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!
Keep up with Bronson Smillie HERE!
For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email email@example.com