Graphic Content at Northwest One Neighborhood Library


Any discussion of any sort of “scene” in the Washington, D.C. area tends to come down to a sort of “Yeah, but …” kind of attitude. I think we’re always on the defensive when it comes to trying to prove that we really are cool.

When it comes to comics, no, D.C. is not New York (we’re not even Brooklyn). Or Portland. Or the Bay Area. But the D.C. area actually has a pretty impressive wealth of comic-book talent lurking around. (And if you want to be a little liberal with your definition of what the D.C. area is, there are plenty of great creators to the north in Baltimore, to the south, we have the Richmond-based AdHouse Books.)

Also, it’s important to note that we have Small Press Expo, which is older than Stumptown, MoCCA Festival and the same age as Alternative Press Expo. Obviously, there is plenty of interest and excitement when it comes to comics in the D.C. area.

Moderated by Mike Rhode (left in the photo above) and featuring Andrew Cohen, Evan Keeling of DC Conspiracy, Ben Claassen (who lives in Baltimore now, but we like to pretend he’s ours), Shannon Gallant and Matt Wuerker, Graphic Content helped showcase the creators living in the D.C. area. It was organized through Northwest One Neighborhood Library in D.C., just a few blocks from where the annual American Library Association conference is currently occurring.

Rhode started the panel off with the question about how each began creating comics. Cohen said he liked the formality of it, but also that it was cheap. Keeling said that comics attracted him because he likes the linear and storytelling nature of them. Claassen mostly said he liked making people laugh and Gallant came into comics through cartoons (which is appropriate, since he’s now doing G.I. Joe for IDW). Wuerker, as a political cartoonist, was kind of the outlier of the group, but said he likes reacting to news events.

The rest of the questions mostly came back to the issue of what it’s like to be a comic creator right now. Even though Wuerker has a desk at Politico, he likened making comics to being a poet — lots of people want to do it and most of them are happy to do it for free. There’s no money in it. While Gallant is doing comics full-time, he said his wife is the breadwinner. Claassen has a few jobs and at this point, is giving his comic Dirt Farm to the Washington City Paper for free (I had kind of guessed that because I knew WCP had cut their entire comics budget). Cohen said he sees doing comics as an avocation — and he actually prefers it that way because he can just do the projects he’s interested in and doesn’t have to worry if they’re going to make money.

Gallant brought up that he feels like to really make a living doing comics, you basically have to be at DC or Marvel. He said he still gets royalty checks for some work he did and while it’s not a ton of money, it’s money. Everyone also talked about selling original art, whether pages or in Claassen’s case, paintings, to supplement their incomes.

There was a sense in order to succeed, comic creators kind of need to stick together. Cohen said one of the points of the DC Conspiracy is to not only provide collaborators or feedback but to give people a way to pool resources — it’s much easier for a group to buy tables at a con than it is for an individual, and while someone may not remember a specific creator, they’ll probably remember a group. And while Gallant said he was never an official member of Gaijin Studios, he did learn a lot from the members while he was in college in Atlanta.

The last question dealt with where everyone though the future of comics was going to be. There was much discussion of the iPad and the digital age. Wuerker was optimistic and thinks someone’s going to figure out how to get money into the pockets of creators, but Gallant wonders if he’ll still be working 10 years from now. Claassen says he does hope there will be a new “golden age” of comics, but isn’t entirely sure. He does like the immediacy that the Internet can provide, though — he can make a comic, post it and get almost instant feedback. Cohen thinks that as much potential as the Internet has in terms of comics, people still want a print product.

There were a few questions from the audience, but probably the most relevant one to me was from a woman pointing out that you know, everyone on the panel was white and male and how diverse they felt comics were. And yes, I did notice the whiteness and maleness of the panelists (but I do want to not that while there wasn’t a large turnout, it was mostly women. I think that probably had something to with the ALA conference, but it was still a cool thing to see). Wuerker said there’s not a lot of female political cartoonists, but both Cohen and Keeling said that DC Conspiracy does have a few women and is fairly ethnically diverse. Most talked about how when they were first starting out, it was much less diverse than it is now (Gallant, I believe, brought up The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons).

It’s a change I’ve, of course, noticed — not only do we have many more female comic creators getting attention, we have more women and girls showing up to cons and shows. I do think comics are becoming more and more open and that’s always a good thing.

It was definitely a great panel and showed off some of the talent we have in this area. I think it goes a long way to proving that we’re a pretty cool place when it comes to people making comics.

But then, I’m obviously biased.

(Thanks to Rhode & D.C. Public Libraries for putting this on.)

6 comments

  1. Mike Rhode says:

    Thanks for coming out and seeing this, and then reporting on it, Comicsgirl. Nice summation. I don’t really have an opinion on the white male thing, perhaps because I’m a white male, except to note that another main theme of the panel was how creating comics is now open to anyone since there’s essentially no cost and no gatekeepers on the web. As we wrapped up, I did note that the book I would recommend taking out of the library was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, a book by and about a lesbian. And I got the contact info of the questioner who does a webcomic, and will be sending my standard Washington City Paper questions to her, and a young African-American man who was int the audience and is with DC Conspiracy, and appearing in their next anthology. Really, a main lesson to take home is that ‘self-promotion never sleeps.’

    The DC Library is going to put the panel up as a podcast at some point.

  2. comicsgirl says:

    I don’t think there’s some big conspiracy to keep women and minorities off panels (especially this one) but I do think with all the women in the audience (and although it was a small audience, it was still fairly ethnically diverse), it was worth noting and I’m glad she did it.

    I think even though comics has become more and more open, there’s still a sense it’s a boys’ club, whether it’s true or not. And while I’m not a fan of diversity for diversity’s sake, I do think it’s a good thing to stop and think about why it so often default to white & male with these sorts of things.

    And I think the panel was pretty cool — I liked the range of interests and styles on display there. It was absolutely welcoming and comfortable.

  3. Matt D. says:

    I’m sorry I couldn’t make it, but I do plan to listen to it when it’s posted as a podcast. It sounds like it was a great conversation!

  4. Randy says:

    I had personal obligations that kept me from any comics fun (or work) this weekend, but it sounds like the panel came off pretty well! I hope someone will sponsor similar panels/gatherings in the future.

    The diversity in comics thing is interesting in that I think of the attention the lack of women in comics pretty regularly gets (see all of the articles, blog posts, and comic show panels), but I think about all of the comics shows I have attended and all of the comics creators with whom I am generically familiar, and I think African-Americans might be a more under-represented minority actually! Comics has a good handful of Asian-Americans (Pop Mhan, Jo Chen, and the Luna Brothers are locals, in fact)…there is no shortage of Jewish contributors, at least historically…and the aforementioned Women category continues to show slow but steadily increasing footprint, certainly if you consider alternative and manga publishers. But successful African-Americans seem to be few and far between. Locally, I can only think off the top of my head of Ron Wilson (of the Baltimore area), who was a big creator at Marvel in the 70s. Maybe I’m missing someone, but that topic would probably be an interesting panel all by itself.

    Just thinking aloud. Hopefully, I’ll see you kids next time!

  5. Mark Ruffin says:

    To echo, great coverage. I wasn’t able to attend but the discussions seemed to touch upon a broad range of leading-edge topics. And mad cool there’s going to be a podcast.
    From my view, the panel’s ethnicity/gender hadn’t even come to mind until the question was mentioned. And that’s because out of the events attended or interviews read about from the DC area there’s been comics diversity in all caps. Like you indicated, Comicsgirl, some other artists such as the Luna Brothers were at the ALA just down the street.

  6. [...] You can read about a forum on the DC comics scene held at the Northwest One Neighborhood Library at Comicsgirl’s blog. [...]

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