I’ve been interested in the Desk Set, a group of young, hip librarians who meet and host events around Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. They’ve had a number of fundraisers and talks in the past few months, but with my grad school schedule, I’ve had to miss out on them all. Now, with a month left before my move to San Francisco, I finally found the time to join in on an event, and last night’s Women Working in Panels talk at Huckleberry Bar (officially my favorite Grand Street bar, not for lack of competition) was an enlightening and inspiring introduction to the group.
The event was co-hosted by Behind the Book, a non-profit that brings books and authors to city schools. I’d never worked with them before (I was a NYC public school teacher for eight years), but I had heard of their work. They brought together some amazing women comic artists to share their experiences and inspirations with a group of good-looking, tatted-up library and educator types over free beers and pricey cocktails. Despite the sweltering heat of late July in New York, my cousin and I got to hear Fly, Lauren Weinstein, Sara Varon, Miriam Katin, Leslie Stein, and Rebecca Donner talk about their art, their process, and their influences.
I started reading graphic novels a few years ago because as an English teacher, I’m always looking for “just-right” books for some of my struggling readers. Along the way I discovered work that I loved as well – Persepolis, Daniel Clowes, Cruddy – the genre is so rich right now with affecting and gorgeously told stories. I was not familiar with any of the work of the panelists, but the artists they cited as inspiration for their work were all familiar: Lynda Barry got a lot of talk time, as did Allison Bechdel. Leslie Stein cited Foxtrot as her first favorite strip, while Lauren Weinstein and Sara Varon talked about Mad Magazine and The Far Side. Rebecca Donner talked about her first experience with comics having been Archie and Betty and Veronica. They got me thinking about how I used to grab the Detroit News out of the mailbox every Sunday morning, imagining myself a big city sophisticate as I poured through the paper and drank my from-concentrate orange juice, just like the people on TV. It didn’t matter that I was only reading the “funny papers”; it was my ritual and I loved being the only person in my house, besides my father, who looked at anything in paper besides the TV Guide.
Of all the panelists, Fly was the most memorable. Barnard’s Zine Library has several of her zines, and she’s a friend of ABC No Rio. While everyone else talked about writing personal and semi-auto-biographical stories, she spoke about politics, punk and anarchy with a sweet, funny and honest tone that endeared her to the audience. Both Fly and Katin were interesting in that they came to comics through different media, and had both come up in a generation somewhat removed from the other panelists and most of the audience. Katin was clearly a child of the 60s while Fly had a barely-reformed riotgrrrl sneer. They brought I perspective to the panel that I appreciated.
Despite generational differences, everyone on the panel seemed to agree that technology is killing comics and self-publishing. I was a bit disheartened to hear so much negativity, but not surprised. A bunch of artists speaking to a backyard-full of bibliophiles can’t help but assert the power of a physical work of art to touch and inspire. But hardly anyone (other than Lauren Weinstein, who had created web comix for gurl.com) spoke about the power of the internet to connect readers with content. As a book lover, I see the value in paper, binding, and ink. But as an educator and an activist, I don’t think we can ignore the unprecedented potential for access afforded by technology. I’d love to see more of the work of these amazing women on the web.
All in all, I’m excited by the work the Desk Set is doing to bring together professionals in the library and education profession with artists, authors, and content-producers. And where SLA or ALA events can be just as enlightening, the Desk Set’s get-togethers always include booze, young people, and energy. I’m bummed that I’m leaving NYC, but hope to find a similar community of young professionals on the West Coast. If it doesn’t exist, I might have to start it.