Friday, March 22, 2019

Rarely-seen Richard Thompson cartoon in upcoming Billy Ireland exhibit

by Mike Rhode

A never-before-seen piece of Richard Thompson's original artwork, rarely seen even in publication, is about to go on display in Columbus, Ohio.

Upcoming exhibitions at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library &Museum
On display April 20, 2019 – October 20, 2019
DRAWING BLOOD: COMICS AND MEDICINE: This exhibit traces the history of comics’ obsession with medicine from the 18th century to today. The earliest cartoonists frequently satirized a medical practice dominated by bloodletting, purging, and other largely ineffective treatments. Over the next two centuries, modern medicine would go through remarkable transformations. Comics were there for the good and the bad, helping to rebrand the doctor from quack to hero, but also critiquing a medical system that often privileged profits over patients. Drawing Blood highlights the sometimes caustic eye of cartoonists as they consider doctors, patients, illness, and treatment in the rapidly changing world of medicine—one which continues to present new possibilities and new challenges. The exhibit features work by a wide array of creators, from pioneers of cartooning like James Gillray, William Hogarth, Thomas Nast, and Frederick Opper to contemporary greats like Richard Thompson, Carol Tyler, John Porcellino, Alison Bechdel, and Julia Wertz.
Curated by Professor Jared Gardner, OSU Department of English

I received the above notice the other day and have already pointed out that the second exhibit is co-curated by Ann Telnaes.  I also reached out to ask my friendly acquaintance Dr. Gardner what piece of Richard Thompson artwork he was including in the show. Curator Caitlin McGurk and the Billy Ireland did a very nice show of Richard's artwork a few years ago, and he donated material to them before he passed away, so I was curious what Jared had chosen.

The press release says you have a piece by Richard Thompson in it. Can you tell me what it is?

The piece by Richard is a loan from Kevin Wolf— it a small cartoon he did for an actuarial magazine he regularly did spot-illustration and cover work for over the years.

What spoke to you about the art? Were you previously a fan of Richard's?

I’ve long been a fan of Richard’s work, and getting to meet him briefly during his visit to the exhibition of his work at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum was an incredible honor.

How did you select it for the exhibit, especially since it wasn't in the pieces he donated to the Billy Ireland?

Kevin Wolf, the owner of this particular piece, shares my interest in comics and medicine and is a regular attendee at the Graphic Medicine conference. He shared the cartoon with me, a really fun gag cartoon of a knight trying to figure out insurance policy options, and he generously offered to lend it for the show. It will be featured in a section dedicated to medicine and humor, a section that will also include an early doctor’s visit by Bill Watterson’s Calvin and an page from Mad Magazine poking fun at doctors.

I know the piece. As you note, it was done for Contingencies Magazine, art-directed by Richard's old friend Bono Mitchell. We considered it for The Art of Richard Thompson book but it didn't make the final cut. There was too much to choose from. Below is a scan we made for the book.

Anything else you'd like to add about the exhibit?

I guess the only other thing to add is that the exhibit begins in the 18th century with Hogarth and co. and ends with the modern “graphic medicine” movement that was kicked off with Justin Green’s Binky Brown and which is today a veritable flood of remarkable graphic memoirs and other comics about illness and healing.

published simultaneously on ComicsDC and Cul de Sac blogs)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Meet a Local Cartoonist: A Chat with Deandra "Nika" Tan (updated)

from her Instagram feed
by Mike Rhode

Deandra "Nika" Tan's work is being exhibited in Arlington's Aurora Hills Library for two months, ending next week. Her artist's statement for the small exhibit reads:

Deandra "Nika" Tan is a Virginia-based writer and artist who primarily leverages the medium of comics to tell her stories. Her visual art style combines elements of Japanese manga and vintage art illustrations, which she then further adapts to fit the tone of whatever project she's working on. Initial concept work is done traditionally with a pen and paper, whereupon the comic is drafted and completed on a tablet computer. Recurring themes in her stories explore the tensions between romantic and familial relationships and the desire for societal recognition.

I stopped in to see the exhibit, and upon seeing that she was doing minicomics, I reached out with our usual questions.

What type of comic work or cartooning do you do?

I primarily do long-form digital comics. My stories range from slice-of-life to sci-fi/fantasy to mystery and suspense. Right now, I’m engaged with digital publisher Tapas Media to produce “Signals,” a crime comic with a telepathic detective as the heroine, for their mobile app. The eventual goal with most of my stories is to get them into print, however.

How do you do it? Traditional pen and ink, computer or a combination?

All computer! I have a Wacom tablet computer that I bring with me wherever I go. Sometimes traditional pen and ink are good for combating writer’s block, or sketching out thumbnails for an upcoming chapter, but it’s all finished digitally.

When (within a decade is fine) and where were you born?

I was born in New York City in the early 1990s. I spent most of my life in the city, moving down to the Washington area only in 2016 when my partner relocated for work.

What neighborhood or area do you live in?

I lived in Arlington for 3 years and just recently moved to Vienna. Still got a whole bunch of boxes left to unpack!

What is your training and/or education in cartooning?

This is a tough one, haha. I’ve taken art classes all my life in school, but they don’t really prepare you for the specific skills that comics require. Studying film in college helped me a lot with the conventions of setting up scenes. Pacing and frame layouts are something that I’m still actively working on.

How did you get your work exhibited in Arlington's Aurora Hills library?

So the Aurora Hills Library was just a few blocks from my first apartment in the Washington DC area. I actually volunteered there for three years, helping them pull books off shelves for circulation. One of the librarians who worked there, Tom, asked me recently if I’d be interested in exhibiting any of my work, and I said yes! It’s really cool bringing that full circle and being able to share my art in a space that I’m familiar with. The final exhibition date is March 28th (next week!). After that, there will be a second run in the Columbia Pike branch from the beginning of June until the end of June.

What would you like to do or work on in the future?

I’ve got a couple ideas for graphic novels I’d like to pitch at some point, but I think in the immediate future, once my current project is complete, I’d like to work on a variety of short stories. I feel like I’m still in the middle of developing my style and voice as a creator, and short stories are a great low-commitment way of doing that. I’ve participated in a few anthologies (1001 Knights, Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, Pros and (Comic) Cons), and I’m toying with the idea of organizing my short stories in a similar thematic way. Or maybe I’ll just indulge whatever inspiration strikes. Who knows!

What do you do when you're in a rut or have writer's block?

So I’m fortunate in a sense that I’ve never dealt with writer’s block while in the middle of a webcomic. I just don’t have the luxury. I did, however, have a terrible time committing to a storyline for “Signals” ahead of its launch. Every time I came up with an outline, either a new idea would strike, or something would fall out of place. I found myself in a position where I was just reorganizing the story into different iterations for the sake of it. Finally, I just gave Tapas Media a date to start publication to light a fire under my tail. If not for that, “Signals” would probably still be in development hell.

What do you think will be the future of your field?

I think it’s very positive! More and more people are discovering independent and creator-owned comics, and I feel that recognition of their literary value is growing in schools and libraries. That said, the comics community can still be quite insulated from the mainstream. We haven’t yet gotten to the point where picking up a bestselling comic is as common as reading a bestselling book or going to watch a blockbuster in theaters.

What local cons do you attend? The Small Press Expo, Awesome Con or others? Any comments about attending them?

I regularly go to SPX since a lot of my comic friends use that as an excuse to get together and hang out, even if we’re not planning to sell anything. I’ve also gone to Awesome Con and Otakon, but strictly for business. I’d love to attend one year just for fun and actually attend some events. When you’re there as an artist to sell, you pretty much never leave your table except to eat.

What monument or museum do you like to take visitors to?

Actually, rather than go to any one monument or museum, I just like to walk around the Mall. Nighttime is a great time to go; it’s less crowded, and they do a killer job with the lights. Then afterward maybe grab some unusual ice cream flavors at Pitango Gelato.

Do you have a website or blog?

Yep! You can check out my work at

I forgot to ask - why the penname "Nika"?

I first started publishing the webcomic that would become "Love Debut!" without any clear idea of what I was doing or how long I'd keep it up. At the time, many other creators publishing manga-inspired webcomics had Japanese-derived pseudonyms, so I just went along with that and adapted the name "Nika" from an character I had come up with as a kid. Later, when I returned to comics after graduating college, it made sense to use the name to keep my comics and my "professional" life separate. I might consider retiring it once "Signals" is complete, but hard to say. At this point, the name feels pretty comfortable and familiar.

Panetta's Bloom reviewed at BookPage

New YA graphic novels explore queer coming-of-age tales

by Heather Seggel


Web Exclusive – March 13, 2019

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Ann Telnaes co-curates Billy Ireland exhibit on political cartoons

From their press release:

Upcoming exhibitions at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum


On display April 20, 2019 – October 20, 2019

FRONT LINE: EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT:  What do current debates about social media, trigger warnings, fake news, and libel have to do with the First Amendment and editorial cartoonists? Editorial cartoonists both benefit from and defend First Amendment speech and press protections. Their graphic commentary about current events is a catalyst for political engagement. Cartoonists invite readers to consider the impact of trigger warnings, Wikileaks, libel suits that result in silencing critics, and allegations of fake news. Front Line: Editorial Cartoonists and the First Amendment documents editorial cartooning commentary about free expression in the twentieth century and highlights contemporary work by members of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, alongside historical works from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum's collections. The exhibit includes work by Pat Oliphant, Art Young, Jen Sorensen, Garry Trudeau, Kate Salley Palmer, Rob Rogers, and more.

Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoonist, and Lucy Shelton Caswell, Professor Emerita and Founding Curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, co-curated this exhibition.

Also, the other exhibit on graphic medicine apparently features a piece by Richard Thompson. I've reached out to the curator for details.

(614) 292-0538

The Ohio State University
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
Sullivant Hall
1813 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210

March 23: Service for Ellen Vartanoff

There will be a memorial service for Ellen Vartanoff on Saturday, March 23rd at 11:30 a.m. at St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church, 3820 Aspen Hill Road, Silver Spring, Maryland 20906. Reception to follow in church hall. Please RSVP via

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Remembrance of Ellen Vartanoff

Walt Whitman High School
Bethesda, MD

by Stu McIntire

I don't remember exactly when or where I met Ellen Vartanoff, but there's a good chance it was October 4th or 5th, 1975 at a small comic convention (my first) at the Howard John's Motor Lodge in Wheaton, Maryland. Gene Carpenter made the introductions as I recall. That makes Ellen my third oldest acquaintance in the local comic community.

Of course, I got to see my new friend on a regular basis at convention after convention. It was sometime around 1978 when I, with one of her former art students, discussed an idea to publish a portfolio of comic art by Ellen's then-current art students, but that never came to fruition. It would be nearly four years until I again ran into Ellen at local comic shows, but that came to an end when I stopped attending comic conventions altogether by 1984. I did see her at a tiny show in Gaithersburg, Maryland (date unknown, possibly early 1990s). I missed her at an exhibit at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland that featured comic art in her and her sister's personal collection - as well as a small show in Rockville where Jerry Robinson appeared - and several of the SPXs. Finally, by 2012 or 2013 I started going to the Baltimore Comic Con every year and ran into Ellen a couple of times.

The last time I saw Ellen Vartanoff was Friday September 22, 2017 at approximately 5:00pm, at the (18th Annual) Baltimore Comic Con. We were standing at booth #813.

Ellen & Irene Vartanoff at SPX 2007, photographer unknown

OK. How can I remember such minute detail with clarity? It's easy. I have only attended the Baltimore show on a Friday (less crazy than Saturday or Sunday). I typically wind up my day at the show standing in front of Gene Carpenter's tables, which seems to be a gathering place at that time for old friends, some of whom I've known since my earliest days of collecting in the mid-1970s. When I pull my copy of the convention souvenir program, it shows booth # 813 as being All-American Comics (Gene Carpenter). Last year I was not at Gene's tables late on Friday. I don't know if Ellen was around, but I did miss Johnny Knight.

Ellen Vartanoff at Comic Art Convention Luncheon, July 5, 1969 
at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York City
Ellen was, as usual, all grins and was genuinely excited to see me. I was proud to introduce her to my son-in-law. Our conversation was the typical cocktail of sharing the day's adventures on the  convention floor, catching up on current life events and other goings-on, and remembrances of past shared moments. I remember telling her about a project I have in the works that focuses on Mark Feldman, someone Ellen knew. Mark ran the Maryland Funnybook Festival between 1973 and 1978. My research revealed that Mark had made up pinback buttons that were given as freebies to those attending his first show. I remarked about the unexpected discovery of such detail and wondered rhetorically about the chances that such a throwaway item might still exist nearly 45 years later. Ellen said she wouldn't be surprised if she had one and encouraged me to follow up with her about it on the off-chance she might uncover the button. I also told Ellen that I had made it a daily routine to post on Facebook the recognition of birthdates of comic and animation creators past and present as well as comic strip creators, gag panelists, illustrators and so on. I am not at all alone in recognizing these events and certainly not the first or last. I do prefer to commemorate birthdates as opposed to anniversaries of deaths and told her so. Ellen looked at me smiling ear-to-ear. "That is really NEAT!" she exclaimed. Despite how trivial compared to The Important Things In Life, Ellen made me feel in that place at that moment that my obsession was the coolest thing ever.

Star Trek fan art
In the time since, I did attempt to call Ellen on one or more occasions, without success. I did learn that she had taught art classes at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown, Maryland and was frequently on the schedule for Wednesday afternoon sessions. Since that's about a ten-minute drive, I made a mental note to pay a before or after class visit one day so we could catch up. Rather than dropping by unannounced, I decided to call her, so she'd know to expect me. It was about a week to ten days ago when I finally got around to it. A gentleman answered the phone and said he'd put her on. In a few moments Ellen came on the line. It was obviously difficult for her to communicate but I shortly learned she was " Stage 4...". Not wanting to exacerbate her discomfort, I said I'd reach out to her shortly. We hung up and I dropped what I was doing to write Ellen a letter which I put in the mailbox that day.

Two days ago, I got a call from Ellen's sister Irene. She shared the very difficult news that Ellen was in hospice care. Irene said she was trying to track down a mutual friend so she could let him know. She'd gotten my number from another longtime friend. Though Irene and I had never met, she recognized my name from the letter I'd written to Ellen. I'm not skilled at the type of conversation I had with Irene. I stumbled through my attempt to express my regrets for what she was going through  and my appreciation for Ellen's friendship but promised I'd pass her message along as quickly as possible. Yesterday morning I learned that Ellen lost her valiant battle.

The thing is, I have this false idea that I'm still young and have all the time in the world to refresh old friendships, even when faced with evidence to the contrary.

Ellen Vartanoff was a fan, a collector, creator, artist, teacher, mentor and so much more to countless friends and admirers. Condolences to Irene, Scott, and all of Ellen's family. I will always carry with me the last time I saw Ellen.

Farewell, Ellen. You are missed already but always with us.

Stu McIntire
March 18, 2019

[editor's note: A 1997 Washington Post review of one of Ellen's exhibits, but not the one Stu refers to above.]

Longtime local fan, collector, teacher Ellen Vartanoff has passed away

Irene Vartanoff is noting on Facebook that her sister Ellen has passed away in hospice on March 17th. Ellen was a fixture in local fandom, and taught comics classes too. In the 1990s she had an exhibit of original comic art collected by herself and her sister which was lovely to see. She worked on three comic books for Marvel. Later today, we'll have Stu McIntire's remembrance of Ellen.

The Washington Post reviewed one of Ellen's exhibits in 1997.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Not So Scary Monsters exhibit

Here's the official flyer, designed by the amazing and lovely Kris Loya for my upcoming solo art exhibit at Artists & Makers Studios! The exhibit, called "Not So Scary Monsters" will take place from April 5th, through April 24th, with the opening reception happening on Friday night, April 5th, from 6-9 PM. There are two Artists & Makers Studios locations, both in Rockville, MD, about a mile away from each other. Not So Scary Monsters will be on display at the Parklawn location (aka Artists & Makers Studios 1), however I highly recommend stopping by both locations if you decide to come to the show. There will also be an open studio event happening at both locations on Saturday, April 6th, and Sunday, April 7th. I'll be there again on Saturday the 6th, if you can't make it out on Friday night. Either way, it's going to be a fantastic show featuring lots of new Splotch Monster work, at a fantastic place, so hope you can join us!  -Steve Loya

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Post reviews Wonder Park

'Wonder Park' is a movie about a girl with an overactive imagination, made by people who have none [in print as Going round and round...]

Express Senior Arts Writer
March 15 2019, p. 24

also in print as A child's imagination isn't actually this tedious, thank goodness.
Washington Post March 15 2019, p. Weekend 26-27