Add More Robots

Sequoia Bostick, co-founder of the all-ages comic book anthology, VAGABOND COMICS, talks storytelling and the creation of new worlds.

Artist and publisher Sequoia Bostick

Sequoia Bostick quietly eats a lunch of Mediterranean food at Maelstrom Collaborative Arts where she works as a creative producer. She is relaxed here and it’s easy to see why: though she describes herself as primarily an illustrator, this space bears the mark of her mixed media paintings and sculptural installations on every wall and ceiling. “I enjoy using colored pencils and watercolor paints and just working with my hands more than I do staring at a screen,” she says. Her small hands are covered in purple and black paint—the same color as her twisted hair—and everything about her reads as intentionally unintentional but exceptionally zen.

Bostick is an imaginative artist who uses dreams and her own family as inspiration to create work that defies realism. A full-time artist and teacher, it is important to her to incorporate youth culture and perspectives into her work, perhaps because the creation of stories was a key part of her experience as a child. She recalls her mother sending her and her siblings outside for the day and saying, “Go do something,” and that their solution was to create stories to have fun. For Bostick, the art of story creation was also therapeutic. She notes, “I used to have a bad habit of kinda keeping my emotions locked up. To the point where, if I did have a panic attack or freak out or something, it would just be a day of silence where I couldn’t speak. So being able to get my words out, and get my emotions on paper, even if it’s just writing, would work very well for me.”

Bostick is the second of six children, and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. As a child she created clothing for her dolls, upcycling trash bags into dresses and cardboard boxes into houses while drawing her mother’s garden and catching butterflies. As she searched for the artistic medium that felt right to her, she attended an arts high school and studied alto and tenor saxophone before switching to visual art. In 2010, she moved to Cleveland to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art.

“A lot of the stories I tell are usually just based off of an over-exaggerated version of something I did in my childhood. I’ll take a story and I’ll just blow it up even bigger. Add more robots,” she muses. In her first children’s book, Bridget and Bot, she took that mantra literally. In the book, she created characters based on her real-life siblings, but imagined a world where the oldest and youngest siblings actually got to spend time together, which didn’t happen in real life. But her family has deeply supported and encouraged her artistic talent and pursuits.

Bostick recently completed a commission for Wigs for Kids, (a community organization dedicated to helping children with medically related hair loss) as well as a commission for a private client in New York inspired by the myth of Pandora’s Box.

Bostick is deeply inspired by classical art, Art Nouveau, chiaroscuro and paintings that look like they are a snapshot taken in the middle of a story. Her favorite painting, housed at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is Gerrit van Honthorst’s Samson and Delilah, which she loves because of its use of a dramatic light source.

“When I’m drawing something, I’m imagining it moving or a story being told in some way. I feel like I’m in a different environment—a different world, I guess.” While her process allows her to create a different world for herself, at the core of Bostick’s work is giving individuals the power to create worlds of their own. Whether it is facing your fears in a mysterious fantasy world, or talking yourself out of the anxious thoughts that keep you from having fun with your co-workers, there is a subtle message in all of Bostick’s work: You can turn any negative into a positive. This message is not only entrenched in the content of her work, but also in her artistic life as a whole. After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art, she admits feeling “crushed” by what she calls “corporate art jobs where you don’t get to have control over what you create.” She began to move into creating art independently, and now, she teaches and mentors high school students as they consider artistic career paths of their own.

Enter Vagabond Comics. Bostick co-founded the all-ages, independently published comics anthology with best friend and fellow artist Amalia DeGirolamo in 2015. One year out of CIA, the two found themselves asking the same question all artists ask when faced with the realities of building a career as a creative: What now? The answer was to create a platform that would allow comic creators of all backgrounds and skill levels to send their work all over the world.

The first issue began with Bostick, DeGirolamo and four other artist friends. When asked about the name, Bostick recalls, “When we looked up the original term ‘vagabonds,’ they were people who worked but who didn’t have homes. We were kind of similar, where we’re trying to get our work out there and we have to go from place to place in order to do that, so we’re kind of vagabonds ourselves.”

Four years later, the pair has released nine issues of Vagabond Comics featuring over forty artists of all ages and backgrounds, including regular contributions from international artists and even from a local nine-year-old. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Bostick and DeGirolamo just released their tenth and longest issue in full color—entitled, Kindred—where they asked artists to reflect on what family and community means to them.

The beauty of Vagabond Comics is both in its accessibility and its detail. For example, the cover of their seventh issue, Assorted Flavors, features the sketched faces of real Clevelanders in a background that a casual reader might miss. The names of many of the issues are based on terms found in an online “hobo dictionary,” sneaking hidden double meanings into the theme of each issue. Bostick describes the anthology’s aesthetic as “playful, animated and colorful, even when it’s in black and white.” Vagabond blends levity, and heart-warming honesty with just the right amount of comic book weirdness—aspects that are the result of the anthology’s commitment to providing a unified storytelling platform for a diverse collection of voices. “We want to include everyone, so we don’t want it to be just white comic book artists. We don’t want it to be just stuck in one niche in terms of how stories are told.”

With the addition of giant puppet-making for Parade the Circle and animation and set design for Maelstrom Collaborative Arts, Bostick is working consistently towards a future where her art becomes bigger and more interactive. But her love for the comic book world remains, and Bostick believes traditional artists need to pay more attention to what’s happening with comics. “That’s where it all began, before there was digital anything. [Comic book artists] have to do all that stuff by hand—making the textures and the halftones that you see in the background, and writing out the words and word bubbles by hand—you still have to know how to do that stuff even with digital tools. So if you can pull that off and just do that on paper, I feel like you have a better chance.”

Vagabond Comics’ 10th issue KINDRED is available at local comic book stores and at Vagabond is currently accepting artist submissions for its 11th issue, TAG TEAM.


This article was produced with support from the Ohio Arts Council.