Thank You, Billy

November 20th, 2013 by Student Blogger
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Jaime Hernandez in the middle, and his brother Gilbert on the right. "Los Bros Hernandez!"

Jaime Hernandez in the middle, and his brother Gilbert on the right. “Los Bros Hernandez!”

By Colleen Clark

In my childhood, I walked into school every day feeling like I didn’t belong there. I spent many years embarrassed and ridiculed for the things I liked, and I spent a lot of time alone.

It wasn’t until I got home every night and laid in bed reading about all of my favorite characters in my comic books that I felt like I was with my friends. I found some of my only comfort through the series and characters I was obsessed with. It wasn’t hard for me to realize how badly I wanted to make comics as I got older.

So when I was invited to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum Grand Opening this past weekend, I knew something important was happening. I hadn’t paid a visit to the museum before (the event this past weekend was a re-opening), but I had heard many wonderful things, and I was lucky to share a panel with one of the curators, Ms. Caitlin McGurk, at CCAD’s Mix Comics Symposium earlier this year. I didn’t know what to expect except for all of the amazing people that I knew would be attending.

When I walked up to the building in a huff after jumping off the bus and getting a little lost, I could see the enormous crowd in the windows. My hands started shaking as I opened the doors. When I got in, I stood sandwiched at the back, met with the sea of people watching the opening remarks.

I was rendered speechless by the immaculate lobby space, filled with people of all ages and backgrounds who each have a hand in the comics community. When the speaker introduced Mort Walker, the 90-year-old artist behind the comic Beetle Bailey, and they cut the ribbon to announce the gallery officially opened, it dawned on me how big this was. I freaked out.

I felt those creeping, bad feelings from my childhood coming back: Why am I here? How did I get included, I don’t belong in this group of important and influential people! I probably should have plucked my eyebrows or put on perfume or something.

It wasn’t until I started recognizing my comics peers that the butterflies settled into something more manageable. When we all funneled into the talk given by Jeff Smith and Paul Pope (two comics superstars), I started to realize how human these heroes of mine are. Smith remarked how much he enjoyed going to the museum in his youth and seeing original comic artwork with blue line and white-out, and he and Pope shared some of their influences, many of which I share. Smith said that certain items in the library would make him lose his breath.

After their talk, I went and saw the collection for myself. It was packed, but I still managed to get up close and see the art. This might have been the coolest part of the whole weekend. Originals from Peanuts, Captain America, For Better or for Worse, Justice League, animation stills from Gertie the Dinosaur, and originals from Little Nemo in Slumberland, both by Winsor McCay and both pioneers of their craft, were on display. It was literally breathtaking, as Smith warned. I stood face-to-face with original art from the people who literally started the art form that inspired me my whole life. Below is just a sample:

Then, on Saturday, I got to listen to Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, two comic-making brothers. Together, they are responsible for some of the most popular comics of the 80′s and 90′s (most notably the saga Love and Rockets), and their drawing style and storytelling have inspired me for years.

This talk was beyond invigorating. They talked about their Latino heritage and the importance of telling that story, because it wasn’t being told at the time, as well as other endearing parts of their lives like their mother’s inspirational taste in comics. After hearing about the way they use their personal experiences to fuel their storytelling, I felt my inspiration renewed.

Gilbert Hernandez said at one point, “I’ve never been a good artist, just an artist. I am okay with my art [just telling] the story.” Of course, I disagree with him about his talents, but it brought up a wonderful point: that my main goal as an illustrator and comic writer is to have stories to tell, and to tell them well. All I wanted to do was go home and draw when I left that auditorium.

The feeling of “I don’t belong” melted away as soon as I realized that this is one of the only communities that has welcomed me with open arms. So many people introduced themselves to me, passionate about learning about me and sharing their work with me. Caitlin made sure to make time to give me a big hug, even though she was running around making sure everything went well. I ended up spending a lot of time with James Moore and Katie Wright from local comics company Two-Headed Monster Comics, and I continue to learn a lot from them. I was overwhelmed with the positivity in general; Columbus is responsible for a bubbling, ever-growing, passionate comics community.

I am proud to call this city home. I am proud of this museum and so thankful I got to be a part of the festivities. And most importantly, I am proud to say I feel like I belong somewhere. Here I am no longer alone, and I am still with all of the comics I love.

Colleen Clark is senior majoring in illustration who enjoys looking at photos of dogs online, following NBC comedy series (specifically anything involving Tina Fey), and sharing her art and thoughts through her online blog.

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