Monday, May 23, 2011

What do you call two exhibition halls full of cartoonists?

In this case it was called the Maine Comics Arts Festival.

My friend Jamie had half a table at the event, which was held this past weekend at the Ocean Gateway in Portland, Maine. I went over on Sunday, meeting my associate George over there with his wife Delores.

Portland is a great little city. My favorite part is that I can sneak in a side entrance until I don't feel like driving any farther and park for free on Sundays. I won't tell you how its done because I don't want the route to get crowded. Suffice to say it's not the obvious one, but it's quite direct. Metered spaces are free on Sunday, so I can ditch the car and walk, which is my favorite way to get around the tight confines of a downtown area. I could have parked near the venue for free. I just wanted the walk.

Not knowing what to expect, I brought a drawing kit, a camera and my netbook in case I had the opportunity to sling some ink with anyone. It turned out that horizontal space was scarce and the place was crowded, so I lugged that dead weight just for the exercise. I did get to show a few sketches to some people.

Jamie is very well informed about our cartooning world. I wish I was as outgoing. The next best thing is knowing him, though, because he made sure I didn't miss anything good that he'd found.

George is another asset. A lifelong traveler, he quietly observes his surroundings and is not afraid to strike up a conversation. He spotted Jeffrey Lewis, who is a musician first and a cartoonist as a sideline. Big G saw the CDs and asked Jeff about himself. As a result we both bought some music. Turns out that one of Jeff's musical collaborators is a friend of my musical friends and teachers Seth and Beverly. Jeff probably didn't know that, but when I started putting ones and zeroes together on the Internet after I got home the connection soon surfaced.

Jeff's CD turns out to be a grin a minute and great to cartoon to. Maybe that's because I know all the connections. Still, anything that helps me stay happily at the drawing table for more than a few seconds is welcome. For some reason I find it very hard to settle down and draw compared to the hours I'll spend on a piece of writing, or sawing cacophonously at the violin in hopes of improvement.

Jamie said George and I should be sure to check out Mike Lynch, a genuine professional gag cartoonist who sells to real magazines like Reader's Digest, Playboy, the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business review and others. That was an excellent tip, because Mike turns out to be an extremely nice guy. Maybe I only think that because he busted out laughing at one of my drawings. Every little bit helps.

I had brought two books of Nordic skiing cartoons George and I had drawn during our time at the Jackson shop. When I told Mike it was a collaboration he said he'd noticed the two styles. Nordic Confidential I and II were just hacked together in a mix of rough sketches and more finished renderings, just to get the material out.

George also spotted the title "Bikeman" at one exhibitor's table. The writer and artist there is Jon Chad, who also turns out to be connected with the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I met Jamie at their one and only gag cartooning workshop in 2006.

When I asked Jon if he was a cyclist, he declined to identify himself as such. As we talked, though, he said, "I love my bike. I love taking care of it and going places on it." I bought the two issues he had left of his Bikeman comic. It's not so much a graphic novel as graphic serialized fiction. While I would spell more meticulously and perhaps make different decisions in the drawings, I totally agree with his affection for his bike and the simple joy of going places on it. To me that is the essence of biking as opposed to a specific specialty in cycling as a sport or "lifestyle."

The Center had a lot of table frontage at the festival as well. I did not try to stop Robyn Chapman in mid flight, but it was nice to see her nonetheless. She seemed like a magical creature when I went to cartoon camp in 2006, popping up all over the neighborhood in White River Junction at moments when I needed help or guidance. At the festival she was doing portfolio reviews for aspiring cartoonists.

Time and again we tell each other: just keep cartooning. It's good to hear it.

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