Dog City is an anthology unlike any other this reporter is aware of. Produced right here at The Center for Cartoon Studies, Dog City is a carefully curated selection of minicomics presented in a unique fashion that complements the capabilities of the form. Rather than soliciting stories told in a certain fixed format, the anthology’s editors–Juan Fernandez (’14), Simon Reinhardt (’14), and Luke Healey (’14)–decided instead to package disparately-formatted material in a large screenprinted box capable of accommodating a wide variety of minicomics. The package itself is wonderful, a miracle of craftsmanship and a prime example of all that small press, self-publishing, and bookcraft can be. The contents are equally wonderful, showcasing the work of the editors’ classmates, CCS alumni, faculty, and friends of the school. I took some time a few weeks ago to sit down and speak to the men in charge of this mammoth effort and scrape the thoughts from their brains.
Carl Antonowicz, Ace Reporter: How did this project come about?
Luke Healey: I came up with the idea and proposed it to Juan and Simon and it developed from there. The initial impetus that started the project was that at first we felt a little underworked, we felt like we had some time that we wanted to be making more comic books. The other side of the inclination to make it was that it’s hard to get your work out there. But if everybody pools their efforts and tries to promote the same thing, then hopefully it’ll be easier to get everyone’s work a wider reach.
Juan Fernandez: The idea being that Luke wants someone in, say, Pittsburgh to read his work. How’s he gonna get it there? But I know a lot of people in Pittsburgh, they know me…by pooling our energies together and creating a collection that gives you a lot of bang for your buck. People are more willing to take a chance to try [an anthology] out if they know one thing [included in it], and they trust the editors, they trust the group that’s publishing it…We would build this trust up over several issues.
LH: it’s like a more aggressive version of a shared storefront. A lot of groups at CCS have tried that out, the idea behind it being that if you come in to buy one person’s work, you’ll be forced to see everybody else’s, because they’re all in the same page. This is like the next level of that, because if you want to buy one person’s work, you have to buy everybody else’s, and then they’re already in your home and you might as well read them. Hopefully you’ll discover something you like.
Simon Reinhardt: We try to keep it a really good value. If you were going to buy just one of the new comics that comes in Dog City, you’d pay a lot more for it than you would [if you bought the Dog City package]. We have nine different comics, plus a magazine for $20.
LH: Plus a poster, plus art cards, plus the box…
SR: Each of those comics would be like $3 to $5 if they were sold individually. So you get a good value for your dollar.
JF: A project like this has only been possible because of our access to the [CCS print] lab at any time as students. We can actually go down there and, like, work out production problems as needed. If we had to do this through a printer and had to wait to receive covers and those kind of things…
LH: It would be impossible. We just couldn’t.
SR: And beyond that, the fact that we can screenprint almost every cover, the boxes, all the extras…it’s not free, because we pay tuition and the lab fee comes out of that, but that’s automatic to coming to school. We’ve already paid that. It’s just taking advantage of the lab. It takes a lot of time to do all the production, but it doesn’t cost us anything. Aside from time.
LH: It costs us a lot of time.
CA: So all three of y’all are seniors. After you finish at CCS, do you think you’re going to keep doing Dog City or something like it?
LH: It’s something we’ve talked about a lot, and we’ll continue to talk about it because we haven’t settled on anything, really. All three of us really love working on Dog City, we find it really valuable. We love working with our classmates and other cartoonists, but like we just said, a lot of the reason that we’re able to do Dog City, at least in its current form, is that we have access to the lab and we’re around so many cartoonists. After we graduate CCS, we could just never do another box. It would be completely impossible. Does that mean that we’re never going to do anything? I don’t know. I’m fairly sure we’re going to go on in some form.
JF: I for sure will be pushing to do something like this. I love the curation of other people’s work, and taking their vision and using my skills to get a book into the world just as they envisioned it, or maybe even better than they thought possible. And then, getting it into people’s hands…on this issue of Dog City, I brought in three ladies I know from Pittsburgh: Rachel Masilamani, Caitlin Boyle, and Christina Lee. That’s been a really big goal for me and something I’ve really enjoyed seeing in Dog City: bringing in folks who aren’t just in our class. We brought in Luke Howard on this issue, Steve Bissette. And in the case of these three Pittsburgh ladies, their work hasn’t had much reach, just because they’ve had to focus on, you know, paying the bills, getting things done, getting through art school, getting that done. Rachel Masilamani, she’s a librarian in Pittsburgh; she gave self-publishing a go. She won the Xeric grant in the early aughts, but the economic reality of it was that that wasn’t a viable path for her. She tried it. I discovered her work later, and I thought that publishing it in Dog City would just be a really great opportunity for getting her work into the hands of other people, and in, my opinion, because she’s a cartoonist I love, reinvigorating her cartooning.
LH: The original idea was to get everybody’s work out there. But after having done two boxes, the three of us have come to a point where we’ve realized that doing a box full of comics is a really inefficient way to do that. It was fun, and it makes a good product, but there are easier, cheaper, more effective ways to spread work around, so when we’re thinking about moving forward, we’ll be examining all of those.
JF: The boxes served as a flagship publication quite well, I think.
SR: What I like about the boxes is that they give a bunch of different cartoonists a space where their works are in dialogue with each other, but on their own terms. For example, we have a book by Rachel that we helped her design, that’s in the same box as Luke Howard’s book. People who read comics by one or the other might not necessarily otherwise be aware of the other…But everybody knows us and they come and check out the box, and they get introduced to new artists. That’s the really important thing.
LH: The advantage of the box is that people can do whatever they want. The only rule’s that it can’t be bigger than a certain size, because it has to fit in the box. That form of anthology preserves the cool thing about minicomics, in that they can be more unique than, say, a big book that’s printed and has everybody’s stuff inside of it.
SR: For instance, we couldn’t have had Jon Chad’s comic, which reads calendar-style and has a fold-out in it. That’s one of the things that Jon Chad is great at, bookmaking and coming up with innovative formats that serve his work really well. That’s a big advantage to the box: letting somebody like Jon go wild.
LH: To a lesser extent, Luke Howard wanted to do his book half-letter, so he did his half-letter. But we also have a book in there that’s like a little square. Everything can be different formats. Whatever format serves the work best, that’s what we can make, because it’s just, you know, in a box.
JF: With Connor Willumsen’s comic [in Dog City 2], Passion Fruit, online he made it green on pink. Online, color is freeing. He’s really big on experimenting with color palettes. One of the things that’s most interesting about his work to me, and I think you two would agree, is his color, how he makes colors clash. And if we were doing a normal book, that would mean doing a color insert like the way RAW used to have. That’s beyond our abilities right now. I think doing the box has been working within our abilities to make some really interesting books collected in a dynamic manner.
CA: You’ve got some people who already have some level of name recognition in Dog City 2, like Steve and Connor. I think Luke is building his brand pretty effectively, too. What was working with them like?
LH: Luke is a very professional cartoonist, a very talented cartoonist, and he gets it done on time. So in that three-way Venn Diagram, he’s in the center. He’s a dream to work with; he was the only person who sent his pages in on time. And Jon, he’s also in that center. They were great to work with. The people who come with a name, with more an established brand, they were great to work with, because it invigorated us. A few of them approached us directly and said, ‘Hey, we want in.’ That was really great, that gave us a lot of energy on the project. And because they have a background of producing a lot of work, we know when somebody’s on board that they’re going to produce something good, because they’re consistent. It was really excellent.
SR: Beyond that, it was exciting to have people whose work we really admire. We don’t work with anybody whose work we don’t like, obviously. But with Steve, I’ve been reading his work for a really long time, he’s been our teacher, we all have a lot of respect for him; Jon, likewise; Connor is one of the most exciting new-ish cartoonists out there right now and I don’t think a lot of people are aware of his stuff yet, but this is a project with a big enough profile that I think it’s going to introduce a lot of people to his work. It’s exciting to have gotten on board with him a little ahead of the curve, as it were. Connor does amazing work, and I don’t think the fuller comics world has caught on to that yet. They will soon.
JF: When it comes to working with people, we come to an agreement. Either we’re all really excited about their work, or maybe one of us is really excited, and the other two recognize the quality of the work and think it would make a good addition. That gets into how we build consensus, because we disagree on a lot of things. It can be frustrating, really, really frustrating during the production process. But at the end of the day, we have trust in each other. We’re seen each other work in the hardest moments and we realize we’re not slacking.
LH: Because there are only three people working on it, nobody gets to be lazy. Nothing gets a pass. It makes a lot more work for everybody.
JF: But we end up making something that we can all be really proud of.
At the time of this writing, there are still a few copies of Dog City 2 left in stock. They are available for purchase at the Dog City website.