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Camp 2019, A Bit Of Physicality

So what, I hear you cry, actually happens at #ComicsCamp, Gary? And that’s an excellent question, since to the outside world it looks like a bunch of creators go off-grid for about three days, and everybody knows as soon as you get more than two creators together, 90% of their time is spent figuring out where to go for dinner and exactly how many people are in the group and can you get them all to show up at the same time¹. But with actual ample time, and the dinner plans questions off the table, other things must be found to fill the hours.

Thus, a slate of activities designed to share skills/provide guidance and context to careers, as well as time to play (or invent) games, skip rocks on the water, sketch, hike, paint, play outside like you haven’t since you were a kid, or just kick back and do blessed nothing for the first time in forever. Just show up on time for your shift prepping or cleaning up a meal, and all is cool.

Since most of us can imagine what it’s like to do most of those things (although, and I can’t stress this enough, you are probably not accounting for the deeply majestic beauty of the Alaskan semiwilderness), I’m going to share mostly about the programming.

Last year, almost by accident, most of the first day’s programming involved craft-type sessions (Ravenstail weaving, painted pillow-making, wool felting, bookbinding, and more), and this year continued the tradition by design. There was going to be heavier stuff a bit later, and a bit of physicality would cleanse the mental and emotional palate so that heavy lifting could be approached fresh.

Thus, the Sunday schedule looked like:

10:00 am Artifact Drawing w/ Amber Rankin Knitting & Crocheting w/ Nikki Rice Sketchbook Construction w/ Tess Olympia
11:30 am Friendship Bracelets w/ Cat Farris Printmaking w/ Jim Heumann Travel Watercolor Kits w/ Shing Yin Khor
2:00 pm Tlingit Language & History w/ X’unei Financial Stability w/ Rebecca Martinez Shrinky Dinks w/ Lee Pace
3:30 pm Comedy Writing w/ Ryan North Puzzle Making w/ Chris Yates Podcasting w/ Alison Wilgus

The only thing to note about scheduling is that it quickly becomes impossible to not put cool things up against each other, so decisions had to be made.

  • 10:00am Amber Rankin is an animator with a background in artifact documentation for an archeology company; she brought some artifacts and talked about how drawing them isn’t quite like other still life subjects. Not being much of a draw-er, I left that to folks who would benefit from learning another way to interpret the stuff in front of them.

    Tess Olympia (as she prefers) is a program manager with Sealaska in early education. While I’m a sucker for notebooks and would love to learn how to construct my own, I didn’t want to take up limited materials and keep somebody who would actually use a sketchbook for sketching from being able to participate. So a handful of us broke out needles and hooks and messed with fibers — some for the first time, some at a high level.

    Me, I learned one knit stitch — the titular knit stitch, as in knit one, purl two — at Camp last year, and since then I’ve been playing with the math of knitting, seeing what happens if I do this, or try that. I have a ball of garbage yarn that I use to experiment and when I get an effect I like, I move it to a nicer project. The very nice, been-knitting-longer-than-I’ve-been-alive ladies at the local knit shop tell me I do everything wrong, but I do it consistently and get interesting results, so they have no complaints. I used the time to finish off a project² that’s taken my time on airplanes since last June or so. Catch me in person and I’ll tell you about it.

  • 11:30am Jim Heumann is a printmaker from Juneau, and he brought the supplies for cutting linoleum sheets for relief printing. Shing Yin Khor brought a stack of tins like you’d get Altoids in, a big bag of little square trays, about 1cm on side, and a couple dozen tubes of concentrated watercolor paints. Paint in little trays, trays in tin, and with a water supply and brush, you’ve got a travel painting kit. Again, I left those to the actual artists, to consume neither limited materials, nor time on equipment.

    But you know what was never a thing at any of the camps I attended as a kid? Friendship bracelets. Maybe the Boy Scouts though they weren’t masculine enough. But once you learn a pattern for knotting and have embroidery floss in front of you, all it takes is patience, leaving time to talk and get to know people Cat Farris had spent some time already bonding over our respective greyhounds, and this one was a no-brainer. I actually gave the bracelet I made to a friend at Camp, because hey, it’s there in the name!

  • 2:00pm Man, I haven’t seen Shrinky Dinks since I was a kid, and I saw that Lee Post got some really nice ones produced. I would have absolutely done the session on finances with Rebecca Martinez — having worked corporate for a couple of decades and thus been exposed to the idea of financial planning, I felt that I could probably contribute — but it was up against the session on Tlingit Language and History.

    After last year’s sessions by Lily and Ishmael Hope on Tlingit traditions, I wanted to know more. I wasn’t alone, either; offhand, I’d say it was the best-attended session of Camp, apart from the all-hands opening and closings. It was also very information-dense and I’m still going through the four pages of notes that I took³, so that will get its own writeup later.

  • 3:30pm Chris Yates and Alison Wilgus know puzzlemaking and podcasting, respectively, like few others. But being the rare white guy that doesn’t think he should have a podcast, and not having a wood shop at home, I opted to hear what Ryan North had to say about comedy (or, if you prefer, humour) writing.

    It was substantially similar to a session he did two years ago with Kate Beaton (who couldn’t attend this year for the best of reasons), a session that challenged me on one of my core beliefs in life: that Ryan North (and Kate Beaton as well) is effortlessly funny, when the core message of the workshop was no, this is a learned skill like any other.

    Which, okay, yes, to write something and put it into the world and have it be funny, that’s a skill to learn and practice and perfect. But it’s also true that Beaton (and North), in casual conversation and completely off-the-cuff, will leave me laughing because of all the funny that is spontaneously produced. Learning to write funny things is not the same skill as having perfect timing or an ideal, dry intonation that makes everything you say funnier. So I’m half conceding on my core belief, but an acknowledgment that their creative work is funny because they’ve spent years practicing their craft, which is learnable.

    Case in point: North provided us with two pages from The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (art by Erica Henderson with inking assists from Tom Fowler) with the dialogue stripped out, and had us fill in our own. It was a tough exercise, trying to come up with words that fit an already-set situation, and in only about ten minutes. I felt my contribution was about three hours from being serviceable, but when read out anonymously by Ryan it got spontaneous laughs, which was maybe the best feeling in the world. I still think it could be much tighter (or maybe work better with a different page of art), but it’s still a sense of accomplishment.

    Even more importantly? Of the twenty or so pages that Ryan read out (again, all anonymous), none of them wasn’t funny, and all of them were substantially different gags. One starting situation, twenty different directions, one common result. Your approach for success, North observed, doesn’t have to be the same as anybody else’s to be real and valid. As I mentioned previously and will again, that was a recurring theme to Camp, and one that all creators should take to heart.

    Oh, and Brio the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel spent most of Ryan’s session gently snoring on a giant beanbag chair. That dog got some serious love over the weekend.

One of my favorite parts of Camp each year is when people present for five minutes on a topic that they’re passionate about. Ever wonder about why the Middle East is so screwed up? Let Beth Barnett tell you all about the Sykes-Picot Agreement! Were you curious about how new commercial flowers are produced? Jessi Jordan has hand-fertilized hibiscus until it produced colorful new mutations! Tiny things on YouTube! #twentyninezine! Carnivorous plants! Thermochromic pigments! Retired racing greyhound adoption! Everybody has passions beside comics (at least, I hope they do), and it’s great to share.

Pictures:
Geez, there are just no pictures pertaining to this day that are landscape and would make a good header, you know that? Way to plan things out, Past Gary.

Brio snoozin’ on the bean. That bean bag chair, btw, was large enough to accommodate 3-4 Campers or one very small dog. There was also a giant stuffed bone-in ham pillow.

The comic page blank up top (click to embiggen, naturally) featured one of my favorite submissions, where Tony Stark only said I’m Tony Stark, over and over again. It was tough to get a clear enough photo of my effort to read the dialogue because my phone camera’s face recognition kept picking out Tony Stark heads as areas of interest and letting the other bits go slightly out of focus. My absolute favorite submission used this template, involved Tony Stark talking about how often he eats candy off the ground/out of the garbage, and the computer voice sadly intoning Oh, Tony. No. North’s version of those pages can be found in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe which is great and you should read.

Five Minute Talks by Beth, Alison, Jessi, Cat and me, Kerstin, Molly, Tony, Inari, Maarta, Leila, Ana, Cleo, Allison, and Haley.

_______________
¹ Answers: The eighteenth place suggested, four more than the final count everybody agreed upon, and no.

² A lot of which was me adding a few zillions lengths of fringe to edges. Rather than take the time to bury stray bits of yarn from the start and end, I spent literally hundreds of times more effort to hide them in a forest of similar yarn. Genius!

³ Including some very sincere discussion about how much the Tlingit language is intrinsically tied to the Tlingit people, leaving me with some thinking to do on how much I should share rather than just pointing you to resources presented by Tlingit speakers.

It’s like when Lily Hope told us last year about art collectors that try to commission her to weave traditional robes and she tells them she can only accept the commissions if the finished pieces stay with the clan. If you want something to hang on your wall and congratulate yourself on your refined taste, she can make you stuff that is of her own design and meaningful to her, but decidedly not traditional.

I’m thinking of it as being the difference between something made or shared by a Tlingit person, and something that is of the Tlingit people. In New Jersey, we learn about the people that originally resided here in fourth grade (or at least, I did way back when), but it’s abstract — there haven’t been any Lenape people here in generations and collectively we who live here now aren’t required to confront what happened. Some of the indigenous Alaskan peoples, though, they experienced first contact with settlers in living memory. The absolute least that I can do is to really think about how to approach this topic with the respect it deserves.

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