Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), October 13-16, 2016, Columbus Ohio
By Kevin Wolf
As the festival director, Tom Spurgeon, wrote in the Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) brochure, “For one week every Fall, it’s our mission to make Columbus the cartooning capital of the world.” CXC is more than a comic convention. It provides cartoonists, academics, fans, and anyone else interested a place to meet, hear presentations, get books signed, buy comic works, and discuss all things comics. For those interested in Comics & Medicine aspects, there might be cartoonists who wrote medicine-related graphic novels or memoirs. Or one might hear an academic talk that fits. Or one, like myself, can see and hear generations of cartoonists, that I’ve admired, tell their stories … and get books signed. I left the GraphicMedicine.org card with two creators (Sasha Mardou and Raina Telgemeier), because I had done reviews for GraphicMedicine.org of their most recent books, discussed later. Kriota Willberg, who has attended many Comics & Medicine conferences, provided a Talk and Teach on Drawing with NO PAIN! Injury Prevention for Cartoonists.
The executive committee for CXC is Tom, Jeff Smith (creator of Bone), Vijaya Iyer (Cartoon Books), Kathleen Glosan (Cartoon Books), and Lucy Caswell (Professor Emeritus and former Curator of Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum). The CXC website is cartooncrossroadscolumbus.com where the schedule of events can be found.
Predating the CXC, The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library (CRL) had sponsored the Festival of Cartoon Art every three years since 1983, which included two days of talks, panels, and exhibitions by cartoonists’ (strip, editorial and graphic) to faculty, students, historians, cartoonists, and fans. In 2013 the CRL moved to much larger space in Sullivant Hall at OSU and was renamed the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. Billy Ireland “houses the world’s largest collection of materials related to cartoons and comics including original art, books, magazines, journals, comic books, archival materials, and newspaper comic strip pages and clippings (cartoons.osu.edu/about-us/).” In 2015 CXC, combining with SŌL-CON, the brown and black comic expo., replaced the triennial Festival at OSU and expanded to have events throughout Columbus. Billy Ireland (1880-1935), himself, was born in Ohio, became the editorial cartoonist for The Columbus Dispatch and had a weekly Sunday color comic strip, The Passing Show; he signed his works with an iconic clover.
The main CXC venues at OSU were Billy Ireland, Hale Hall, and the Wexner Center for the Arts. Off campus venues included Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), Columbus Museum of Art (CMA), Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Thurber House; Columbus being the home of James Thurber, cartoonist and essayist best known for his works with the New Yorker magazine.
The CXC featured these cartoonists: Lalo Alcaraz (La Cucaracha), Sergio Aragonés (Mad Magazine, Groo), Charles Burns (Black Hole), John Canemaker (Winsor McCay historian), Julia Gfrörer (Laid Waste), Brandon Graham (Island editor), Jay Hosler (biology professor, Clan Apis, Evolution: The Story of a Life), Ben Katchor (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photagrapher), Keith Knight (K Chronicles, Knight Life, th(ink)), Ed Koren (New Yorker cartoonist),Mark Osborne (animation director of The Little Prince (2015)), Sacha Mardou (The Sky in Stereo), Stan Sakai, (Usagi Yojimbo), Seth (Palooka-Ville), Raina Telgemeier, (Ghosts, Smile, Sisters, Drama), Ann Telnaes (Washington Post editorial), Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), Carol Tyler (A Soldier’s Heart), Ronald Wimberly (The Prince of Cats), and Skottie Young (I Hate Fairyland).
On October 13-14, Thursday and Friday, during the morning and afternoon at Billy Ireland, CXC provided an academic conference called Canon Fodder! trying to define great comics and a possible list of what those comics might be. I attended a “talk and teach” by Sacha Mardou who discussed how she researched and created her graphic novel The Sky in Stereo about drug abuse and reviewed at GraphicMedicine.org. She explained that the step father in Sky was fabricated and the mother was stricter than her own mother. Doris Lessing and Sylvia Plath are literary heroes of hers. She suggests doing lots of research to find a story that “clicks;” write much more than you’ll use; plan out scenes before drawing; be willing to drop scenes; don’t discuss scenes with others until they’ve solidified; work specific hours every day; expect the first draft to be toilet paper; make the “best” draft into thumbnails and panel breakdowns; each scene should push the narrative forward; and change your process until you find one works. There were presentations at the Wexner Center Thursday and Friday evening. On Thursday John Canemaker discussed Winsor McCay’s works and genius, including showing several amazing films of his animations; and on Friday Glen David Gold (Carter Beats the Devil) interviewed Garry Trudeau with a book signing thereafter.
On October 15-16, Saturday and Sunday the main venue became the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), where many cartoonists were interviewed, including Sergio Aragonés, Stan Sakai, Edward Koren and Raina Telgemeier while some had more formal presentations or participated in panel discussions. Sergio was given a standing ovation at the end of his interview. All cartoonists were available for autographing and often provided a sketch with their signature. Raina Telgemeier was interviewed Saturday and Sunday and joined CXC as a stop on her book tour of her newly released Ghosts (about a child with cystic fibrosis and reviewed at GraphicMedicine.org). CML provided space for exhibitors to sell their wares. There were about 100 cartoonist exhibitors and many publishers in attendance.
I was especially interested in Keith Knight. He participated in two presentations (one on community-based arts with Mat Schwarzman (Beginners Guide to Community-Based Arts), and another alone called They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?), two panel discussions (one with Lalo Alcarez and Hector Rodriguez III to middle school students on becoming a cartoonist, and another with Ann Telnaes, Lalo, and Nate Beeler (The Columbus Dispatch editorial) on editorial cartooning during this election season), and a drawing class. I highly recommend Keith’s editorial (Th(ink)) and autobiographical work (K Chronicle, Knight Life) which are funny and often with a serious twist. For example, in his 2016 book Make America Hate Again a single panel editorial strip states “News item: Contrary to popular belief, 2015 was one of the safest years on record for police officers, according to FBI stats.” And the drawn image shows in a cartoony style a white police officer hitting an unconscious black man with a club and the officer says “Wait!! Don’t shoot!!” as the officer sees himself on a screen in front of him while a disembodied black hand using a cell phone provides the live feed that the officer is watching. That is, it’s the officer who doesn’t want his actions “shot.” He has given many presentations across the country and in Europe on his work related to violence against African Americans.
Next year the third CXC will be September 28 – October 1, 2017.