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Boston cartoonist Cagen Luse certainly didn’t waste any time languishing during the coronavirus pandemic.
He did a lot of drawing, of course — his LunchTime Comix strip in Dig Boston, re-dubbed “The New Normal” during COVID-19, was one of the best local takes on life during the pandemic. But he also managed, with fellow artist Barrington Edwards, to launch the first Comics in Color fest in Roxbury, marking the debut of the only comics event in Boston focusing on stories by and about people of color.
This year, the event — scheduled for April 23 at the Reggie Lewis Center — will take a leap forward from last year’s hybrid event by being fully in person. As this month’s guest on the Strip Search comic strip podcast, Luse talked about planning the festival, and also about his own new work. That includes “Welcome to Pawston,” a comic panel that takes on hot-button issues in a fictionalized Boston populated by anthropomorphic animals.
Listen below (or here), and see highlights in the Q&A.
Boston.com: Can you tell us a little bit about Comics in Color and what last year’s event was like? Because it wasn’t 100% in person, as I recall.
Cagen Luse: 2020 was when our first festival was supposed to be; of course, that festival never happened, but we were able to put it together last year. We ended up doing a hybrid festival, where we did two days of online panels, which was really great, and then we did an outdoor artists alley — we called it a marketplace, but it was an artists alley — at Roxbury Community College in the parking lot, and it was a lot of fun. We lucked out with an incredibly nice day in April, and it was a bit windy but we had probably 300 or 400 people come out.
Why do you think it’s important to have an event that focuses on cartoonists of color and their stories in particular?
I think that artists of color are underrepresented in the community. I recently went to a con and it was a wonderful one out in Boxborough … and it was great and they were very welcoming. But as I walked around it just cemented to me the reason why we need an event like this. There was not very much representation of people of color out there, and it’s not their fault, it just is what it is, but I think that we need a space that we can come and share our stories and be appreciated. And so that’s what we’re trying to build, and also develop more young artists of color to go into the field. They have to see themselves represented, to know that their stories are valid, and worth telling.
It sounds like a great opportunity for young people, to be able to talk to people who do this and get the sense of, hey, maybe this is something I could do.
With last year’s festival, it was so much easier to put together panels when all you’re asking someone to do is turn on their computer for an hour and have a conversation, whereas getting people to actually come and be in person and part of the panel takes a lot more coordination. [But] I felt that it was important this year … The experience of going to a con is being in the space with those people. Being able to have these face-to-face interactions and meet people and see their physical work, I think, is invaluable as a comic artist and as a comic enthusiast.
What about your own work? Are you still doing anything with Dig Boston?
They don’t publish me as much anymore, just because they changed the format of the paper, so my comic didn’t fit quite as well. But they sponsored the festival this year, I still do some illustration work for them, and I’ve started doing political comics here and there, trying to fit into the space there. I also do have another comic series that I’ve been working on called “The Market,” besides my main Lunchtime Comix series.
What’s that one about?
The main character is a young millennial guy who can’t find a job and so he’s kind of out in the market, looking for work — [he’s a] very cynical young man who life kind of sucks for, so that’s kind of the storyline behind it. It’s much more simple, black and white line art — I wanted to do something that was kind of a complete departure from the style of LunchTime Comix, just to kind of expand my repertoire. So I’ve been having fun with it — you know, when you do comics that are based on your own life you don’t want to do anything that’s too out there, because then people start thinking that’s you, right? Even though you know it’s based on my life it’s not actually me, I’m not actually this person in the comic, but so now to do one that’s a character that is completely separated from me, I can kind of have more fun with different subjects that I wouldn’t particularly poke fun with when I’m portraying myself.
And, sadly, I think you will find an audience for that character — it sounds like a situation that a lot of people are in right now.
As far as the political stuff, I don’t know if that’s gonna fly — there’s not much going on politically in the country right now.
So boring! [laughs] Yeah, [with] my political comic I want to go different from what I did before, so this one is called “Welcome to Pawston” — “Paws” because it’s all anthropomorphic animals just kind of making commentary on Boston politics, and the country’s politics. I did that because, again, separation, right? If a rabbit is saying things about the mayor or something, but it’s not particularly coming out of my mouth, it gives me a little bit more distance away from it … I did some stuff on things like the vaccination mandate, I did some stuff on the election, the Mass and Cass situation — I try to hit with stuff that’s kind of happening around me.
What else do people need to know about Comics in Color?
We’re going to have some great things happening at the show. We’re going to have live art. My partner Barrington Edwards is going to be bringing in some graffiti artists and comic artists working together to create large comic panels, so I’m really excited about that. You’ve got some [speaker] panels about the radical history of comics, [and] we’re going to do a panel about the intersection of comics, graffiti, and hip hop. Roxbury Film Festival is going to be bringing some animated films that we’re going to be screening. “sparc! The ArtMobile,” which is a great thing out of MassArt, is going to be doing a whole track of comic-related activities for kids during the day, so the whole family can come out and have a great time … I hope everybody comes out on April 23 and has a great time with us.
For more on Comics in Color, visit comicsincolor.org.
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