About the Blog
The Schulz Library is packed with zines, graphic novels, cartoon collections, and related ephemera— an amazing and inspirational resource for The Center for Cartoon Studies students and faculty.
This blog is a way to share our enthusiasm for the incredible collection!
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Tag-O-RamaAlec Longstreth Andy Warner Beth Hetland Bill Bedard cartoonists Cartoon Studies CCS CCS Alum CCS Alumni CCS student work Center for Cartoon Studies Children's Books Colleen Frakes comic books Comics comic strips Dakota McFadzean Fantagraphics First Second Graphic Novels James Sturm Jason Lutes Jen Vaughn Joe Lambert Jon Chad Joseph Lambert Julie Delporte Katie Moody Laura Terry manga Max de Radiguès Melanie Gillman Melissa Mendes mini comics Nomi Kane Sasha Steinberg Schulz Library self publishing SPX Steve Bissette Survey of the Drawn Story I essay teaching comics Visiting Artist white river junction zines
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.
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.
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!
“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
Harry Bliss sent along this audio tribute:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
CCS Alum Sophie Goldstein (Class of 2013) is a comics powerhouse. Although she only graduated this May, Goldstein has had an extremely productive year of cartooning. Her work has recently been appearing in a host of reputable venues. It’s been quite a year for her in terms of publications.
A slew of her extremely polished work began to appear in the world upon her graduation in May. Goldstein self-published part 1 of her psychological sci-fi drama, House of Women and exhibited it at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. After House of Women‘s publication, Goldstein got right to work and began to craft Edna 2, the story of one man’s determination to resist the society around him. This October Edna 2 was published online by Study Group Magazine and in print in Irene 3, the comics anthology spearheaded by 2012 CCS graduates Dakota McFadzean, Dave Weinar and Andy Warner. If all that weren’t enough, in late October, The Good Wife, a short story written in 2012, appeared in The Best American Comics 2013.
Just last week Goldstein launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring the 360 strip long web comics series that she wrote and drew with Jenn Jordan from 2009 to 2013, Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell, into print. The campaign was successfully funded in 4 days. Suffice to say that Goldstein’s work is getting the attention it deserves.
“Darwin lives in Brooklyn, the borough of choice for hipsters, artists, deities and an assortment of mythological creatures. Darwin has a problem. Due to an unfortunate incident involving some intense snogging, an unbalanced high chair, and a framed image of the Buddha, he acquired a massive karmic deficit. Long story short, he’s going to go to Hell. Darwin doesn’t particularly want to go to Hell, so he’s doing everything he can to save his immortal soul.”
The forthcoming print collection of Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell(DCiGtH) will bring together the entire run of this series, along with behind-the-scenes commentary, concept art and other miscellanea. Those interested in copies should definitely check out the Kickstarter campaign to learn more.
I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Sophie about her adventures in webcomics with DCiGtH.
Juan Fernandez: You started DCiGtH in 2009 and kept it going until 2013. During two of those years you were a CCS student. Writing a webcomic of a high calibre without missing weekly updates is tough. How did you keep DCiGtH going strong while you balanced the work load at CCS?
Sophie Goldstein: When I first applied to CCS and I was having my phone interview with James Sturm to test whether I was insane, you know, as he does, I told him that I was doing this webcomic. He said, “Oh yeah, you probably won’t be able to keep that up while you’re here.”
So, in anticipation of that we went from updating twice a week to once a week, which caused endless consternation among our readers that we just never heard the end of! I worked up a big buffer so the first semester of the first year was buffered. After that it was very stressful, but I had been doing DCiGtH for so long that I could do it a little on automatic. We had written far ahead and I was thumb nailing it far ahead, which is itself a kind of writing. The drawing, coloring and inking I could do even when i was under a lot of pressure. I think we only missed one update and it was because I forgot to load the strip. It wasn’t that it wasn’t there. It was just that I forgot to upload it. That made me die a little inside because we went so long and it was just one update! I couldn’t ever say that we had never missed an update.
JF: Besides other webcomics, what kind of comics were you reading in college, before you started DCiGtH?
SG: Mostly Vertigo. That was probably because my friend Steve who lived across the hall had all the Vertigos. He had them as trades. He had a lot of single issue stuff but that doesn’t fit in your college dorm room. There’s only so many long boxes you can really house in an NYU dorm room.
Then I started reading more of the indie stuff, like stuff D+Q publishes and Fantagraphics publishes, Fantagraphics particulary. I was into Jaime Hernandez and Craig Thompson and I was really into Dave Cooper, which probably says something about me.
Oh, Dan Clowes! I really loved Dan Clowes. And Adrian Tomine. The big names of indie comics.
JF: DCiGtH has such a strong central arc. Did you know how you wanted to wrap up the story from the beginning or were you just starting with an interesting premise and going from there?
SG:Well, vaguely, to avoid spoilers, I think that when we had first talked about it, I remember we wanted to start a story arc right away. That would be the one story arc and then we started posting and we had shorter story lines. Our first ones were 4 strips long then our next one was 8 strips long and they just grew and grew. We enjoyed it, so we decided, “Well, we’ll just play around in the world and you know we’ll get to the longer arc later.” We always had a vague idea of “Well, darwin’s on this redemption path. that’s the big story. Darwin Carmichael is going to hell. He needs to try to avoid that.” I think in the back of my head I knew how it would end. I don’t know if Jenn had different ideas, but in the end we agreed that the ending was the only one that could be satisfying from an artistic standpoint
JF: It seems that there was a really strong creative back and forth between you and Jenn in the writing process. How did the two of you split the creative responsibilities when working on the strip?
SG: Well, there’s some strips that are called “Skittles’ Owner” and those particular strips are drawn by Skittles in crayon. Those strips are drawn by Jenn, but really by Skittles.
I did all the art for the regular strips. In terms of writing, we really wrote it together. We used a shared Google document. We would talk about the plot and would figure out what was going to happen in each strip. We would divvy up the strips and then we’d check each others stuff. It was a really collaborative process to the point that a lot of the time I don’t know who wrote particular strips or who wrote particular lines. The lines that I really remember are the ones that Jenn wrote that I find hysterically funny because those really stuck out. There’s a strip that we have about these unicorns with some very lewd language and it was the funniest. You can watch someone type in google docs, which is very weird, and I watched her write the line, then erase it. I typed “NONONONO, we absolutely have to keep that line!”
JF: DCiGtH has an extremely strong and loyal fan base. How did you build this kind of audience?
SG: When we started, really early on, Project Wonderful was a thing. It was, and still is this thing created by Ryan North, who does Dinosaur Comics. Basically, you bid on ad spaces on other webcomics. That was helpful. When you’re readership is just your mom, any more readers is a bonus.
The other big breakthrough that we had was by doing guest strips. I got introduced to Yuko Ota and Ananth Panagariya (Johnny Wander) IRL. Then I ended up doing a guest strip for them. It was really great. Somehow Spike from Templar, Arizona found our comic and linked to it and that was really big thing. My boyfriend Carl read my strip before we met and he found it through spike. I met other people who found my comic through Templar, Arizona. So, this link did everything for my life! I think that having that was the first really basic thing. Then you hit kind of a point where things gather their own momentum.
JF: When web cartoonists package their web comics for print, it seems that many of them retouch their early art. Are you doing any touching up of colors or redrawing of any kind? Are you redoing any strips?
SG: Oh god, I don’t think I want to even start with that because, literally, where would it end? We’re doing some color retouching because the early strips were done in RGB and a book is printed CMYK. My ignorance of that is coming to fruition right now. Then we’re going to add white panel borders to all the strips. They’re not in the early strips. We were doing black borders, that now look tacky to me. And we’re copyediting because there are some serious spelling and grammar errors that need to be rectified. They’re not charming and they interfere with the reading experience.
JF: I heard you’re no longer actively seeking to make money off of illustration or work for hire comics. Could you talk a little more about what your current relationship with comics making is now that you’ve graduated from CCS?
SG: Well, when I first came to CCS I had an attitude, that wasn’t necessarily career oriented, rather a kind of knee jerk one where I thought, “If i’m making money, then I’ve arrived.” So the idea having people pay for my comics, pay for me to do comics seemed like the goal. That’s what I wanted in my life. And then, as I did some of that, it was great, they were paying me, they liked my art, but I wasn’t proud of those comics They were not rewarding to me. It’s a huge time suck. No matter how much they pay you it’s not worth the amount of time you spend and time is a finite quantity.
So my current thing is that I have the day job and I can count on my rent and everything else. When I’m drawing comics it’s comics that I’m doing specifically for me. I have done stuff for money but it’s the kind of thing where it’s not someone who doesn’t know my work. It’s someone who is familiar with my comics is approaching me because they like my comics, not just my art. So that sort of stuff I’m still into, but there’s not enough money to really compensate for not having the time to work on the stories that are closest to my heart.
JF: On that note, are you chipping away at House of Women right now, or have you put that off to rest for a while?
SG: It’s on the back burner. At the moment, I’m working on a 72 page science fiction, story that is unrelated to House of Women. It’s more related to some of the other stuff that I’ve done. The kind that could be set in the same world. It’ll be in six twelve page installments. Which doesn’t seem very long, but it’s good, It’ll give me a deadline to get things done.
JF: Wonderful, I can’t wait to see the story unfold. Thanks for your time, Sophie.
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.
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.
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.
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.