by Kevin Czap
While there are certainly endless avenues to explore just in the vicinity of the craft of comics (and believe me, I could pass the night away just gabbing about them), I think sometimes it helps to step back and get some perspective. A breath of fresh air if you will. It’s important to remember that comics, like any art, is directly tied to the living complex culture that they’re created in. Regular human beings put in the time and effort to make these amazing things that effect us so significantly, and I think it’s useful to think about environments that these folks live in.
Making comics is often noted for being a terribly solitary pursuit. There’s the long-standing stereotype of the hermit cartoonist, a curmudgeon who rarely spends time with other people and devotes their surplus spare time holed up in a room chained to a drawing table. I’m sure we can think of some who fit this description, but it’s also not difficult to think of many exceptions. Regardless of any validity to this perception, comics is inherently a medium of multiplicity. I’m not just talking about juxtaposed panels here — as many small-pressers or self-publishers can tell you, if there’s no one around to read your comic it may as well be making no sound at all.
Art is about people. About the makers, their insights and responses to the world, about the audience who interacts with the work and more. As a thing in the world, comic books live or die based on the network of human hands that tend to it. The history of the form is where it is today, in this golden age, because of all the dedicated individuals who have cooperated over time and place to preserve and support the many many comics artists over time. We’ve reached a great point in time, to be sure.
Going back to focus in on the specific creator or creators of a work, I’ve been interested in thinking about we rely on our local scenes to continue making work. A scene is really the ecosystem a cartoonist works in, comprised of a network of friends, fellow cartoonists, institutions or establishments that aid in getting the work made and even the local flavor of a town. Often times the emotional climate (or hell, the physical climate, too) of a place can be felt through the work that comes out of it.
I’ve been living in Cleveland for almost eight years now, most of that time I was at school. Like most people, the social and artistic network I was a part of through college was formative in the extreme. I hung around the town after graduation, for a few reasons, not least of them being a somewhat romantic view of this whole scene concept (I hope that doesn’t sour the tone of this article for you). Here’s how I see it…
I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, which is a suburb neighboring Washington DC. While I was never directly involved in any kind of DC scene, the effects of the punk scene (of which Ian MacKaye and Fugazi were integral) could be felt in the genetic makeup of my highschool experience. Anyway, to make a long story short, one of the reasons DC had such a strong punk scene was a number of native Washingtonians decided to eschew advice to go to New York or LA, and to plant roots right where they were. The result is living history that had a significant impact on rock music in general.
Anyway, following a similar train of thought, who’s to say I can’t make comics here in Cleveland? It doesn’t hurt that two of my absolute heroes in comics, Harvey Pekar and Bill Watterson, were/are Cleveland residents. Only been working at this comics thing seriously for the past year or two, but it’s going pretty well. I’ve met a lot of Ohio area cartoonists, whose work I really admire, but right here in Cleveland proper I’m still a bit of a loner. I believe in this city though, and I’m not about to throw in the towel.
What I’m really interested in is hearing about the scenes you guys are a part of. I know there’s a small concentration of cats in Pittsburgh, Northern VA/DC, Philly, New York, Northampton, Portland, Montreal, etc. So where do you call home? How do you feel it impacts your work? Or do you rely on your physical location at all? Twitter lets cartoonists from all over chat it up on a regular basis. Do you think that face to face contact is crucial? Do y’all have drink ‘n draw nights? Sketch parties? Tell me all about it.
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