As the mercury hit 99 degrees Sunday, I had to wonder: Is Washington, D.C.'s comics scene ripe for heating up, too?
While talking with "Big Nate" cartoonist Lincoln Peirce over the weekend, I asked him how he came to mentor "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" creator Jeff Kinney in the mid-'90s, and Peirce recalled that Kinney, of course, had a comic strip in the University of Maryland's Diamondback newspaper at the time.
This is the same era at the Diamondback that also nurtured Aaron McGruder and Frank Cho -- in what would be a tremendous run of talent for any university.
That's just the tip of the comics-talent iceberg when it comes to cartoonists (and related artists) past and present who have D.C.-area roots, and Comic Riffs dwells on this whenever we talk to "Cul de Sac's" Richard Thompson or attend a Gigacon or interview "Toy Story 3" writer Michael Arndt. -- and the question presented itself front-and-center again when a panel of cartoonists gathered Saturday near the ALA conference.
ComicsDC and City Paper blogger Mike Rhode moderated the panel, which featured such talented cartoonists as Andrew Cohen, Evan Keeling, Shannon Gallant and Ben Claassen, as well as Politico's Matt Wuerker.
In covering the panel, the Washington blogger Comicsgirl writes: "Any discussion of any sort of scene in the Washington, D.C. area tends to come down to a sort of 'Yeah, but ...' kind of attitude. I think we're always on the defensive when it comes to trying to prove that we really are cool."
"When it comes to comics," she continues, "no, D.C. is not New York (we're not even Brooklyn). Or Portland. Or the Bay Area. But the D.C. area actually has a pretty impressive wealth of comic-book talent lurking around."
Having lived previously in the Bay Area and San Diego, I was fortunate enough to (mis)spend some formative years in cities that have thriving comics scenes -- to the point that I took such hospitable-to-comic-life environs for granted. With that in mind, I'd have to agree with Comicsgirl: There is a conspicuous degree of comics talent between points Fredericksburg and Baltimore. Perhaps, then, what the D.C. area is really lacking is a galvanizing hub, or signature event, that helps the region truly realize how much talent and interest is in our midst.
So with need for such an event-happy hub in mind, I propose that numerous cartoonists band together and buy the storied, on-the-market bookstore Politics and Prose. As the headline itself said on The Post's recent story: "With sale of D.C.'s Politics and Prose, a bookstore's legacy is up for grabs." Well, what about the region's cartooning legacy?
I mean: Imagine the possibilities if cartoonists could stock all their favorite comics (guaranteeing a humor section far less anemic than most bookstores have now); if they could hold nightly signings and how-to sessions; if they could invite all their cartooning colleagues around the world in for talks; and if comic fans had a warm new home for geeking out (that would complement the area's great comics shops). And really, given the store's downstairs cafe, who knows more about enabling late-night overcaffeination than cartoonists?
Am I joking? Yes, mostly, but just know: I would be semi-serious about this humble little dream if Washington's cartooning legend Herblock were still with us. With his charitable millions, "Politics and Post" -- or perhaps "The Line's Den" or "Herb's Block" or whatever the cartoonists decided to call it -- could afford to be a reality. And Washington as comics town, perhaps, would sooner be mentioned in the same breath as the Bay Area, if not Brooklyn.
If you've got an opinion about how the D.C. area rates as a "comics town," feel free to weigh in.