No trip to Juneau for Comics Camp in 2020 (and, from the looks of it, none in 2021 either), but we did gather in April and January for two truly lovely online…hangouts? Digital-councils? Un-tele-conferences? Whatever they were I liked them.
During the most recent one I tried leading a Creative Wayfinding Workshop based on my recent talk for Jolabokaflod PDX. At one point I had folks in the room populate a spreadsheet with the faces of people they admire.
Sitting alone in my room watching these little cells fill up filled my heart up, too. Hearing people talk about who they’d chosen and why, doubly so. Seeing people include the faces of their peers and fellow campers alongside Nobel laureates and pop stars and politicians?
It pays to remember that people aren’t just looking up to people they’ve never met—people who are famous or dead or both. Chances are good they’re looking up to their friends, too. The ones who are kind. The ones who fight for what they believe in. The ones who know how to say no and make it feel like a gift.
It pays to remember to tell those people we look up to them, when we can.
Let me tell you guys about Erika Moen.
I started reading Erika’s autobio series DAR long before I’d ever considered drawing comics for a living. Her hilarious, honest snapshots of life encompassed the struggles of being a creative person, the joy and humor of sex, and the complexities of personal identity. The comics were brave and open and unlike anything else I’d read on the web or in print. They inspired me. I remember attending the Portland Zine Symposium in 2009 and being too embarrassed to go up and talk to her. Other shows followed, and eventually I managed to say hi a few times. She started to recognize me vaguely from show to show. I bought a lot of books. One year I unthinkingly set a punnet of strawberries down on her display and felt so mortified when she asked me to move them that I fled the convention, convinced I would live in infamy as That Horrible Strawberry Lady. Anyway, point being, I thought Erika was the best, but I was pretty sure we’d never be friends.
Fast forward six years. Since finding out about Periscope through Erika getting a position there, I’d finally worked up the courage to apply for their internship. After working at the Studio for several months, I was asked to stay on as an assistant. During that time, I found myself working alongside one of my original inspirations for getting into making comics in the first place. I was starstruck and terrified at times, but everyone was so welcoming and helpful that soon I began to feel like I belonged.
Erika recently launched a new project called Oh Joy, Sex Toy, a weekly webcomic reviewing — you guessed it — instruments of pleasure. I’ve always been impressed by her openness when it comes to talking about sex, and the comic has been a delight so far. (It is, of course, very not safe for work, so click that link at your own risk.)
When we were flying back from the Toronto Comic Arts Festival a few weeks ago, Erika mentioned that she was swamped with work this month and concerned about finding time to draw enough. Screwing up my courage, I dared to volunteer my services as a guest artist. “Oh my gosh, would you?”
UH, YES. YES I WOULD.
So here we are, ten days later. I managed to tie my boat-loving tendencies into a beginner’s guide to rope bondage (again, obviously NSFW). I crammed in extra hours of inking in cars and on bar counters during VanCAF this weekend. I scrambled for reference materials and resources to create the best comic I possibly could. I panicked about putting something out with my name on it that departed from my usual, family-friendly fare.
And then I showed it to Erika.
And she was thrilled.
This person I’ve admired for six years, this person who inspired me to start down the crazy life path I’m suddenly blazing along — this person thinks I’ve done something cool.
It’s been a wild year — from funding True Believer last May to starting at Periscope to publishing new comics to tabling at conventions far and wide — but this just about takes the cake. I’m so happy and proud to be doing the work I’m doing, I’m excited for all the projects I have coming up in the next few months, and I’m insanely grateful to all the people who have supported me thus far.
Of course, I’m also an absolute wreck from doing shows every other weekend for the past month, and from pushing myself on all these deadlines, but I’m very, very glad to be where I am. Which is in bed. Preparing to sleep for as long as I possibly can.
(Thanks for reading my mush, you guys. I’ve got the warm fuzzies pretty hardcore right now.)
Although it’s been one of Those Days, I’m excited to say that I’m finally through to the backend on my first story for Symbolia Magazine! Here’s the whole thing all tinylike (no spoilers!) before I print it out and start inking.
After spending all this time researching uniforms and protocol and environments and guns (oh God, the guns), I’m really excited to work on other projects next month. Give me environments I know full of things I can draw! Still, this has been a fantastic challenge so far and I’m really excited to finally get it off the computer and onto the drawing board. Until I’m splashing ink on things, it just doesn’t feel like making comics.
In related news, I scripted out Baggywrinkles #4 is a sleepless fever last night.
The story will be around 12 pages and should be out in time for the Stumptown Comics Fest in April. But first, I’ve got another story to pencil and ink. So I’ll get back to that.
Onward, ever onward.
More weekly challenge stuff. Focused on high-contrast faces this week to get more decisive about laying down blacks:
And thanks again to everyone who came out to the workshops this week! It was great to see so many of you there.
I’ve posted my lecture notes from the Freelance Badassery talk on Tumblr if you wanna go get a creative kick in the pants. I’ll hopefully be putting them up directly on this blog sometime in the near future. For now: work beckons!
In the little town of White River Junction, Vermont, far away from the bustle of the big city, there’s this school. It’s not your usual school. It’s pretty small. Pretty new. But it’s a marvel — a straight up phenomenon among graduate programs, among schools, among communities of any kind, so maybe you’ve heard of…
CCS was founded in 2005 with a commitment to delivering excellent education in the field of comics, cartooning, and graphic novels. They offer certificate and MFA programs as well as summer workshops for youth and adults alike, one of which I attended during the first week of this month. The 5-day course is designed for students who have personal projects they’d like to workshop and push to completion with the support and guidance of professionals.
The experience, alas, doesn’t really fit well into words, but the basic breakdown went like this:
I arrived is a messy haze of uncertainty, unsure of what my project was going to be, worried that my choice to major in studio art was going to turn out to be just one more failure-bound attempt to find my tribe of like-minded people. That my dedication to my own creativity was waning. That I wasn’t any good, or worse, that I was a poser. That I’d be “found out.”
In short, I was a mess. Somewhere, vaguely in the back of my mind, I had thoughts about doing some sort of mythological adaptation series, or a one-off about traveling alone in Europe, but nothing had even been doodled about, let alone planned to the point of being serviceable. But on day one, confronted with the stirring words of our first lecturer, the frighteningly prolific Jason Lutes, in a room full of 36 other aspiring cartoonists of all ages and backgrounds, I found myself thinking about sailing as a potential topic. It’s something I’m passionate about, it would be a blast to draw (if I didn’t go mad from all the rigging), and I doubt there’s very much else on the market at the moment that deals with it from a 21st century sailor’s perspective. Suddenly, my brain seemed to open up to the possibilities of creation again, and thus Baggywrinkles was born.
Of course, I didn’t know it was going to be called Baggywrinkles right then. There’s a whole messy cloud of potential nautical titles on my first page of sketchbook notes, all crawling over one another like ants, the occasional hopeful circled in darker lines. But as soon as I jotted it down, I realized it was perfect. It’s one of those profoundly bizarre sailing terms that makes no sense at all while managing to be vaguely charming and curiosity-piquing. “What’re those fuzzy things?” is also the most frequently-asked question any sailor will come into contact with when people visit the boat — understandably. I mean, look at this thing:
If that’s hanging five feet above my head, I damn well want to know what the blazes it’s doing up there and whether it’s hungry for lunch. (It’s also interesting and vaguely alarming to note that when I Google image searched “baggywrinkle,” the only listed related search was for “weiner mobile.” At least we know I’ll be attracting a classy audience.)
So, with this dubious and titillating title in hand, I dove in. And I mean really dove in. There was nothing in my life aside from comics for every one of those 5 days. No updates for friends and family, no journal writing to take the edge off, no supplemental reading, no sightseeing in the Northeast, nothing. Just me, the drawing table, a mugful of pens, and a superstar lineup of comics professionals telling me to keep pushing pen to paper. There were rabble-rousing pep talks from Alec Longstreth, inking demos with kick-ass comics veteran Steve Bissette, whirlwind screenprinting technique seminars with the effervescent Jon Chad, and kaleidoscopic spreads of minicomics from Robyn Chapman. And what’s more, their enthusiasm was contagious. I caught the bug, or it caught me. However that works.
The upshot was utter, electric dedication. I came out the other end brandishing a fully-inked, 8-page comic — with plans for a second issue already boiling over in the back of my mind. Of course, there were a couple days there where I didn’t really sleep, and definitely a couple meals that I sort of forgot to eat, but it was more than worth it. The satisfaction and astonishment of seeing what I’d managed to create in such a short period of time were enough to have me dancing with glee all the way back to California.
Because really, if you can create something like that in 5 days, there are no more excuses. All the daunting specters of creative work vanish when you’ve pushed yourself to just charge through them at full speed without stopping because you can’t get an angle or a pose or a word balloon right. It’s like the sensation runners call “hitting the wall.” The ones who know what they’re about generally reach that point and just punch their way through it. When I used to hit that spot, I’d back down and find something else to do, but now? I go at is with my fists. Because I know that whatever’s on the other side is worth fighting for.
Why else would they have stuck it back there in first place?