The Hippo


Mar 24, 2019








From Emily Drouin’s Eplis.

NH Made Heroes
A new generation of artists! Comic book stores for fans of all ages! Cosplay!

By Kelly Sennott

 Blonde, petite and capeless, Manchester artist Emily Drouin bears little resemblance to your traditional comic book superhero. Also normal-sized and capeless, not to mention flightless, New Hampshirites Sara Richard, Chris Proulx and Ralph DiBernardo look pretty mortal, too.  

But these humans possess their own special superpowers: They are the artists behind new comic characters and the faces behind the counter at the local comic book store. They create escapism from school or  9-to-5 workdays and make reading fun for reluctant youngsters — and adults. They’ve even helped a mother convince her young son wear his blue hearing aid. They’re revitalizing this culture that, 30 years ago, was exclusively for the stereotyped “geek who lives in his mother’s basement,” Proulx said.
Supers are all around, in kids sketching during local comic book-making classes and in fans sewing, gluing and sculpting intricate cosplay ensembles for local conventions. This year alone, at least four comic book stores opened or expanded in southern New Hampshire. There are more artists, too, who get their work out there through Wordpress, Tumbler, Facebook, deviantART, indie companies and self-published books. 
There’s never been a better time to read comics in New Hampshire, said Double Midnight Comics co-owner Brett Parker, and not just because there’s so much material, but because there’s so much good material.
“There’s this spotlight on comics right now. Writers want to up their game to get the best product out there, and artists are just destroying it right now,” he said. “I’ve been reading comics for 30 years. Right now there are so many good titles that are worth reading, more good than bad. It’s never been like that.”
Clarifying and classifying comics
Will Eisner, who is perhaps the most well-known cartoonist besides Walt Disney —  the Eisner Awards, which are the Oscar awards for comic artists, are named after him — used the term “sequential art” while describing comics. He wrote and illustrated an entire book on the idea in 1985 called Will Eisner: Comics and Sequential Art.
Using his definition, comics arguably trace back to the Stone Age. 
“If you take the broad view, the first recorded communication was in 30,000-year-old cave paintings,” comic artist Marek Bennett said in an interview at his Henniker home recently.
Sequential art has been used ever since, he said, in churches, in cathedrals and in old-fashioned newspapers that catered to customers who were illiterate or didn’t speak English. 
“Comics are much older than words,” Bennett said. He obtained first-hand experience in this subject a couple of years ago when he ventured across the Atlantic to write Slovakia: Fall in the Heart of Europe, a graphic novel/memoir about his three-month adventure overseas spent drawing and discovering his ancestral history. 
“In Slovakia, I’d find that I’d go into every church in every town and there’d be these amazing painted altars, telling stories, panel-to-panel. … It just amazed me. Comics don’t have to be this thing about superheroes on a rack at the comic book shop,” he said. 
Comics as we know them today became popular in America during the early 20th century. Initially, the sequential art printed in magazines, in newspapers, was funny. Hence the name.
It’s not quite the case anymore.
“Frankly, I can’t stand the term because it’s so limiting. They don’t have to be funny, and in fact, most of them aren’t,” Bennett said. (If you really want to get to the meat of what comics are, he recommends Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.)
Indie vs. mainstream
Bennett prefers reading indie comics —  comics published by independent houses or by the writer himself. 
“That’s what interests me, and that’s where I feel like the activity is,” Bennett said. 
It’s certainly where the activity is among New Hampshire artists, anyway.
It’s important to note that the term “independent” is broad. “Independent” can refer to those publishing houses outside the “big two” — Marvel and DC Comics, the homes of Spiderman, Batman, the Avengers, Wonder Woman, etc. In these houses, artists and writers are hired to create comics whose storyline and plot are already laid out. The publishers own these characters and their stories. 
Many independent publishing companies, however, are “creator-owned,” which means that the creator or creators of the work retain full ownership of the material. Self-published books fall in this indie category, too.
In addition to the physical difference in the printing, marketing and selling of indie comic books, many readers, like Bennett, feel there’s a physical quality of the work that’s different. It’s kind of like the difference, he said, between Noam Chomsky and Stephen King.
“Technically, they’re both using the same medium, and thus have some common, medium-based, tech-based practices and areas of professional overlap, but their philosophies, business models, demographics and output are radically different. I see this happening with comics all of the time. And it’s not a problem,” Bennet said. It’s just different.
Joel Gill, comics artist and chair of the New Hampshire Institute of Art Foundations Department, notices a difference in the indie style as well.
“The difference between indie comics and the big mainstream comics is that indie takes real stories about a variety of things: the Holocaust, mental health issues, LGBT issues,” he said. 
Regardless of a comic’s publishing history, in order to be successful and have staying power, Gill said, comics must have good stories.
“I think that Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Cul de Sac, they don’t just tell stories about kids, but they tell us about a lot of things in life, and in general, they’re things people can relate to,” Gill said. “If it’s great, if it’s going to survive, it’s got to be more than just funny.”
Where are these New Hampshire 
comic book artists, anyway?
Long answer short, they’re mostly online.
It’s not always easy finding these artists. Gill noticed during his seven years here that New Hampshire comic book artists aren’t always the most self-promoting people. 
“They’re a solitary lot in general,” Gill said in a phone interview. “There are a lot of people here who are making stuff and not talking to each other,” he said. 
This helped explain why all week I’d been collecting quotes like, “New Hampshire comic book heavy hitters? There aren’t many,” and “It’s one of those things when you’re like, ‘Thank God there’s Internet!’” 
To be fair, there certainly are New Hampshire networks, the biggest being within the Granite State Comicon, which celebrated 10 years this fall with a two-day bonanza chock-full of accomplished artists, writers, voice actors and an enthusiastic crowd of cosplay characters. There are comic book artists woven in local comic book discussion groups like The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen, run by Manchester comic book enthusiast Brenda Noiseux. It’s a comic discussion group for women that meets on the first Thursday of the month at Double Midnight Comics.
Some of them are immersed in comic book groups like Trees and Hills Comics in southwestern New Hampshire, which is a network of New Hampshire, Vermont and eastern Massachusetts artists who produce, publish and promote one another’s comics online ( and in drawing parties, anthologies, programs and events.
But these groups individually are not quite to the caliber of the Boston Comics Roundtable (bostoncomicsroundtable), whose MICE (Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo) occurred the same weekend as the Granite State Comic Con. Gill said he actually met New Hampshire artists Julia Julia Gfrörer and Marek Bennett at a Boston, not New Hampshire, expo.
These organizations are extremely important, he said, because the majority of people who make comics aren’t working for DC or Marvel, the “big two” in the comics industry. “There are lots of people [in New Hampshire] who are independently making their comics, producing them and paying for them to be printed at a copy place,” Gill said. 
Pitch it to a publishing company
Kickstarter, an online means to raise money for artistic indie endeavors through crowdfunding, has become an important tool for New Hampshire’s comic book artists. Some artists who are already well-known use Kickstarter to fund printing, Gill said, but more often, it’s used by new artists trying to get a project off the ground.
It’s competitive, getting work published within a comics publishing house, especially for people like Stephan Lapin, a New Hampshire Institute of Art illustration student who aims to see his comic, Hey-Zeus, within a major publishing house, indie or otherwise. Lapin has been configuring and imagining the star of his Kickstarter campaign, Hey-Zeus, a hero with metaphysical powers trying to save the world with pacifism, since high school.
Before the kickstarter campaign, he’d asked around for advice among already-accomplished comic book artists and writers.
“I started doodling the comic when I was in high school,” Lapin said. (He’s now a senior in college.) “Over winter break, I redrew everything and made my own self-published book. When I went to the New York Comic Con, I gave it to writers and artists I look up to and asked for their opinion,” Lapin said. 
The consensus: the art wasn’t advanced enough, but the story was strong. So he started his campaign a couple of weeks ago to raise funds to pay an artist, Eddie Nunez, a colorist, Eleanora Bruni, and a letterer to create images to go with his story. The rest of the $6,500 he’s trying to raise by Nov. 16 will go to the printing.
The money will allow the group to pitch a full book to Image Comics, one of the largest creator-owned publishing companies in North America. Some of its most famous comic books are Saga, The Walking Dead and Invincible.
It’s a lot of work putting this all together, Lapin said, but he’s very passionate about making this dream happen.
“There’s something about comics, the sequential art, and how diverse it is, that really grabs me. I love the stories you can tell, and there are scenes that you just can’t do in a movie or in an animation. … A movie has a set time. It has to be structured. But a comic can go on and on. It’s more in-depth and there’s more weight to it,” he said. 
But most artists do it themselves
The ease with which artists self-publish their work has increased remarkably over the past 10 years, but as Bennett observed, even the way artists do that is slowly evolving. 
Bennett uses his own work as an example: he wrote and published his first comic book, a graphic novel, about four years ago. It was called Nicaragua: Comics Travel Journal, and it documented his trip to Nicaragua. With this book, it was simple: he wrote, he published, he sold.
Bennett was no stranger to the online comics crowd — he’s utilized his website,, to promote his art for at least seven years now — but he used them in a different way while writing his latest book, Slovakia: Fall in the Heart of Europe.
“When my Slovakia book came out two years ago, I put it out on the Web immediately. I told people that I was working on this project,” he said. 
Every time he finished a page of the story, he’d post his progress online. If viewers liked what they saw, he encouraged them to help him out by supporting the project in donation or pre-orders.
“Just in two years, my ideas changed about what we’re doing with these comics. … I’ve gone to a more relationship, experience-based approach,” he said. 
The process of raising money and printing varies among artists. If you’ve been in the scene as long as Bennett, it might not be difficult to raise funds through reader support. You already have people who know and like your work.
For newcomers like Lapin and Manchester artist Emily Drouin, this can be more difficult. You have to cast an amazing pitch and gather money from strangers through sites like Kickstarter, or you have to take the plunge and make the investment yourself.
Drouin took the plunge. She put a bit of money in printing her first comic book last August, a sci-fi adventure book called Eplis. Drouin works during the day as an optometrist’s assistant, and for her, writing, drawing and coloring is a hobby. For now, at least.
“It can be an expensive hobby, but it’s been well worth it to see kids enjoying reading the book,” Drouin said. “It’d be nice to make money. But I’m making it back slowly.”
Bennett, similarly, isn’t creating comics for the money.
“I’d like to not have any kind of monetary activity related to sharing my comics with people. … While I’m drawing, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh this is great, this is going to earn me lots of money!’ or ‘This will really sell well in this demographic!’ That’s not part of creating the art, and I really emphasize that with my students in any way I can,” Bennett said. 
Most comic book artists in New Hampshire have other means of support outside art making. 
Of course, if you are in it for the money, Bennett said, you’re probably not going to get into self-published art. 
“I’ve done a lot of self-published books, and I’ve found that even if you’re trying to max your profits, while thinking very business-like about it, you’re going to end up making a couple of dollars a book, just because of the way the distribution chain is set up,” he said. “No matter what, the amount of work you put into the books is going to be so much bigger than the amount of money you get back from it.”
Comic book stores are super, too
Arguably, comic stores have been faring so well because they’re morphing into more than just comic book shops.
“We know that people have a lot of options these days,” said Chris Proulx, Double Midnight Comics store owner. “They can get graphic novels at Barnes & Noble, they can buy stuff on Amazon, and they can buy digital comics. We realized a few years back that what we really need to do is build a community. This can’t just be a place where you’re buying comics — we’re going above and beyond the call of duty and doing things that bring people in and keep things interactive.”
They take part in events like Free Comic Book Day in May and the Granite State Comic Con in September, and they serve as weekly meeting spots for sketch groups and clubs like The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen. They play host to comic artists and comic events. And, in addition to comic books, these stores are utilizing what we’ll call the comic book “accessories” —the video games, the movies, the action figures.
“When we first started, the idea was to have plenty of comics with games on the side, but we learned early on that there was a demand from them, so we branched more and more into games. We learned very quickly that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Proulx said.
Ralph DiBernardo, owner of Jetpack Comics in Rochester, agrees. 
“I’ve been retailing for the better part of 35 years now. In the early ’80s, you could be a comic book shop and just carry comic books. Nowadays, it’s all about diversification: comics, games, toys, magic cards, anything pop culture related,” DiBernardo said. 
Jetpack offers trivia nights and makes Free Comic Book Day in May a town-wide event. 
And while owner-customer relationship is incredibly important today — much more so, again, than 20 or 30 years ago — DiBernardo can’t help but point out how mass media helped our New Hampshire shops, too.
“My Little Pony has only been coming out for a little more than a year, and it’s brought an influx of young girls into the comic world, which is huge, considering that comic books are a 95-percent male customer base,” DiBernardo said. “The Walking Dead has done unbelievable things for us. … Robert Kirkman [the writer] has done more for comic book shops in this country than any other creator over the past 10 years. … The comic is in its 10th year now, but when the TV show came out [in 2010] ... e doubled sales in that comic within a three-month span.”
Comics today, Proulx said, are varied, detailed and different.
“You might have had books 20 years ago where you could recognize the artist from his work. The look was uniform. But today, everybody brings different styles, and there’s great detail in all of the work,” he said.
 Brenda Noiseux agrees.
“Today, there are so many different types of comics. If superheroes aren’t your thing, you can look into darker comics,” Noiseux said. “Any interest you have, there’s probably a comic for you out there.”

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