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Monday, October 25, 2010
Memories of the Ohio State University Cartoon Festival 2010 in Stream of Consciousness Form Part 2
The first order of business at the Wexner Center for the Arts's downstairs auditorium on Friday morning is refreshments and the official welcome by Cartoon Librarian Lucy Caswell and OSU President E. Gordon Gee (who gracefully combines the grandeur of a college president's name with a bit of gosh-wowiness), which Mike and I miss, arriving in time to hear most of Tony Agnes Cochran's talk, I Might Be Significant. Cochran's language describing his work is as lyrically comic as his strip, and one thing that strikes me is his admission that he hadn't been a huge comics fan as a kid; instead he'd come to cartooning through fine art, having started out as a painter. He also points out that Agnes's hair is shaped like Ohio, his home state. I admire Agnes as a character; she's ebullient and irrepressible in spite of her dispiriting life, living in a trailer with her grandmother, and she makes me laugh. Each speaker is allotted 45 minutes, the last few of which are opened up for questions from the audience. To mark the last question in this and all subsequent presentations Lucy Caswell rises silently from the audience to appear onstage by the speaker, a bit of stage business that becomes somehow funny each time it's repeated. There's now a brief break for everybody to stand up and sit down again, something I do rather gingerly as I'm wobbly and also as the guy videotaping the talks has his camera set up right behind me and I'm antsy about my head looming into his shots (assuming he's even filming the breaks). Then it's time for Jen Slowpoke Sorensen's talk, The Lighter Side of Impending Doom. Her power point shows Jen's deft, insightful and playful handling of sometimes grim material and I recognize every strip. One thing I really enjoy is how funny they are all over again when viewed with an audience, in the same way that I've almost suffocated with laughter watching an ancient Bugs Bunny cartoon for the 400th time when it's in a crowded theater. Listening to a cartoonist read his or her work also adds something to understanding and enjoying it; the timing and intonation is often different from what your mind hears while reading it. After Jen it is Dave Sheldon Kellett's turn. His talk, The Freeing of the Comics, is the keynote speech, and is billed as a reply to Bill Watterson's The Cheapening of the Comics, which was presented at OSU in 1989. Dave's a smart man, a wonderfully funny cartoonist and an especially good speaker. His talk is a fine piece of comic timing, with an entertainingly illustrative choice of photos and drawings, and the points he makes about the possibilities of the web as newspapers dwindle give me a few shreds of hope. I wish now I'd taken better notes, or that there'd been a test at the end. One point he makes is that we as cartoonists are businessmen/women/people/talkingdogs, deny it or claim incompetence as we might. Whatever, I feel some relief, though if someone had been selling time machine tickets to Newspaperland 1985 I'd still get in line. Now it's lunchtime and, though I have a ticket to a lunch put on at Mershon Auditorium, I instead follow Mike, Chris, Charles, Michele & Craig to the Student Union and have a Buckeye Cuban sandwich, which is very good as it lacks actual buckeyes. The next table over is a madhouse of editorial cartoonists who we expect at any moment to erupt in an intense foodfight, as everyone knows that editorial cartoonists are violent, opinionated and contentious, most often at feeding time. We finish and head back to the Wexner Center for the next speaker. Who is Paul DC Levitz, a droll, low-key speaker, somewhat surprising in someone from the gaudy, exclamation pointed world of comic books. His presentation, 75 Years of Mythmaking, the Art of DC Comics, is keyed to a massive book of the same name coming out from Taschen. His anecdotes are great and told with the appreciation of someone who came up through fandom. One thing he mentions is that there are at least two individuals on the planet who possess a complete set of everything DC published, one of them in the vicinity of Kent, England. Those in the audience who collect sigh visibly, little clouds forming above their heads containing the word "sigh" in comic sans. Lucy Caswell appears silently onstage next to Paul and it's time for James Market Day Sturm. I'd met James at SPX in September and heard him speak at Politics & Prose. He repeats part of that at OSU, showing how he'd developed the story of Market Day and showing work by Roman Vishniak, Raphael Soyer and others who'd inspired him, but also talks about his many other works in comics and the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction that he cofounded in 2004. His description of cartooning as "not writing and art, but poetry and graphic design" is my favorite quote of the weekend (illustrated here by Mike Lynch). Then after a string of questions Lucy Caswell apparates onstage and it's time for vaudeville! The wiseguy surrealism of Bizarro in the person of Dan Piraro, who bestrides the stage like the agile performer and passionate cartoonist he is. His show, My Life as a Pornographer, is a hoot, an string of cartoons sharp as barbwire, the highlights of which include an indescribable gag with the Lone Ranger, Tonto & a cauliflower and a describable gag with Medusa at a nude beach. Then, after being playfully taunted by Piraro, Lucy Casswell, the implacable Angel of Time to Stop Talking, rises into view, giggling slightly, and invites us to join her back at the Hyatt Regency for a reception in honor of Paul Levitz, sponsored by Heritage Auctions. And more TK; I'm posting this unfinished because I've been so slow in finishing it, and America clamors for more.