Pittsburgh’s Newest Identity: Toon Town?

This past weekend, Pittsburgh was fortunate to host the annual conference of the National Cartoonists Society. To celebrate Pittsburgh’s big debut in the world of comics, the Toonseum hosted a Comic Arts Festival Downtown on Sunday; between the panels with big name comic artists, long lines for autographs, and hundreds of people enjoying comic vendors, costumed characters, and all sorts of activities–including the Library’s make-your-own-comic activity for kids–on Liberty Ave in front of the Toonseum, Pittsburgh felt like the cartoon capital of the world.

Kids and sharks working together to make beautiful comic books.

Kids and sharks working together to make beautiful comic books.

In fact, as the Post Gazette’s David Coulson pointed out in his piece about the NCS Conference, 15 area artists were up for Reuben Awards, the annual awards given to top cartoonists during the conference in a number of categories. (The article had a sample from each that is well worth looking at.) Considering that there were only 48 nominees altogether, you have to believe that the comics scene in Pittsburgh is flourishing!

Nobody should get more credit for raising Pittsburgh’s profile in the national comic art community than Toonseum’s founder and executive director Joe Wos. Wos, a comic artist and storyteller who has been a fixture in Pittsburgh for years, started the Toonseum in a corner of the Children’s Museum in 2007 and has led the museum, one of only three cartoon museums in the United States, to become a popular destination in the Cultural District. According to one cartoonist I spoke to at the festival on Sunday, Joe was the driving force behind bringing the NCS to Pittsburgh (He also said Wos’ mother made a delicious dessert for attendees.).

While congratulations are in order for Cartoonist of the Year winners Brian Crane and Rick Kirkman and to the all of the other honorees, all of this is also a big win for Pittsburgh comic arts fans! Enjoy the riches, Pittsburgh. Here are just a few suggestions to help celebrate our status as a major hub of cartoons:

  • Visit the Toonseum, naturally.
  • Visit the Library – each location has comics (don’t forget to check the Teen section, too, as there is plenty of crossover in comics).
  • Bask in the bizarro Americana glory that is original Elzie Segar Popeye cartoon strips.
  • Pick up the Post Gazette or the Trib, in print, and peruse your favorite panels. Don’t forget the editorial cartoons.
  • Re-read your favorites from childhood and enjoy them on a different level. I did not appreciate Charlie Brown’s existential angst when I was 6. (David Michaelis’ excellent 2007 biography of Charles Schulz explains a lot.)
  • Stop by the Main Library for Out of the Gutter, and adult graphic novel conversation group. The group meets every third Monday at 6:30. The selection for June 17th is Kim Deitch’s Alias the Cat.

But of course the best way to celebrate this unpretentious and inclusive art form is to make your own. Don’t worry if you can’t draw: two of the most popular web comics of the past several years have used clip art and stick figures.

Steel City, move over. Welcome to Toon Town!



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2 responses to “Pittsburgh’s Newest Identity: Toon Town?

  1. Pittsburgh also has a number of really great comics shops in different areas of town (I’m going to refrain from just hyping up the one I work at). This is a great time to see not only new comics that are being produced but to also explore the history of the art form. There has never been a better selection of books of all genres and tastes. Take advantage of the knowledge and recommendations of the retailers and don’t be afraid to ask questions just because you don’t know much about comics. That’s what we’re here for.

  2. Great point, Wayne! I’ve never met a comics shop staffer who wasn’t passionate and knowledgeable about comic art. That in-person experience can really turn you on to titles that you would never have encountered otherwise.

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