Drawing Power


The world of comics has matured a lot in the last hundred years. Today, graphic novels enjoy a cred that Archie never did. This weekend, Bethesda’s annual Small Press Expo gathers the best illustrators and comic artists working today. Here’s our guide for whose table to storm, full geek ahead.

20110908-spx-250.jpgKate Beaton
Kate Beaton does not mean to educate you. Anything you may learn from perusing “Hark! A Vagrant” — her webcomic devoted to art, literature and making fun of Canada — is just a side effect of mixing profanity, “The Great Gatsby” and jokes about Charles Dickens.

Beaton lampoons the stiffest of history’s heroes, but she clearly likes them. Take her Napoleon Bonaparte, a chubby little fellow who drowns his sorrows over a roving Josephine by eating too many cookies.

Beaton is a bit of a reluctant cartoonist. She nixed studying animation after high school. Instead, she studied history. But after college, she kept drawing. “Hark!” caught on with the Internet intelligentsia, and she self-published a collection of her work, “Never Learn Anything From History,” in 2009. She had cartoons published in the New Yorker and Wired, and won a 2011 Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work. Her newest collection, named for the series, is being released this month by Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly.

Beaton’s branched out of historical comics, too — one recent story line looked at the unexplored personal life of Lois Lane.

“Mary Jane, Spider-Man’s girlfriend, she’s a model. Who cares?” Beaton says. “Lois is, like, ‘I’m gonna get this story!’ and is busting in through locked doors. It’s kind of sad that Superman’s always there meddling.”

Sarah Glidden & The Pizza Island Comics Collective

Being an artist is tough: low pay, long hours, lots of existential uncertainty. Perhaps most unrelenting is the solitude. For six illustrators in Brooklyn, N.Y., the solution was Pizza Island (pictured above).

“There were days that I never even went outside,” says Sarah Glidden, whose graphic novel “How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less” is more hard-nosed journalism than goofy cartoon, of her working life before joining the Pizza Island collective — the members of which will be at SPX. “It can be so isolating working on something all day and not having anyone to talk to.”

Glidden and Julia Wertz (of cult comic “Fart Party”) and French cartoonist Domitille Collardey set out to find a shared working space, rounding up Lisa Hanawalt (who draws for the Believer and the Hairpin), Kate Beaton (more on her at right) and “Octopus Pie” creator Meredith Gran. It’s a motley and hardworking crew.

“No duds in this studio,” says Glidden. No dudes, either — though that’s not by design, and the collective has included a male artist.

“We get frustrated sometimes that people pay attention to us because, ‘Six girls all makin’ comics! Wow!’” Glidden quips. Yep. Making comics, making book deals, signing illustrator contracts with magazines such as Vice, Harper’s and McSweeney’s. “We’re all doing pretty well in our own ways.”

SPX Trailblazers
The talent at this year’s expo has more than 356,472 combined years of cartooning experience. Bask in the superior knowledge of:

Roz Chast, left, whose iconic, wiry ‘toons have made her a force at the New Yorker for more than 30 years. Sun., 2 p.m.

Ann Telnaes, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her editorial cartooning. Sun., 2:30 p.m.

Diane Noomin got her start with “Wimmen’s Comix,” an underground digest that ran from 1972 to 1992. Sun., 4 p.m.

Don’t Miss
Chester Brown: No American cartoonist would run for public office after publishing a controversial series of comics about the Christian gospels. But Brown has a boldness that comes with being both Canadian and libertarian, and so he did. We’re glad he didn’t win, because that gives him more time to draw. Sat., 6 p.m.

Anders Nilsen: Nilsen’s comic “Big Questions” combines the philosophical bent of “Peanuts” and “Calvin and Hobbes” with an epic grandeur that’s uncommon in simple pen-and-ink doodles. A compendium of his work has just been published by Drawn & Quarterly. Sat., 2 p.m.

Craig Thompson: Thompson broke out in 2003 with the graphic novel “Blankets,” a look at growing up in an evangelical Christian family. His newest, “Habibi,” examines Islamic culture from the point of view of a prostitute and a eunuch who embark on a romance. Sat., 3 p.m.

Getting There
Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, 5701 Marinelli Road, North Bethesda; Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and Sun., noon-6 p.m., $10-$15; 301-822-9200.

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