Jesse

The first funeral I ever attended wasn’t for a family member; it was for a cartoonist.

Three illustrated comics panels done in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: a woman rides up a hill on a bike. Panel two: she takes off her helmet, looking sad and worried. Panel 3: a wide shot of mourners at a funeral, all looking back at her.

Dylan Williams passed away in 2011, shortly after I’d spent a formative semester as his student in the IPRC’s Comics Certificate Program. He’d battled leukemia for many years, but I didn’t know him as someone struggling with a disease. I knew him as a generous teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure and unsung cartoonists, a champion of small press creators, and a source of quiet humor and encouragement.

I’m almost certain that the first time I met Jesse Hamm—or maybe only saw him—was at Dylan’s funeral.

I realize, looking back, that Steve was there, too. And Greg. And probably countless other Portland comics people who would come to feel like a patchwork family in the years that followed. I was just a newcomer to that crowd at the time, still trying to find my place within the medium, but the funeral left a huge impression on me. I ended up drawing my thesis comic about that year in the IPRC program, and my first convention experience, and Dylan’s death, which led to my first Kickstarter, which led to my becoming an intern at Helioscope (then Periscope Studio), which led to the career I have now, ten years later.

A graphite portrait of Dylan Williams, a middle aged white man with short buzzed hair and a pencil behind his ear. He's smiling gently.
Dylan Williams, by Jesse Hamm

I remember using this portrait Jesse drew for his memorial post about Dylan as reference when working on True Believer. It was uncannily accurate and tender, as were his recollections of Dylan as a publisher and community member.

Toward the end of his post Jesse wrote:

Dylan understood that comics are really for and about people — that people are what give comics value. Like he said elsewhere in that interview:  “Encouraging people is like the greatest feeling in the world.” And he did encourage people. One blogger recalls: “He was able to say …the things I needed to hear in a way that I actually heard them. [H]is support and encouragement changed my life.”

It felt so true to what I knew of this man, even if I’d only known him for a short while.

Three comics panels in ink with a grey-blue watercolor wash. Panel one: the exterior of a building with the words "Individual voice is something to be treasured and respected" coming from a window. Panel two: the words "You've gotta make comics your own way. Every time." over a classroom full of students. Panel three: Dylan saying "Don't forget that" from his seat at the head of the table. Lucy enters the room panel left saying "Hey guys" and clutching a notebook. She's rushed.

I was in the middle of writing a difficult email yesterday morning when I opened the Studio’s Discord page and saw that Jesse was dead. A blood clot in his lung. Sudden and unexpected and impossible and awful and so far away from me at this laptop in California. Far away from my studiomates. Far away from the cemetery where we had buried Dylan a decade ago—the same one where another dear friend buried his mother late last year.

Seeing the outpouring of love and grief on Twitter from cartoonists who’d known Jesse through his threads of advice and educational PDFs, I found myself reaching for that old post about Dylan.

Rereading it this morning wrecked me all over again, because so much of what Jesse wrote about Dylan echoes what people have been saying about him: that he was impossibly knowledgeable, and fucking funny, and deeply opinionated in a quiet sort of way. That he wanted to encourage people. To help us see and appreciate all the thoughtfulness and knowledge that goes into practicing this craft.

An ink and watercolor comics panel showing a classroom full of students seen from outside the window. Dylan sits at the head of the classroom saying "Whatever the project, we have to think about the stakes. We have to ask ourselves: why am I doing this?"

I’ve felt distant from the idea of the Comics Community for a while now, trying to figure out my place in an industry that’s changing so rapidly, caught between different generations and genres of creators.

But this loss, like Dylan’s loss, feels like a smack in the face; a radical recalibration toward what brings us to this practice. What binds us to each other as a wider community. How lucky we are. What a wealth of information and knowledge there is out there. And of course, as with any death, the question of who we are. What we’re doing. How we’re impacting the people around us.

I kept thinking about how much Jesse knew, and what a staggering loss that is, but then yesterday a studiomate told me she’d just drawn a page earlier this week with a piece of his advice in mind. “I literally think of him every time I use it.”

That’s how this works, if we choose it. We share our knowledge and our enthusiasm and we welcome people to the fucking table so they can make the things they came here to make.

Dylan couldn’t have said it better. And now we have to keep saying it for both of them.

Thank you for everything, Jesse. We love you.

Q&A: Comics for Social Good

Over on Patreon:

When I shared some process images from my voting rights comic for Oregon Humanities over the weekend, Katie left a comment saying “I really want to get into comics as activism, because it’s kind of the only skill I have to offer, but I’m not sure where to start”. I’m sure this is a common concern, especially among folks who are part of Patreon because Patrons tend to be oriented toward both creative practices and social good, which is why you’re some of my favorite people.

The post I wrote in reply to Katie’s questions covers pitching, payment, research, and interviews, plus links to folks doing great work at the intersection of art and activism. Hopefully it’ll be useful to any of you thinking about this stuff.

Also relevant: fellow contributor Sarah Mirk’s comic on how Multnomah County passed universal preschool last November is now live on the Oregon Humanities website! She’s such a wonderful visual reporter. Go give it a read.

A horizontal spread of illustrated people from Sarah Mirk's comic. There's a woman wearing a mask holding a sign that says "Tax the rich, people over profit!" and a man in a yellow shirt that says "Universal Preschool Now!" holding a coffee. He's saying "This is how a democracy has to work. If we have a good idea people are passionate about, the only thing we can do is organize ourselves."

Antlers

There’s a list I began in a notebook a while ago that I thought would be short, but it turned out to be long. It’s full of people I know who’ve decided to move, or who’ve made the shift to building shared lives with their relatives, or who are able to support themselves in a creative career somewhere relatively rural.

Looking over it, I realize I’ve been tracking this for a long while. Not interrogating people, mind you, but nosing around. Peering through windows. That kind of thing.

Isabella’s on that list.

We met at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo in 2014. I still have the copy of her thesis project that I bought there—a gorgeous, oversized accordion book full of fluid aquatic illustrations set to the text of a sea shanty.1 We were clearly destined to be friends, but we lived in different places, so we stuck to garden variety mutual cartoonist admiration—the kind that simmers over social media and receives the occasional top-up from tabling at the same shows. She’s got a magnificent eye for production and packaging design, makes lovely, unusual things, and every so often comes out with something that just wraps up everything hiding in my heart and makes it visible and known.

Do you need to know all of that? Probably not. The important thing is that she just released a new comic and I think it’s glorious.

1. Turns out she originally exhibited it as a series of hanging tapestries and I think that’s just so fucking cool.

Hourly Comic Day 2021

Hooray hooray it’s Hourly Comic Day! (Or rather, it was on February 1st.)

I feel so relieved to have gotten back on the wagon after kind of falling off last year. This is my tenth year participating, and the completionist in me is slightly miffed that I don’t have a full run to collect and publish, but whatevvvver. It’s the practice that counts! And I’ll do it again next year.

Going into this round, I gave myself permission to work under whatever constraints I needed to in order to finish and still retain some semblance of sanity while packing and prepping to move four days later. That ended up looking like just putting down pencils every hour, and leaving inking and toning for my week of post-arrival quarantine in Ojai. I also logged out of every social media platform on the 1st, because I’ve found that I often spend the day sucked into staring at everyone else’s work and feeling inadequate and I just didn’t have time! It helped a lot, but it also meant not seeing a bunch of people’s work. If you had favorite hourlies, please feel free to tweet them at me. (I have already seen and loved Danielle Corsetto’s, Katie Wheeler’s, Abby Howard’s, Vera Brosgol’s, and Lissa Treiman’s.)

Also, RE: the FOMO bit, I saw someone lamenting that they’d posted theirs a couple days late because it meant fewer people would see them—they’d missed the zeitgeist bandwagon. And I get that frustration! I do! I feel it! But it’s also been helpful for me to consider what (and who) this practice is for. I do this because I love having a time capsule of the same day every year. I also do it to remind myself that I can Make Comics without it being a huge, stressful deal. I already have everything I need. Why not make comics that bring me pleasure? Even though I’m perpetually nagging myself to loosen up and go straight to ink or get more expressive, I still love the way these came out. My Hourlies from the last few years feel like I’m finally hitting my stride.

Anyway, here’s some comics! I am still deeply dissatisfied with my options for posting artwork on my own website! I’m working on it! (Case in point: this gallery plugin doesn’t have an option to include alt text that doesn’t totally eclipse the image by default. If you need alt text with any of these, the versions posted to Twitter and Instagram are, ironically, more accessible.)

You can read previous Hourly Comic Day installments at the following links: 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011.

New Comic: Federated Learning for Google

Hello, blog friends!

I know things have been pretty quiet around here lately, but that’s mostly because I’ve been tied up making this new comic for Google!

A header image titled “Federated Learning: Building better products with on-device data and privacy by default. An online comic from Google AI” A smiling woman and an excited corgi flank a row of smart phones.

Federated Learning is a new field of machine learning research that just hit the big-time at Google’s developer conference this week. I landed a gig working with Scott McCloud and an internal team to translate the basics of the field into an explainer comic.

Most importantly: it’s got a Moby-Dick joke in it.

You can read the whole thing here.

There’s a lot to talk about with this gig, and I’m going to be diving into what I learned from my first major corporate client experience over on Patreon. This job is the most lucrative freelance contract I’ve ever taken, and I want to talk about how that’s felt (Complicated! Emotional! Empowering!) and what other folks can do to pursue similar gigs. I’m really proud of what we produced, and I think it does a good job of explaining something I would’ve never otherwise learned about.

I also took lessons learned from building the accessible edition of 100 Demon Dialogues and made sure we had functional alt-text throughout the comic. If you use a screen reader to browse the web, do let me know how it works for you. I’m still trying to get better at making this site and other projects I work on accessible for folks who traditionally get left out of the digital comic-reading experience.

Hourly Comic Day 2019

It’s here it’s here! My very favorite comics holiday! February 1st AKA Hourly Comic Day is a group activity where creators around the world illustrate the minutiae of their lives in hasty panels and sketches. Head to Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be bound to see some lovely entries under the #hourlycomicday tag.

I participated for the first time in 2011, which makes this my ninth contribution to the series! (I’m going to do a little print collection next year for #10.) In the meantime, you can read on for a brief window into my life right now:

You can check out my previous entries for Hourly Comic Day at the following links: 20182017201620152014201320122011.

Thanks to my stalwart crew on Patreon for making this work possible!

Rage, Liberation, & the Adventurous Life with Tessa Hulls

I love being on Patreon for many, many reasons, but chief among them is the platform it’s given me to record more conversations with creators I admire. I already keep an extensive archive of panels, talks, and classes on my SoundCloud page, but the support and enthusiasm of my Patrons has allowed me to add candid monthly interviews to the mix. Typically these conversations go up for Patrons first, and then (if the artists are comfortable with it) on the public feed a few weeks later.

Back in September I spoke to Tessa Hulls—a dream interviewee of mine for some time. Tessa’s work defies categorization, but it often encompasses notions of heritage, independence, wilderness, and community—all things I am endlessly fascinated by. She did a staggering number of residencies in 2018, all while juggling enough concurrent projects to make my head spin. I am deeply in awe of her energy and dedication.

In this 90-minute conversation, we discuss merging identities to create powerful new selves, balancing finances as a traveling artist, the transformative power of alternative community gatherings, coming into one’s own as a vulnerable communicator, navigating fine art spaces, “pathological independence,” and the current cultural crucible of female rage. Notes on our conversation below:

If you want to see more of Tessa’s work, I’d highly recommend starting with…

• This essay about bike touring, weddings, and personal freedom

• This glorious series of paper cut paintings

• This comic about rage

• And, really, everything on Tessa’s website and Instagram. Her graphic memoir, Hungry Ghosts, is definitely a project to keep an eye on over the next few years.

If you liked this conversation and want to help support more things like it, you might also like supporting me on Patreon! I am deeply indebted to the folks there for making these talks possible.

Thanks for listening!

100 Demon Dialogues Tour: Leg 2

Hi everyone!

I’m back from a frankly ridiculous month of touring across the Midwest and down the East Coast, which means it’s time to announce the dates for Leg 2 of the 100 Demon Dialogues Tour. But first, some stats about Leg 1:

PRETTY HECKIN’ COOL, RIGHT? I feel very accomplished. Also very tired. Turns out moving house every 1.8 days will do that to you. Check out these lovely smiling faces from the many bookstores, comic shops, and venues I visited in June:

I was especially grateful to how many people participated in my experimental Guest Book idea, where folks filled out name tags about what their demons said to them. Here’s a selection:

Even though the resultant volume is pretty heavy reading, my hope is that people found it helpful to see visual proof that they weren’t alone in their fears. We can get through this together.

If you’re on the West Coast or hanging around the Southwest, I’ve got a slew of stops for the next few months right here (also a bonus visit to the UK and back to the East Coast for a couple comics festivals):

 

Here are those stops with RSVP links, in case you’d like to invite any local friends to tag along:

  • 826 Valencia‘s Pirate Supply Store (with special guests Rose Eveleth, Molly McLeod, and Anxy Magazine) – 6:30-9pm, July 25th, San Francisco, CA
  • Local Color – 6:30pm, July 28th, San Jose, CA (followed by Mighty Mike McGee’s Spelling Bee/r!)
  • Bart’s Books (Hometown Shindig, come meet my adorable parents) – 7-9:30pm, August 3rd, Ojai, CA
  • Other Books – 6-8:30pm, August 12th, Los Angeles, CA
  • [Venue Forthcoming] – August 16th, San Diego, CA
  • San Diego Writers, Ink: Generative Demon Workshop – [Event Page Up Soon], August 17th, San Diego, CA
  • BookPeople – August 20th, 7pm, Austin, TX
  • [Colorado: TBA for Boulder/Denver]
  • Thought Bubble Festival – September 22nd & 23rd, Leeds, England
  • MICE – October 20th & 21st, Cambridge, MA

Thanks for keeping up with this wild and crazy endeavor! I’m looking forward to visiting some new places and returning to old haunts over the next few months.

A note on actually PURCHASING copies of 100 Demon Dialogues:

Due to Some Nonsense, the official in-store release date for 100 Demon Dialogues got pushed out to July 19th (although I heard some comic shops got their copies this week). If you’d like to encourage friends and family to buy a copy in the meantime, you can get both soft and hardcover editions (and Demon Plushies, stickers, postcards, and prints) from my own online shop. This is actually the best place to send folks, because more of the profit goes back into supporting my work, but I also want everyone to be able to get the book from their local shops if they so choose. Keep your eyes out next week for wider availability in stores!

Hope to see you on the road,

L

100 Demon Dialogues Hits the Road

Sound the trumpets, y’all. I’m taking my latest collection of comics, 100 Demon Dialogues, on the road for the next two months! This has been a whirlwind season of planning, and I’m so glad to be at the point where I get to share it with all of you.

Here’s the details for Leg 1 of the tour, including the hometown release party TONIGHT:

We’re lining up Leg 2 right now, which will likely take me through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, and allllllllll of California a little further into July and August. If you have friends in any of these cities and would be willing to pass event details along to them, I would be forever in your debt. All the tour stops are listed in this handy directory.

Aside from good hangouts and conversations with various creative luminaries, I bought a guest book to fill with these name tags at every tour stop. Also blank sheets for people’s illustrations of their own demons (like the ones we had at the Kickstarter closing party):

I’m really excited to see how this develops over the tour. I think it’s going to be amazing.

Okay, that’s it for me. SEE YOU TONIGHT IN PORTLAND! (And then everywhere else.)