This past weekend, I braved the marathon and the rain to hang out with friends who were vending handmade reusable cloth menstrual pads (more on them below) at Baltimore Comic-Con. Now in its 20th year, the convention brings together hundreds of artists, from big name professionals to fans taking their first shot at selling their own works. When I wasn’t encouraging potential customers to pet the pads (they’re so soft!), I went looking for Baltimore-area artists to talk to.
The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Tony Calandra, http://www.facebook.com/GCPcomics/
Me: How long have you been publishing GCP Comics?
Tony: Ten years now.
Me: Wonderful! And you do it yourselves?
Tony: Yeah, we do it all ourselves, part-time since we both have full-time jobs. We have friends that work at a couple small publishers, so we might go that route soon.
Me: So, tell me about your comic.
Tony: Our latest one we have here is The Patrol, we have two issues. A second ice age happens, these mysterious beasts show up, and it actually takes place all in Maryland, and the story’s gonna end in Baltimore. People always skip over Baltimore, it’s New York, DC —
Me: — the end of the world happens other places too!
Tony: Yeah, we wanted to show some Baltimore love.
Me: Are there any other local artists you’d wanna highlight?
Tony: I know another local guy down here who does Spaghetti Kiss, Michael Baracco, he does Super Art Fight as well. He did our first t-shirts that we got screen printed, now we screen print our own
Michael Bracco, http://spaghettikiss.websiteanimal.com/
Me: Tell me about your comic.
Michael: The one I’m working on right now is called The Creators. It’s a kind of dark science-fiction about a small grouping of kids scattered across the globe who suddenly develop the ability to bring their imaginations to life through their artwork and the crazy social ramifications of that power. It’s kind of my way to do a socially relevant kaiju book, where these kids are trying to do good things, and then when they’re mistreated, things go out of control, there’s all this collateral damage. It’s my way of exploring the idea of if we took one percent of every one percent of every teenager in this country and gave them the power to do anything they wanted to, how would that change American culture and how would we stifle these kids.
Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?
Michael: Oh, I think as an artist this city is the best city in the country! And I mean that wholeheartedly, with evidence, not just off the cuff. One, there’s just a really active art scene in the city, craft shows, art festivals, comic conventions… a thousand different ways to do it. We have very supportive shops and people who live in Baltimore because they love the forward motion of the city and they look to support local artists and musicians, local restaurants.
On top of that, this is the only city, I think, in the country that’s in the center of so many other cities full of opportunities, Philly, Richmond, New York, DC, Pittsburgh. So there’s just so much art with so many different voices happening in this radius of Baltimore, but Baltimore is actually I think kind of the epicenter, it’s right in the middle of it all.
Rod Van Blake, http://ancientillumination.net/
Me: Tell me about the books.
Rod: Ancient Illumination came about from me thinking of things that happened long ago and beings made of pure light. I had a what-if scenario, what if there were beings made of pure light, what would that interaction be if they came to stay with us when we were cro-magnon, still in the caveman days, and they tried to teach us? But one kind of thinks we’re too dumb, so he starts experimenting, messing with us.
He gets exiled here on Earth for doing that and is tasked with enlightening mankind. He forms a bunch of different mutated races, we evolve technologically with his help, a bunch of societies raise up with his help. He looks at all the conflict that happens, he watches it and influences it, it’s like a soap opera to him. So we evolved, but not in the proper ways, we become like an entertainment mechanism for him.
Me: That’s a really fascinating premise. So, have you been to Baltimore Comic-Con before?
Rod: This is our third one. When I first came in 2017, I only had one book. We were telling people, hey, next year when I come I’m gonna have book two. So next year we came, I had book two, next year we’re gonna have book three, and hopefully next year we’re going to have the graphic novel of it, which will be a different experience.
Me: Any other artists you’d tell people to check out? I guess there’s the person who did the art for your book?
Rod: JP Jackson Art! He’s local here in Baltimore, you should definitely check him out.
Jordan Purnell Jackson, https://jjackson01.myportfolio.com
Abby: Is there a particular project you’re working on right now that you wanna uplift?
Jordan: When I graduated from college three years ago, my thesis project was called Land of the Wolves. It was an animation, but I also made a prequel comic to it. It’s basically Little Red Riding Hood in a post-apocalyptic future. She’s an Afro-Latina shaman and she’s tasked to go to this forest and find these missing Black women that have been abducted by these wolf-men. My plans are to continue the series where each chapter will alternate between a comic and animated form.
Abby: That sounds awesome! So how do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
Jordan: I feel it’s a very interesting place, I feel like there’s these pockets, niches, but this city has a great history and culture of cultivating artists.
Timothy J Stambaugh
Abby: So, how long have you been making art?
T.J.: I have been making art since I was a little kid, but I would say that, realistically, I haven’t really been doing it seriously until about, I don’t know, five years ago. I always doodled around, but I never really tried, I guess is the best way I could say it. I had some pretty shitty things happen about five years ago and I felt like I needed something to kind of focus on instead of being sad all the time, so I just put all my energy into that. I started reading and trying to get different artistic theory down and stuff like that. Just every day, drawing, painting, trying to get better, never being happy with what you’re doing, always trying to push myself.
Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
T.J.: I like it a lot. There’s a lot of places where you can go show your work, it’s pretty welcoming to kind of every skill level. And it was easy for me to find people that were interested in what I was doing, which is nice, you know what I mean? Especially when I started, I didn’t have any experience, I didn’t know what I was doing. A lot of times with artists, you get that snobbery or that cliquey-ness, like if you’re not one of them, it doesn’t really count, and I never really got that here.
Kata Kane, http://kata-kane.com
Abby: Tell me about Altar Girl.
Kata: I started it as a webcomic, it’s a shojo manga style comic with all of my favorite things that I love about manga — magical girls and supernatural stuff, angels and demons, romance and crushes, all fun stuff.
Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?
Kata: I love Baltimore, there’s definitely an art scene here. I actually help run a group called Bmore Into Comics (www.bmoreintocomics.com), it’s writers and artists and just comic book fans and creators, we get together and we do small local shows in different places in the city. We used to do a lot of shows at the Windup Space, which has since closed, that was kind of like our home base. So right now, we’re kind of in a transitional period where we’re trying to find the next spot. Yeah, so I love the art scene in Baltimore, it’s a great place to be a creator.
Erin Whitt Hilker, https://bleedgeeks.com
Me: What got you started doing Bleed Geeks?
Erin: I cloth-diapered Bjorn, but I hadn’t been using cloth pads at that point. It wasn’t until Erica, who was selling mass market cloth pads at Greenberries, came to me with their question of “Can we make a cloth pad that is water-resistant but doesn’t cut off air flow, that’s not water-proof?” because a solid water-proofing is what was preventing the airflow, and they were finding that their customers were saying, “Well I want to use cloth pads but the humidity is giving me a rash or causing me discomfort.” And there just weren’t any commercial options for that one, so I sat down to see if I could.
Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
Erin: I love it, it’s… coming from a more rural area, it’s lovely to be able to walk around and not be visibly, obviously weird. There is so much creativity in our town. Baltimore is creative on a fundamental level, and I just love being adjacent to it, I love being a part of it, I love living here.
Many thanks to all of these talented and fascinating folks! I had to cut a lot to get everything to fit, and one of the questions I asked but didn’t include was “What’s your favorite comic shop in Baltimore?” Shout-out to Collectors Corner, which no fewer than four of the profiled artists cited, with multiple people saying that the owner, Randy, was a huge support to them when they were starting out.
On a more somber note, like many, I reacted with shock and sadness on Thursday when I woke up to the news of the untimely death of west Baltimore U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a man whose work for civil rights and accountability commanded respect across all levels of society. Congressman Cummings once wrote of Baltimore, in the Afro-American newspaper (https://www.afro.com/the-thing-i-love-about-baltimore-5/), “We are a community that is almost compulsively honest and candid. We do not hesitate to critique and protest what we see as lacking and wrong in our City.”
Amen, sir. In that vein, and I can’t stress this enough — Free Keith Davis, Jr.!!
Cultural Event of the Week: This Saturday night, 10/26, a spectacular Baltimore tradition celebrates its 20th birthday — the Great Halloween Lantern Parade & Festival! Produced by the Creative Alliance and the Friends of Patterson Park, in partnership with Baltimore Recreation & Parks, the day starts at 3pm with a kids costume contest, lantern making, hayrides, an arts and crafts market, and live music by Albert Bagman, Cultura Plenera, and others. There will also be food trucks and a beer garden. And of course, when the sun sets, the lanterns come out for their procession, with floats and glowing sculptures lining the pathway around the park.
https://www.creativealliance.org/events/2019/20th-great-halloween-lantern-parade-festival / http://www.facebook.com/events/635458533606690/
Green Event of the Week: This Saturday morning is the Mayor’s annual Fall cleanup, when people around the city arm themselves with gloves, bags, and roll-off trash containers to do battle with litter. More than 100 neighborhoods are signed up to participate this year; check the list below to see if yours is one and, if so, reach out to your local community association for details.
Song of the Week: “Artists Only” by The Talkings Heads
I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / All my pictures are confused / And now I’m going to / Take me to you