Longform

Denver cartoonists are inking big

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Porcellino has become such a focal point of the alternative comics scene that Stafford, a former film student, is accompanying him on his current tour, camera in hand. He plans on turning the footage — which includes interviews with nationally lauded cartoonists such as Jeffrey Brown and Ivan Brunetti, both of whom are ardent King-Cat fans — into a documentary. Stafford and Janes have also thrown release parties for local cartoonists and commissioned artwork from Porcellino for the store, which employs Van Sciver. The sixth issue of Van Sciver's scathingly hilarious Blammo will be released later this year by Kilgore.

Blammo #6 will be Kilgore's first venture into publishing — not that Van Sciver has a lack of people lining up to release his work. Baltimore-based Atomic Books is collecting the first five issues of Blammo into a trade paperback, and Van Sciver's work appears regularly on the auspicious pages of periodicals like The Comics Journal and Mome, both published by Fantagraphics, the world's leading purveyor of alternative comics. The cartoonist is also working on his first graphic novel, The Hypo.

"It's the story of Abraham Lincoln's life from 1838 to 1842," says Van Sciver of his ambitious new project. "I'd just like to be able to make a living doing exactly what I want to do with comics. I don't want to draw Archie comics or whatever just to survive. Comics based on real life have more appeal to me than Wolverine or whatever."

Tannenbaum, on the other hand, still has warm feelings for the X-Men comics of his youth. "I grew up obsessed with the Marvel stuff of the '80s," he admits. But while attending the Art Institute of Chicago in the '90s — at the same time cartoonist Chris Ware, creator of the highly acclaimed Acme Novelty Library, was taking classes — he started making comics that were crisp, highly stylized and informed by the eye-popping iconography of pop art. Not that comics were in any way part of the school's curriculum. "The Art Institute was a super-progressive school, but when I was there, comics were totally verboten," Tannenbaum recalls. "They were shunned. There were two or three of us there who drew comics, but we just pushed up our glasses and kept to ourselves."

After returning to Denver and finding little traction in architecture school, he went back to making art — first through paintings, then comics. "I did some painting and had a little success with that," he says. "I even had some stuff at Rule Gallery. But my love of art really is in comics." He found a small bit of success being published online by Georgia's Top Shelf Comix, then applied for a Xeric Foundation grant — from a fund set up by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird to support self-published comics projects — and won an award in 2008.

"That gave me a little recognition, a foot in the door," says Tannenbaum. "And it gave me the money to self-publish my book, The Chronicles of Some Made. I got all kinds of good reviews, but I made so little money. I don't know how many thousands of hours I put into that thing, and I ended up making $300 for the whole effort. I made, I don't know, 25 cents an hour doing that comic. I really loved doing it, and I'm really proud of it. But I realized doing comics is a lifestyle. You have to spend all this time alone, working really hard for really small returns." Tannenbaum still draws comics, but he's returned to architecture school and is focusing his attention on a vocation with far more liquidity and stability.

Karl Christian Krumpholz has no such fall-back plan; a full-time illustrator and comics artist, he moved to Denver in 2005 after living in Boston and Philadelphia. And according to him, Denver's comics scene beats them both. "There are cartoonists in Philadelphia and Boston, but, like most cartoonists, they're locked up in their studio and doing things on their own," says Krumpholz. "In Denver, there is an actual community of people who get together and talk with each other. It's very supportive. I talk to so many cartoonists all over the country, and they're all sitting at their drawing boards, wondering if anyone's paying attention."

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller