Cartooning can be a very solitary art form, requiring hours upon hours cooped up over a secluded drafting table to perfect one titanic battle scene or that single sidesplitting yuk-yuk joke.
An event called Comics Jam held on the second Wednesday of every month at Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, gives local cartoonists a chance to escape this isolation by joining forces for a fun session of collaborative creativity.
The comics jam works a little like a game of telephone, with each person working on a single panel of a strip and passing it to the next artist.
To help kick things off, Green Brain co-owner Dan Merritt randomly inserts an old photo or comic clipping into a panel to give those involved a point of reference for each strip. Artists are free to start in any panel they like and to draw whatever they want. (CONTINUED BELOW)
Because the game jumps from person to person, the finished product can end up being quite absurd. One strip might start with an octopus and end with a wrestling match, another could involve Orson Welles being sucked up into a tornado. Often the game leaves participants stumped and works uncompleted. Sean Bieri, a local artist whose comics and advertising illustrations have frequently appeared in the Metro Times, said this is part of the fun.
"The trick is to keep the story going and confound the next person," he told The Huffington Post during Green Brain's August get-together. Bieri said the results really aren't all that important, comparing the event to a drum circle.
"It's kind of fun while you're doing it, but you wouldn't want to listen to it the next day," he joked. "It's a way to work communally, goof off [and] make people laugh."
Jennifer Rose Evans is an artist who is currently working on a comic called "Contrived: A Geek's Love Story."
She moved to the Detroit area from Seattle a few years back and said the jams helped introduce her to the Detroit scene.
"I love drawing. I love talking to everyone." she said. "This is how I got involved with everyone locally."
The event has been going on for about 10 years, about as long as the shop has been in Dearborn, says Katie Merritt, the store's co-owner.
It's just one of a number of initiatives the Green Brain has taken to foster a local comics scene. In addition to a gallery spotlighting local talent and a wide selection of comics by area artists, they've also sponsored model drawing sessions and events like a 24-hour comic challenge (meaning artists have one day to finish a 24-page strip).
"We don't sell toys and games. What we'd rather do is focus on [the] artists community," said Merritt. "We like to support grassroots comics -- even the big, giant names had to start somewhere."
Michelangelo Cicerone is a freelance cartoonist and illustrator who puts out a comic called "Ozone Jones." He visits the store every week and says he's thankful that the Comics Jam offers him a regular opportunity to hang out with other artists.
"You have the same physical space. Everyone's drawing at the same pages -- trading narratives," he said. "It's comradery."
Green Brain's next Comics Jam takes place Wednesday, Sept. 12 from 7 to 10 p.m. at 13210 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. To see some Comic Jam's creation, visit their facebook page. WARNING: Some of the images may not be safe for work.
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