Porcellino, too, admits he has a hard time drawing comics in front of others — an ironic kind of reservation for someone who has no qualms about putting the most intimate details of his life into his work. But with his recent upsurge of notoriety, he's been forced to place himself in the public eye on a regular basis via bookstore tours and appearances at schools, libraries and universities. He's come to embrace it, despite his reticence.
"It's really rewarding to get out there," says Porcellino. "As I get older, it becomes clear to me that the main reason I do comics is to try to have that connection with people. I had such a hard time feeling connected when I was younger, because I felt so shy and weird and self-conscious. So I found this way of communicating that felt good to me. And now that I'm more comfortable with who I am, it's awesome to go out and talk to a room full of people and meet them and shake their hands. Now I have this connection with people on a personal level, as human beings. That's the great thing about being a cartoonist nowadays. I just love it."
After a quick break in the cool night air, Allen comes back into Leela looking refreshed. It's after nine, and tonight's Drink and Draw has hit its stride. The tables are piled two deep in sketchpads and portfolios, while a swirl of human chatter and motion whirls around the cafe, as colorful and kinetic as the artwork itself. His cheerleading duties mostly done for the night, Allen sits down with a notebook, his pen poised over one of his many ongoing projects — the latest being an ambitious graphic novel titled Fighters and Lovers.
"The earliest comic I remember making is an emulation of Captain Klutz out of Mad magazine," he remembers with a laugh. "When I was a young kid, I was very secluded. My mother's from Korea, and English wasn't her first language, so I taught myself how to read using her how-to-learn-English books, which had lots of words and pictures together. From there I got into superhero comics. Superheroes are to comics what rock and roll is to music. It always catches your attention, and they made me realize the power of the medium. I think it was in third grade that I brought one of my own comics to Show and Tell. All the other kids brought these cool toys and gadgets, and I brought this comic that I drew on notebook paper. It was hilarious."
Allen never lost that exhibitionist streak. And while almost every artist at Drink and Draw — even the quiet ones, like Corey Bogans — is happy to show off his latest pages, there's doesn't seem to be a hint of ego in the air.
"The approach I've learned at Squidworks and Drink and Draw is not to be judgmental," says Allen. "I can still absolutely respect and admire stuff that I would never make. Whether we're doing autobiographical comics or superhero comics, all of us are here to look at each other's work and offer critiques and suggestions. You get exposed to different ideas and different approaches, different influences. You've got all these comics geeks talking about comics, and they speak each other's language.
"Sometimes you make comics, sending them out to publishers, and you get rejection letters or no response at all," he adds. "It feels really friggin' lonely, and you start to question what the hell it is you're doing. You start to question the comics medium itself. These groups inspire me. These people have been through the same sort of struggles I have. They're really excited about comics, and that's contagious. It really reinvigorates me."
Not that Allen seems to need much invigorating. "I made up my mind long ago that, even if I had to work a crappy job for the rest of my life, I was going to do this," he says. "I love comics. I just want to make the best art I can, and hopefully people will read it. If a publisher came along and offered me a wider audience, that would be great. But it's more important that I make something I'm happy with. I just want to make comics, and I hope I always do."