The making of Comic Book City, Portland, Oregon USA

In late 2012, I completed work on a documentary film about the community of comics creators in Portland, Oregon. This timeline is the story of the film, from conception to release online.

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  1. While I began work on Comic Book City in 2008, the idea for the film dates to 2007 when I was thinking of a new project, preferably one that would clearly intertwine my interests in geography with my interests in film studies.

    I had begun to notice that many of the comics I was reading had some connection to Portland, writer, artist, or publisher, and after some initial investigation (see articles below for examples) I learned that the city had, in fact, developed a reputation as a center for comics creators. I decided that this topic could be a fruitful documentary subject with geographic implications, particularly around themes of work, creativity, and place.
  2. I began production by shooting footage of 24-Hour Comics Day at Cosmic Monkey Comics in April 2008. While this footage was mostly left out of the documentary, I made a separate short film about the event for the Oregon 150 event at Western Oregon University, the university where I am on the faculty. That short film also shows the beginnings of what would become the visual design of the documentary.
  3. 24 Hour Comics Day at Cosmic Monkey
  4. The shoot at 24-Hour Comics Day at Cosmic Monkey was followed by the Stumptown Comics Fest. 2008 was the last year the event was held at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel before being moved to the Oregon Convention Center. With the help of Alexander Kunkle, a WOU student and comics reader, and my partner, Anne-Marie Deitering, I shot an hour of footage on the Saturday of the fest. I likely could have used more. Stumptown would be a central topic of discussion with the artists, writers, publishers, and editors I interviewed for the film. You can get a sense of this by viewing the work-in-progress footage I showed at the 2010 Public Library Association meeting in Portland, and watching Paul Guinan talk about what Stumptown means to him (Guinan is featured in the third part of the preview). I was invited to screen this footage by Sara Ryan, one of my informants and a librarian at Multnomah County Library.
  5. Untitled PDX Comics Doc: Work in Progress Screening
  6. When I started editing, I had approximately nineteen hours of interview and event footage to work with. I recruited my informants primarily through a pre-production survey I distributed to all of the writers, artists, publishers, editors, and store owners I could make contact with. In addition to providing me with a preliminary set of themes to work with, the survey also allowed me to make contact with individuals who would be willing to be interviewed on camera. Those contacts led to additional contacts.

    After preliminary data collection, I decided to focus on the experiences of writers and artists. I selected eight interview subjects around which to build the documentary. The creators that I chose represent a range of experience in the city, from longer term residents of Portland to relative newcomers, and are also drawn from different segments of the comics industry. I also wanted to show the sex and gender diversity of the community in Portland.

    Here are the featured writers and artists, in order of appearance in the main body of the film:
  7. The film also features publisher Mike Richardson and editors from Dark Horse Comics and Carl Abbott, Charles Heying, and Shanna Eller from Portland State University.
  8. The visual design of the documentary comes from my thinking about the spatial forms of comics and film, and how the two media work in different, but analogous ways, through the spaces of the frame, the shot, the scene, the panel, and the page. I use both still and moving images to make the film easier to "read" and also to better highlight the locations and qualities of place meant to be signified by these images.

    Choosing to do this research in documentary form also allowed me to draw attention to not only what my informants have to say about the city of Portland, but also the affective and bodily ways in which they relate to place. I have constructed "panels" to draw particular attention to hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language.

    In 2011 I previewed the final sections of the film in a panel at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Seattle, Washington. This was a little over a year before final sound editing and fine tuning of the film.
  9. AAG preview of "Comic Book City"
  10. My primary audience for Comic Book City has been scholars and colleagues in comics studies. The film was selected to be shown on the programs of three conferences in 2013.
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