Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Ohio State Cartoon Festival Report UPDATED 2
The Ohio State University's Cartoon Research Library's tri-annual Festival of Cartoon Art wrapped up yesterday. I was there for the three days.
I'll fill this in with some photos (which are going up on Flickr now) and reports as I get time. And energy. But co-pilot Charles Hatfield and I had a great time.
Thursday, October 25th began with three academic panels in OSU’s hotel across from the very, very large football stadium. None were of particular interest to me although several – Wanzo on Black comics, Conners on Caniff’s growth as an artist, and Yesbick on George Carlson were engaging. Unfortunately there was no lunch break built in and Charles and I had skipped breakfast. The two of us, accompanied by Tom Inge, snuck out and missed the end of the second and the beginning of the third panels.
Bob Harvey spoke on Caniff for an hour. This was an overview of his early career and the differences in Caniff’s adventure strips, especially his art, from others of the time.
After Bob’s talk we adjourned across town to the Thurber Center Gallery, next door to the Thurber House where the New Yorker cartoonist grew up. One of their volunteers had covered her car with cartoon repros and drew quite an audience.
The Gallery had a small exhibit of original art from the Great Lakes branch of the National Cartoonists Society. The room filled rapidly so I headed for the food table promptly. Washington Examiner cartoonist Nate Beeler is from Columbus and was there with his girlfriend Eve. He introduced me to Mike Thompson and Nick Anderson and I got the three of them to sign Bush Leaguers, the book based on the AAEC exhibit that was in DC this summer. Rob Rogers put the book together and also signed it for me. We talked shop a little bit, discussing the difficulties of putting together an exhibit. Martha Kennedy, ass’t curator at the Library of Congress was there as well, and with Charles, we drove back to the hotel to hang around in the bar. John Jennings and Damien Duffy from the U of Ill Chicago joined us and hung around after we left around midnight.
Friday, October 26th - Registration was far too early, but ran smoothly. A lovely breakfast was put on by the Renaissance hotel which was recently renovated and had a very reasonable rate for the conference. It also has an original Chihuly glass chandelier hanging in the bar. The morning opened with Brian Walker offering a quick overview of the state of comics prior to Caniff. I think this was adapted from his book on comics before 1945. This was followed by a panel with Bob Harvey, Pete Poplaski, Arnold Roth and Mort Walker telling anecdotes about Caniff. I’ll try to recall and add in some of them.
P. Craig Russell was on next and talked about converting Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelung opera to comics. He was fascinating, especially when discussing his attention to layout (which he told me later was the most interesting part of comics for him). Without examples, it’s hard to do justice to his talk, but one page – when Odin realizes the sword that will end his age has been forged, made an excellent example.
Nate Beeler, Eve and his brother Adam took me to North Market by the Arena, a former meat market now converted to stalls for food and antiques. A giant Peanuts bin held pumpkins at one stall and I bought a Herb Gardner “The Nebbishes” mug at another. Bob Harvey id’d the strip for me off the top of his head, and it only ran from 1959-61.
I caught the tail-end of Ted Rall’s talk on graphic journalism where he was talking about travelling through the ‘Stans for his book. I’d seen a similar version of this one before. Jessica Abel’s talk about storytelling was somewhat disappointing. She showed a couple of panels from her Artbabe comic which she said didn’t work, but not any examples from her more successful La Perdita.
Buses then took people to OSU’s campus. I started in the Cartoon Research Library tour. The Library sits in the basement of the new Wexner Center. A good sized reading room was filled with tables and lined with glass-fronted shelves, one of which held the current issue of the International Journal of Comic Art. An exhibit of mylar-encapsulated pieces from Caniff’s papers lined the walls and included juvenilia, a fan letter from John Steinbeck, and art by Hal Foster and others drawing Caniff’s characters with their own.
In the stacks, row after row of movable aisle shelving was filled with reference books, cartoonist’s collections and lots of manga. File cabinets along one wall held biographical files – a quick check revealed that Nate Beeler’s got a slim file. A couple of file cabinets held files by subject. To be honest, I expected more reference files like these. But the flat files, or map cases, had a massive amount of original art and there were a lot of them. A new digital camera that will shoot oversize artwork was shown to us a pride and joy.
The Caniff exhibit in the other building included a reception sponsored by Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith and his wife Vijaya Iyer. This is the first time I’ve seen roast beef wrapped around a sweet pickle. The exhibit gave one plenty of opportunity to view Caniff’s originals, including the death of Raven Sherman. Two cases of Caniff licensing rounded out the exhibit as did a small sub-exhibit of tear sheets of other comic strips influenced by Caniff.
October 27th – Dragging a bit by this point, I lingered over the hotel breakfast and had a pleasant conversation with Jan Eliot, the ‘Stone Soup’ cartoonist. She told me about finding a patron to help her set up her own publishing house, Planet Nine.
As a result of lingering, I missed the beginning of the publisher’s roundtable. One of the questions was interesting – when asked about the prevalence of scanned comics, defined by the questioner as ‘piracy,’ Scholastic Books editor David Saylor said piracy is evil. Gary Groth demurred and said that he viewed it as advertising. He thought most people prefer the experience of a book, especially with the increased attention to book design. I must say that I agree with Gary.
Frank Stack gave an overview of his underground career, focusing on his anti-religious work, The New Adventures of Jesus. Stack spoke lovingly of his deceased wife, showing us some pages where he drew her into the story, and he still seems to be pining for her.
'Curtis' cartoonist Ray Billingsly spoke very briefly and then took questions. Billingsly appears bitter about the arc of his career, imputing a lack of books and animation deals to racism. Having spoke to Jan Eliot, who is white, earlier that morning about her difficulty in getting books, I’m taking his points with a grain of salt.
Mike Peters could have been a stand-up comedian. His talk about how he became a cartoonist was hilarious. "Little Mikey" as he was unfortunately known in St. Louis due to his mother's TV show was sent to a Catholic (!) Military (!!) school, usually attending summer school, and was flunking out of college until one of his teachers suggested that he do cartooning for all of his arts classes. He had the audience rolling on the floor as he recounted this and raced the clock to show some cartoons.
I missed Nick Anderson when Tom Inge and I went in search of a book store which proved not to be very interesting.
Paul Pope's got a fashion line coming out from DKNY. He was asked to do something with camouflage so he drew moth wings that will be reproduced on cotton clothing. Pope's talk was fascinating - he really thinks about his work and articulates his point of view clearly. He talked about his influences in silver age comics and record cover art too. When he started taking questions, I rushed out and bought his book Pulphope from Adhouse books and got him to sign it.
Alison Bechdel’s always an interesting speaker. On her art technique, she said she eschewed Photoshop and did coloring for Fun Home on a vellum overlay. I asked her about her next project. She said it’s another memoir of her life as a young adult lesbian, but she’s having trouble getting it to gel. I also asked if ‘Dykes to Watch Out For,’ which has been dark for years and that I attributed to the current political climate. She said she’s gotten back to doing the strip twice a month and also thinks that it’ll be lightening up.
At the cocktail party, I was able to tell Roy Doty of ‘Wordless Workshop’ how much I appreciated his work. I didn’t win anything at the banquet raffle. In the bar that night, I got to speak with Brian Walker about the difficulties of putting up exhibits, eavesdropped on Mike Peters telling a story, spoke with Bechdel about her appearance in DC next week and met Bill ‘Foxtrot’ Amend and political cartoonist Cullum Rogers. I can hardly wait for three more years.
Cartoonists Mike Thompson and Mark Anderson have blogged about it as well. Anderson was blogging live (!) during the talks and is well worth reading - he's reminded me of lots I forgot. He's got 3 pages up. Also, he posted a link to part of Mike Peters' talk on Youtube.