This last weekend I finally went to the Kenosha Festival of Cartooning. I write “finally” because I really wanted to go last year but had too many deadlines. The festival was organized by the wonderful Anne Hambrock, harpist and colorist extraordinaire, and her brilliant husband John who’s the creator of the Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee.
Now, even though I’m in the same age group as many of these comic creators, and I’ve had similar experiences over the years, I’m not making a living off of this. I make a living creating advertising material. I do a comic a day for free because I love it. It’s the most relaxing part of my day. So I look up to the featured cartoonists. I’m a fan of their work and I’m proud of their contributions to the comic art form. It’s very easy to revert to my ten year old self (which, let’s face it, is a pretty standard mental condition for most cartoonists).
My wife Rachel tagged along. She’s my best friend, after all, and has the ability to make me actually like myself. I packed my self esteem, finally arranged for babysitting and after a half a tank of gas and approximately 483 Chicago tollbooths we were in Kenosha.
I was immediately met by Tom Racine, thank god. Tom is the incredible writer/artist behind BookSmarts (see the previous blog entry for my review on that must-have book) who turned into the incredible interviewer/podcaster. He’s also an amazingly nice guy who took the trouble to introduce me to people and forced me not to spend the day crouched in the corner while wearing camouflage.
I was only there Saturday, so I got to see three presentations. Well, three and a half if you count Stephan Pastis’ honorable second presentation due to the sold out original presentation. And here is part of the crowd who was there. In front of all of those people is a backwards-capped Stephan Pastis.
Rachel and I only spoke to Stephan when he signed a book for us, and that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Rachel buying a book at the last second and running to the end of the line. I didn’t want to bug him because he is truly the Garth Brooks of the cartooning world. Weird comparison you say? Not so. I’m not really a Garth fan, but I do remember reading that he was so dedicated to his fans that he would sometimes spend six hours or more signing autographs. That’s Stephan Pastis. He added a show, stayed late, and was extremely nice to everyone all while being in the middle of a book tour.
I recorded the lectures on my iPod. My favorite, I have to say, was Norm Feuti. It was great and I only found out later that he was very nervous about the whole public speaking thing. I wouldn’t have guessed that. I gushed about Gil to him. Rachel gushed about Retail. He was selling his book “Pretending To Care”, and even though we left our copy at home he signed another one just for Rachel. When we got home, my mother-in-law asked about Norm right away. What can I say? The women in my family are Norm groupies, probably because they have a lot of retail experience.
Upstairs was original artwork that was going to be auctioned off later. I know, it’s stupid to take pictures of original artwork, because you can find them in reprint collections in all their reproducible glory. But there’s something so intimate about seeing original art that I just had to put my crappy iPod camera back into use.
I was amazed at how clean all of the comic strips were. They looked like they were made for framing. So I took a picture of this Pearls Before Swine to show that Pastis is the “real deal”. Oh yeah, tons O’ white out. Just like I make ‘em.
This Family Circus, aside from making me stare at its beautiful rendering, made me laugh out loud. Yes, the idea of expectant kids greeting an exhausted parent is a familiar idea. But look at the repetition of the father’s pose and the use of bad weather to emphasize a hard day. This is cartooning at its best.
Once the museum closed, we went down the street to the auction. After guarding Tom Racine’s camera gear while he ran off to change into his Captain America costume, both Rachel and Tom forced me to meet people. All were unbelievable nice (I’m sensing a pattern here).
Finally realizing I could take pictures, I took a picture of all the great talent that was there. Ha! No, I’m an idiot. I took a picture of the bathroom. I thought it was funny that the Womens restroom was easily accessible while you had to trek down two flights of stairs and go around the corner for the Mens. So I took a picture of that.
I got to briefly meet Tom Richmond. Super nice. I told Rachel (with a straight face) that he’s Lou Ferrigno’s brother. She responded “Really?” That might’ve been my happiest moment.
Then I got to meet Michael Jantze, who is a walking, talking TV show. He was so entertaining and full of solid knowledge about the business that I could’ve listened to him all night. Instead I wrote down a couple of things he said that cracked me up: “My wife said to me, ‘Imagine what you could’ve done with your life if you didn’t hate yourself?’” I think a lot of us need to ask ourselves that. He also had a zinger in a story he told that’s so good that I’ll skip the setup, “You go to hell and I’ll go get a lawyer”. I need half of his energy. Just half.
After all of that, the Hambrocks hosted a get-together at their house. I don’t know how they have the energy for all of this, but there must be something in the air drifting off of Lake Michigan.
I met Mike Cope. I’ve always found his artwork to be perfect. Fortunately, he was taking actual pictures with a better (real) camera. I hope to see those. He also showed us that the population of Canada is only a bit above 34 million. See, it’s not all cartoon talk. I wish I had more time to talk with Mike. What he’s doing with educational cartooning seems to be a very underutilized outlet for our skills. Plus, it all sounds like very rewarding work.
Those are the highlights for me, a scared cartoonist who likes to draw a comic featuring a scared dog. I feel less intimidated now. These are real people who happen to be masters in their field.
As far as the festival is concerned, fans and even the mildly curious should come when there is another one. Kenosha is a very accessible city and the perfect setting for this. The Hambrocks did an amazing job and the festival was very exciting for the fans. I know, because I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversations. Perhaps my biggest satisfaction was overhearing two young boys talking excitedly about Pearls Before Swine.
Hey, kids! Comics! The comics still rock.