Last Wednesday, the Women’s National Book Association, DC chapter sponsored a panel discussion on the DC graphic novel scene at Busboys and Poets. Group members, notable comic creators and aspiring comic creators were in attendance.
The panelists were:
Carolyn Belefski, mastermind behind the web comic Curls and an indefatigable (nightly) poster to her blog, Sketch Before Sleep.
Matt Dembicki is a DC-based cartoonist whose work includes the award-winning nature parable Mr. Big, The Great White Shark Story, Xoc, and The Brewmaster’s Castle, about legendary DC brewer Christian Heurich.
Avid blogger Molly Lawless, who has self-published mini comics as well as a compilation, Infandum! Ad Infinitum and is currently working on a full-length graphic novel for McFarland Publishing titled Hit by Pitch.
And it was moderated by:
Mike Rhode, co-author of the comics research bibliography and editor of Exhibition and Media Reviews for the International Journal of Comic Art. Rhodes currently writes about comics for the City Paper.
The session had a Q&A format and someone asked if there were any comics on the National Reading list. The panelists named some and noted that when it comes to award/academic lists, schools tend to gravitate toward comics that have a cultural/historical bent or comic book bios that aren’t flashy. “There is a parallel universe of comic books published for schools that people don’t see,” said Rhode. And the panelists agreed that comics are much more revered in other part of the world than they are here in the United States.
They took a moment to talk about their own beginnings as well. Lawless wanted to illustrate children’s books and writing her own comics gave her something to illustrate. Belefski was inspired by TV cartoons and says she found she enjoyed the “world-building aspect” of comics when she drew a twice-weekly strip for her college newspaper. Belefski recommended going the graphic design route to fund an art career and spoke about the challenges of marketing yourself.
Both Lawless and Belefski said they would love to work on comic full-time, while I was surprised when Dembicki said that he didn’t want to work on comics full-time: he likes his job and having a job frees him to do what he wants.
The panel also discussed traditional comic creation process and innovations. While it is true that technology has made it easier to get work in from of people, artists who create artwork on paper can be sold and for some this is lucrative revenue stream.
Something I hadn’t considered was Rhode’s statement that “graphic novel” is a marketing term. People in the industry still refer to them as comics. He gave the insight of someone who works in a visual medium when he remarked that the major difference between comics and novels is that with a comic you know where the page ends. With a novel, the author only knows where the chapter ends, since they aren’t sure how pages will turn out once the text has been typeset.
Lawless said that she wrote comics about things she would like to try or wished existed in the world which in a way answered a later comment from the audience about how our culture has been damaged by false stories, so we are rediscovering the art of storytelling.
A few of the comics that were mentioned during the discussion:
Maus by Art Spiegalman
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Bone by Jeff Smith
Blankets by Craig Thompson
When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs