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Northampton, MA Scene Report

This week’s scene report is brought to you by Colin Panetta. Please enjoy.

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Hey, I’m going to be telling everyone about the small town of Northampton, MA. We’re about an hour east of the New York state line and an hour and a half west of Boston. We’re pretty close to the center of the state, but we’re branded as Western Massachusetts. We’re riddled with fancy colleges, including Smith, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke, which gives the area a strong NPR vibe.

HISTORY
Most comics people probably know Northampton for its historical significance. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird moved here and started Mirage Studios shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 was released. In the ensuing years, the tidal wave of activity that followed their unprecedented levels of success in the comics world and beyond caused a number of historic events to occur here. You can read a lot about it in this recently posted Comics Journal interview with Kevin Eastman from 1998. Suffice it to say that in addition to Mirage Studios itself, the Creator’s Bill of Rights summit was held here and Eastman opened the Words and Pictures comic book art museum downtown, and planted the home offices of his infamous comic book publishing company Tundra right across the street. Main Street, that is. Here’s the building where the Words and Pictures Museum was located:

It’s seen better days. Ex-Mirage artist Jim Laswon recently told me that there used to be a giant gargoyle at the top of it that not all the locals were thrilled with (although in general there was a lot of local support for the museum). That gargoyle is gone, but some smaller, distinctly Ninja Turtle-esque ones remain:

The block directly across the street used to house the Tundra offices, and the original Mirage Studios before that. (Just the business offices though, Lawson told me the the artists worked in a warehouse space outside of town.) Mirage is now located just off of Main Street, and some of the old staff artists still have studio space there. I’ve been, it’s amazing. Jammed full of three of every Ninja Turtle product ever made, occasionally topped with a random piece of fifteen year old original comic book art. There aren’t many public facing remnants of that time left in town, but these two pieces of local street art show that the shadow of the Turtles still looms large in the area’s consciousness (in fact every long-time local resident has a Ninja Turtles story if you raise the subject):

Kitchen Sink Press moved here after they absorbed Tundra, and Denis Kitchen still lives nearby. He also co-founded the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which was based in Northampton until just a few years ago. To top it all off Disney Adventures, which featured many indie cartoonists in its pages, was also based in Northampton until it folded in 2007.

HOT SPOTS
The big store in town is Modern Myths. They make a great effort toward catering to every type of person who might go into a comic book store, having distinct sections for superhero floppies, graphic novels, manga and role playing games. In the time that I’ve been here they’ve hosted events with Evan Dorkin, Howard Cruse and the late Harvey Pekar. And they put up with me constantly emailing them at 3am with requests for oddities from the back of Previews, so they’re a very good shop:

There’s also Bob’s II Comics N’More, a 90’s throwback store with endless back issue bins. Non-comics stores FOE Gallery and Feeding Tube Records also dedicate some shelf space to comics.

As far as events go, last year saw the first comics and illustration themed Paint and Pixel Festival, and we have a monthly Dr Sketchy’s.

FOLKS
Northampton is a very small town, but we’ve got a few artists kicking around. I mostly draw with a guy named Mark Velard. We table at shows together and post our work online under the name Mysterious Transmissions. Here are a couple panels from Mark’s latest page:

I recognised the nice guy with the goofy glasses strap who works at the local art store in one of Tom Spurgeon’s recent “Who Are These People?” posts. Turns out he’s Sam Gaskin, a CCS graduate. He’s got a few different books out, including a mini he did with Matt Furie called Hot Topic. When I told him what my favorite gag in Hot Topic was, he told me it was his favorite too and it’s what he wants to be remembered for when he dies. I assured him I’d let the people know, but you’re going to have to wait to find out which one it is. Here are his book covers:

You’ll see the old Mirage artists Michael Dooney, Dan Berger and Jim Lawson around. I love Jim’s work. He made incredible strides in developing a very distinct style, somewhere between Jack Kirby and Paul Pope, during his twenty plus years as a staff artist. I’m helping him put his dinosaur comic Paleo online as a webcomic this year. He’s a comics drawing machine:

Bryant Paul Johnson is a nice local face who helped me fact check this article and has been working on a graphic novel in his web-savvy style. Here’s the cover:

Colin Tetford occasionally brings his community focused approach to comics making to town, and often sends me a bulleted list of his itinerary when he does. It’s adorable. Local graphic designer Tom Pappalardo has a strip in the local weekly. Hans Rickheit also lives somewhere nearby, but every time I ask him where he just tells me it’s not on any maps. Mark and I had a successful art show in nearby Greenfield with him last year. (Successful in that lots of mentally unstable people wandered in from the street.) Hans is great, Fantagraphics puts his stuff out. Here’s a crazy panel he drew last year:

NEIGHBORS
The Center For Cartoon Studies is an hour and half north, but you guys already heard all about that. Easthampton, the unassuming next town over, is somehow the webcomics capital of the country. R Stevens of Deisel Sweeties, Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content and Jeffrey Rowland of Overcompensating (plus more, I’m sure) all live in and around there. Rowland runs TopatoCo, an online store that represents all the biggest names in webcomics from Kate Beaton to Ryan North, out of the old Eastworks building. I tried to walk in there and buy something in person once and they looked at me dirty, but they’re super nice folks. Kevin Eastman has an office full of God knows what in the same building (I’ve seen walls of original art from the museum and a full Predator suit when I peeked in), and between those two institutions is legendary back issue warehouse Gary Dolgoff Comics.



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