Tim Stout, Jason Week, and the Curse of the Crawling Brain

CCS alumni Tim Stout and Jason Week‘s Danger and Doom: Brainless Brother is an young reader’s story packed with intrigue, chase scenes, puns, and goo of various origins. The cover of Stout's weighty tome

It’s a rollicking adventure that, had it been released when this reporter was a lad, would have quickly displaced that month’s Goosebumps title as his favorite book. Stout and Week have released Brainless Brother as an extremely affordable ebook–and plan to release more as time goes on. I got in touch with the boys via email last month to talk about their new work.

Carl Antonowicz: Tim, you’ve been focusing on writing and plot structure for a long time. How did those studies inform your work on this project?

Tim Stout: Great question. In short, my time studying storytelling devices like plot structure had a huge influence on the final product of Danger & Doom: Brainless
Brother. But to tell you why, I need to take a step back and say that Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother did not start out as prose. It started out as a script for an eight-page comic.
When I had written the script, along with a few others starring Danger & Doom, I knew Jason Week would be a perfect fit as the artist. We’re classmates and friends from The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS), and thanks to school projects I knew how well we worked together. But Jason’s sooo talented that he was starting to get professional illustration work and, in good conscience, I couldn’t ask him to devote the time it would take to get Danger & Doom off the ground. So I adapted the story into prose with the intent of asking Jason to do just a few spot illustrations, and as luck would have it the adaptation process brought so much more out of the simple little story that I didn’t realize was there. The premise is still the same—Danger loses his mind, literally, and Doom has to chase it down before there’s a test at school—and the final line of dialogue is the same, but almost everything else has been changed for the better. And a lot of those improvements came about because of my understanding of story structure.
Eight pages of comics is really not a lot of space (especially since they were pages of four panels each). The story was really just a set up, a punch line, and a few little jokes in between. So when I started adapting the story for prose, I analyzed it for common checkpoints in traditional plot structure and realized I only had half of a second act, a third act that was almost devoid of conflict, and a main character that really had more substance to him than I was originally presenting. Because I knew story structure, I was able to target these weak points and flesh them out.
Also, scene-by-scene, I used a system based on a presentation I gave at the CCS Summer Workshop about story structure in four-panel comic strips (see my blog post about it here). Much like the structure of a comic strip, every scene in Brainless Brother has its own Context, Premise, Death of the Premise, and Resolution. If a scene was meandering, or if I lost track of what the characters were doing and why, I returned to this framework and brainstormed for solutions.
Overall, I am an active proponent of using plot structure as a tool for organizing a story and for brainstorming. Just like a page or a strip of comics, a story must be designed for rhythm and flow in order to satisfy the reader, and providing yourself the constraints of story structure can actually enable you, as an artist, to come up with some really great solutions to gaps in your story and to edit down to what’s essential.

CA: Jason, your art provides a really wonderful addition to the text. Were the illos in the book difficult for you? Did you have to change your style or work in a different method than is normal for you?

Jason Week: Well, like Tim said, we had been bouncing the characters around for a while, so I had a decent breakdown of the character construction and a few example pieces to work from to keep the twins consistent. That helped a lot. That was where the difficulty in the illustration process collected, not in the final pieces. Especially since I was trying to inject a little bit of Paul Coker Jr. into them, and he’s an absolutely brilliant illustrator, and works far looser than I have in the past. I don’t know how much of that shows through, but it was certainly a lot of fun getting there. All the inking is digital—which I’m doing a lot of these days—but I wanted it to look as much like paper inking as possible. If I had the time I’d love to tackle future illustrations of D&D with a brush and nib.

Week's initial illo from Danger and Doom

CA: You’re charging a mere $0.99 for the ebook edition of this piece. Do you have plans to release a print edition?

TS: Yes, there are plans for a print edition once there are a few more stories to collect into a volume (I’m currently working on the second book). The price for a print-on-demand version of short fiction is a little more than I would be willing to pay, and I want readers to feel like they are getting a good deal. So, I’m glad you said “mere $0.99″. I, too, think it’s a good deal! Right now, the going rate for self-published short fiction on Amazon is $0.99-2.99, and since Brainless Brother is new to the market, I wanted to make it an easy, impulse purchase for moms and dads who want to encourage their kids to read.

CA: Why did you choose to release a short work like Brainless Brother on its own?

TS: We released Brainless Brother on its own because we didn’t have to wait until we had five or six stories written, edited and illustrated to start building an audience and getting feedback from readers.Writing short fiction is so advantageous for creators—as a way to develop a voice and a relationship with an audience—but there’s been very little financial incentive to produce them. But now, that’s different. Unlike traditional publishing, digital self-publishing provides just as much “shelf space” to novellas and short stories as it does for novels. So, a short story has just as much of an opportunity to succeed. Short fiction has been down on its luck for decades. Unless you’re John Updike or Stephen King, your short story has little chance of being published in print. But through ebooks, shorter works have a shot at being seen, read, loved, and actually make some money. This goes for comics, too. I’m very excited to see what happens with Comixology Submit and Kindle Comics Creator. What do you think about the future of digital self-publishing, Jason?

JW: I think self-publishing is a mixed bag (digitally or otherwise) because there’s just so much noise out there that getting noticed is extremely difficult. It can be really demoralizing. But the creative freedom is intoxicating, and I think that if you keep putting good work out there and continually improve, eventually you start to make headway. Regardless of length or subject matter, the most important thing is being seen. I did a webcomic for a few years with very little growth, but it did lead to quite a few jobs for me. It gave me somewhere to point to that said I could finish projects, and that I was improving as an artist. But digital self-publishing is (and probably always will be) hamstrung by a creator’s ability to drive people to the things they create. You either have to be very patient and diligent, or find someone (or in the case with CCS alum like all of us, a community) with a pre-existing audience to give you a boost. Preferably both.

CA: Brainless Brother seems like a story that uses characters the reader is already familiar with—like an episode of an animated series. What made you choose to do it that way?

TS: Yeah, there’s not a lot of setup to introduce Danger & Doom before the adventure begins. But I’m a big believer in learning who a character is through their actions and dialogue, not through the author’s narration. I’ve read so many books where the author provides the character’s entire life story in the first few pages and it has nothing to do with what’s actually going on during the moment at hand!
One of the things I love about newspaper comic strips is that, due to the limited space, there’s room for only what is absolutely essential to tell the story. The artist does not have the benefit of a lengthy character introduction everyday, and yet readers are capable of understanding a character immediately through their words and actions. That’s what I was attempting to do with Brainless Brother, and  according to feedback from kid readers they have had no trouble “getting” the characters. Of course, part of why kid readers have had no trouble “getting” the characters is because Jason hit the tone, style and energy right on the head with the illustrations. A picture is worth a thousand words and in Jason’s case that’s definitely true. Jason, I was relying on you a good deal so there wouldn’t have to be a lengthy introduction. Was it difficult to be in that position? How did you handle the sparse amount of information provided in the text?

JW: I didn’t find the information in the text particularly sparse. I just picked out the moments from the story that I thought would be fun to draw, but also important to the pacing and rhythm of the plot. In a short piece like this, there are very clearly defined places that an illustration will fit. And with you and I, Tim, part of the reason we work well together is that we have almost opposite approaches to how we create. You’re very focused on clarity and editing, and I’m in love with visual density and “chicken fat.” We balance each other out, and we know it.

TS: That’s very true.

DD_BrainlessBro2

CA: There aren’t very many ebooks for kids out there. Why do you think that is?

TS: Yeah, there aren’t a lot… yet. But there will be. There are more every day. Pulp-y ebooks for adults (romance and thrillers) took off first because e-readers were a clunky $200+ toy that made financial sense for people who regularly read $25 hardback books or who traveled frequently and hated the weight and bulk of books in their bag. Now, e-readers are thinner, lighter, less expensive, and some play movies and video games as well, all of which are big draws for parents who want to keep their kids entertained. But you don’t actually need an e-reader to read ebooks. While promoting Brainless Brother I’ve found that people don’t realize they can read ebooks through apps on their PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads, and Android smartphones.

So parents, who don’t want to shell out $100+ for an e-reader that their kid may enjoy for 10 minutes and never pick up again, could be getting affordable ebooks for their kids on devices they already own and use, but they just don’t know. Lastly, smartphones are gradually becoming commonplace. I live in New York City, and I constantly see 8-10 year old kids on their parents’ smartphones, if not their own. So once e-readers and e-reading apps become more dominant in kid culture, there will be more of a demand for titles. And we’ll be there as that happens.

CA: The backmatter states that there are more Danger & Doom stories to come: When can fans expect the next edition? Will it also be accompanied by Jason’s illustrations?

TS: I intend to have the title I’m currently working on available for Christmas, if not earlier. But I prefer quality to quantity so, like Brainless Brother, I’ll only publish when it’s ready to satisfy readers. If you want to be the first to know when it’s released, please join the Danger & Doom email list at www.DangerAndDoom.com and you’ll get an automatic email when the next Danger & Doom story is available. And I would love to continue collaborating with Jason if he can make the time! But first I’ve got to write something he could illustrate.

JW: Yeah, I couldn’t imagine not contributing to these stories as long as I have the time to do so. I like working with Tim, and I do think we bring out the best in each other. And I want to continue to refine the look of these characters and their world.

CA: Anything else you’d like to add?

TS: Thanks for letting us share about our work here on the Schultz blog. It’s
great to be back in the CCS blogosphere. To all you readers, if your child, grandchild, or a child you know wants a fun reading experience, please get Danger & Doom: Brainless Brother for your Kindle, Nook, or Kobo for $0.99. An excerpt from the book is also available in the “Book Description” section.

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

Announcing the 2013 Cartoonist Studio Prize

The Slate Book Review and the Center for Cartoon Studies are proud to announce the second annual Cartoonist Studio Prize with the following video featuring the illustrious Nicole Georges and Ponyo Georges!

Did you make a graphic novel or webcomic in 2013? Find out more about how to submit it for consideration here. Winning entries receive a $1000 prize as well as art supplies from our sponsors Copic and Strathmore.

featurebox_Slate_Book_Prize_2013

Posted in Cartoonist | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Narrative Corpse

archives_2

Every week we dig deep into our archives to shine some light on the books that excite us most. This week we shine our spotlight on the Narrative Corpse.

DSC_0424

Published in 1995, The Narrative Corpse is an experimental comics project edited by Art Spiegelman and R. Sikoryak. It is a book based on Le Cadavre Exquis (The Exquisite Corpse), the parlor game played by French Surrealists in the early 1920s. The aim was to create a graphic chain-story that eschewed traditional narrative.

The idea was first conceived of in May 1990, as a project for Raw. It wound up outliving RAW by 4 years, which closed its doors in 1991. Done entirely via correspondence, 69 cartoonists drew 3 panels after another each only seeing the 3 before them. The Narrative Corpse’s contributors list now reads as a who’s who of alternative and underground comix of the late eighties and early nineties: Kim Deitch, Debbie Drescher, Lynda Barry, Ever Meulen, Joe Sacco, Richard Sala, Savage Pencil, Jason Lutes, Julie Doucet among others!

It’s an incredible artifact in that sense.

DSC_0431

The protagonist of this book, a stick-figure named “Sticky”(pictured above), proves to be the only constant in the ensuing twisting and turning narrative. Not surprisingly, the narrative hiccups and stutters when cartoonists create a great setups only to have the situations hastily restructured by the subsequent cartoonists. Nevertheless, that’s the name of the game in this kind of collaboration.

Like many Raw Graphics publications, The Narrative Corpse is elegantly presented as a large format book .The tabbed pages greatly heighten the production value of this “jam” comic. This innovative presentation further accentuates that in the case of projects like The Narrative Corpsethe experiment is more important than its outcome.

Picture 1

While you might be hard pressed to find a copy of The Narrative Corpse to read for yourself, you can experience the lively spirit of this publication online in the Infinite Corpse, which follows the Narrative Corpse’s surrealist footsteps.

An online collaborative comic, The Infinite Corpse, has no beginning and no end. Meant to be a source of inspiration for writers and cartoonists, The Infinite Corpse takes the basic premise of The Narrative Corpse and infuses it with Scott McCloud’s idea of the “infinite canvas“. Not having to obey conventional page restrictions allows for this giant comic quilt to grow like a balloon indefinitely.

And does it ever! Do check it out, if you haven’t already!

Posted in Library, Rare Books | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dog City Rising

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.

The front of the boys' box

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.

The Boys at SPX. Courtesy dogcitypress.com

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.

Dog City 1 (Sold out)

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.

Posted in Cartoonist, Interview, New Book, Rare Books, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I CAN’T WAIT TILL TUESDAY

 

October 8th is my birthday. The fates have conspired to shower me with gifts. For starters, it’s the release date for Best American Comics 2013, and two CCS alumni Joe Lambert and Sophie Goldstein are included. Kudos Joe and Sophie and all the great cartoonists included. Looks like Jeff did a great job picking the line-up.

 

concrete-park-best-american-comics-2013

 

Another book hitting the streets that day is the new Adventures in Cartooning book, Characters in Action, that I made with two other CCS alumni, Andrew Arnold and Alexis-Frederick Frost. I love working on these books and this fourth one is a lot of fun and closer in spirit to the first book in its mix of story and instruction. There’s even a Seth inspired character making a cameo on the back cover.

 

04.-AIC_Ch_LowRes

 

Tuesday is also the premiere of CCS and Slate’s biweekly cartoon feature, 12 Panel Pitch. This will feature lots of great cartoonists who’ve spent some time at CCS including Connor Willumsen, Melanie Gillman, and Sasha Steinberg. Plus work by Tom DeHaven, R. Sikoryak, and Todd Alcott.

 

Story by Sasha Steinberg and art by Connor Willumsen

Story by Sasha Steinberg and art by Connor Willumsen

 

And finally, I will be celebrating my birthday Tuesday night with my family in Lincoln, MA. My wife, Rachel Gross, is included in the 2013 deCordava Biennial.  Oh, yes!

 

Echo Lane by Rachel Gross

Echo Lane by Rachel Gross

 

Now if only Tom Spurgeon mentions my birthday on The Comics Reportermy day will be complete :)

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

YOUNG TURKS: The Schulz Library’s new tenders

This summer, following a bloody coup and a drastic overturn of power, a new junta has installed itself behind the librarian’s desk at the Schulz Library. Crawling over the mewling and broken bodies of their enemies,  punch-cards clutched in their clenched teeth, Dewey decimal references tattooed across their bulging biceps, new librarians Dan Rinylo (CCS ’13) and Simon Reinhardt (’14) promise to run the lending institution with fists of iron. This reporter took time this July to speak to the new rulers of the stacks about their plans for the library.

schulz_sun

CA: Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you guys are the new librarians here at the Schulz Library. I guess we should start with y’all introducing yourselves. Where are you from?

Steely Simon

Behind Simon Reinhardt’s wholesome facade hides a cold-hearted, unforgiving despot

SR: I’m Simon Reinhardt, I’m from Williamstown, MA originally. I live here in White River Junction now. I’m 25…

CA: What’s your shoe size?

SR: 9 ½? I think? 10 ½?

CA: We should trade shoes.

Steel Hammer Dan

Dan Rinylo, known to enemies as “The Steel Hammer,” poses with a weighty tome

DR: I’m Dan Rinylo, my shoe size is 10 ½.  I’m 24. I’m originally from New Jersey. I just graduated in May, and I’m sticking around White River and working at the Library, lovin’ it. I’m also extremely busy with other things…comics, a big project with a few other people and the Inky Solomon Center…

SR: I co-edit an anthology called Dog City, and we’re working on our second issue right now. We’re hoping to get that out in early September for SPX. [A post about Dog City and its editors is on the slate for early October.--Ed.] And I’m also just working on my own comics, working here at the library…

CA: Did either of you have any experience before this working for book-lending institutions?

DR:  No, I hadn’t. But I’ve always loved recommending books to people, and I feel like I’m constantly running a library through my own home. I’ve got books lent out to people right now, I’m borrowing books from people. Same goes for movies and stuff. I’m just always trying to spread my knowledge and gain more knowledge of comics. Because that’s my heart.

SR: I worked for a summer in the interlibrary loan department of the Williams College Library when I was in high school. Other than that I don’t have any real library experience, but like Dan, I do lend out a lot of books and read a lot of books, borrow a lot of books…which I think, in terms of working here, has been more relevant, since it is a comics library and I read a lot of comic books. I mean, everybody in this town reads a lot of comic books.

CA: How is this different from your experience [at Williams College]?

SR: A lot of what I would do was just walk from one branch of the library to another, carting books around. Here, it’s such a small library that everybody does everything. I mean, everybody breaks down into their special projects, but everybody’s aware of what’s going on with everybody else and working on everything. So you have to know everything about all the different parts of the library. It’s been really interesting.

CA: Do you have any particular goals in working for the library?

DR: One goal that comes to mind is to get more books over here [in the Post Office building]. We have a lot, a lot, a lot more books in off-site at the Telegraph Building, and we’re constantly getting new arrivals and cataloguing new books. And I’m trying to get as much of it over here as possible, because there’s so much good stuff.

SR: We have great stuff off-site. It’s something a lot of people aren’t aware of; I think a lot of people come in here and just assume that if you don’t see it on the shelves here, we don’t have it; when in reality, there’s a lot of stuff that we have off-site that I wasn’t aware of until I started working here. It’s pretty exciting. It’s all in the online catalog!

DR: We’re trying to get people to realize that we have so much more!

 SR: There’s just so much great stuff here in the library that people don’t know about. I want to showcase that a little more. The donation that we got from RAW has some really amazing books. I think doing something to notify people that “Hey, we’ve got all of RAW now.” Those books are really hard to find… I was just looking through our catalogue: we have a ton of zines from really notable people who’ve gone on to do big graphic novels, there’s a lot of old stuff from Kevin Huizenga which is really cool… We’re working on making that [section] a little more manageable. That’s probably going to entail a curated selection showing the highlights of the zine collection and more recent stuff in the library and storing the rest off-site, so that if you want to come in here and look at zines and just browse, you’ll be seeing the real cream of the crop, of which there’s a lot.
Another project we’re working on is being more active in collecting zines: we’d be setting aside some of our acquisitions budget…to actually go and purchase notable zines, so we’d have the new Michael Deforge minicomic in our library. Or whoever it might be.

CA: That brings me to my next question: Which sections would you like to see get more traffic?

DR: Erotica. I haven’t seen anyone check out any erotica, ever. It’s got those lovely tassels up there, too. It’s a very decorated shelf.

SR: There’s some of the great European cartoonists are pretty well-represented up there as well.

DR: I’d say the section that gets the most traffic is just the general graphic novels section, but I would like to see more people checking out weekly and daily strips, and the monthlies that we have. We have so much good stuff, and so much more off-site.

SR: I find myself increasingly interested in everything other than the graphic novels section…Recently I’ve been really excited about the comics reference section. We have a ton of great books about comics…some of which are not easy to find. It’s a really cool thing that’s specific to this library that I’d like to showcase a little bit more and have people take advantage of.

CA: Do you guys have any events or anything that you’re planning with the Library?

DR: We’re trying to raise awareness of how many books we have. The Center for Cartoon Studies does go to every convention, pretty much, and the library is represented there. We’re thinking about making a donation box where people can donate their minis, their books or whatever. You can just drop by the table and drop off a book. Just another way to get more books here.

SR: That would be a really great thing to have. As far as events go, there aren’t a lot of specific events planned right now, but I would really like to have tours of off-site and archive to showcase some of the stuff from the collection there, or just one of the librarians putting together a little selection here and giving a brief talk about some of the books we have. I think having reading events in here would be really nice. Getting people in here for events beyond just coming in to browse or chat or take books out would be really great.

CA: So what’s up with the rare books section?

DR:  I know they’re not borrowable. With the student work and stuff like that, stuff that’s not borrowable, you’re totally allowed to come in and request it. I’ve come in, before I started working here, and asked for books that I knew we had, and someone would go get it and bring it over, and tell me “just be here on so-and-so day and you can read it.” I knew we had Brian Chippendale’s Ninja [which is] oversize, and I wanted to read it, but I knew I couldn’t check it out. Someone brought it over for me and I sat down and read it. It’s the same with the rare books. Anything that’s not borrowable you can just sit down and read it. We have, in instructional reference, the Famous Artists Cartoon Course, collected in a binder. You can’t check it out, but we do have a scanner here, and if you wanted to photocopy or scan some pages just for your personal files, that’s totally cool. It might be the same for certain rare books, but some of them might be fragile old stuff.

CA: Is there anything else y’all wanted to say?

DR: Come in and read comics!

SR: Yeah, come in and read comics. I’ll yell at you about why you should read Jack Cole.

DR: I’ll force Nancy down your throat.

CA: Just cram that Sluggo right in there.

Ain't nothin' but a G thang

Posted in Academia, Interview, Library | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating the Freedom to Read Comics

The American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week celebration runs from September 22nd through the 28th this year, and we’re taking the opportunity to showcase hot items in the library. Last year CCS and the Schulz teamed up with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) to add a permanent Banned Comics section to the collection, and there’s news and a handful of new books to highlight. (For those curious about why this is an ongoing issue, there’s a general rundown at the end.) Let’s get to it!

Comics or contraband? Notable unseens: Tank Girl, In the Night Kitchen, Ice Haven, and The Color of Earth.

Comics or contraband? Notable unseens: Tank Girl, In the Night Kitchen, Ice Haven, and The Color of Earth.

It’s hard to get far on comics censorship without mentioning Dr. Fredric Wertham, who penned the popular 1954 exposé Seduction of the Innocent, and in February Professor Carol Tilley of the University of Illinois revealed that—based on Wertham’s own notes—he fudged much of his data. That was big news, and we’ll get into why shortly.

Banned in Iran ... and Chicago.

Banned in Iran … and Chicago. Image courtesy of ComicsClassGo.blogspot.com

Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning memoir Persepolis was removed from Chicago Public Schools in March and joined fine company on the Banned Comics list, which features such other landmarks as Maus, Bone, Fun Home, Sandman, Watchmen, and Stuck Rubber Baby. The move contradicted their own curriculum, incited widespread irritation, and was made fuzzy by quick emails from CPS to “clarify” its position. This apparent backtrack was met with deep skepticism. (Perhaps most interesting: CPS stated that the book will still be available in school libraries, and a spokesperson for the Chicago Teachers Union pointed out that 160 of their schools don’t have libraries.)

Farzat: "They broke my hands to stop me drawing Assad."

Farzat: “They broke my hands to stop me drawing Assad.”

In addition to Persepolis, we’re including suppressed comics for the first time—works that don’t make it into libraries or even trigger violence against their creators. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s pornographic Lost Girls is often omitted from collections (and stores) despite Moore’s renown, and its international distribution has been uncertain. In 2011, famed Syrian political cartoonist and publisher Ali Farzat‘s hands were broken by masked gunmen, and A Pen of Damascus Steel introduces his work to Western readers. Finally, the hard-to-find Impact of Serious Humour collects work by Nigerian artist and editor Albert Ohams, whose visit to CCS last year made quite an impression; during the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, he had to leave the country. For more information on suppressed speech and human rights, check out Amnesty International’s Banned Books Week resources.

Look for the Seal

Vintage Comics Code sticker courtesy of MyConfinedSpace.com.

Now back to Wertham, and our industry’s long history of censorship: Comics with sexual content, nudity, profanity, violence, and/or GBLTQ themes are frequently challenged in libraries thanks to the still-widespread misconception that they’re only meant (or suited) for children. This stigma has followed American comics at least since the 1954 Senate subcommittee Juvenile Delinquency Hearings, where the medium was scapegoated for leading our nation’s youngsters astray. Dr. Wertham was a key witness in these hearings, which is why Prof. Tilley’s research into his papers has been such a big deal.

The hearings and ensuing public pressure led a handful of publishers to create the recently-defunct Comics Code Authority, a watchdog group that reviewed all comics before printing. (You may recognize their Seal of Approval, which now belongs to the CBLDF.) Nearly all publishers bowed to their regulations—Dell Comics was a notable holdout, relying on its own strong reputation—and it kept horror and crime comics out of the marketplace. This put major competitor EC Comics out of business despite the now-legendary creative chops of its writers and artists, and even initially rejected a 1970 issue of DC Comics’ House of Secrets for the writer’s surname: Wolfman.

The CBLDF's latest t-shirt features EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines.

The CBLDF’s latest t-shirt features EC Comics publisher Bill Gaines.

Long story short, mature themes were erased from comics for decades—either from direct censorship or the chilling effect the Code had on what folks were willing to risk publishing. The underground comix revolution of the 1960s and ’70s is arguably a backlash against this suppression, and that’s a post for another day!

Katie Moody

Librarian, the Center for Cartoon Studies

 

Posted in Academia, Comics Reference, Historic, Library | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Big Noise: Joseph Lambert on Fairy Tale Comics

Center for Cartoon Studies alumnus and Eisner-award-winning graphic novelist Joseph Lambert was recently invited by editor Chris Duffy to participate in Fairy Tale Comics, Duffy’s second children’s comics anthology for First Second.

image courtesy of Amazon.com

Eleanor Davis contributed this lighthearted and playful cover

“Chris and I have known each other or a few years,” Lambert said. “We have similar tastes so we always end up chatting at conventions.”

Lambert’s piece in Fairy Tale Comics is an adaptation from Dora Lee Newman’s retelling of the traditional American folktale “Br’er Rabbit Won’t Help,” in which the titular trickster gets his just desserts from the other animals of the forest.

JL's phenomenal first panel

 

“Chris chose the Bre’er Rabbit story for me,” Lambert said. “He’s given me positive feedback about my comics in the past, and I think he thought I would be a good fit because of the musical element, and the mischievous animal characters, both elements are things I have played with in the past.”

Joe Lambert: Dedicated to the art of moving butts

 

“Rabbit Will Not Help” features several sequences in which Rabbit plays music, expressed by flowing, brambly, abstract shapes that float in the air above the characters’ heads.

“Playing with those types of non-physical elements always feels like a natural progression from all of the other non-physical things that are traditionally represented in comics,” Lambert said. “Things like sweat drops or motion lines, sound effects or even word balloons or just words in general; all of those things are non-physical things that, over the decades, have been played with and become part of the comics lexicon.
“So it’s a little bit like taking the rules of time-tested cartooning and trying to be inventive within that context.”

Lambert's Rabbit is kind of a jerk, but lays down some tasty licks

 

Fairy Tale Comics is due to be released in bookstores nationwide on September 24. The anthology also features stories by Emily Carroll, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Raina Talgemeier, Jillian Tamaki, and Craig Thompson, among others. The book will soon be available in the Schulz Library.

Posted in Cartoonist, CCS Alumni, Children Literature, Interview, New Book | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exit Interview: Connor Willumsen

Connor_photo

When Connor Willumsen expressed interest in being the 2012-2013 CCS Fellow I wasn’t familiar with his work. One visit to his website was all I needed to be convinced that he was a cartoonist who not only created compelling images but, as this brief interview demonstrates, possesses a sharp and probing intellect.

JS: When I first encountered your work it was clear you could draw whatever the hell you wanted and there seemed like a really vigorous attempt to challenge yourself and perhaps your audience. Would that be a fair statement of where you were at when you first arrived at CCS?

CW: When you say ‘draw whatever the hell you wanted’ I take it that you mean in a sort of technical or representational way as opposed to content? That is fair. I have had a tendency, which seems natural but is probably only cultural, to explore that sort of western-style technical proficiency and am really helplessly interested in available tools and format. When it comes to drawing I tend to have a sort of craft person’s perspective. I think that any of my personal challenge is a result of this approach being at odds with or even negating certain definitions of being an artist who has faculty and engages with history. Unfortunately, I am not more than vaguely aware of my audience or who they are, so any challenge of them is usually accidental.

Untitled-1

JS: Can you unpack this for me a little? What do you mean by engaging with history? Does the relative degree of a cartoonist’s faculty impact the way they engage history?

CW: When I say “engaging history” I mean having a sensitive awareness of your surroundings, but a surrounding that is not restricted to an immediate or specific time and place. I would also include the future into this definition of history, it being a potential history. I don’t necessarily mean it in terms of a history textbook, or the history of comics, like an exclusive document of the past. Uh, I think of it as an external, non idiom-based pursuit that hopefully creates the conditions for illumination or discovery or meaning or whatever it is a person might be particular about finding. When I get a little off-track with a definition I like to hit the Online Etymology Dictionary, and in this case I think it’s appropriate to quote from the “History” entry: “….from root *weid- “to know,” literally “to see” (see vision).” Maybe to understand the history of a word, for example, is to understand it in a wider dimension as opposed to a more correct one? Thinking about it, I like to consider a cartoonist or artist’s faculty as a result of being engaged with history, as opposed to a faculty that impacts the way they engage with history. Like you become very obviously more equipped as a result.

JS: Is this just a roundabout way that drawing is a way of seeing (as history, if I understand the way you are defining the word correctly, is synonymous with seeing)?

CW: It’s nice to extrapolate enough meaning from the words ‘drawing’ and ‘history’ that they can stand in relationship. This could be a way to word it: History can be a way of seeing, and drawing is bearing the vision.

treasure_island_willumsen_02

JS: I like that. Did you have specific goals in mind for your year in WRJ?

CW: I would not call them specific. The most substantial idea I had was living in a sort of mental space that was intentionally void of vision or goal-driven creative ambition by taking advantage of what I assumed would be an extremely isolated setting. I wanted to facilitate a situation where my obligations were as aimless as they ever had been, cultivate a patient boredom, and see what materialized in the vacuum. I was looking forward to a lot of reading and the arbitrary research of whatever. That’s not to say I meant to be unproductive, at all, but the idea was to play around with my priorities. I had a few books in mind that I wanted to start or continue making, but had an idea that those plans were likely to change and at this point I can’t remember what those books were.

JS: This seems like a healthy approach, letting your path organically reveal itself as opposed to having some specific project in mind. Maybe this is the difference between being a commercial artist and being an artist?

CW: Maybe so. The commercial aspect is so deeply essential in this time and place on planet earth that it cannot be removed by any method that I am aware of. Narrowing it down a little further, this might be the difference between being driven by a career and being driven by an interest that has no obvious practical merit.

JS: “Obvious” being the key word. Is it too early to glean how living among so many cartoonists and the constant stream of visiting artists impacted your work?

CW: That sort of self-reflection is a too obscure for me to deal with. Obviously it had an impact but I don’t think I’m in a position to locate it. I don’t know if I am more integrated into the tradition of the craft or if I’m having some sort of reactionary inclination. Is there a difference? It’s complicated to define yourself with a tradition. There was something interesting happening when cartoonists of a wide variety would mingle. Technical discussions would often turn into sort of emotional debates about basic ideologies. There was a lot of questioning and provocation. The constant arguing seemed more academic in that way than my previous art school experiences. I remember that the Scott McCloud talks produced an intense anxiety in the room. Everyone had something to say and the antagonizing principle seemed to be whether or not you considered technological progress to necessarily be a good thing. We were all prefacing cautious condemnations with “Is there a fear that…” which seemed to really I mean, “I am afraid of.” It got really personal.

JS: It is personal! And more than just an academic argument. As a young cartoonist, I couldn’t define who I was as a cartoonist but it was much easier to identify what I didn’t want to be and, in a general way, define my aspirations. By constantly reading comics I was looking for doors to walk through, looking for fruitful directions to explore. That anxiety you speak of is likely the fear that someone may never become the cartoonist they aspire to be. At that age, fellow students, every visiting artist, can challenge who you think you are as a cartoonist. Eventually you start defining yourself —by what you are about and not just in constant opposition to something else. This is a messy process.

panel2

CW: It seems like there is a lot of energy spent figuring out where to belong, but I think most cartoonists would hate to discover that they obviously belong to a group. I think it is a reverberative stress on the artist that one of the great traditions of art in this part of the world is rejecting tradition. Maybe the cartoonist today feels displaced from the traditions of cartooning related to commerce and pop culture, so there is an aggressive frontier attitude committed to finding alternatives.

JS: I think that aggressive frontier attitude is an essential part of any medium’s growth. There’s pleasure to be had in DC or Marvel or more mainstream fare but that is certainly not where you’d look if you wanted to get a sense of where comics are headed. You did aborted gigs at both Marvel and DC. Did it feel too restrictive?

CW: It was restrictive, but I tried not to let it feel that way and went forward as if it wasn’t. As I worked I ignored as best as I could the obvious and justified stigma those books have in regards to quality. I sensed a certain disapproval of that approach, and a lack of faith in my ability to cartoon, which I would call fair enough. I was familiar with how these companies produce their books, so I tried to cover myself by making a clear agreement of what I would be allowed to do up front, so that when I was met with opposition to this agreement I would have the option to discontinue if I felt uncomfortable. There were points in comics history where, if you were making money drawing comics, the freedoms that I tried to arrange were commonplace. Now, with these mainstream corporate projects, the validation to try anything seems like an extraordinary privilege. It’s too bad.

JS: Tell me about the project you created during your time at CCS?

CW: I made a 55-page book called Treasure Island that I had hit an easy stride with. I made it near the end of the school year and in a short amount of time. I planned very little. I think I was calm enough or had absorbed enough that I was prepared to burn through it quickly. There was comparatively little anxiety in making that book.

JS: One of things that’s so thrilling about your work is on one hand you have such great control (level of craft) but at the same time it’s clear you are willing to let the work organically develop without trying to over think it. Do you think there is a qualitative difference in your work that’s produced with less anxiety or is just more enjoyable to produce?

CW: It is more enjoyable to produce, but I wouldn’t claim that it necessarily makes the work better. I don’t think it’s the type of thing where the reader can sense the tranquility of the author. The specific anxiety that was diminished was of the career progress sort. It’s unattractive when I notice that subterfuge in my own work. That anxiety is more interesting to me as a subject than as an ulterior motive.

JS: Without my ample supply of anxiety and stress I doubt I’d have ever found my way to my drawing board. What’s next for you, Connor? Anything you’re working on now you feel comfortable sharing?

CW: I’m talking to some of these new micro publishers about having my work printed and distributed. Some of it would be new, some of it would be old, but I’ll avoid being specific about it. I’m excited to have my work in people’s hands for a change. Otherwise, I’m trying to figure how I’m going to be able to keep doing what I’m doing both in the short and long term, whether or not I’ll make any money doing it. It’s a funny time to get started with this medium and it’s easy to be embarrassed about art in general in the face of everything else, but that seems like cop out. I think a shift of expectation is required. There is that frontier quality we mentioned, engendered by the erosion of thought and the usual creative channels, and I’m hopeful to explore that landscape more than anything. I think culture is painfully starved for new images of worth and there is a lot of need and room for artists with faculty. If I have a goal, it’s to be a part of that in some way.

More information about CCS’s Fellowship can be found here.

panel3

Posted in Cartoonist, Interview, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

CCS at Fantacon’s 2013 Revival

fantaconfslice8_r1_c3-1

2013 marks the return of Fantacon, the popular Albany-are comics and horror convention. It’s been 23 years since its initial run as a convention from 1979 to 1990, but Fantacon is officially back, better than ever.

Here are a few of the CCS books that will be debuting at the exciting return of Fantacon.

-4

Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World pt 3 - Carl Antonowitz (Class of 2011)

Gabi and Caleb are a couple of kids with problems. Gabi’s living room is taken up by a portal to the lightless center of the universe, and Caleb is hounded (literally) by a Black Dog that scares the bejeezus out of him every time it shows up. Do they have any chance at a normal relationship? Does anyone?

Debuting at Fantacon, this is third chapter in the existential/horror/romance graphic novel, in which more is revealed about the Dog, Caleb’s romantic history, and also his alcohol tolerance. Also, Gabi gets mad and Em stares unblinking into the dark core of eternity, as usual.

Curious readers can find  parts 1 and 2 on Carl’s site for free!

fuckitposter

Also by Carl: Inspired by the great El-P, this handsome print features skywritten profanity and lewd gestures. Not for kids. 7.75x17ish in, full-color digital print, 80pt Kromekote stock.

Carl Antonowicz is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies, Texan, and ferret enthusiast. He tweets incessantly (@cantocomix), tumblrs occasionally, and blogs rarely. He lives in White River Junction, VT, where he is working on the next part of his existential/horror/romance graphic novel the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World.

_HUSK_COVER

 HUSKIan Richardson (Class of 2013)

HUSK is a fantasy horror comic about a stranger in a strange land.

Ian Richardson is a horror cartoonist and a recent graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies. He lives in New England where horror stories tend to write themselves. Ian can be found at: http://solidempty.tumblr.com and sometimes at: https://twitter.com/SaltyRound

 

-2

The Legend of the Loup-GarouDenis St. John (Class of 2008)

A 32 page horror comic about two sisters from New Orleans going to the swamp and finding out the legend of the cajun werewolf, Loup-Garou, that hunts down and eats lapsed Catholics is far more than a myth.  Full of violence and strangeness, this comic reads like a cross between a pre-code horror comic and a 70′s exploitation flick!

photo-main

Bingo BabyDenis St. John (Class of 2008 ), Joseph Lambert (Class of 2008 ), Jason Lutes (Faculty), Donna Almendrala (Class of 2012), Bill Bedard (Class 0f 2012)

This 72 page collaborative graphic novel is the project by produced by Penny Lantern, a group of cartoonists lead by Jason Lutes (in association with the Center for Cartoon Studies) which aims to create and publish a collaborative graphic novel each year. The story was created through an improve story telling game and centers around the down and out exploits of the residents of a small Vermont town, dealing with crime, bingo, babies, and more!

-3

 

Monster Pie 2! Edited by Denis St. John (Class of 2008) and Stephen R. Bissette (Faculty)

This 80 page giant monster fan zine features page after page of monster illustrations, movie reviews, comics, and more!  Any monster kids out there won’t be disappointed by this truly monstrous mag!

Denis St. John creates homemade horror comics.  His first graphic novel, Amelia, was finished in 2012 and is available on his etsy shop,  Since Amelia he has been working on other comics, including a web horror story called The Legend of the Loup Garou,  Bingo Baby, a collaborative graphic novel created with other Center For Cartoon Studies alumni and Jason Lutes, and a monster fan zine series with Steve Bissette called Monster Pie!  More info is available at his blog,  and tumblr.

 

-1

Night TerrorJesse Durona (Class of 2011)

Night Terror is an 8-page mini-comic that borrows its atmosphere heavily from The Twilight Zone, except that it’s adorably drawn. It’s appropriate for all-ages, with a tiny warning about some scary imagery.  What lurks in the dead of night?  For one unfortunate little boy, the answer will soon come to light.

Jesse DuRona is a cartoonist living in the green mountain state, and a 2011 graduate from the Center for Cartoon Studies.  His style has been described as “cute and creepy.”  He enjoys making comics that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages!  His work can be found at www.therealdurona.com

Also present at Fantacon will be Randall Drew and Christopher “Radical” Warren!

Randall Drew is a Vermont Cartoonist with a NY soul! From the Capital Region of NY, he is a 2010 graduate of the Center For Cartoon Studies in WRJ, VT where he continues to live and work. A printer by day, he works on his fantasy web comic Citadel by night. He has illustrated for books; interior and cover art, album art for musicians and bands out of the video game arrangement community OcRemix.org, and is currently co-editing a Super Nintendo themed comics and art anthology called Beyond Mode 7 with fellow graduate Jesse Durona, to be released in early 2014! www.randalldrew.com

Christopher “Radical” Warren is a cartoonist. He writes weird fiction. He is a New England native and is currently alive. Flamejob.net

 

 

Posted in CCS Alumni, Conventions, New Book, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment