John Porcellino Comics Workshop @ SAW

Dear Friends,  

Rob and I went down to the Sequential Artist Workshop in Gainesville, Florida in late Feb for a week-long workshop with John Porcellino. It was RAD. Here is a little essay, + sketches, about the workshop:

The week previous had been Massachusetts school vacation week, and all of Boston had voyaged north for a few nights in the unheated mountain cabin I call home.  It was the most hectic week of the season at Lonesome Lake Hut; and the weather had dampened all of our spirits – the grey mountain air was holding steady at -40 degree wind chill.  I was ready to feel my toes again.   And I was unbelievably excited to tear outa the mountains, make a quick stop in Burlington to pick up my main squeeze Rob Rock, and head south! Yeah!


 

(jkjkjk)

Rob and I did a quick winter salad green harvest in Burlington, delivered the greens to City Market, and packed the leftovers in our cooler for the road.  (Sorry, I was on vacation so I recycled old Comics of the Week!)

 

We stopped at the Intervale to pack up some Pitchfork (Rob’s farm) winter storage vegetables for our travels, and found local legend Aly Martelle running ICF’s winter CSA pick-up.  Aly let us burn a series of wicked 90s mixes, which fueled us to Florida and back!

MixALot Martelle

From there we drove to Philly for a lightning-quick visit with Ronnie.  We were cheering the RAIN (in lieu of snow) – it was 40 in Philly and it felt so so warm! (Hey that is 80 degrees warmer than NH!)

Where would we find spring?????

The daffodils started in North Carolina.  We had planned to drive through the Smokies & stay the night, but the weather was terrrrrrible.  It appeared to be raining from Pennsylvania to Florida, which blew our minds.  How can one weather system just sit over 1000 miles? When I drive from New Hampshire to Vermont every week, I must cross four wildly different weather systems, over 3 mountain regions and a great lake!

So we stuck to coastal 95 and rolled in late to Myrtle Beach, RV capital of the Atlantic Coast.  We camped on the beach.  It was still raining, but who cares; the ocean is just as awesome as the sun!  Plus we got to make camp coffee under a palm tree.  We were out of our puffies and down to sweatshirts by this point.

. . .And we were back on the road by 6am.

After a winter of indie internet radio, it was really fun to listen to something else.

I also developed Beatles mania out of the blue.  I don’t know that I’ve listened to or thought about the Beatles in 20 years.  Rocky Raccoon!

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Really simple songs, like “Here Comes the Sun” and “All You Need is Love” suddenly sounded powerful.  Which, I think, could happen to any Northerner in March when suddenly bathed in Georgia sunshine.  When we finally found the sun, it felt like the kind of miracle that makes you sit silently for a while, life’s complication on hold.

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Shoop ba doop
Note the pines through the window. Pine trees line I-95 in it’s entirety.
There is an additional understory of little saw palmettos too, once you get to Florida.

…Florida!

We camped for the week just south of Gainesville, at Paynes Prairie State Park.  But frankly, we may as well have traveled back to the Carboniferous.  It was awesome.  I could not identify any plants, animals, bird songs, nor the intense rustlings in the night (eep!)  We just walked and walked around, staring at the sky, land & water.  Rob saw a golden eagle at the campsite, and we saw two bald eagles, plus an unidentified series of big nests on the telephone poles!

I had the idea to go swimming but guess what. 

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Shoot, everyone else in the workshop
made it seem easy to draw alligators

The workshop was awesome & SAW was awesome.  I had not read many of John’s comics until really recently.  I went to CCS’s portfolio day this past November, and James Sturm said “I think you would like this:”  and he gave me a copy of Thoreau at Walden.  It happened to be my birthday, so Rob & I went up to Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal after CCS, and we loaded up on all kinds of zines & books, including Map of My Heart.  I went right back to the woods with a bundle of King Cat comics in my backpack:

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one of those books

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 Rob visited & read some too

What really hooked me was the quiet way every single comic stays 100% in the present senses, while the sum total hints at the bigger narrative.  I identified so strongly with the way the slowest, tiniest moments can seem stimulating, even overwhelming, when you’re not doing well.  Also the way the littlest movement or light can just break your heart with wonder, even when you’re empty; it can tie you down tight to this world.  The dude’s comics are so simple, and so wide open.  They never close down or muscle the world into a singular narrative.

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I said, you know who I would be really freaking intimidated to meet, Art Spiegelman & Francoise Mouly.

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Who knows what those two are like

but this is how we picture the lives of the crazy famous

.

John P. kicked off the workshop with some slideshows and then a map drawing exercise, to get our stories and pens flowing.  John said map drawing is his special move, and I agree that it is a really good technique because it forces you to engage as soon as you sit down, without hemhemhem hawhaw.  We then each moved on to 1-2 longer comics for the week, drawn (heh) from our map.  The goal was to publish a mini-comic on Friday.

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RR, with special Florida mustache

Yeah, I felt a really deep respect for the guy, and I felt a ton of respect and good will for everyone at SAW.  (Ps. you know who else is freaking great- Tom Hart. That guy is so awesome.)

I am often really vigilant and reclusive, especially in new & stimulating situations.  But I didn’t feel overly self-aware, just really absorbed in what I was doing and interested and delighted by everyone there.  That is unusual!  SAW is a really soulful place.

On Wednesday we shook it up and went to Payne’s Prairie to see some alligators and everything else in the Florida swamps!!!!

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Just some alligator-lovin’ zombies

lurching around a hastily photoshopped tableau

And then it was back to the classroom! However our little foray into the swamp definitely introduced a certain alligator theme into everyone’s mini-comics.

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Mid-week musings

The first comic I wrote, early in the week, was about re-experiencing the past after the death of my childhood love, Brooke.  Brookie told me, when he was 19 and I was 16, about an experience he had that week while out on a long bike ride.  He saw a lone silo late in the day, out in a field, and felt compelled to break into it.  When he did, something happened to him that he had a hard time explaining, although he was amazed, not troubled by it; and exuberantly tried to describe the experience.  And that is what I remember as a 16 year-old – my boyfriend pouring out at peak velocity and volume, another totally unrelatable, abstract description of a saintly emotional experience.  I felt suffocated and distant, and didn’t notice the incident any more than I did any other of Brookie’s outpourings in which every other phrase included “love” or “we must,” hedges against the anxiety and despair he was otherwise feeling at the time.

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Ten years later, in the wake of his suicide, I suddenly heard what he told me about that day in the silo.  The actual story suddenly popped up, as though I were finally hearing it, for the first time.  He had said that inside that silo, he suddenly felt unified with the world, full of such love, and no longer separate from anyone or anything.  The only thing he knew to do was to “join in” or “participate” – i can’t remember which of those words he used- with a serious of chesty, vibrating OMs.

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He stayed out there a long time, and when he finally returned home late that evening, he went right to bed.  He told me, that night he dreamed that he was over and over speaking this certain word aloud.  And each time he said this word, he grew lighter, and lighter; and he could feel himself being absorbed into the stream; once again experiencing unity with everything surrounding him.

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Ten years later, I was hiking, luckily with Rob; when this conversation finally struck me.   We paused at Shining Rock and I struggled to remember this thing that had suddenly bubbled to the surface.

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RR, Shining Rock

Anyhow, I’m describing it because I am not going to publish it. It was a helpful first draft, but I’m still struggling to give it shape.

I was nervous early in the week to say what I had begun writing about, since there is nothing worse for everyone than a difficult topic burdening a listener.  I usually prefer to show something after it is written, rather than at first when there is only the immaterial fact, the topic, hanging in the air, and possibly burdening the listener with this invisible emotional past.  Later is better because there is concrete material, something people can participate in too, a character and memory and style to know and so viewers are allowed an easier, more diverse range of response, whatever feels comfortable.  There are other, funnier comics too in the final book, if they choose instead.  But I had to tell John what I was working on by day two, and maybe he stopped breathing for a second, but he did quietly listen and really gracefully responded to the ideas.  What a cucumber!

I realized too, that reading John’s own comics about some really tough stuff had originally helped me digest some of my own experiences into a story I was now trying to write.  Which is I guess, one of the many ways I use books, to find that conversation there waiting when I need it, to learn from somebody I’m removed from by space, time, manners.  And to learn what it is like to be another, outside of my own experience, to polyangulate and try to gain a parallax view of this chaotic, tumbling life.  It felt strange to be talking to the person in whom those stories first inhabited.  He only said a few things about this process, but it was the most interesting question of the week.

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In the end, I wrote a second, more care-free comic at the last second that turned out so much better (you can read it here, and it’ll be included in Cabin In The Sky vol II).

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Burning the midnight oil at SAW

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 I’ve always been more of an early am kind of girl.

Here’s the 3:30 am scene at our camp site picnic table. I loved it!

Friday arrived, and everybody printed their masterpieces on the risograph.  There was an evening opening at SAW, and everybody sold their minicomics and tacked up the original artwork. It was so fun!  The comics were *amazing.*  Check out: James McShane, Zannah Marsh, Karl Dotter… that is everyone’s web site that I have. Yeah!

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Beat you to it!

It was the best week ever.  Rob said: Man if I had gotten to do that when I was 19, it might have changed the course of my life.

Everyone else stayed on for a second week with Ron Rege, but it was time for us to drive back to Vermont.

It was a quick & delirious drive north, as we both had to get back to work for Monday am.

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We did splurge for hotel rooms as Rob hadn’t been sleeping well in the tent (all the unfamiliar rustlings!)  But overall, unless you can stay at a nice place, I think camping is much easier and infinitely less seedy.

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I wasn’t psyched to drive back toward winter, but as we rolled across the Vermont state line I was struck by how freaking gorgeous this state really is.  Rob went back to the metal shop, and I drove back over to the NH mountains and hiked back into Lonesome.

I promptly chipped my front tooth cutting wood for the stove, and discovered that the pine marten had decided to lay siege to the cabin during my absence. But, it was good to be back.

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a little extra hillbilly flavor

And best of all, the daylight hours have blown past 11 hours. Welcome, spring.