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.

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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:

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Keep up with Nick Fowler HERE!

For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschool@gmail.com

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