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.

True Believer PDF Free for FCBD 2015!

Happy Free Comic Book Day, everyone! I thought I’d celebrate by making one of my most meaningful comics available for you all as a PDF at no charge. True Believer (for those of you who’ve only arrived at this blog in the last couple years) was an autobiographical story I completed as part of my thesis at Reed College in 2012. It was my first “real” comic—a meditation on why we make space for creation in our lives and an homage to my teacher Dylan Williams, a legendary local comics publisher.

TBPreview2

I’ve been meaning to release the PDF of True Believer to the general public for free for a while, and what better day than today? This comic and the Kickstarter that went along with it were huge early career milestones for me, and I realize a lot of the folks following me now maybe don’t know about them.

So download the comic for free here, and thanks so much for all your support through the years—this was where so much of it started and I’m really thrilled to still be doing it as hard as I am.

(If you want to keep helping me make more comics, check out my Patreon page! There’s lots of new content going up there every week.)

True Believer Digital Downloads!

I thought the Waterlogged IndieGoGo campaign was going to be the most exciting news of the week, but it turns out there are more goodies in store!

TB_GumroadGraphic

You can now acquire True Believer, my breakout comic from last year, as a high-quality digital download via Gumroad. I’m excited about this for a number of reasons, not least of which is Gumroad’s elegant sales system. The base price for the download is $3, but you can pay more if you really enjoy it and/or want to help me keep making comics with more of a boost. You’ll receive the full 36-page story via immediate download, plus a link in your email in case you lose track of it in the future. Gumroad is excellent because you can also revisit the site and it will remember your purchases, so you can download it again if your email explodes or something equally horrific.

Basically, once you buy this thing you’ll never be able to get rid of it. Hooray!

For those of you who weren’t around when all this happened, True Believer is the story of why I got into making comics for a living in the first place. It’s an origin story, an homage to teachers past and present, and a treatise on creativity all rolled into one. While I have plenty of print copies still available from the massively successful Kickstarter campaign, it’s always nice to have more options. If you have questions about Gumroad or issues with your download, don’t hesitate to let me know, otherwise: have at it!

Assorted Doings

Hello everyone!

Still recovering from Emerald City over here, but I’m excited to say that I’m well into inking my story for Symbolia Magazine, which will basically be my full-time job for the next few weeks. Things will be quiet while I’m working on that, but afterwards it’ll be on to Baggywrinkles #4 and beyond! I’ll post previews as I can.

In other news, blogger Greg Burgas picked up a copy of True Believer at the convention, and was kind enough to give it a very thorough review on Comic Book Resources this week. Here’s a teaser:

“[Death can] become hackneyed, the way a writer approaches it, but Bellwood manages to let the emotions come out without going too far and getting into mawkishness […] As we move through the book, it becomes more intense and more personal, in a way that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go […] ‘True Believer’ is an intense work that has a lot going on in it, and Bellwood transitions easily between many different moods.”

What a guy! You can read the whole thing here.

For those of you who stopped by, thanks for saying hello! To those who couldn’t make it, never fear. I’ll be at tabling at the Stumptown Comics Fest next month with all these goodies and more.

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When we met, Greg was also quite taken with the table’s  squeaky walrus, so here’s the ridiculous photo he took of my cheesiest convention face.

Aaaaand finally, Grace Allison did a wonderful marker coloring demo at Periscope yesterday, so here’s the portrait I whipped up to practice on (we only had super skinny scraps of Bristol. Can you tell?).

Skinny

Until next time, friends!

The New Storefront is LIVE!

Hey everyone!

I’ve got a lot of art lined up to start posting here this week, but before we get to that I wanted to let you all know that my new storefront is officially online! This means True Believer is now available to the general public, t-shirts are up for pre-order (probably ready within the next two weeks), and all my other comics are back in stock. Ready to start loading up on goodies? Then point your browsers to

And since I can’t leave you with no art at all in this post, here’s a quick comic from yesterday about my fraught artistic process.

Stay tuned for more!

VanCAF is Here! (And I Am Still Terrible at Blogging.)

News Item #1: I’M IN CANADA! As promised, I’ll be tabling at the first ever Vancouver Comic Arts Festival tomorrow and Sunday at the Roundhouse Mews in downtown Vancouver, B.C. I’ve made a handy map so none of you is in the least bit confused about where I’ll be located.

SO MANY STARS.

My fabulous tablemates are Sam Alden and Ryan Dirks, and we’ll be flanked by The Shanahan Siblings and Tony Cliff! I’m super thrilled to be seated next to such a bundle of talent. There are a load of other exhibitors (90 in total) and several panels to check out, so stop by and say “Hello.”

Did I mention it’s FREE?

New Item #2: I have been seriously rubbish at making sure this blog stays updated with all the Kickstarter news of the last few weeks, but I promise there’s a big post coming up with all the juicy gossip. In brief, I managed to graduate without falling on my face, I’ve spent the past week addressing and shipping HUNDREDS of envelopes, and I’ll be reprinting True Believer (already?!) next week!

That’s all for now! I’ll leave you with this extremely attractive portrait of me stapling the first limited edition copy at Gann Brothers printing last week.

Delicious.

 

24 Hours

You guys remember when I was all excited about having hit $3,000 on the Kickstarter? Well, I’ve been remiss in not posting on the blog these past weeks, so things have gotten a little out of control.

The campaign closes in 24 hours, right before I receive my diploma and graduate from college. Currently, the figures stand as follows:

– $11,000 in pledges

– 300 backers

– 730% funded

I’m kind of speechless at the moment, but I hope you can glean some sense of my mood from the following sequence of images:

Thank you all for chipping in and making this such an extraordinary experience. I’ll be sure to post something a little more eloquent after things settle down next week, but for now I am full of gratitude and sunshine. Keep being your amazing selves.

Portrait Sketches – Spring 2012

The semester is almost over, which means it’s time to throw the fruits of my classtime labor up on the Internet for all to see. I was feeling frustrated with my ability to capture good likenesses of people, so for the last three months I’ve been drawing students from two of my conferences at Reed. Here’s the compiled batch of them.

In other news, for those of you following the progress of the Kickstarter campaign, things have gone through the roof. We hit our fundraising goal in just FIVE HOURS, and then kept on climbing.

2 Hours In

 

24 Hours In

With such extraordinary results, I’ve had to rethink my goals for the campaign. It’s looking like the excess funds will go towards a brand new, long-form project, which is really thrilling. Expect an update on that soon.

For now, to everyone who has spread the word, chipped in, and helped fuel the stratospheric success of this project:

I can’t thank you enough. Let’s make the remaining time even more amazing.

Off to the Races!

Ladies and Gents, the True Believer Kickstarter Page is Officially LIVE!

I have been overwhelmed by the support and enthusiasm I’ve received from you all so far, and now it’s time to translate that hype into action. Check out the campaign, make a pledge (even $1 helps, and nets you a shoutout right here on the blog!), or, if you’re down and out, simply share the project with friends. You can talk about it, Tweet it, Tumblr it — whatever floats your boat. The more people we can reach, the less everyone needs to chip in in order for us to make it over the $1,500 mark.

Thank you all so much. I can’t wait to see where this goes.