Julie Delporte: Everywhere Antennas

Julie, as drawn by Julie

It’s been a great couple of years for Montreal-based cartoonist Julie Delporte. In addition to having been The Center for Cartoon Studies’ Fellow for 2011-12, she’s released the wonderful Pigskin Peters Award nominated Journal through Koyama Press, the children’s book Je Suis un Raton Laveur through Canadian publisher La courte Échelle, and has worked on a francophone comics radio broadcast Dans ta Bulle in Montreal. If all that weren’t enough, she has a graphic novel, Everywhere Antennas, coming out through Drawn and Quarterly this May. I spoke with her via email this past week.

Carl Antonowicz: You were the fellow here at The Center for Cartoon Studies along with Blaise Larmee back in 2011; You’ve been fantastically productive since then, publishing not only your children’s book Je suis un raton laveur (which is adorable) but also Journal with Koyama press, along with the dozens of other projects you’ve had in the works. Do you think that your time at CCS helped you to become more productive?

Julie Delporte: The Koyama and La courte Échelle books published last year and the Drawn & Quarterly one to be published this year I started during my fellowship at CCS. Basically, I had nothing else to do than drawing: no job, no boyfriend, and not the same language as the people around. There was a bit of money provided, and all the students of the school around me (including my roommates) were working very hard… So yes, the CCS context helps to be productive! But I didn’t do half of what I wish I could have done. I’m someone with a lot of ideas of stories and concepts, and I feel really frustrated not to be able to draw and write them all. I’m not a hard worker, It’s painful to me to stay at my desk all day. I really wish drawing would be more physical, like dancing. Right now, I’m not so productive. I’m in that position where I have to start new books… And I don’t have a lot of self-discipline.

The French edition of Delporte's Journal from l'Agrume

CA: I can see how being hunched over a desk all day might be unpleasant. Do you tend to work at a desk when you’ve got big cartooning stuff to work on, or do you usually work in a sketchbook?

JD: I wish I could work in a sketchbook, but I need a desk, or I feel like I need one! I want to try painting, so I need water and space, and then if I go out suddenly I’m missing a pencil of a specific color (or I feel like I need it)… Then I want to check a reference image on the web. I always feel like my set up is not the good one, or that I miss something in order to work. I guess all this gives me some reasons not to draw. But maybe it’s also like a ceremonial: I need my space, my tools, my objects, to be good and inspired.

CA: Your work always has a very personal, very honest quality to it. Much of the time–especially in Journal–it feels more like poetry than like narrative. Is this something that you consciously pursue, or does it just come out that way?

JD: I would have loved to be a musician just to be able to write lyrics. Sometimes I write my comics as if they were lyrics. But I never think of doing “poetry”, and my comics always seem always very narrative to me: what I’m telling, the content, is always a bit more important to me than the images. I don’t feel like I’m part of a trend of beautiful but strange and abstract comics, with no immediate understanding of what it is about.
But comics have such a tradition of classical narration that of course some people can feel I’m a bit on the side, and call what I do poetry or experimentation.

An image from Julie's tumblr, probably related to Everywhere Antennas

CA: Do you think of your work as being experimental? I mean, do you try to evoke specific emotions in your readers, or is it more intuitive than that?

JD: It’s really intuitive. But what I try is to do something different, something which is specific to me and resembles other comics as little as possible. And I like to experiment with new media. I was really into colored pencils for a time, but I hope I won’t be drawing with them the rest of my career, so right now I’m really willing to learn more how to paint. I guess this is called experimenting? When I’m thinking of specific emotions that I’d like my readers to experience, I see one thing: I want them to feel that they are holding a real object. That they are opening my own sketchbook (in the case of Journal), like if they found someone’s journal, forgotten in a cafe for instance, and can’t help but reading it. With the new book, which is fiction, I worked the same way. I want people to feel like they are opening the journal of my character. That’s why I’m working a lot to leave apparent all the creation process, pieces of tape, etc.
I think I need this because of the digital world, where nothing is material anymore. Plus I don’t like the fact the comic form is a totally codified art, invented from nothing connected to reality. I try to find a way to give more physicality to my work.

CA: You’ve got a book coming out this May with Drawn & Quarterly, correct? What’s that one about?

Proof of Everywhere Antennas in the D & Q office.

JD: Everywhere Antennas is the diary of a girl who is sensitive to electromagnetic waves (wifi, cell phones…), it give her headaches and all sort of weird symptoms, and she has to completely rethink her life. A lot of people claim to have this handicap, but only Sweden recognizes it. I didn’t want to do a documentary about this handicap, but it was very inspiring to take it as a start of my story. The book is also about the feeling that you have to adapt to modern technologies, and not the contrary as we are all told. And it is also about the fear of the invisible, the untold, when you feel something is wrong but no one else can validate what you feel.

CA: Do you personally feel out of touch with modern technology?

JD: I would love so much to live without this internet everywhere and the cell phone tyranny. The worst is Facebook where we see and know constantly things we don’t want to know. And I waste so much time on it… I imagine all the books I could have done if Facebook didn’t exist… But I’d like other people to get rid of it also, of course. I mean, I can’t live (right now) without that technology, but I dream of another evolution for human contacts and everyday life.

CA: You said in your exit interview with James Sturm back in 2012 that you’d like to do more bilingual comics, despite the fact that they’re more difficult. Have you been working more in English or French recently?

JD: Ah, I forget about that! I still feel like it would make sense in Montreal to mix more French and English in the book industry in general, but I didn’t put any energy into that.

CA: What do you think bilingual comics would look like?

JD: I’ll have to do them to know.

Julie Delporte: anxiety killer

Delporte’s Everywhere Antennas comes out in May.  Visit the Drawn and Quarterly website for a free .pdf preview.

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Root Hog or Die: Professor Beth Hetland on books, academia, and progress

One of The Center for Cartoon Studies’ most notable graduates, Beth Hetland (’11) is a character, to say the least. Hetland’s infectious enthusiasm and near-boundless energy make her a nigh-unstoppable educational and creative force. In addition to her professor duties at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she produces somewhere in excess of one hundred pages of comics per year, performs onstage with writing partner Kyle O’Connell as Brain Frame Lit, and somehow still found time to chat with your humble reporter a couple of weeks ago.

Carl Antonowicz: You’ve just recently released the collected edition of Fugue, the single editions of which were the majority of your thesis here at CCS.

Beth Hetland:  Yes!!!! Victory!!!!

The complete Fugue. Hetland turned in the first two chapters and an early version of the script for chapter 3 as her Master's thesis at CCS.

CA:  What’s different about the collected edition?

BH:  Well, I think the biggest difference between the collected version and the single issues is that there are no more screen printed covers. As much as I love screenprinting, the books were, thankfully, selling faster than I could print sometimes. To be able to block off that amount of time became harder and harder as my attention shifted to more projects.

CA:  Is it still hand-bound?

BH: They are still hand-bound, believe it or not! My school got an electric perfect binder and I run them through that puppy. Even though collating, cutting, scoring, and gluing takes time, it’s SIGNIFICANTLY less time than actually screenprinting 2 colors per cover for three books. Plus the interior pages are cream, like my original thesis, not the single issues, and there’s color chapter breaks, and a new cover and a fancy pants ISBN and barcode for stores. But those are more surface changes, the art and story are generally the same with only a few minor nudges.

CA:  Now that it’s done, are you planning on pitching Fugue somewhere for publication?

BH:  Yes, sir! That was one of the big reasons to collect it. Not many publishers are interested in 3 separate books, they would much rather have everything in once place. I’ve been doing some research both on literary agents and publishers and getting my ducks in a row. My goal is to bring collected Fugue to my shows this year and then retire it maybe? Or perhaps catch the eye of a publisher and pitch something new, different and fresh since Fugue has been out for about 3 years now. I would be happy with either of those options.

CA:  In an ideal world, where would you like Fugue to find a home?

BH:  I suppose they go hand-in-hand, but I think that my silly and big dream would be Scholastic or First Second. Just because I admire and love the books that come out of those publishers and so incredibly wish I could work with those people and be listed in their catalogs.
Demographically, it feels like folks interested in memoir and/or coming of age stories would be most interested in it. Plus I get a lot of moms who like it. Truly, I would be happy just knowing it was nestled happily on the shelves of people I’ve never met.

This was one of Ace Reporter Carl Antonowicz's favorite comics of 2013.

CA: Now what about the comic you’re cowriting with Kyle O’Connell, Half-Asleep?

BH: YEAHHHHH this comic is so much fun. Plus I love collaborating, it’s kind of nice to just “show up” and do the parts I like to do.

CA: I was going to say, it seems like your projects with Kyle have a very different thematic focus than your solo work.

BH: Oh yeah. They really do. And what’s funny is that these are still things I’m very interested in, but I view collaboration, or at least the idea of collaboration, as a way to practice and refuel my batteries while still making creative progress.

Hetland and O'Connell's first big collaboration, Cycles.

CA: Kind of freeing, would you say?

BH: Fully freeing. He loves to write and I love to draw and we started collaborating because I was burned out on Fugue and I said “Hey, I wanna do NaGrNoWriMo, but I don’t wanna write. I’ll draw anything you write up to 200 comics pages… you in?” I needed to just completely forget about myself and just play with some fictional characters that were going on an adventure. That was our first big collaboration, Cycles. And once that project was done, I had some major breakthroughs with the ending for Fugue which was entirely necessary. Once Fugue Part 3 was done, he and I launched into Half Asleep.

CA: I remember you were having some difficulties with Fugue 3 after you graduated.

BH: Yeah, it was rough. I was really disappointed in having to turn in a placeholder for my thesis, but that story just wasn’t ready. I wrote and re-wrote part three completely, start to finish, over 10 times. I have all 10 versions still but holy god are they wretched.

CA: Do you think it was just time that allowed you to finish it to your liking, or was the work on Cycles more integral to your pro(gr/c)ess?

BH: Oo I like that word! pro(gr/c)ess!! I think it was both. I got some great criticism on part 1 and 2 and I needed that to sink it and practice improving my weaknesses, so that’s where Cycles was helpful in the process. But I think it just let that part of my brain relax and go through the meditative process of drawing and problem solving rather than charging my way through it, which was a very different approach coming from me. Since I went right from undergrad to grad, charging through was my only tactic for a large portion of my creative growth. Now that I HAD more time, I was finally able to use it. I still get critiques about being “too fast” and not “taking time” by some of my friends but that doesn’t bother me. I have my reasons for being shark-like in creation.

CA: Excelsior.

BH: Root Hog or Die, and so on.

CA: Speaking of time, after you graduated from CCS, you went on to teach comics at your alma mater, right?

BH: You betcha! I have yet to live a day not on the Academic Calendar…

CA: How did that come about?

BH:  Well, I think it happened around January of our last year at CCS. My favorite teacher from SAIC (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) emailed me.  She and I are good friends and were at the time too, but she said “Hey, I’m applying to a new teaching job at University of Oregon, and if I get it, I want to be able to give SAIC a name. Would you feel comfortable if I put your name in the running?” and I said, “Sure, that’ll never happen but go right ahead!”
And over the last stressful months of working full-time, finishing my thesis, I was also building and finalizing my CV for her to give to her Department Chair.  The same weekend as our physical commencement, I got a call asking if I had time to interview in the next week.  Turned out Surabhi, my teacher buddy, got the job and recommended me with high regards as being a fresh new graduate. I interviewed, submitted a few sample lessons, and the next thing I knew I was packing up my stuff and sobbing at a goodbye party. It happened incredibly fast, and even though I knew this was what I wanted, I still felt like I wasn’t prepared.

CA: But your classes have been a hit the students, haven’t they?

BH: Yeah. To be perfectly frank with you, it was touch and go for a little bit this past year.  When I started, I had a feeling that Surabhi’s classes were full and they were looking at me as if I was a temporary solution and I would just get fired the next year.  Lucky for me, my students gave me exceptionally positive course evaluations. But over the next year, my course load was reduced from 4 a year to 2 a year. That second year, my job was posted and I had to reapply.
BUT I got rehired (hooray), and now I’m teaching 4 classes this semester, 2 of which I pitched on my own and they were accepted with open arms.

CA: Is having to reapply for a position you’re already in a standard practice in academia?

BH: It’s tricky to say, because as a part-time instructor, you are only hired based on class proposals. So it’s the Chair’s decision. However, since it was only my second year, I didn’t know a lot about the politics of what it means to work in academia.

CA: Did it take you by surprise?

BH:  Immensely. And then it was really hard to have to tell my friends who were applying for the job, asking me about writing them a rec for it.  Under any other circumstances I would have LOVED to support them, but as it was my current job… well you can see how much that sucked.
My theory is that since I was hired originally last minute, they wanted to make sure that they were choosing a faculty member that added a lot to the school and departmental curriculum as well as finding the best candidate for the students. Which I wholeheartedly agree with. But wasn’t fun.
That being said though, without that terror, I wouldn’t have had the balls to pitch new classes.
And It taught me some valuable lessons about branching out, and being experimental in my way of teaching and thinking about comics at a Fine Art school.

CA:  How so?

BH:  Well I was only teaching Comics in Writing for a while, as Painting and Drawing had their own classes. I also taught a class in Fibers that was about narratives. This was a class Surabhi created.

CA: …Fibers? Like textile art?

BH: Yep! But as other parts of my income I travel and review portfolios, I saw a lot of comic interest in first year students, so I pitched a class to the first year program, called Contemporary Practices, and it was accepted.
And another department at my school is Arts Administration and Policy, so I pitched a class that is similar to the professional practices class at CCS but this one is geared toward freelancers, illustrators and cartoonists. Having my courses in different departments made me feel more grounded because there was more exposure to what I was doing, as well as a variety for the students and gave me an opportunity to articulate why I think comics can be taught in these different areas of the school rather than only in Writing or Painting and Drawing.
Does that make sense?

CA: Yeah! So comics, as the marriage of the written and drawn images, deserves a berth in both of those disciplines.

BH: Yeah, and I think expanding what comics are to talk about Narratives helps them find a home in places people may not initially think of.

CA: In my experience, though, most of the fine artists I’ve brushed up against tend to look down on comics as a form. “it’s not obscure enough! anybody can read this!” Whereas most literary types I’ve talked to about comics are more open to the idea of the medium. have you run into much of that at SAIC?

BH: And that’s some of the stigma I think I’m helping to remove.  Cause whether fine artists like it or not, more and more people are interested in narrative, and if the schools that value abstraction over story don’t even offer classes in the latter they’re missing out on a huge demographic of potential incoming students. There are hurdles like any other place. But I think more and more people are accepting the idea and willing to experiment, especially at a place like SAIC. Lots of my students now are coming in saying they read Scott McCloud in 8th grade and they think it feels outdated– WHICH BLOWS MY MIND–and, even more strange, is that we’re reaching a point where that book was written before they were born.
So they’ve grown up in a world where comics and comics theory and language is bridging “common knowledge.” It’s a fascinating point to be in, to be able to discuss with my seniors comics theory and appreciation as a literary form, and to discuss with my freshmen comics common knowledge and Understanding Comics being used in their high school AP English classes.

Soon, everybody will know what a page turn is

CA: So they tend to be able to talk more in-depth about formal concerns?

BH: Sometimes yes, but they’re also still juggling how to be adults too. I mean that in the nicest way possible, but they can get really hung up on one point they disagree with and it can derail any other in-depth comments that may have begun previously. But I have to say their conversations go in a very different direction than I anticipate.

CA: I imagine it’s fascinating to watch these kinds of conversations from the other side of the podium.

BH: Oh yeah! One of my favorite parts is having a class read a comic and then discussing it the next week. They come up with some astounding conclusions and I love listening and guiding them to conclusions. Or letting them fly off the handle bars about how gorgeous it is!

CA: What have some of your assigned readings been?

BH: Well this semester I’ve got: Understanding Comics (Scottie M), The New Ghost (Robert Hunter), The Ticking (Renee French), Book of Leviathan (Peter Blegvad), The End of the Fucking World (Charles Forsman CCS ’08), The Lagoon (Lilli Carre), Meanwhile (Jason Shiga)…I have a bunch more but I’m blanking on some…They read a lot for me.

CA: Good, they bloody well ought to.

BH: Yeah my thoughts too.

CA: You’ve got a fair amount of interest in bookarts and self-published comics–particularly ones that feature interesting formal experiments, as I seem to recall. How do you approach those ideas with your classes?

BH: Each class has a little bit of a different goal, so sometimes this fits and sometimes it doesn’t. BUT I’ll give you a few examples:
My freshman class is called Extracting Narratives, and I’m not allowed to dictate the mediums they work in for their projects, so all their assignments need to be created with the freedom of being able to make anything but it must include narrative. For their final project, I molded a project that Surabhi gave to one of my classes once where we had to make a “One of a Kind Gallery piece” and a corresponding “Multiple or Book.” The point is to see how both related to and are inspired by source material or an original narrative and explore the way in which an audience or reader will experience each piece.
So we do a lot of book binding demos, and visit the Artist Books collection and I’m giving a lecture about Oulipo and Artist Books as a way to help frame their inspiration for this project.
In another one of my classes, they make 3 8-page comics over the semester. And the class is titled “Complex Narratives: Engineering Comics” this one is in the Writing Department, so they are encouraged to consider not only the complexity of structure within their work, but the complexity of structure outside of their work.
In a class I teach in the fall, I give a “one pager” assignment where students need to make one of the three one page comic formats and create a story that works within that format. They can do the “8-page folder,” Expanding comics (ala CCS faculty Jon Chad) or the Choose your own Adventure (ala Jason Shiga) and some great things come out of that project too.
Plus I can’t help but talk about what I love, and that happens to be Artist books, creative formats and narratives that work with how they’re housed.

Those pizza slices are books that Hetland was assembling for her Brain Frame Lit performance while talking to me for this interview.

CA: Is there a book arts program at SAIC?

BH: No, but there are various Artist Books classes in different departments, Viscom (graphic design) has a letter press, Print Media has artist books and offset, Writing has a book lab and an artist books course as well as some art history courses focused on book arts.

CA: You’d done a lot of teaching even before graduating CCS. Was it your plan to teach comics on a collegiate level all along?

BH: I’m pretty sure it was. When I made the decision to invest both time and money into an MFA I spent a lot of Pros and Cons lists thinking about what an MFA, or MFA program, could offer me that just comics creating or workshop experience couldn’t. And at the end of the day, I love teaching. I love having students. I love the “performance.” I love critiquing. I love the ever growing and expansive community of learning and academia. When I decided I was going, my base goal was to teach college age students.
I’ve done some young kid workshops, and some middle grade ones too, and I even gave a guest lecture at a high school last fall, but i still think college age is my jam.

CA:  What’s different about college-age students (aside from the rampant hangovers)?

BH: They’re just a bit more serious. I can push them harder. I also think I view them more as peers in the comics world rather than apprentices. I don’t feel worried about moving too fast in lectures, discussing more matured content comics, and they don’t have to call me “Ms. Hetland.”

CA:  ”That’s Ms. Beth to you, bro”

BH: Actually I go by Professor Beth.

CA: So what’s coming up in the future, Professor Beth?

BH: Good question, Ace Reporter! I’m not even sure how to list it. There’s still a lot! Next year I’m teaching still at SAIC, I have 4 classes for the year of 14-15, I’m planning to debut some new parts of Half Asleep at the conventions I’m attending this year (TCAF, VanCAF, CAKE and SPX), I’ve got some solo project ideas on the back burner, I’ll be hanging out in Vermont for a little bit this summer, I’m getting an intern, and umm… I don’t know, long term is still up in the air. I’m hoping I can continue to ride the wave of teaching, new projects and staying happily busy.
That sounds really hokey but I’m honestly just trying to make it to the end of the semester. I’m ready for this winter to be done and I’m ready to spend some time working on my projects.

CA: Once more into the days of short sleeves and inky fingers.

BH: Yes, and bicycle rides.

TOGETHER: BIKES!

BIKES

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At the Schulz: The complete Popeye by E.C. Segar collection

Popeye_Collection_Schulz_library

Posted in Cartoonist, Historic, New Book, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Academia Nuts: CCS Students to present at Dartmouth

Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, is hosting its third annual Comics, Illustration, and Animation Conference this weekend. The programming includes a variety of academics from such far-flung climes as Hanover, Germany; Coventry, UK; and, oddly enough, White River Junction, VT.

First year student Nikolaus Gulacsik has been working in close collaboration with Dartmouth professor Michael A. Chaney to organize a book fair and presentations to be held Friday in Dartmouth’s Haldeman Hall (6-7pm in room 041, if you’re planning on dropping in).

Gulacsik said that the presence of Center for Cartoon Studies students at the conference is just a continuation of the long-standing–albeit tenuous– relationship between CCS and Dartmouth. “There has been a little give and take in the past,” he said. “James [Sturm] was close with [CCS Board member] Ana Marino, who was at Dartmouth some years ago.”

The book fair promises to be a well-attended one, despite its short duration: 12 CCS students, alumni, and associates are presenting or selling their work at the event. Confirmed attendees include current CCS Fellow Nicole Georges, first years Rebecca Roher and Jonathan Rotztain, second years Eleri Harris and Tom O’Brien, and alumnus Carl Antonowicz.

The remainder of the conference will feature panels and presentations on a wide variety of comics and animation related topics, including Motion and Guided Views, Graphic Autobiography, History in Comics, and marginal cultures as represented in comics.

CCS also partners with Dartmouth on the annual Will Eisner Lecture. Past lecturers in that series have included Joe Sacco and Jules Feiffer.

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LET KOREN’S REIGN BEGIN!!

Laureate+PassingPEN

Today the pen was passed and Vermont officially appointed the great Edward Koren as the state’s newest Cartoonist Laureate taking over the reigns from Burlington’s James Kochalka.

Governor Peter Shumlin, back from  some Obama facetime in Washington DC, welcomed the Brookfield, VT firefighter and longtime New Yorker contributor to Montpelier and offered his congratulations.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin with Vermont's new Cartoonist Laureate

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin with Vermont’s new Cartoonist Laureate

After a Senate meet-and-greet, Ed appeared before the Vt. legislature where the Cartoonist Laureate resolution was read on the State House floor. Once official, Ed’s laureate powers kicked in and he transformed into one of his cartoon creations.  Ed and I then climbed aboard his giant crow quill pen that flew us through the cold Vermont sky, over the White River, and to The Center for Cartoon Studies for a public lecture and reception.

But before Ed could bewitch us with tales of his long and hairied storied career, proper tributes had to be made! Ed’s fellow New Yorker cartoonists hold him in high esteem!

 

Liza_Donnelly_koren-drawing

Yes! Liza Donnelly!

“I’ve known Ed for many years. He’s a genuinely good egg, and a terrific, funny cartoonist. But what makes his work so special is not just his sense of humor, but that he has created a parallel universe peopled– if that is the right word– by endearingly strange characters which we enter every time we see one of his cartoons.” —Roz Chast

Sipress

The one and only David Sipress!

Ed-Koren-Congrats

The memorable Michael Maslin!

MortG

Mort Gerberg, there from the beginning!

Harry Bliss sent along this audio tribute:

kong

Harry Bliss, taking Ed’s advice

And from  New Yorker editor David Remnick:

“The great imaginative artists, comic or seriocomic (what other kinds are there?), are great at least in part because they create a world: Baldwin’s Harlem, Faulkner’s hamlet, Chekhov’s dachas. Ed Koren not only created a world—the Koren worlds are both urban and Vermontian, but all Koren—he also created creatures, part human, part fantastical, to represent and give voice to all of our anxieties, joys, and craziness. Long live Ed Koren, his world and his creatures!”

Ed, it was great spending the day with you! You’re the best!

korenSturm

 

Governor Shumlin, Ed Koren, and outgoing Cartoonist Laureate James Kochalka

Governor Shumlin, Ed Koren, and outgoing Cartoonist Laureate James Kochalka

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Kickstart My Heart: Joyana McDiarmid and Maple Key Comics

The Center for Cartoon Studies alumna Joyana McDiarmid launched a Kickstarter last month to crowd-fund the first two issues of her new bimonthly comics anthology Maple Key Comics. The project is an ambitious one, to say the least–McDiarmid’s first issue alone is over 300 pages of new comics from 17 different creators–but the community response thus far has been overwhelming. The Maple Key Kickstarter has already raised over $4,000 of its $7,000 goal in the first two weeks. Joyana and I met a couple of times this week to talk about Maple Key and her hopes for the endeavor.

Banner from the Maple Key Comics website. The image is from Luke Howard’s cover to the first issue.

 

Carl Antonowicz: So you’re putting together a bi-monthly comics magazine called Maple Key Comics. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got started on this idea?

Joyana McDiarmid: Well, going to The Center for Cartoon Studies and comics conventions, I saw this sort of empty space in the comics market. You had the people who were making…these fantastic little minicomics that you’d only come across sort of by accident. I started to notice the enormity of the gap between self-publishing and finding a publisher–a publisher who would treat your comics the way you’d want them to. Through the visiting artist seminars at CCS, a theme I began to see among these people who do great work and have good publishers was that a lot of [their success] was luck. It’s hard to be passionate about comics knowing that the endgame is based on luck–whether or not you’re going to find a publisher or find your audience.

 

Maple Key Comics’ Contributors Roster, incomplete. These and other fantastic cartoonists’ work will grace the pages of the forthcoming publication.

CA: Why did you choose to do something that’s a periodical rather than a one-shot anthology?

JM: There are a lot of one-shot anthologies out there. A lot of them are themed. I think the problem with that is that cartoonists have more to offer than short stories based around a theme. A lot of people want the opportunity to write a longer format story that will keep them drawing. Having a serialized story is very important, I think, to the psyche of cartoonists because you have a definite deadline for each section of  your work, and you can accomplish a large story by taking little bites at it. That’s something that I found when I was doing my thesis project, which was based around little vignettes of 2-12 pages, having that deadline of “now I’m going to finish this vignette, now I’m going to finish this one,” I was able to accomplish about 80p in 5 months. That was incredibly rewarding. I think that having a serialized story helps you as a cartoonist in your career, too–people see your name out there, people see a publication and a story in which they can get invested. One of the models for that was Japanese manga magazines… They’re collections of ongoing stories where you get a chapter at a time. The stories within the magazine vary widely between genres and the kind of storytelling they use. All they really have in common is that they’re manga. I really enjoyed that idea of being able to continue a story.

A “Weekly Jump” cover. Oh man, check out that Luffy. He ate all the rubber fruit. Image courtesy of whatismanga.wordpress.com

CA: Maple Key is going to be something like the way MOME was, then? Like a collection of on-going and one shot stories not really tied together by their themes?

JM: Yes, the difference is that Maple Key focuses on serialized stories. MOME had a few of those, but they started and stopped at different times; in Maple Key the ongoing stories begin and end together.

There is no theme, the point of Maple Key is to let cartoonists tell the stories they want to tell. The layout and design of the magazine will make the transition from one story to the next clear. This way people won’t get confused as to what story they’re reading.

In Maple Key stories run either 3 chapter or 6 chapters. The stories that are 3 chapters long are split into two groups, the first batch running in the magazine from issues 1-3, and the second batch runs in issues 4-6. 6 chapter stories will, obviously, run in all 6 issues.

CA: You’ve talked about Maple Key being something that sort of bridges the gap between minicomics and graphic novels or periodical manga. Why did you choose to make Maple Key Comics a single-volume affair rather than something that’s a collection of small books? Why not do it in a format more like Charles Forsman’s Oily, or what the Dog City boys are doing, where it’s a bunch of little books in a box?

JM: I am a notorious overpacker. I will put every single book I think I might want to read in my bag and sometimes they get beat up, they get lost, I might not have packed the second volume of the story I want to continue reading…When I was living in Seattle, I commuted everywhere on the bus. Having a bunch of comics floppies in my bag was really annoying–and I love the format, I love the way Chuck packages things at Oily, but those stay in my house. I don’t take them with me to read at a coffee shop. So that’s sort of the idea behind having them all in one book–you can have a variety of reading material. Although, the first issue is 300 plus pages, I don’t know how portable it’s really going to be (laughs).

CA: 300 pages is about the size of a normal paperback novel, which people bring with them everywhere, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

JM: Oh yeah. But the idea is to have something portable, something that is cohesive in its design.And, as a person who works in a library, I like the idea of being able to neatly put your minicomics on your shelf

All my comics I get from friends and at conventions live in six shoe boxes in various states of organization. When I want to re-read one I have to dig through all my boxes to find it, because no matter how well I think I’ve organized them, I have no idea what is in what box.

Don’t get me wrong, I love minicomics and what Oily and Dog City are doing. There is something really special about handmade comics. This format is just what I’ve decided works best for what I want to do with Maple Key. I want to focus on the stories, keep the packaging neat and crisp, and have a book and ebook that I can get out into the wider world. I want my contributors to be able to reach a wider readership, we can help each other out, they may pick up Maple Key for Sophie Goldstein and find that they love Sasha Steinberg’s comics just as much.

 

Promotional header for Sasha Steinberg’s new story, debuting in Maple Key Comics #1.

CA: So by packaging all these creators together you intend to sort of pool interest?

JM: Absolutely. Something I have been privileged to experience by going to CCS is a sense of community with other cartoonists. We may feel competitive sometimes or have a pang of career envy, but we want each other to succeed. The world of comics has room for all of us, and if it doesn’t, we have to make room.

So we help each other out.

The publishing world can be brutal to break into, and some of it has to do with luck. I’m hoping that Maple Key Comics will be able to give the cartoonists that contribute a little more luck. They can say to publishers “I’ve been in this magazine, I drew a six chapter story for it. I have follow through, I have an audience.”

CA: What’s been interesting to me about the run of your Kickstarter–and about Kickstarters in general–is that they are already so community-based. Like each of the Maple Key contributors is getting a spotlight, which encourages them to share the link to the Kickstarter to their networks, etc.

JM: Kickstarter itself is community based. The people who run it encourage those who use it to be open, honest and transparent with their backers. They like to generate a feeling that we’re all in this together. And I feel that with this project. Maple Key is about the comics that are in it, and the creators behind those stories. It makes sense to spotlight them, get people interested in them and their comics before the issue comes out. And, once again, we all reach out to our friends and our readers (and our families. Parents are the best backers) and they get interested in the other cartoonists involved with the project. That way our circles grow. The Kickstarter marketing is doing exactly what I hope Maple Key will do, widening each of our circles.

Am I getting too hippy-dippy, lovely-dovey, feel-goodie?

CA: No, not at all. The first issue, you said, is going to be somewhere around 300 pages of comics, correct?

JM: 300 pages, it’s really amazing. The contributors are pushing themselves to create some great comics, they are dedicated to their art. Once I realized the first issue was over 260 pages I got another quote from the printer I wanted to use, and it had doubled. I had to change printers, but I’m not complaining, there are 17 creators doing what they do best.

CA: Facilitation and creation are two kind of intertwined aspects of a work like Maple Key. Could you talk a bit about how you see those interacting in your own work?

JM: I crave an editor for my own work these days. I think it is a combination of working as an editor and not being in school anymore, where I had constant feedback.
And as a cartoonist, I know what to look for at each stage of someone else’s work when I am editing it.

CA: It’s kind of unusual that you’re both an editor and a practicing cartoonist; I feel like most people have to jump one way or the other eventually. On which side do you see yourself falling if it should come down to that?

JM: Oh no, I hope that doesn’t happen. I would say cartoonist.
I like editing, I like all that goes into getting a comic to print. Well-designed books make me very happy, I enjoy adding all the little things that make a book look polished.
But I love cartooning the most.
The thing keeping me sane during the stress of running a Kickstarter is being able to tune out for a couple of hours and make comics.

CA: The first couple issues seem to be focused primarily on CCS alumni and affiliates. I assume you plan to expand the scope of contributors?

JM: Definitely. I reached out to non CCSers when I was inviting people to contribute, but I’m a no-name. The people willing to take a bet on me are the people who know me. My hope is that as my cartooning circle grows and the readership of Maple Key grows other cartoonists will want to join in.

CA: You said that you’ve got plans to use MKC as a springboard to launch the parent company Samara Press into something more like an art books publisher. Do you want to talk a little about that?

JM: Samara Press is my five year goal. I want to see how Maple Key goes this year, six issues. If it goes well I want to continue into a second year, maybe publish some comics separately from Maple Key, like a collection of work or a one-shot. And if that goes well, so on and so forth.

I like that there are several micro-press comics publishers, it gives cartoonists more options to get their work printed. Samara Press would be like that, a way for great cartoonists to focus on making comics while we do all the other stuff. Stuff like printing, distributing and advertising. Doing that on your own is almost a full time job.
Digital platforms for comics are quite up there for readability and profit. Samara Press would look into ways in which we could make comics more easily read digitally, and how artists can make some money on their digital comics.
It’s something that no one has really cracked the code on yet.
I don’t presume to think that I’ll be the one to do so; I just want to keep my eyes on those kind of projects.

CA: One last question: How has the Center for Cartoon Studies helped you in this endeavor?

JM: As an alumni of CCS I was eligible to apply for the Inky Solomon Center Grant, a grant given to the school by the state of Vermont to help alumni with business ventures. So I did. And I got it. This meant that I had a little money to start a website for Maple Key, and that I had access to business planning resources. Some of the faculty at CCS and president Michelle Ollie sat down with me and helped me brainstorm what I needed to start Maple Key. It was the first major spark that made me think “Yes, I can do this.”

From the Maple Key Comics website.

The Maple Key Kickstarter is at the time of this writing over halfway funded, and due to finish on 19 Februrary. The first issue is due out in April in both print and digital formats, and will feature work from Bill Bedard (CCS ’12), Neil Brideau, Jon Chad, Rachel Dukes (’13), Sophie Goldstein (’13), Laurel Holden (’13), Luke Howard (’13), Laurel Leake (’13), Josh Lees (’14), April Malig (’13), Joyana McDiarmid (’13), Mathew New (’14), Will Payne (’14), Dan Rinylo (’13), Sasha Steinberg (’13), and Iris Yan (’13). Backers can get subscriptions, high-quality prints from contributors Howard, Leake, and Rinylo, or pieces of original art.

Posted in Cartoonist, CCS Alumni, Ebooks, Interview, New Book, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Transatlanticism: CCS to take Angoulême by storm

Every year, the sleepy little town of Angoulême, in the Poiteau-Charentes region of France, is beset by over 200,000 comics enthusiasts for a four days of events and programming in celebration of the art of bande dessinée: The Angoulême International Comics Festival (In French: Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême.). It’s the second-largest comics festival in the world (topped only by Tokyo, Japan’s Comiket).
This year, though, a cadre of cartoonists from The Center for Cartoon Studies–former fellows Julie Delporte, Alec Longstreth and Max de Radigues and alumni Charles Forsman, Joseph Lambert, and Jen Vaughn–will be in attendance.

A very very small image of the poster for the Angouleme festival.

Forsman, Lambert, and Longstreth will be tabling with de Radigues in support of their books released through de Radigues’ publishing house L’Employe du Moi. Angoulême is just the kickoff of their whirlwind tour of francophone Europe, however–the boys will also be stopping in Brussells and Paris for book signings.

A Max de Radigues-designed promo poster for the book signings.

Longstreth, who had attended the festival in 2009, is pretty excited about the trip:  “It’s like if you had San Diego Comic Con AND the Small Press Expo AND the Portland Zine
Symposium happening all at the same time, and also you set up exhibits from the Cartoon Art Museum and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, and did some retrospectives on Bill  Waterson and Carl Barks and NBC news came in to cover the whole thing.”

“It’s hard to imagine it happening in America,” Longstreth said, “But it happens every year in France!”

Longstreth documented his previous Angoulême visit in his minicomic Phase 7 No. 14, which you can read online here. If any of our readers overseas have the time and the inclination to go to Angoulême, we highly recommend it!

Posted in Cartoonist, CCS Alumni, Conventions, Historic, Interview, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rob Clough and 30 Days of CCS

Rob Clough is a highly respected reviewer of comics both mainstream and small press. In addition to his massive month-long feature “30 Days of CCS,” completed in November of 2013, a huge number of The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) alumni populated his “Best of 2013” roundup’s short form category. The following interview was conducted via Google Docs in December 2013.

Carl Antonowicz: You run two review blogs–one at the Comics Journal, the other at a blogspot site. Both of these are jampacked with very insightful reviews of new work that has by and  large not been  reviewed elsewhere. What drew you to privilege minicomics and independent books the same as more mainstream ones?

Rob Clough: Minicomics are simply part of my comics DNA as a reader. I started attending SPX back in 1997 and have been fascinated with the possibilities of DIY, small press books that often double as art objects. I am also interested in the trajectory of artists throughout their career, and there are any number of great cartoonists who have used minicomics as their sort of entry-level ticket into the comics field. Seeing them get better and evolve in public, even with fairly limited print runs, has always been fascinating to me.

That said, I don’t consider minicomics or self-published comics as a sort of minor league. There are too many great cartoonists who release nearly all of their new work in this manner, like John Porcellino. It’s as valid an expression of comics creation as any.

As a critic, I started writing about minicomics because that’s what I tend to get in the mail: small press publishers eager for feedback. The fact that I review everything sent to me (eventually!), especially from self-publishers, has sort of fed on this, as I know received dozens of minicomics a year.

CA: You recently wrapped up a feature in which you reviewed 44 different CCS Alumni. That’s a tremendous amount of work. What prompted that? Were there any trends that you noticed across the–what, 10000 ish pages of comics you read for the project?

RC: The idea of The Center for Cartoon Studies fascinated me when I first heard about it a decade ago. It seemed completely crazy, yet I had enormous respect for James Sturm and everything he was doing to set it up seemed to make sense. When I encountered the Sundays anthology table at MOCCA in 2005, I was impressed by the ambition of the editors (Chuck Forsman, Alex Kim, Sean Ford, Joseph Lambert) and thought it was time that I started to really investigate the work coming out of CCS.

The cover to Sundays: Forever Changes. Courtesy of sundaysanthology.com

Ever since that time, I have made it known that I want to review the work of every CCS cartoonist interested in sending it to me. The response I’ve received, both in the mail and at shows, has been tremendous. One reason why I like to prioritize to reviewing CCS comics as much as I can is because CCS has seemed to inculcate a culture of critique. More than any artists I’ve ever reviewed, CCS alums are hungry for feedback, even if it’s negative feedback. That’s especially true when the artists leave White River Junction and don’t have a regular circle of trusted voices around to offer critiques; I imagine creating into the void like that must be unnerving.

What prompted this particular feature now was getting a ton of comics from CCS folks at SPX. I filled up a huge bag with those comics, and more came in the mail from others. I thought it might be fun to organize and spotlight CCS in such a fashion and draw a little attention to High-Low as a result of this particular stunt.

As for trends, I’d say that the average CCS student now is a better draftsman than when the school started. Many CCS students are using genre tropes as backdrops for discussing issues like gender, class, race, politics and interpersonal relationships. Several CCS students are interested in comics journalism and comics with a political and even pedagogical bent. There’s a lot of ambition at work in so many of the comics, especially the recent anthologies. Some of the early CCS self-published anthologies were on the rough and amateurish side, but for newer anthology series like Irene, everyone is bringing their A-game.

CA: I wonder if that’s not an alt-comics-wide development, though. I think the work that I’ve picked up at convention in the past few years has been significantly stronger than it was when I started going to shows back in ‘09. Have you noticed this too?

RC: Yes. Part of this is a function of there being more cartoonists in general than four or five years ago, as a decade of easier access to old and new comics alike by way of comics shops, libraries and the internet has been an inspiration incubator for young cartoonists. It’s certainly played a role in the emerging comics scene in England, for example. But from a simple, crude rubric of “how many interesting minis did I pick up at SPX?”, a decade ago I found myself scraping the bottom of the barrel with some selections I made, whereas now I don’t have time to get to every good comic at the show. I would say that truly exceptional work is still quite rare, but the number of cartoonists who are at least good and trying to get better has definitely exploded.

CA: You had mentioned in an end-of-year review in 2012 that you had plans to collect a bunch of your reviews in book form. Any more news on that front?

RC: That’s shelved for the moment; just not enough time to get all of that together. Hopefully in 2014, after I’ve knocked out some other projects, I’ll get a chance to do that. However, some of my reviews will be reprinted in digital form soon. I’ll have more details on that in a couple of weeks. (On January 9, Clough revealed that many of his reviews will be republished in the online comics publication Infinity.–Ed.)

CA: What trends in minicomics excite you at the moment?

RC: First off, I am excited by the new and seemingly endless supply of young, ambitious cartoonists who have cropped up over the last five years. What I like most about them is their work ethic and devotion to comics as their chosen form of art. They are lifers, like so many CCS grads, and they are dedicated to getting better.

I like that many artists are finding ways to push at the boundaries of what is possible in comics. Some of that is done in exploring genres frequently overlooked as trashy or disposable, like porn, horror, fantasy, etc. There have been some remarkable comics in all of these genres done by smart, forward-thinking cartoonists that warp and mutate tropes in order to create something new, disturbing, funny and/or memorable.

Along the same lines, I like how artists are willing to cycle through influences quickly and arrive at unusual stylistic destinations. Take Sam Alden, for instance. He began with his career using a naturalistic style not unlike Nate Powell or Craig Thompson. For his recent work, he’s gone to a far sketchier, smudgier style that has created a powerful sense of dynamism in his drawings and evinces emotion in a more immediate and visceral manner. Luke Howard is experimenting with a variety of different approaches but really nailed it with his story in Irene #3, and that’s another example of an artist looking around until he finds something that really works.

Panels from Luke Howard's story in

I love that there’s a real commitment to formal and aesthetic innovation, along with a reclamation of the means of production for many cartoonists. More and more of them seem to own their own Risograph machines and use them for publishing their own comics as well as those of others. At the same time, the CCS grads have a strong grounding in story and narrative, so that when they do an eye-catching cover or employ fancy colors, it’s all in service to the story. The recent Dog City comics box is a great example of style and substance, as each of the nine minis/mini anthologies is well worth reading on their own, yet it comes in this beautiful, irresistible art object and comes with a poster, prints, etc. This is different than ten years ago, when there were plenty of beautiful art object zines that weren’t especially interesting in terms of actually reading them.

The cover of the Dog City 2 Box

CA: You’ve mentioned the concept of the comic as art object a couple of times now. Do you think that minicomics are moving more toward that direction–that minicomics are more often becoming objects in and of themselves than containers for narrative?

RC: I actually think this is less pronounced than in past years, where the art object nature of some comics was more important than that actual contents of the comic itself. Certainly I still see many hand-made comics that are beautiful art objects, but there seems to be more careful consideration with regard to the comic’s gestalt rather than its outward appearance. This is not to privilege comics with a narrative focus over other kinds of comics, because I quite enjoy the sort of thing that DW does for example, but DW focuses on every aspect of the reading experience, not just its decorative qualities.

CA: I’ve noticed a lot more cartoonists talking about formalist concerns in interviews and the like recently. Do you think creators now are more aware of those concerns than they were when you started? Or is there just more of a space to talk about them?

RC: A little of both, perhaps. So many cartoonists from my generation (the 90s) were self-taught and have perhaps a more intuitive understanding of comics’ formal elements than one that favors it being laid bare, so to speak. I think that’s why Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics was such a powerful force for so many young cartoonists, because he spells out a number of technical storytelling techniques that are rarely addressed in texts that tend to focus more on drawing. I happen to disagree with a number of his conclusions and definitions, but there’s no question that this was important. The fact that there are now so many institutions teaching comics means that not only are there many more cartoonists who are well-versed in a formal understanding of comics, but that this formal language is now a common language for most cartoonists. Whether or not a cartoonist goes to art school now, there’s no doubt that the language of pedagogy is now a permanent part of the comics vernacular.

CA: You’ve only recently added a ‘donate’ button to the side of your blogspot site. Would you care to talk about this a little bit?

RC: Well, my family and I had a bit of financial difficulty recently with a perfect storm of expenses hitting us at once. I added the “donate” button as a way of hoping that folks might help out. Boy, did they. In the span of just three days, I received enough in donations to cover all of our expenses. The internet can be a wonderful place, sometimes, as can the comics community.

CA: That’s wonderful! Do you think that this community spirit/willingness to “give” is a recent development in the digital world?

RC: The concept of crowdfunding and the ease with which sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are certainly recent developments, but really the speed with which one can get one’s plea out there is astounding. Social networking can be a truly powerful force, and there’s no doubt that it has served to grow comics culture and the community in general. Take Portland’s The Projects, for instance. This is a festival model show that brings in cartoonists from around the world and celebrates creativity over commerce. I stole liberally from this model (and several others) when creating my own show with my partners Eric Knisley and Bill Fick, the Durham Indie Comics Expo (DICE).

CA: I’d heard you were putting together a show. Was that a curated thing? How did that pan out? Are you going to do it again next year?

RC: The model for the show that I was a part of was that of a comics festival. It was curated in the sense that the guests were hand-picked by me and the other organizers. That’s Bill Fick, a Duke art professor who graciously allowed us to use his screenprinting studio space, Super Graphic; and long-time local cartoonist, Eric Knisley, who handled the technical and drawing end of things. He designed the DICE graphic. I put out an open call to invite any interested CCS alums to come on up, and we had Jan Burger, Rio Aubry Taylor (both now locals), Jesse Mead and Bob Oxman come to the show.

So the show included elements I’ve always wanted at a comics festival. I’ve always wanted to have a gallery show at a comics fest, and the Super Graphic space has a beautiful gallery space. Local and out-of-town cartoonists showed their work, and we had two separate gallery events apart from the show that were well-attended. I wanted to have a single merchandise table where I or a volunteer would sell all of the comics, though individual artists were free to sit there as well and sell their wares. I did this to give artists an opportunity to participate in the extensive programming that we set up, and the response was tremendous. Because there were no table fees for the cartoonists, that made them feel less like they had to get their money’s worth by sitting down and not being able to participate in the show.

Having an interactive event was also very important. Eric had a table with two chairs, a long scroll of papers and some magic markers and encouraged people to sit down and draw, and they did. The local Durham Comics Project brought their “comics contraption”, an ingenious, hand-cranked device that scrolls along a giant sheet of paper inside a box, allowing anyone to draw something in the two big panels that appear inside the box until it’s cranked along. Much of the programming was interactive, as we had a workshop by Rio Taylor, local cartoonist and librarian Amy Godfrey and a screenprinting workshop by Fick. We also had a presentation by Joan Reilly, editor of the anthology The Big Feminist But as well as a critics’ panel featuring Craig Fischer, Ken Parille and me. The panels were packed, some cartoonists made a little money, and the comics community in the Durham area got a big boost.  We definitely plan to do it again next year, possibly in conjunction with the Durham County Library’s annual Comics Fest.

CA: Finally, what do you want to see happen in comics in the next five years?

RC: Distribution…continues to be a big problem. What I’d like to see is a loose alliance of cartoonists who can offer support to each other with various skills, be it editing, graphic design, distribution, etc. Sort of a barter system of skills, as each cartoonist finds a way to help out someone with a publishing difficulty. I want there to be a way for people with families to be able to stay in the publishing game and not be forced to step out because they’re tired of living in near-poverty. I’d love for there to be some kind of freelance financial advisor for small press publishers to help them make sound decisions. I like the trend of cartoonists increasingly controlling the means of publishing and production with risographs and would love to see cartoonists owning a printing shop. I want to see the network of shows increase and have strong, regional flavors to each one. I want to see comics communities thrive, not so much to act as back-slapping support but rather as ways of creating collaborative efforts in terms of art and publishing. Finally, as a critic, I’d like to see more new critical voices emerge and for the older voices to engage them in a critical dialogue. I’d love for a greater diversity in age, gender, race and sexual orientation to be present in that new mass of critical voices, and I’d want them to examine comics both familiar and new to the older critics.

 

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Endgame: The Class of 2014′s Thesis Presentations

An integral part of The Center for Cartoon Studies’ curriculum is the Thesis Project–an all-out marathon taking the entirety of the second year of classes. The goal of this project is to force CCS students to push themselves to their limits to create a work or works that exhibit their growth as cartoonists. At the end of the first semester, the students are asked to put aside their drawing tools, close their laptops, swallow their stagefright, and put together a presentation to exhibit their progress to the world. What follows are images and brief descriptions from several of the class of 2014′s presentations.

Bannister-Poster-2

Allison Bannister
My thesis project, Wit’s End, is an all-ages fantasy comic.
Issue one follows Scribbulous on his first day as Royal Scribe, as he discovers a potential plot against the throne, the Princess vanishes, and his tour guide keeps teleporting.
The second issue focuses on the King’s absence, as the rest of the royal family and staff step up to put together an event he would normally host, suffering a few mishaps (magical and otherwise) along the way.
The third issue introduces Theodorus’s squire as she arrives at the palace, and concerns unruly magic, a mid-tournament accident, and an unlikely alliance. basictelepathy.com

 

GAMTposter001

Ben Evans
All the lake monsters, missing links, vengeful ghosts, and fearsome critters of American folklore and urban legend are fighting for supremacy, threatening to destroy the country in the process. While a rag-tag group of scientists attempts to stop the destruction, all anyone else can think about is whether the monster from their hometown will be victorious.
Riots will be started, commemorative t-shirts will be sold, giant robots will be built, and maybe, just maybe, America will be saved. benkevans.tumblr.com

 

fernandez poster

Juan Fernandez
Inspired by strip cartoonists Charles Schulz, Tove Jansson and George Herriman and by  contemporary strip cartoonists like Liniers and Pable Holmberg, Juan Fernandez has been studying the ins and outs of the daily strip and has adopted the 2×2 grid as go to format for his cartooning. Commitment to experimentation in mark making combined with a commitment to the rhythmic forms allowed by the 4 panel square.
Motivated by the belief that nothing is worth drawing until you draw it, Juan Fernandez will be making a 4 panel strip everyday until May 2014. Among the 200+ comics that will be made over the course of the thesis year will be be adventure comics, tone poems and gag strips.
4 Panels a day. 1 book a month. 7 books by May. crinkledcomics.com


gowen_resized

Ben Gowen
Ghoulish Gangs. Sinister Specters. Customers.
It’s the same thing day in and day out for your average rent-a-wizard.
It’s like tech support with monsters but without the glamorous headsets.
They aren’t making their parents proud, but at least they’re making $7.85 an hour.
Harris_posters

Eleri Harris
From the freshwater springs of Florida to the snow peaked mountains of New Hampshire, Eleri Mai Harris uses her background as a political reporter to construct non-fiction narrative journalism comics with on-site interviews, reference photographs and research.
Harris’s fiction comics explore dreams, memories and a childhood by the Tasman Sea in watercolors and ink.
Her thesis, Adam’s Ale, will be an anthology of of comics journalism and fiction pieces connected by a theme of water.
Note: The above image is an instagram of Harris’ screenprinted, letterpressed posters, rather than a low-rez version of the digital file as with the other posters–Ed.
elerimai.com

 

 

bob

Luke Healy
Bartlett/Blackjack/Bartleby is a work of historical fiction. It tells three interconnected stories about, isolation, trust, and coming to terms with your mistakes.
In this book, the true stories of Arctic castaways Robert Bartlett and Ada Blackjack are told alongside the fictional story of a disgraced college professor, Sullivan Bartleby. Though the different threads take place in 1913, 1926 and 2013 respectively, all three connect in unexpected ways. These connections are revealed throughout the course of the book to paint a larger picture of both a strange time in history, and the universality of human experience. lukewhealy.com


Krall_thesis_blog

Steven Krall
When a group of friends awaken to extraordinary powers, they must embark on a dangerous journey that will reveal the truth to their existence. A corrupt corporation seeks to exploit our heroes newfound powers for their sinister purposes. Can these friends unravel their mystery before hey become aberrations?
Our story continues in Book II: Liberation, as more heroes awaken to their hidden powers. In Philadelphia, six friends attend a festival only to become victims of a terrorist bombing fueled by extreme hatred. Can our heroes use their new gifts to liberate their friends and the world from this heinous evil?

 

rita_small

Tom O’Brien
Rita is a 96 page comic with a two toned coloring system and colored line art.  It tells the story of two girls in their senior year of college as they deal with love, loss and the realization that they can’t be college students forever.
Stories of My Father explores the life of Thom O’Brien (father of the author) and his family through short personal stories about some of the more absurd times in their lives.
tomobriencomics.com
payne_poster

Will Payne
Maze of Pain is an anthology of short comics about gladiator tapeworms, superhuman yoga teachers, warlord children, romance at chess camp,  fictional languages, ominous dreams, and other weirdness. Comics by Will Payne, advised by KC Green.
williamkpayne.tumblr.com

reinhardt

Simon Reinhardt
A year’s worth of short form comics, many of them about ghosts.
Works published as minicomics througjout the year to be be collected in a bound volume in May.
Stylistically diverse comics that acheive coherence through consistent thematic including riches, distance, and theft.

SQUEE-BOT-MONO-POSTER

A.D. Shrewsbury
Mono is a 48-page collection of black & white comics featuring four characters.
The theme binding each comic is how the comics utilize perspective to explore the way the characters perceive and inhabit their unique worlds and how we as viewers engage with their narratives.

The seniors will have until mid-May to complete their projects, bind their books, and turn in multiple copies of their thesis project for review by a committee of CCS Faculty.

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YOLO: Dakota McFadzean on Death, Age, and Drawing Every Day

Center for Cartoon Studies Alumnus Dakota McFadzean has a pretty dark sense of humor. In his often surreal daily strips–appropriately entitled “The Dailies”–death, cosmic insignificance, facial mutation, and ghosts are all used to point out the absurdity of life and the fundamental loneliness of the human condition, more often than not to humorous effect.
In addition to a steadily-increasing pile of strips embodying some of the bleakest humor in comics, McFadzean was also included in Best American Comics 2012, co-edits the anthology Irene with fellow alumni dw and Andy Warner, and recently released a collection of his own work called Other Stories and the Horse you Rode in On through Conundrum Press.


I had a chance to talk with Canada’s Crown Prince of Comics over gchat recently. Here’s how that went:

Carl Antonowicz, Ace Reporter: Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On was also the title of your thesis at the Center for Cartoon Studies, correct?
How does the Conundrum book differ from your thesis?

Dakota McFadzean, Lord of the Northern Territories:I guess they’re similar in concept in that they both follow the whole “here’s a bunch of mostly unrelated things” thing. I liked the convoluted title enough to use it again. The Conundrum book has two or three stories from my CCS thesis, but most of the stories are newer than that.
Oh, and I included a couple of stories I did during my first year at CCS that weren’t eligible to be included in my thesis. Also, there are no strips in the Conundrum version. Just short stories and a one-pager.

CA: When you were pitching the book, did you use your thesis as the submission package?

DMF: Sort of. Andy Brown at Conundrum approached me the fall after I graduated and asked if I wanted to submit a proposal. I remember it having a short turnaround for some reason, so I printed a condensed ashcan version of my thesis that cut a bunch of the dailies and added new work I had done over the summer. Now that I think about it, it was a pretty unprofessional looking package, but I was afraid of delaying too long.

CA: You really hit the ground running after CCS, it seems. You’ve been doing your Dailies for, what, two years now? Three?
Uggghh, AHHHHHHH

Do you have any plans to collect those in a big book?

DMF:I think I had a couple of lucky things happen in combination with one another. I still struggle with the networking, project-pitching thing. I always feel like I’m behind or between projects.
The Dailies I started at the beginning of January 2010, so I guess it will be four years in a couple of months. I haven’t collected them yet, but I get asked that a lot.
I actually did a small minicomic version for MoCCA one year, but it was kind of last-minute and didn’t really sell well. I don’t know what I think of collecting them in print. I mean, I love the American Elf collections, and I love print. But I don’t know– it seems weird considering I have them all on my site.
A friend saw my originals the other day and said I should print them at-size with no editing. Keep all the ink texture and spelling mistakes. I like that idea, but I don’t think that would be interesting to many people until I’m an old, dying cartoonist reflecting on his career.

CA: I hope that stays a long way off for as long as possible.

DMF:Me too. So far, so good.

CA: Speaking of which, there’s a lot of focus in your dailies and to a certain extent in your longer pieces on age–youth, old age, middle age, etc.
What, in particular, about aging interests you?

This strip is also notable for its use of the word

DMF:Yeah, I’m not sure why I return to that over and over again. I guess it’s something I think about a lot when I’m inking. The inking process is so meditative, it gives you time to let your mind wander. So I think about different times in my life, or things that I’d like to happen, things I’m afraid will happen. I think about time and memory a lot in relation to comics because so much of laying out a page is about time and memory– trying to evoke little truthful moments.
I guess I like the idea of aging because it’s universal. So no matter how specific or different characters are, there’s an equalizer there, and it’s something that informs everything we do.
There’s also the fact that comics take a long time to do, as you know. So, I often think in terms of how many comics I can get done in a time period, and when I’m doing a strip every day, it feels a bit like a ticking death clock. But I mean that in a good way, not a sad depressing way.
Oh, and one more thing about that: I like having disparate ages because they provide different perspectives on related experiences. A kid character is experiencing everything for the first time, but an older might be wondering if they’re experiencing something for the last time. I realized a few years ago that even if I live to be 100 I’ll only see around seventy more springs. That doesn’t seem like very much.
So, hooray for finiteness, I guess.

CA: Ha! I’m not sure I can imagine a ticking death clock as anything but depressing, but YOLO, I guess. Is it death that makes life worth living? Or is it the punchline to a joke that goes on too long?

DMF:It could be both. I guess it gives meaning to the time we do have. In a less overarching way, when I have too much time on my hands, I don’t feel as driven or productive as when I find myself really busy.
I find this stuff fun though. The universe doesn’t mean anything and that’s really scary and funny.

CA: Do you find yourself bucking against the task of churning out a strip every day?

DMF: As for the drawing a strip every day, it seems to go in waves. Most of the time, I don’t think about it anymore and it’s just a routine like brushing my teeth. But once in a while, it’s the hardest thing in the world, and I’ll spend each night of the week staring at a blank page for an hour before doing something I feel dissatisfied with. But, the more I do it, the less often that seems to happen. The nice thing about the exercise is it removes some of the stakes. I think, “Oh well. Tonight’s strip sucks, but maybe tomorrow’s will be better.”
It’s kind of a micro version of doing longer comics, but it doesn’t take months to do a strip. I dunno, maybe I need that spontaneous, instant gratification of finishing something to balance out the months it takes to do longer comics.

CA: That’s a very positive way of looking at it. Would you describe yourself as a nihilist?

DMF: I don’t know if I’m a nihilist. I think I get really excited by how incomprehensible and uncaring the universe is. But, I like this thing we have going on our little planet. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything in the larger scope of things, but it feels good when you spend time with friends, or someone holds the door for you, or you see a cat get spooked by a leaf.
So, I guess nothing means anything, except to us because we pretend it means something, so it does. What’s that called?

CA: Isn’t that subjectivism? Solipsism? Positive Nihilism?

DMF: Yeah, all the main hits.

CA: So in addition to age, you have a lot of weird face stuff going on in your comics. Do you think that’s an alienation thing?
What great adventures will this faceless man and owl have together? Only Dakota knows, probably, and I forgot to ask him.

DMF: Hmm. It could be. I guess it starts with this urge to draw warped faces, that’s often my go-to in my sketchbooks. For whatever reason I have this urge to stretch, obscure, remove, and dissect cartoon faces. I think it’s funny and disturbing.
I do have a lot of alienated characters, though I don’t usually feel especially alienated. I spend a lot of time by myself, drawing and going for walks, so that could be why so many of my characters do that.
Most people respond to faces though. I like that about being human– the way we see faces in everything. As though the moon and electrical outlets are reflections of ourselves. I like it when my digital camera ‘thinks’ there’s a face in a background detail and tries to focus on it. Faces are such a focal point of how we understand one another, that I think using cartoon physics to play with that sometimes leads to some interesting results.
That whole seeing faces in everything is part of the reason comics and cartoons ‘work’. too.

CA: I recall Scott McCloud saying something about that in Understanding Comics.

DMF: Yeah, he has that whole chart of different levels of realism and abstraction. It really makes you realize how willing our brains are willing to go to see another face.

CA: Have McCloud’s theories been a big influence on your work?

DMF: When I was in my early 20s I was really into Understanding Comics. It was a massive epiphany for me. But I actually haven’t read any of his stuff in a while. I feel like I’ve been spending most of my time since then trying to get my hands to learn what my brain knows.
I did my undergraduate degree in fine arts, majoring in drawing. It was all conceptual, installation, interdisciplinary gallery art kind of stuff. I’ve kind of fallen away from being engaged with that world, but I always appreciated how we were encouraged to look at everything from so many different perspectives: the medium, the scale, the historical connotations, every aspect of an artwork is part of what informs its content. Reading Understanding Comics taught me a lot about the innate formal qualities of comics.
Of course, it slowed down my cartooning development, I think, because I spent too much time overthinking every little move I made (which relates back to the Dailies and lowering the stakes so I can just follow impulses.)

CA: Do you think that the Fine Art world and the Comics world are irreconcilably separated, or do you think the two can meaningfully interact?

DMF: That’s funny, a bunch of cartoonists were talking about this on twitter today. I don’t think they’re irreconcilably separated. I’ve seen a lot more interaction between disciplines over the last ten years. This question is a big can of worms, but I do think things are improving.
When I started my undergrad in 2001, I one of my favourite instructors pull me aside and basically tell me I was wasting my time with comics, and that I’m going to get bored with the limited possibilities. He thought it was all superhero stuff. Years later, he saw some of the things my brother and I were doing and he said he understood now.
So, I don’t know. That’s anecdotal, but you see comics present in literary circles, awards, grants, that kind of thing. There was definitely that vibe at CAB, with the Spiegelman retrospective opening. I heard a lot of the old guard cartoonists basically saying that this is the world they dreamed of.
I guess we just need to treat comics like a fine art because they are. There’s no reason to get upset about it. I’m sure poets feel marginalized by the other disciplines too. Cartoonists often seem to think there’s going to be a beam of light and angels singing when comics are finally accepted by the fine art world, and I’m not sure why we care about it so much. It’s happened. Most artists are pretty focused on their own things anyway, so really, all the arts should interact more often.
Before I came to CCS, I used to keep my comics in a folder on my computer that was separate from my ‘art’ stuff. Then I was doing a studio visit with a curator from a local gallery, and she thought that was silly.

CA: I’ve definitely seen a few fine artists do comics, and a few comickers do fine arts, but very rarely for any length of time.

DMF: Yeah, it’s tough because all arts are related, but the specific skills and processes necessary to work in different disciplines is pretty disparate.
Plus everyone is so hung up on the whole idea of ‘getting it’.
They’re worried they’re not getting it, or that they won’t get it in the right way.

CA:Is there a ‘right way’ to get art? (I guess yours in particular, but whatever.)

DMF: I think there are different ways of getting art. Different layers. Obviously someone who is well versed in comics history and the process of cartooning is going to get Chris Ware’s work in a different way than a musician who has never read a comic before, but it’s rich work, so there’s still a lot to explore.
I used to work as a gallery facilitator in a large public art gallery. It was my job to give tours to people of all ages. And so much of it was just about trying to find a talking point. What about these colours? The texture? It’s important to be well-read and you can get more out of an artwork if you’ve done your homework, but you’re still a human capable of critical thought even if you haven’t read the same books as the artist.

Oh hey that looks like...Agh...AAAAAAGGHHHH

You can order McFadzean’s book Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On via Amazon here, or directly from the publisher here. For daily injections of bleak, facemelting humor, follow Dakota on tumblr or on his website.

 

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