Two lovely pieces of feedback on the blog in very different mediums recently: a tiny, encouraging email from Rob right after my last entry and the sweetest postcard from Piper that arrived in my PO box sometime in June (but given the way life’s been going I didn’t manage to stop by and discover it until well into July).
Maybe it’s because blogging is often a much quieter affair than posting on social media, but I love these little blips and boops of connection. They hit harder than comments and likes and reblogs. They feel more personal. They remind me to reach out and email people (or write them a card!) when their work strikes a chord.
I had cause to do this recently with Ursula Vernon, whose work I’ve been following since I was in middle school. She’s been sharing some very vulnerable comics about dealing with breast cancer and I thought “My god, if not now, when?” It’s been over TWENTY YEARS and I’ve never taken the time to tell this person how much discovering her website and her comics and her delightfully eccentric illustrations meant to me as a weird tween without a lot of artistic friends. It’s an impossible gift when someone’s been a fixed point in your creative community for that long.
It reminds me that even if social media is crumbling around us, people can endure. The impressions we make on one another outlast the silos and the buyouts and the implosions.
But it’s good to come out and say so every once in a while.
The Terra Nova Expedition is the Millennials’ polar expedition. We’ve worked really hard, we’ve done everything we were supposed to, we made what appeared to be the right decisions at the time, and we’re still losing. Nothing in the mythology we’ve been fed has prepared us for this. No amount of positive attitude is going to change it. We have all the aphorisms in the world, but what we need is an example of how to behave when the chips are down, when the Boss is not sailing into the tempest to rescue us, when the Yelcho is not on the horizon. When circumstances are beyond your power to change, how do you make the best of your bad situation? What does that look like? Even if you can’t fix anything, how do you make it better for the people around you – or at the very least, not worse? Scott tells us: you can be patient, supportive, and humble; see who needs help and offer it; be realistic but don’t give in to despair; and if you’re up against a wall with no hope of rescue, go out in a blaze of kindness. We learn by imitation: it’s easy to say these things, but to see them in action, in much harder circumstances than we will ever face, is a far greater help. And to see them exemplified by real, flawed, complicated people like us is better still; they are not fairly-tale ideals, they are achievable. Real people achieved them.
I am leaping out of my chair and whooping and cheering and hollering about this passage from Sarah Airriess’s latest Patreon post. (The whole essay was released early for Patrons, so you can either become a supporter to read the whole thing today or just wait it out until it becomes more widely available in a month. Personally I’d recommend the former, because Sarah’s Patreon is one of the best around, but I’m biased.)
This talk originally accompanied the launch of The Worst Journey in the World, Vol. 1, Sarah’s graphic novel adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of the Terra Nova Expedition. I’m holding my copy right now, and it’s one of the most beautiful comics I’ve ever seen. Again: my appreciation is probably heightened by the fact that I’ve been following along on Patreon for years as she’s shared the process behind every page, but even without that context it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.
In the microcosm of caregiving, I’m learning this lesson over and over again: it isn’t the systems that make it bearable; it’s the people. It’s Gabriela texting to say she’s bringing over a rotisserie chicken. It’s Jim coming by in an hour to take my dad out for a visit to his favorite coffee shop. It’s Jen holding space for our cohort of young caregivers to show up and commiserate with each other over Zoom because she went through what we’re going through and wants to pay it forward. It’s Hayley texting a loving thought from across the country when I somehow need it most. It’s Sarah picking up my watch from the place in Ventura that I keep forgetting to stop at and then coming to help me build a bed frame. It’s also whoever left a free mattress in the parking lot behind Vons.
I think back on the way I lived through the first ten years of my career and it feels so different. I was bolstered and supported by community, it’s true. I was even asking them for help at every turn to make my books and my work possible! But somehow the ways I’m relying on others right now feel so different. I’m humbled so much more thoroughly by letting people in during this season of my life because it’s not just creative anxiety anymore. That’s peanuts. That’s easy.
This is the real shit.
It’s not freezing to death in Antarctica shit, but some days it feels real close. I’ve feared and loathed the thought of anyone seeing me like this for so long, but time and time again I see that people want to help each other. Or, at the very least, my people want to help me. And my dad’s people want to help me. And my hometown wants to help me.
Got to catch up with the inimitable Matthew Bogart on the phone the other day after an embarrassingly long lull in communication (although his Patreon updates make me feel like we’re good pals just chatting away on the regular, so maybe that’s why I lost track). At one point he said “That’s the entirety of comics for me: turning story into space” and I think that’s a REAL GOOD LINE! I wrote it down immediately because YES! EXACTLY! What a great form of wizardry to practice.
But now I’m thinking about why it is that pictures occupy spatial real estate for me in a way words…don’t?? I’m tired and it’s the end of the day so I’m not going to dig into why right now. Just chucking it into the posterity machine.
Anyway: Matt’s a good dude. The last time I saw him he was letting me borrow his corner rounder during the Pandemic. That’s a real friend.
I didn’t always keep up with Octopus Pie during the ten years Meredith spent making it regularly, but every time one of these standalone followup stories comes out, I’m blown away. Seeing webcomics creators approach characters they first started crafting in their 20s with the added life experience of becoming 30-somethings is just…it rules. It’s magical to see characters age as we age, becoming concerned with the types of life transitions and regrets and hopes that meet us with each passing decade.
And even beyond the content: THE STORYTELLING! I yelled when I saw these three panels because they’re magnificent. The tones, the panel borders, the scale, the expressions—all of it comes together to create this perfect denouement after a raging argument. And the van? The fuckin’ long shot crafted from a tiny space that shouldn’t by any rights work the way it does but it works so well??? I love seeing things like this. I miss seeing things like this.
I hear people talk about missing webcomics because Google Reader died, but the truth is there’s still plenty of RSS reader technology out there. There are more webcomics than ever. So why do I still fall prey to that feeling? Is it that I don’t have what it takes to invest in new stories or characters? That the selection has gotten too overwhelming? That I spend all my time making comics so I can’t relax by reading them anymore?
I’m not sure. I just know that reading this reminded me of what it felt like to be a kid in college with a bookmark folder of ten different stories I would gladly immerse myself in every day of the week, week after week, year after year. Stories that made me think I could do this too. Stories made by people who became my colleagues and friends.
Stories that it’s nice to return to every now and again, just to peek through the window and make sure everyone’s doing okay.
(Haven’t shared a lot of Actual Comics in this new blogging life I’m living. Does this work? Is it better than reading something on Instagram? Who can say. I’m going to pick this train of thought up on Patreon next week, though, so it’s a good time to join.)
Trying not to be precious about year-end stuff right now because I’m feeling stuck, but here’s a big list of things I read in 2021! Reading was hard this year for…well, you know. All the reasons. I needed a lot of comfort food to get through the upheaval of moving home, and for huge swaths of time I felt as if I’d lost access to the part of my brain that thrilled to Alberto Manguel or Le Guin in the first part of the year. I’m still sort of there.
Read a lot of comics (thanks, Danielle’s studio library and also The Actual Library) because I started drawing a graphic novel and it turns out reading more comics helps your brain think in comics??? Who knew. I still feel like I’m scratching my way towards figuring out what really makes a comic work for me. It takes a lot to get me excited about them, which feels somewhat icky as a person who knows first-hand how much fucking time they take. But there it is!
Started trying to track rough start/end dates towards the second half of the year because I got curious. I’ll probably stick with that into 2022.
Bubble and The Liar’s Dictionary both made me laugh out loud. The Creative Habit and Always Coming Home reminded me how I got to be the way I am. I’m sure there are other books I felt feelings about but I’m just going to HIT PUBLISH.
The first funeral I ever attended wasn’t for a family member; it was for a cartoonist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.