Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner among top names to be featured at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus – The Columbus Dispatch

Some people make heroes out of movie stars or pop-music icons.
Columbus cartoonist Jeff Smith, though, looked up to those who made their living with pen and ink.
In 1983, Smith, then a journalism student at Ohio State University, attended the inaugural installment of what was then called the Festival of Cartoon Art, a triennial event that beckoned world-famous cartoonists to Columbus to discuss their work. 
“It had a huge impact on me,” said Smith, 61, the creator of the comic book series “Bone” and many other works, who lives in Columbus.
The festival allowed the neophyte to rub shoulders with masters of cartooning in all of its iterations, from graphic novels to comic strips and animation.
“There weren’t too many barriers,” Smith said. “I got to meet Art Spiegelman, I got to meet Will Eisner (and) Sergio Aragones. … I learned so much.”
As a co-founder and artistic director of the annual Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) — a kind of successor event to the Festival of Cartoon Art that was founded in 2015 — Smith aims to recreate the welcoming vibe of the original festival. Smith co-founded the event with his wife, Vijaya Iyer, and Lucy Shelton Caswell, founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
“CXC has consistently been able to bring in the top names in cartooning every year,” he said. “I love meeting cartoonists because they’re just cool, friendly people 99 percent of the time.”
With talks, panels and presentations scheduled for multiple venues throughout Greater Columbus, this year’s edition of CXC has no shortage of star power.
Marquee events include a conversation between cartoonists Alison Bechdel and Hilary Price at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Columbus College of Art & Design. During the talk, Bechdel — whose past works include the graphic memoir “Fun Home,” which later became a Tony Award-winning musical — will discuss her latest graphic novel, a meditation on physical fitness titled “The Secret of Superhuman Strength.”
The event, said CXC interim executive director Jerzy Drozd, reflects organizers’ efforts to reach audiences beyond comics fans.
“It’s one thing to make an event that a bunch of cartoonists want to come to, but how do you connect this in a meaningful way with the public?” Drozd said. “(Bechdel’s book) has a pretty broad appeal. I don’t think there are many people who don’t think about physical health.”
Other events will appeal to comics scholars and casual fans alike.
For example, at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Columbus Metropolitan Library, cartoonist Shary Flenniken —  famous for the “Trots and Bonnie” strip that ran in National Lampoon magazine — will give a pretty in-depth, weighty talk: “The Semiology of Mickey Mouse.”
“If you’re into getting into the weeds on visual communication theory, that’s for you,” Drozd said.
But another event with Flenniken, at 1 p.m. Oct. 3 at the library, will be far more widely accessible.
“She’s doing a program called ‘Character Design for Everyone,’” Drozd said. “You walk in with a blank sheet of paper (and) walk out with a realized character.”
Other events include sessions discussing cartoon page layouts (11 a.m. Sept. 30) and hand-lettering (2 p.m. Oct. 1, both at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum). Smith himself will be on the receiving end of questions during a discussion of his work at the Wexner Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Oct. 1.
Smith doesn’t mind being the center of attention for the event, which is timed to the 30th anniversary of the creation of his publishing company, Cartoon Books, as well as the upcoming publication of his latest releases, “TUKI: Fight for Fire” and “TUKI: Fight for Family.”
“If I’ve got a book to promote,” he said, “I actually find it kind of fun.”
After going all-virtual last year because of the pandemic, CXC officials have incorporated numerous virtual events into this year’s festival, including a talk by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, authors of the graphic memoir “When Stars Are Scattered,” a retelling of Mohamed’s time in a Somali refugee camp as a youth. The two will speak in a talk streamed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitch at 10 a.m. Oct. 2.
“It’s a book for young people, really highlighting the immigrant experience and the refugee experience,” Drozd said. “Accessibility is important, and reaching people who can’t physically be here is important to us.”
Between in-person attendees and virtual viewers, the festival promises to reach a large and diverse audience.
“We like to say, ‘This festival will appeal to anyone who likes cartoons,’” Smith said. “And everyone loves cartoons! There’s something for everyone.”
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Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) will take place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at venues throughout Greater Columbus, including the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Columbus College of Art & Design, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus Museum of Art and Wexner Center for the Arts. For a full schedule, ticket information and COVID-19 policies at individual venues, visit www.cartooncrossroadscolumbus.org.
All events are free but tickets are required to some activities. 

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