CIA Illustrators Build Vagabond Comics as “Platform to Create Work”
In May 2014, artists Sequoia Bostick and Amalia DeGirolamo earned their BFA degrees at the Cleveland Institute of Art and walked out into that vast expanse called the real world.
Like some of their friends, they didn’t yet have jobs, but they had creative energy. “A lot of people wonder what to do next,” Bostick said. “We wanted to do something that got people involved in making work.”
Within about a year, the friends and longtime roommates were hard at work on the debut issue of Vagabond Comics, an anthology of narrative, often whimsical short comics written and illustrated by themselves and other comics artists. Subtitled Tales from Around the Trashcan Fire, Vagabond describes itself as “a periodic collection of comics for the modern misanthrope.”
That first issue was a 50-pager with a glossy color cover and black and white interior. Its “vagabond” name and story theme alluded both to the rootless feeling of early adulthood and one of Bostick’s fascinations.
“I’m strangely into the vagabond culture,” she says. She doesn’t want to be homeless, but she’s intrigued by the trappings (“I have a dictionary that I keep with all the crazy words they use”) as well as the sense of wandering souls, sharing stories as they travel.
They launched Vagabond at Genghis Con, the Cleveland comics convention that typically takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving.
These days, DeGirolamo and Bostick both have jobs; Bostick is a resident artist at the Center for Arts Inspired Learning, and DeGirolamo is full-time designer for an online apparel company. And they’re still going strong with Vagabond. This fall they aim to raise enough cash through Kickstarter to publish Issue Seven fully in color in observance of the book’s two-year anniversary.
“I’m excited to see what people are going to do with [color], and what kind of work people will do,” says DeGirolamo. “The theme is going to be about celebrating differences, and it’s going to be called ‘Assorted Flavors.’ It’s going to be a celebration of Vagabond as a platform for bringing a diverse group of people together, and having it result as a single, unified thing that’s even cooler than the sum of its parts.”
And while the diversity focus isn’t meant to be overtly political, “with the climate these days, it’s pretty relevant to keep an inclusive space,” DeGirolamo says.
Vagabond is a labor of love for the founders and the artists. Cover art is commissioned and paid for, but the comics inside still go uncompensated, though Bostick and DeGirolamo hope to change that someday. Sales of the books (online at vagabondcomics.tumblr.com and in local stores, including Canopy Collective, Mac’s Backs and Carol & John’s) cover printing costs. Over six issues, the women have published work by a Who’s Who of the Cleveland Institute of Art, as well as other writers and illustrators beyond their circle. This summer’s watery-themed book, “Afloat,” features cover art and a story by 2016 CIA grad Lindsey Bryan, as well comics by other recent alums: Amanda Bahia, Theo Bosak, Clare Kolat, Angela Oster, Gloria Pridemore, and senior animation major Allison Gajewski.
CIA played an important role in the inspiration for Vagabond. Cleveland-based writer and CIA adjunct faculty member Brad Ricca encouraged them to attend local comic shows, says Nashville native Bostick.
“I grew up reading comics, and that’s how I learned about a lot of things,” she says. She still has her childhood collection of Japanese comics. “Once I got to Cleveland, I started reading a lot of independent comics.”
DeGirolamo wasn’t much into the form when she was growing up in North Royalton, but “fell down the rabbit hole of sequential art” during a storyboarding assignment at CIA. Then her drawing professor, Sarah Kabot, pointed her and Bostick toward comics artist and 2008 CIA alum Kevin Czapiewski, who helped connect them to the local scene and get started at Genghis Con.
From the start, the anthology has been a love letter to collaboration and the artmaking community. When considering submissions, they try to strike a balance between being the quality police and de facto creative coaches.
A comic may make the cut “even if we see that their work isn’t totally polished, or they’re just starting out,” DeGirolamo says. On the other hand, “it’s still got to be readable. If it’s clear that there’s no effort put into it, we won’t put it in. But for the most part, if the art isn’t great but the story is there—and conversely if the art is good but the story could use a little work—we’ll take it.”
That can generate a conversation about what might make the work better, she says.
“That’s the whole reason we started it, as a platform to create work,” DeGirolamo says. “Sometimes people find that their work drops off after college. So it’s a reason for them to get back into it. It gets them really pumped up about it and gets them creating again, especially if they’re in a rough spot or they’re not feeling confident about their work. It’s just about getting people jazzed to create.”
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