Long before it was cool even in Brooklyn, perhaps it was the French who perfected it first.
“I always worked in studios,” Domitille Collardey says of her earlier Parisian life as an illustrator. “In France, it’s more traditional to get together, to share space.
“It’s something I knew I wanted to do here.”
“Here” is New York, where Collardey moved two years ago. And “here” is America, where cartooning your own creation can become an act most solitary — the lone artist isolated for hours with only ink, brush and impending deadline for company.
Fortuitously, Collardey already knew the New York-based Sarah Glidden (“How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less”), whom she compliments as “the most social cartoonist I’ve ever met,” and would soon get to know Bay Area transplant Julia Wertz (“Fart Party” and “Drinking at the Movies”).
“Sarah and Julia came up with the idea of sharing a studio at the same time I was moving here, in October 2009,” Collardey tells Comic Riffs, speaking by phone from her adopted home.
That adopted home isn’t merely her new Greenpoint neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is Pizza Island, the shared studio space on Morgan Avenue that exerts a gravitational pull.
“I don’t feel like I need to look for friends,” says Collardey, who graduated from les Arts Decoratifs de Paris in 2004 and co-founded the Chicou-Chicou project. ”The studio is pretty much my social life,” continues the “What Had Happened Was...” creator, who is married to artist and TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe (who’ll play the Virgin Mobile Freefest this weekend at Merriweather Post Pavilion).
Collardey, Glidden and Wertz share the craigslist-discovered Pizza Island space (named for a nonexistent restaurant they were mistakenly seeking one night, Glidden says) with “Hark! A Vagrant” creator Kate Beaton, “I Want You” cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt and Meredith Gran, creator of the webcomic “Octopus Pie.”
All six members of Pizza Island will come to suburban Washington this weekend for Small Press Expo, the indie comics event that this year is featuring such other special guests as New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, “Blankets” author Craig Thompson and alt-cartoonist Chester Brown, as well as Post political animator Ann Telnaes.
On Sunday, Collardey (making her SPX debut, new comic in hand), Gran and Wertz will appear on the event’s panel “Navigating the Contemporary Publishing Landscape.” And a day earlier, Glidden will be on the “Stories of Cultural Identity” panel and Beaton will be on an “Inside the New Yorker conversation” with Roz Chast.
Collardey, meantime, isn’t drawing upon hyperbole about the built-in social life. At least five of the Pizza Island artists will share a bus ride down to Maryland — simply an outgrowth of a partnership that also fuels the cartoonists creatively.
“It’s really a big part of my cartooning activity,” Collardey tells ‘Riffs. ”Being around them is super inspiring — to see how everybody works in different ways.”
Collardey, for instance, cites watching the artistic growth of Glidden, who also creates comics journalism featured on the website Cartoon Movement. “To see how Sarah’s style has changed and gotten amazing and more painterly, that’s really inspiring.” Earlier this year, the events of Arab Spring even sparked an impromptu online collaboration between Collardey and Glidden, titled “Egypt From 5,000 Miles Away.”
“And then there’s the way Julia and Kate write comedy, which is super interesting to me — and Lisa’s [talent], too, of course,” continues Collardey. “Sometimes when we’re stuck, we can say to each other, ‘What is wrong with this?’ We benefit a great deal from being around each other. It’s a positive place when work is going well, and in moments of doubt, we’re allowed to vent to each other.
“It’s great to know that we’re going to look at each other’s work with the positive critical eye.”
Glidden says the Pizza Island creators support each other organically in a wide array of ways. “Things will happen — you’ll be putting something together for a convention and want advice ... and someone to be honest. ... If we didn’t have a shared studio, it would be tough to do that. You can turn to the cartoonist next to you,” Glidden tells ‘Riffs. “I haven’t had that since art school.”
Yet for all the support “Pizza Island Brooklyn” provides, Collardey doesn’t rule out a migration at some point.
“New York is a place where people come and go,” she muses. “Who knows how long we’ll all be there? Some of us have this plan to [eventually] go to the West Coast...”
Collardey lets the thought hang there, as if a Pizza Island studio mate were nearby, poised to finish the thought..
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