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Drawing Power: The Pittsburgh Scene

on Tue, 04/23/2013 - 09:55

Drawing Power: Comics Zines and Books in Pittsburgh and Beyond
Not every comic book artist aspires to work for DC or Marvel. Many of them utilize their talents independently, out of love for their craft and the desire to simply share their creations with the outside world. In the early days of the industry, such comic creators gathered their illustrations into zines that were then distributed at local stores and various conventions, as well as mailed to fans across the country. The advent of World Wide Web, meanwhile, offered the opportunity to reach a larger segment of the population and gain even more success than had previously been available.

An increasing number of these independent artists also now call the Steel City “home,” and on April 20, 2013, many of them congregated at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater for Drawing Power: Comics Zines and Books in Pittsburgh and Beyond. The event featured a day-long series of panel discussions, ranging from “The Pittsburgh Scene,” “Self-Publishing” and “A Career in Comics,” as well as tables for local artists to showcase their work and make them available for purchase.

Two of the region’s more prominent independent illustrators and writers—Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor—were likewise on hand. In addition to his own graphic novels Street Angel and Afrodisiac, Rugg provided the artwork for Felicia Day’s comic book prequel to her megahit web series The Guild. Piskor, meanwhile, was nominated for a 2013 Eisner Award for his self-published Wizzywig. The first panel discussion of Drawing Power, however, featured four Pittsburghers who might not be as nationally well-known as Jim Rugg or Ed Piskor but have made an impact on the local independent comic scene nonetheless—Paulette Poullet, Nate McDonough, Andy Scott and Lizzee Solomon.

“I was originally from Puerto Rico but I went to New York when I was a teenager and am a big fan of music,” Paulette Poullet explained in regards to her first exposure to indie comics. “I went to the local record store and they also had a little comics rack with a lot of Fantagraphics comics from the 90s. I loved comics as a child, knowing Sunday comics and the comics that everybody knows, and then seeing that there could be a different version of what I loved, that it wasn’t just Mad Magazine, that really got me into creating my own thing. I like Hate and Eight Ball, and all of those really planted the seeds in my head that I could be doing this. When I first moved to Pittsburgh for college, I started self-publishing and was really inspired by that and started doing it on my own from there.”

Self-publishing her work, meanwhile, wasn’t so much a conscious decision for Poullet but a natural extension of her personality. “Part of it was the music scene and the Riot Grrrl bringing up a lot of DIY-kind of girl power, do it yourself type of movements, and also not having to wrap my head around doing things ‘officially,’ how you’re supposed to,” she said. “I did them the way that I knew how.”

Even the advent of the Internet has not deterred her commitment to producing print anthologies of her work. “There’s a little bit of a sense of detachment on the Internet,” she added. “And also with comics, it’s kind of a fetish object in a way with some of my comics. You want to look at it, you want to feel it. It’s a cold experience when you look at it online, so I would want there to be a more personal interaction with my artwork.”

Nate McDonough, on the other hand, has been a fan of comics from an early age but it took exposure to the local indie scene before he fully committed to the craft. “I’ve always read comics and I’ve always drawn,” he told the audience at the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater. “I guess for a long time drawing was a thing I did for fun as a kid, or drawing would be a thing I’d do in class. As soon as I started meeting up with a lot of cool people out here in Pittsburgh, who were constantly drawing and putting together their own publications, I thought it was important to me. ‘I’m going to try and draw every day and see what happens.’ And then it’s like, how does one not draw every day after you do it for a certain amount of time?”

Ironically, it was a chance encounter with Paulette Poullet that inspired McDonough to enter the world of self-publishing. “I was at this thing called Hand Made Arcade one year, and I was just going down the line and there was nothing but $8 bars of soap and $50 baby caps,” he explained. “And I thought, ‘This is so stupid, why did I come here?’ And then I happened upon Paulette and she had these compositions that she had put together and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ They were the first homemade comics I think I had ever seen. Just holding them I felt like I ought to give this a shot.”

Just as Paulette Poullet played a role in the development of Nate McDonough as an indie artist, Nate McDonough likewise played a similar role for Andy Scott. “Really where I started to get into comics was Nate, because Nate was always reading comics, drawing them since he was a teenager,” Scott said. “So he introduced me not only to Marvel and DC universes but also all the other fictional universes in indie comics. That’s where I really started getting into underground comics and indie comics. And from there, whenever Nate was drawing I would just hang out with him and we would draw comics together. So I did that for a while and eventually I kind of took it upon myself to just start making little mini art books. I would just kind of go and leave them on buses, go to libraries, leave them all there. I wasn’t really concerned about selling them, it was more in the interest of having them in the world and exposing the talent that was my friends.”

Like many of her colleagues on the Drawing Power panel discussion, Lizzee Solomon was inspired by Mad Magazine and Ren & Stimpy but also harbored an interest in traditional arts. “When I was applying to schools, I knew I wanted to be an art major of some kind but I didn’t want to relinquish being an illustrator too,” she explained. “It seemed like those two were mutually exclusive. So I just pursued it at Carnegie Mellon, where I went to school, as a side practice and it kind of bled into my painting and sculpture work.”

As part of her attendance at CMU, Solomon studied abroad and turned the formal educational aspect of the journey into a personal one as well. “I made a comic about my experience there, which I think was the first real comic I ever did,” she said. “And that was a great learning experience because I learned about printing your materials using online sources, the drawbacks to that, the pros to that, and then trying to distribute them. Your friends, at least in my situation, a lot of my readers are people I know so I wasn’t really too concerned with marketing them the book. It was just kind of explaining the contents to people I knew personally who weren’t with me physically during this experience I had studying in Spain.”

There are many other local independent comic book illustrators in Pittsburgh besides the aforementioned quartet. The stories related by Paulette Poullet, Nate McDonough, Andy Scott and Lizzee Solomon, however, offer an effective overview of the influences and confluence of events that leads to independent self-publishing in regards to anyone nonetheless.

More importantly, the camaraderie that the group displayed during their panel discussion proved that Pittsburgh really is a community when it comes to the indie world of comic art—a belief shared and demonstrated by everyone who attended Drawing Power: Comics Zines and Books in Pittsburgh and Beyond as well.

Anthony Letizia

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