AdHouse at PIX

Went to the PIX 2014 this weekend. PIX is Pittsburgh’s indy press expo of creator-owned, self-published, small-press, and handmade comics. Not the biggest expo I’ve seen, but I had a blast.

Chris Pitzer manning AdHouse books table at PIX.
Chris Pitzer manning AdHouse books table at PIX.

One of the first people I met at PIX was graphic designer and publisher Chris Pitzer of AdHouse Books. Chris told me he launched his critically acclaimed press with a single title in 2002 at a similar type event called SPX in the Washington, D.C. area. This was his first PIX. He was invited by Jim Rugg, creator of Afrodisiac and SUPERMAG, and one of the Pittsburgh artists published by AdHouse.

JIm Rugg's SUPERMAG is published by Adhouse.
Jim Rugg’s SUPERMAG is published by Adhouse.

Asked why he chose the name AdHouse for his business name, Chris had two smart reasons. A.D. stands for Art Director, his full-time job, and since it begins with the letter “A,” AdHouse rises to the top of alphabetically ordered catalogs and rosters.

images-1 The press’s stylish logo looked familiar to me. The illustration is the work of my SVA classmate Doug Fraser. Chris is a longtime Fraser fan. He said each year when he got hardbound illustration annuals, he’d just rip out the Doug Fraser pages as keepers and toss the rest of the book. I was happy to learn Doug has done a graphic novella, Mort Grim, a road rage tale.  Chris pointed to the page below and noted how Fraser’s illustration style owes a debt to the landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton.

From Mort Grim © Doug Fraser, an AdHouse Book.
From Mort Grim © Doug Fraser, an AdHouse Book.

Chris told me that AdHouse did a few anthologies, but now is concentrating of single-artist books of the high artistic caliber, like Gregory Benton’s B+F. One of the cool things about the AdHouse website is that many of the books have free downloadable pdf samplers.

Oddly enough, not long after my visit to Chris’s table I found myself at the Copacetic Comics table. Pittsburgh’s Copacetic Comics is the best indy comics bookstore I know. Bill Boichel, Copacetic’s proprietor, has been a mentor to a generation of Pittsburgh comics artists and he has a truly prodigious scholarly knowledge of the field. Really. To get a sense of the elevated discussion of comics that (sometimes) occurs in Pittsburgh check this podcast at Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, where Boichel talks with artists Jason Lex and Jim Rugg.

Pope Hats #3 © Ethan Rilly
Pope Hats #3 © Ethan Rilly

I digress. At the Copacetic table, I was drawn to a book I’d never seen before called Pope Hats. Bill looks over and says to me, “You’ll love that.” Though I have only bought a handful of comics at Copacetic, he was absolutely right. Bill Boichel is like a comics preference app, the comics equivalent of Pandora radio. Pope Hats by Canadian artist Ethan Rilly is one amazing book. The drawing is fluid, the story is compelling, the characters are intriguing. And guess what? It is an AdHouse book, too.

Next week, I will post about other folks I encountered at PIX including (in alphabetical order) Theo Ellsworth and Trina Robbins.

GREAT DANES INVADE NEW YORK!

Sussi Bech,Thomas, Frank Madsen of the Danish Cartoonists Guild.
Sussi Bech, son Thomas, and Frank Madsen of the Danish Cartoonists Guild.

Cartoonists from Denmark came to New York City for MoCCA Fest. Sussi Bech and Frank Marsden were stationed at the table of the Danske Tegneserieskabere (Danish Guild of Professional Comics Writers and Artists). Frank has a studio in Birkerød and has been doing comics, kids’ books, storyboarding, animation, and general illustration since the 1970’s.

panels from Nofret © Sussi Bech
Nofret, a comic set in ancient Egypt © Sussi Bech

Nofretcover

Frank draws a popular book series starring Kurt Dunder.  Sussi Bech, his partner, is also an amazing cartoonist. Their adventure comics reminded me of the clear line style of Herge’s Tintin. Frank agreed and noted that the Belgian artist Hergé is a lasting influence on comics throughout Europe. Frank and Sussi also draw a weekly cartoon, Eks Libris, about the literary world of Denmark.

panel from Eks Libris  by Sussi Bech and Frank Madsen
from Eks Libris by Frank Madsen & Sussi Bech

I was surprised to learn the Danish artists coming to MoCCA are officially sponsored by the Danish Government. Frank said France is the European champion at promotion of comic artists overseas. As a result of this cultural effort France remains the comic hub of the continent.

From The Mysterious Manuscript © Lars Jakobsen
From The Mysterious Manuscript © Lars Jakobsen

I also met Lars Jakobson. Lars has had success in Europe with his Mortensen series about a globetrotting time-traveling detective. Sort of a fusion of Dr. Who and Tintin, the Mortensen books are being published in the US by Graphic Universe. I bought The Mysterious Manuscript. It is a good yarn with added educational value. The back matter gives readers a brief history of various plot elements including “witch hunts” and “the invention of bicycles.” The Mortensen series is being translated into English with the aid of cartoonist Robyn Chapman, a faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies.

Lars Jakobson and his Mortensen series.
Lars Jakobson and his Mortensen series.

I did not meet Ina Korneliussen, but I picked up her quirky little minicomic, Fortællingen om dengang jeg fik en bamse. I have no idea what that means, but her drawings are charming. Based on the pictures the story seems to be about a young mother-to-be who has serious attachment issues with her teddy bear.

InaBook

© Ina Korneliussen
© Ina Korneliussen

The caliber and the variety of comic styles coming from Denmark is quite remarkable. Tusind tak (Thanks) to the Danish government for sponsoring such a creative invasion force.

Straight from Kutztown to NY, NY.

Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen
Cat Party © 2013 Aubry Cohen

In Aubry Cohen’s Cat Party a cat decides to have a little fun when his owner goes out for the night. This 14-pager will be ready for MOCCAfest at the historic Armory in NYC, April 6-7.

In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle
In Dreams © 2103 Ryan Bittle

In Dreams is by Ryan Bittle.  “When in dreams, the world is yours. But you can never tell when the dream will descend into nightmare.” says Ryan. In his 8-page mini-comic, drawn with ballpoint pen, a little girl learns her imagination may be too powerful for her own good.

Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster
Dear You, Love, Me © 2013 Michelle Foster

Dear You, Love, Me is a feel-good story about love and friendship by Michelle Foster. A girl down on her luck and muddling through some recent heartbreak tries to get back on her feet (with the help of a new friend). The story is told from the perspective of a guy, her friend, via letters from him to her, in which he encourages her and helps her out with her struggles.

Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling
Page © 2013 by Lauren Walling

Lauren Walling tells the story of a  ballerina in a tale tentatively titled Musicbox. Lauren explains the theme with this quotation from singer- songwriter Regina Spektor: “Life inside a musicbox ain’t easy, the mallets and the gears are always turning. And everyone inside the mechanism is yearning to get out”

Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank
Panel © 2013 by Bobby Stank

The panel above is from Bobby Stank’s mini-comic, She Thinks She’s Super. Rob is having girlfriend problems. She’s acting weird and has run off in the middle of the night. Is she cheating on him, or is she really a superhero?!

© 2013 Janelle Remphrey
© 2013 Janelle Remphrey

In Janelle Remphrey’s Feverish Happenings strange things happen when a girl stays home from school with a fever. Janelle has more of her art on view online here.

Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts
Echoes of the Past © 2013 Tessa Posts

Most of the students involved in this project are Communication Design majors. Tessa Ports is the exception; she is a Fine Arts major. Her zine is called Echoes of the Past, and the panel above is about dragons, lamenting the fact they are fading away from legend and being forgotten.

mocca_logoThese zines will be on view at MOCCAfest in NY, April 6 & 7. This is a great opportunity for our students to participate in what the Village Voice calls “The Best Small-Press Comics Nexus Anywhere.”  We are grateful to Kutztown University’s Office of Assessment for the grant funding our exhibitor’s table. There are a few other college exhibitors including Maryland Institute College of Art, and NY’s School of Visual Arts. This is a first for Kutztown and we are delighted to be in such good company.

 

More Comics for MOCCA

Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey
Comic panel © 2013 by Hannah Stephey

Zish & Mala is a mini-comic from the zine Minty Circus by Hannah Stephey that follows two alien military officers in their bumbling ordeal of intergalactic mishaps and monster fights.” Since we wrote about Hannah in 2011 she’s drawn a lot more comics and has taught a short course in comics at the Chambersburg Arts Council.

Mellen is nearly finished with her MOCCA bound book, Bediquette. Mellen says, “Bediquette is a zine for anyone who’s ever had to share a bed, with a partner or otherwise. Observational humor, bad puns, and suggestions about ways to share a bed …And not go crazy!'”

Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
Bediquette cover art © 2013 Mellen (Melissa Reinbold)
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold
From Bediquette © 2013 Mellen, Melissa Reinbold

Ryan Gaylets is a US Navy veteran and a fan of odd TV shows like the Twilight zone. His comic is a bit more serious and mysterious. In his story, panels below, a young man has a few too many drinks, but is still able to drive his girlfriend home in his pick-up. Well, he thinks he can.

panels © Ryan Gaylets
Panels  from “Let Me Go” © Ryan Gaylets 2013

Jen Zweiger has an ambitious fantasy comic in progress. Fight or Flight begins with a girl waking up in a world of darkness with no memories. Not long after, a monster appears out of nowhere and chases her relentlessly. As she flees she encounters a mysterious being, the “Priestess,” who may be the only hope she has of discovering her past. In this panel, after a futile cry for help is seemingly ignored, the girl sees the Priestess for the first time.

© 2013 Jen Zweiger
© 2013 Jen Zweiger

T.J. Walston is a somewhat oppositional character in real life. I had some suggestions for his project, he declined to make any changes. He explains,  “My comic is descriptively named “No. And why.” – this comic being about everything I hate in life, including day-to-day events… and people. This specific page (below) is about my girlfriend, I hate her, don’t get me wrong I love her, but sometimes she’s a bit like a monkey.”

No. And why? © 2013 TJWalston
No. And why? © 2013 T.J. Walston

Hate to leave on a negative note, so we conclude with Erica Slough’s cheerful story of a night in the life of a vampire who works at a call center. Erica is planning on creating this 9-page zine in the shape of a coffin. She says it will be about an “average joe” vampire.

Nosefaratu © Erica Slough
A Night in the Life © 2013 Erica Slough

We’ve got an impressive array of talent and story lines headed to the MOCCAfest. Stay tuned for more amazing stories next time!

Kutztown U artists heading to MOCCAfest in NYC

© 2012 Jeff Gum
© 2013 Jeff Gum

In Jeff Gum’s PIONEERS, two shipwreck salvagers from the year 3861 P.G.B. get more than they bargain for when they uncover the remains of an “ancient” NASA space vessel. Jeff and his classmates in illustration II are all pioneers of sorts. They all are making individual zines, or mini-comics to share at MOCCAfest 2013 in New York City, a first for KU.

© 2013 Darby Minter
© 2013 Darby Minter

Kutztown will be among a select group of colleges at the indie comic showcase at the historic Lexington Ave. Armory. SVA, MICA, and the Center for Cartoon Studies will be there, but most MOCCA exhibitors are publishers and established artists. Darby Minter’s 8-pager, above, has a working title – Dreaming in Botulism. It is the story a young girl’s nightmare, the result of food poisoning. Darby plans to customize her zine with a post-it note from Mom on the fridge on page 6.

© 2013 Isaiah Arpino
© 2013 Isaiah Arpino

The panel above is from “Isaiah Arpino’s Most Amazing Story With Both Panties And An Ostrich. As Isaiah says,It’s crazy what you can find in a basement and where it will take you.”

© 2013 Nathan Hurst
© 2013 Nathan Hurst

Awkward Bunnies by Nathan Hurst will be a 12-page project. The caption to the drawing above is “Do you still wear acid wash jeans?” More of Nathan’s art can be seen at: Thesuburbanpilgrim.tumblr.com

Another artist who can be found on tumblr is Lauren Gillespie. She is working on a project called Scallywaggin’ –“the heartwarming tale of a rowdy gang of cutthroat space pirates and their bungling captain that scour the universe for fortunes untold….sort of.”

panel from Scallywaggin' ©2013 Lauren Gillespie
panel from Scallywaggin’ ©2013 Lauren Gillespie

mocca_logoMOCCA, by the way, stands for Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art. MOCCAfest will be April 6 & 7 this year. It is New York’s largest indie comics showcase, featuring hundreds of creators and publishers for two days of educational panel discussions, slide shows, and interviews. It is open to the public for just $10 a day, details can be found here. We will be showing more highlights of our Kutztown illustration student projects real soon.

By the Books: How to Make Comics

dwwpcoverThere are a handful of good books that will help the motivated student succeed at becoming a cartoonist. Drawing Words and Writing Pictures may be the best of the lot. This is an ideal text for a 15-week class in comics. It also has guidance for starting an informal collective class. It includes DIY suggestions for the stereotypical solitary artist, who the authors are gracious enough to refer to as ronin. There is a wealth of info on the narrative process, page design, lettering, pens, and even Photoshop scanning advice.

La Perdida © Jessica Abel, a thriller set in Mexico City.
La Perdida © Jessica Abel, a thriller set in Mexico City.

The book contains the perspectives from two remarkable artists, a gifted husband and wife team.  Matt Madden is into “formalist” styles, working within Houdini-like constraints. Jessica Abel‘s La Perdida is one of the great masterpieces of the long-form graphic novel. From George Herriman to Robert Crumb, Charles Burns, to Kaz and John Porcillino, the book is crammed with a diversity of styles. Wide-ranging and inclusive, no matter what one’s preferred comics style, from manga to superhero to alternative, you will find something to like here.

mastering-comics

In 2012 Abel and Madden created a second book: Mastering Comics. It has more info on color and web comics and up-to-date information about publishing and professional practices. The authors, who have both taught at SVA, have created a super web site: dw-wp.com, that serves as a resource for teachers and students. The site is especially valuable if you live in a part of world where can’t get your hands on their books. For an example of its riches, check out their instructions on how to make the mini-mini-comic they call a “foldy.”

mc-bookScott McCloud’s Making Comics  came before the above books. McCloud’s 1994 Understanding Comics was  groundbreaking, a thoughtful overview of the field. McCloud’s books are also useful texts for serious students who have some background in thinking critically about the art form. Right now (Jan. 2013) Amazon has special deal, you can get both of the Drawing Words/ Writing Picture books plus a copy of McCloud’s Making Comics for $61.49. The set would make a good core for any comics creator’s library. That’s 3 books for less than I paid for my used Spanish textbook. There are a few more good books on comics that I will get to next week.

Comics MFA? There is an alternative… No Joke.

Back in the ’80’s, when I told my pal Putka I was getting an MFA in illustration, he laughed, “What’s next?  -a Phd in Wallpaper Hanging?” What’s Next? Looks like the answer is Advanced Comics…

The SAW campus © SAW 2012
The SAW campus © SAW 2012

Stanford is a great university with one respected graphic novel class. But suddenly, universities across the country are offering complete advanced degrees in comics. CCS, the Center for Cartoon Studies, in Vermont has offered a Comics MFA for several years. CCS is not to be confused with CCA, California College of the Arts in San Francisco which is launching a new low-residency MFA in Comics in 2013.

A curious new educational option has sprung up in Florida. It is called SAW for Sequential Art Workshop. Cartoonist Tom Hart who taught for a decade at SVA in NYC has relocated to a storefront on So. Main St. in Gainesville. There, with a group of dedicated faculty and students, he has begun an intensive comics course. SAW’s one-year intensive program is not an accredited MFA, but it cost far less, $3600.

Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.
Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.

A student told me this, “Another reason I chose SAW over a degree program is that SAW is very inexpensive, but provides the opportunity to work with really amazing faculty. And though there’s no degree, I believe that in the art world your portfolio is more important than having a degree. So the quality of the education is more important than the diploma.”

Any advice for young artists interested in making zines and comics?
Same student, who now wishes to be anonymous: “Do just that – make zines and comics! Make them and get them out into the world. Trade them with other creators, go to conventions, put them online – get your work out there. And, even more importantly, keep making work. It can get discouraging when it feels like no one is listening, but you just have to keep on going. Don’t get too hung up on your early work, either – your first comics probably won’t be great, so finish them and move on. Set goals by the project. If you make a mistake or don’t like the way it’s turning out, finish the project and then try not to make that mistake in your next one – but don’t get discouraged. Also, even if you think you are going to draw in the most flat, cartoony style, still take the time to learn traditional art skills because your drawing can always benefit from them. If you don’t want to go to a traditional art school, look for local figure drawing sessions or evening classes taught by local artists. Or, better yet, apply to SAW! “

Indie alternatives to institutional higher education in the arts deserve support. Non-credit, off-the-grid, DIY art education centers are popping up all over. Tom Huck’s Woodcut Bootcamp in St. Louis, Maine’s Beehive Design Collective and Pittsburgh’s Cyberpunk Apocalypse are a few examples I’ve seen. I hope to see more. SAW has a fundraising Etsy page with original art by Vanessa DavisDash Shaw, John Porcellino and other important comics artists. Check it out.