16 Mar
by Kevin Czap

Jaime Hernandez, if the scene sucks, you suck

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.

The comments section awaits you:

10 Responses to “Scenes”

  1. Dan Tallarico March 16, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    Pretty solid post and it’s such an interesting question to think about now a days. With such a robust set of networking tools it’s easier than ever to be part of a scene without actually being close to one another. While online networks don’t replace get-togethers and meet-ups, it doesn’t make going to those meet-ups a necessity to be known in the community. Which is both good and bad.

    In Pittsburgh, there’s a solid group of comicers, but outside one or two comic folks I don’t see anyone on a regular basis to bounce ideas off of or talk shop with. If there’s stuff going on I’m certainly not aware of it.

  2. Eric Kubli March 16, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Unless I count “Ohio” as the entire scene, I have to say that most of my scene is completely over the internet on twitter, LiveJournal, tumblr, and the like. The only comic making folks I even know of in the same region of the state amount to less than 10 people. I don’t know that that constitutes a scene.

    Knowing people over the internet before going to a convention, though really broadens a scene. If a scene is about connecting with like-minded individuals, I think the internet is the easiest way to meet those people.

  3. darrylayo, eternal antagonist March 16, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    I <\3 NY.

    They say that the reason New Yorkers complain so much is because it keeps us from killing each other. Culture of pressure-release. Best way to get out of being killed is to establish a mutual pet peeve with your attacker. True story.

    It takes a lot to impress me. Not much impresses me. My friend who just moved here said New York is like the internet; a lot of things seeking your attention, you quickly learn to tune out the noise and focus your attention on what is truly exceptional. That's why it is hard as hell to get established here. New York City comic scene sucks. It's brutal. But at the same time, I love it and I can't give it up.

    New York, for the uninitiated, is divided by neighborhoods. Brooklyn more than Manhattan. I ends up being like an interconnected network of small towns. The official New York City is just too big for the human mind to process. I live in North Brooklyn; lots of cartoonists around my way, not dropping names. I went up to Harlem for a family affair and it felt like I stepped off of an airplane in another state. Network of neighborhoods. Each with it's own flavor.

    North Brooklyn is a beast. You have comics all over the place. Art all over the place. Youth culture still finds its home here and it feeds off of itself. I am a defender of Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick. Yeah, there's hipsters, but that's only part of the story. Losers by the hundreds, but the reason they're here is because the artists keep making the town fun. It's a never ending cycle.

    New York City: and interconnected, overlapping matrix of idea, experience, innovation and inspiration. Great place to visit.

  4. Costa March 16, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I sort of hated the comic scene in NY, because I hated the high-minded art school/bike punk minicomics/’zinester/comix Brooklyn contingent, compared to my Queens-dwelling, superhero-loving ass. I know that’s a weird and semi-offensive bias to have, but it’s been my limited experience with indie and amateur cartooning in my old hometown.

    Whatever. Being more active online and moving to Ohio though, I’ve become more and more clued into other writers and cartoonists, getting exposed to their stuff and making connections. Twitter’s probably the best thing to happen to nascent comics-makers in a billion years, and it’s made me feel more connected to my new hometown and to making comics than ever.

  5. Niki S March 16, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I would very much do a Cleveland drink&draw sketchparty whatchathing. …after May.

  6. Niki S March 16, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    Also I should say that I’m not hugely attached to Cleveland, and get most of my comics-interaction online. Living in Lawrence (Kansas) I had a bunch of friends who would meet up and watch Disney movies and Get Some Drawing Done, but going to art school seemed to sap a lot of that “hang out and draw” desire from everyone else there. Which is a shame.

    I get all jealous looking at the comics-makin’ studios out there. Periscope in Portland and Pizza Island (g’damn what an article) and Kazu Kibuishi’s studio set-up for Amulet.
    It does get lonely drawing on my couch.

  7. Chris March 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I an amateur webcartoonist from Edmon
    ton, Alberta, Canada . I really don’t know any other artists around me, but id love to set up a drink and draw around my area though! This is a really great idea to find new peers and friends with similar artistic interests. love the idea overall though, excited to see where it goes! 😀

  8. Kimberley Long-Ewing March 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    When we started our comic, we lived in Kentucky. We being my daughter and I – I write and she draws. There were no comics groups there and so we just sort of made it up as we went along. It was an exciting but lonely venture. We at least had each other and our fledgling studio.

    We moved to Wisconsin six years ago for a variety of reasons. Rhea found a comics group that met in Madison on a regular basis and I started going down for art nights. It’s great to hang out with other comic creators, writers and artists. The moral support and brainstorming is fantastic. We’ve since formed the Madison cel of the International Cartoonist Conspiracy.

    I also follow a number of other comics people on twitter, LJ, and facebook. I doubt that would substitute for the face to face contact though.

  9. Jessi March 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    The Toledo Gang members kinda suck at having a ‘scene’. We don’t really ever draw as a group, which is a bit weird considering three of us live together right now, another is five minutes away, and another is twenty minutes away. Also, for all we know, we’re the only half decent comic-ers in the area. For me at least, any sort of comics ‘community’ exists solely on the internet, maybe a bit at conventions. It was a little better while we were in college and Comics Club was at the height of it’s (extremely brief) glory, but nowadays I personally feel very disconnected and distant from other artists.

  10. Cheese March 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Between your Deep Sixs, Pizza Islands, Dessert Islands, Meathaüses and yes, my own House of Twelve collectives, the New York comics community has as many cliques and factions as your average High School TV show, but it wasn’t always that way. In turn of the century NYC it was every man for himself, a spaghetti western of pencil lead and india ink. Instead of Smith & Wesson or Colt, our guns had SPEEDBALL and MARS-STAEDTLER written down their barrels.

    I can think of literally hundreds of people the second paragraph describes perfectly, with this one addition: many are also raging alcoholics.

    So, that being the case, one drunken, summer night, I posted a message on the recently defunct Comics Journal message board inviting the readers to what folks currently call a Drink and Draw, but the original undergrounds & I called a Comic Jam.

    When we met at the Lower East Side’s Max Fish in August of 2001, it was a Clint Eastwood staredown, “Ok, who’s that guy… is he better then me? Oh, shit, I can’t believe he came… Jesus, this guy sucks… This guy I never heard of is mindblowing…” The great thing about misanthropes is, to varying degrees, they are all thinking the same thing. The competition was still there, but thanks to liquor, it melted away. After that we began meeting every month, rain or shine, in ten years we’ve never missed a month. The competition has become hard-earned respect, and now I consider many of the jam attendees my family, partially because my actual family are a pack of bastards, but mostly because when it comes down to it, no one else understands the way my mind works except other cartoonists.

    If you’re in the greater New York Metro area, please come on down to our next monthly meeting, all are welcome. Thursday, April 14th, 7 pm until 11ish at Jack Demsey’s Pub, 36 W. 33rd Street, downstairs — just down the block from Jim Hanley’s Universe (NYC’s best comics shop). For more information and a growing archive of samples, direct your browsers to: or check out our Facebook invite:

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