correspondence to ‘irl’ would work. During the online course I could process information in my own time, in my own working space, and could leisurely spend thirty minutes mulling over the phrasing of a two-sentence email I was writing – what if I didn’t function well in this different setting?

comics map
Drawings that helped Audra map out Pale, Sick, and Magic during the Residency and afterward

The work space at the residency afforded me time that was not broken up by work, class, etc, which I expected; I didn’t expect that not having my computer on the desk would affect me in such a positive way. This is not leading into a “we are slaves 2 modern tech” maxim; it was just easier to draw from memory than to Google a reference image on my phone, and it prevented me from taking unnecessary detours. Not so when a desktop is sitting in front of me; I should know better anyway, as drawing from photo reference was discouraged in the course.

Bus stop observations
Observational drawing warm ups made by Audra of the bus stop near the Rowhouse


Audra lays out her comic while Frank reads it

I loved Frank’s house; there was great stuff everywhere – in the living room, guest room, kitchen, work area, basement, etc. Comics that I had previously only read cruddy scans of online were now physically in front of me in pristine condition. I read a lot – I didn’t go to bed until 4:30am one night because I was too busy looking through a huge Gary Panter collection and proofs for Cold Heat that I stumbled upon in the guest bedroom. I would pause while drawing to flip through a book and “accidentally” read the whole thing. I read more comics in three days than I had read in three months.

(Left) Frank and Audra reading on the Copacetic Comics porch – (Right) Audra at Copacetic

I loved visiting Copacetic Comics. I just sat and read comics standing in the store, sitting on the floor, on the porch, etc. I found more books that I had previously only read via .jpeg-y scans. I have followed Copacetic on tumblr for years, but the store was still beyond my wildest comics dreams.”

“Between Frank, Sally, and I we had great conversation – not just about, but often returning to, comics. It fed into the “cycle” – draw by day and tour Pittsburgh by night. Or draw by night and explore Pittsburgh by day. It was a charged atmosphere but in a positive way – I was full of energy. Franks uses language that masterfully evokes the feeling of being “in the game” and gets you hyped for the next comics bout.

Frank's demos
Index cards that Frank lightboxed over Audra’s rough cards to demonstrate drawing with a single, concise, thick line (versus the ‘double punch’ of a thin line reinforced by ‘search’ marks)

Frank is really respectful, i.e. he didn’t talk down to me, but he could have, considering his extensive knowledge of comics and strong body of work. Respect is transformative.

Regarding gender/women in comics and being a woman who draws comics: my relationship with comics was never treated as cute or diminutive in Pittsburgh. I never expected it to be – but it happens, even with great, wonderful, well-intentioned friends. Frank “gets” it, and it’s evident both in his speech and actions.

(Left) Audra found a Pokémon in the Rowhouse lingering near where Sally was working – (Right) Audra exploring the historic Pump House area of the old Homestead Works – with Carrie Furnaces in the background

Sally is amazing as well; I talked to her about what I’d come up with so far for Pale, Sick, and Magic over coffee before I went to start drawing it on first day. She also helped me process a lot of what Frank was saying – Frank said a lot of good stuff and so very frequently that it was difficult to capture it all. Sally helped me retain more than I would have on my own.

Also, Frank and Sally both waited for my train with me the morning I left, and I really appreciated that, especially because it was an hour late. They went to great lengths to give me an extensive tour of Pittsburgh and to make me feel welcome. I felt humbled by the amount of respect and care that was taken in shaping my experience. I’m already ready to go back.


Sally here, to conclude. Each person who visits the Rowhouse has as much of an impact on the Comics Workbook team as we do on them, and Audra was no exception. She taught us all about Pokémon Go, for example, and as she reports in the comic above, we spent a considerable amount of time driving around the city harassing people on the streets – to their actual delight…!

Far above and beyond that, the conversation that filled the Rowhouse during her stay was fuel on the fire for all of us. The transformative power of respect that Audra mentioned is something that she and I discussed at length. Frank has this way of handing the keys over to each of his students, and then he trusts them drive the car like Speed Racer.

This sort of empowerment from a mentor and teacher is an incredible boost to anyone who might aspire to be a comics master, but to a woman in this field it holds extra impact. We live in hope that before too long, that sort of distinction won’t be part of the conversation. That will take a bit more work, however, so knowing that Audra left Pittsburgh and her Rowhouse Residency with a new sense of her own outstanding worth as a cartoonist means that Frank and the Comics Workbook team is on the right track. Let’s keep this conversation going!


Audra went home and finished Pale, Sick, and Magic, which is currently being serialized on the Comics Workbook tumblr – catch up with it HERE. We will also be archiving it here on the site and printing it this autumn, so stay tuned. You can see more of Audra’s work HERE.


If you have questions about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency or are interested in applying for one yourself, please check out our Info Page and/or email santoroschoolsATgmail, and keep up with all the latest happenings HERE.

Audra Stang – Pale, Sick, and Magic page 1 – Made during the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency, July 2016
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