Technique Talk: Comics artist Canada Keck

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Technique Talk is a weekly online Alive feature that spotlights the process of a Columbus artist. Know someone we should talk to? Send tips to

Wild Goose Creative's April art show, called "Panels in Pink: Celebrating Female Comics Creators," features the comic illustration and writing of 20 female artists.

"Many people still think of comics, if they think of them at all, as a male-dominated and superhero-filled medium," said the show's curator and autobiographical cartoonist Canada Keck. "I wanted this exhibit to highlight both the incredible diversity of genres and styles and how there are increasingly more female comics artists."

Ultimately, though, the exhibit is an ode to the art form.

"I would love to have everyone, especially people who are unfamiliar with comic art, come to see this exhibit to experience how much beauty there is in this form of storytelling," Keck said.

Keck thoughtfully explained for Alive why mixing art and words is special not just for the reader but for the artist too.

"Panels in Pink: Celebrating Female Comics Creators"

Wild Goose Creative

Through April 30

Reception: 6-9 p.m. Monday, April 29

2491 Summit St., Clintonville

How long have you been making comics?

I've been making comics for almost three years now.I am an accidental cartoonist. I began attending the meetings of a group of local comic artists, called Sunday Comix, when my then-14 daughter was doing a school project about comics. Max Ink, who started the group, was her mentor for the project and encouraged her to attend a couple of the meetings. My daughter wanted to keep coming to the meetings, and initially I was the transportation/chaperone and just sat in the corner. Max began giving me comics to read, and after a while the members encouraged me to join them at the table.At first I just chatted, but finally I started dipping my toes in by adding panels to jam comics (unscripted comics with each panel done by a different artist). The first couple of times I added a panel, I just wrote the words and asked someone else to draw for me, because I had never thought of myself as a visual artist.

I wrote my first comic at a 24-hour comic event in October, 2010, at Packrat Comics in Hilliard, where the challenge is to write a 24-page comic in 24 hours (these events are held internationally on the first weekend in October). I went to the 24-hour comic event not expecting to actually make a comic but to be supportive. But I decided to give it a shot and wrote about something I knew well – my cats!Since then I've continued to write autobio comics, though not about my cats, including another 24-hour comic at Wild Goose Creative.

What kind of art do you make and why?

I make comic art because in comics I have found a medium that resonates with me. Once I started reading comics, I gravitated towards graphic memoirs and fell in love with how the pictures and words can interweave and have such emotional impact. Before I was even familiar with comics as a medium, I had started doing what I called my self-imposed art therapy to express ideas that I thought were better suited to visual representation than verbal, and some of those were sequential in nature. I've been writing poetry since I was a child, although I no longer write as much as I once did.In some ways, the comic art has subsumed the poetry. Or the poetry has become part of the comic art. I approach the writing part of comics in much the same way as I write poetry. I get the whole idea down, and then I begin to reread with the idea of reducing the words to the essential ones.I have a coming-of-age story that I want to tell, and the more I read and write autobio comics, the more I believe this is the best art form for me to express myself in.

When do you make art and why?

I usually make my art on evenings and weekends, because I work during the weekdays [as a sociologist and data archivist at OSU's Center for Human Resource Research].Sometimes, though, I take a vacation day and work all day (and night!) long on my art.There's a reason I do well at 24-hour comic events.

How often do you make art?

How often I make art varies a lot based on what else is going on, but I try to work in some manner or another on my comic art every Tuesday and Wednesday evening.In addition to making my own comics, I've edited comic anthologies for the group, so there are times when I'm more focused on editing and times when I'm more focused on creating my own comics. I go through spells where I am working on some aspect of comics for at least some part of almost every day, then I hit a spell where I'm less productive.

Where do you make art?

I do a lot of my work at home, where I can be focused and work largely uninterrupted.I don't have a dedicated space, although I've been thinking about setting one up.I like working in my living room best because there are windows on three sides. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and sometimes when I just want to be out of the house, I work in coffee shops. On most Sundays I work at a gallery, where I can work on my art when no one needs help.I like working on my art there because it is a neutral space for me and I am surrounded by beautiful objects.

What has been inspiring your work lately?

Watching my children transition from high school to college to burgeoning adulthood, seeing how they can be so incredibly bright and naïve at the same time, inspires me to want to tell the story of my own coming of age. I never understood just how young a 16-year-old really is until I saw my girls transition that age.

I also draw inspiration from the memoirs I read, both graphic and prose, and from the comic artists I know who create their comics not because they will gain fame but because they feel passionate about their art.

What advice that you've found invaluable would you give a new artist?

Find your own style of drawing, the one that suits your abilities and story, and don't worry about whether everything is perfect.Just keep working toward the best story you can tell through the comics medium, and ask fellow artists for comments and suggestions along the way.

What do you do while you work?

That depends a lot on where I am in the creative process. If I'm working on the scripting phase of a comic, I like either instrumental music or silence depending on my mood.When I am doing the pencils, I like to have on song with lyrics, especially ones where I know the words. If I don't know the words already, my brain pays too much attention to the song trying to figure out the lyrics.When I'm inking, I usually go with music (whether or not I know the lyrics) or sometimes a movie or show I'm familiar with or doesn't require much mental attention.When I'm at the point of scanning the art in, cleaning it up and adding tones in Photoshop, I like to listen to podcasts of my favorite NPR shows.

Do you ever experience artists' block? If so how do you combat it?

Definitely! Sometimes I try to write about what I think is interfering with my creativity, and sometimes I spend some time just sketching random shapes – maybe practicing expressions or drawing cats or flowers. Sometimes I go for a long walk and just try to let my thoughts flow.Sometimes I try going to a fresh sheet of paper and either rewriting the script or redoing the thumbnails. Learning to do thumbnails, which I did not initially do, has been helpful for me in getting the thought processes going.

What is the most challenging part of the memoir cartoon process?

When writing my comics, I often struggle with wanting to give all the details I remember and sticking to the literal truth, when a more parsimonious set of details will serve the story better, convey the emotional message, and maintain the figurative truth of the experiences I'm relating.I also find striking the balance between light and dark to be a challenge. Life is both and I want to honor the dark while celebrating the light as I tell my stories.

Three artists, living or dead, that you would invite to a dinner party:

The first artist I would invite is David Mazzucchelli, who created the graphic novel "Asterios Polyp." It is an amazing work of comic art that I have read multiple times, and every time I notice something new about it. Every detail – the paneling, the use of color, the varying fonts, the styles of word balloons – keys the reader into some facet of the intricate world of this story.

The second artist I would invite is Sarah Leavitt, who created a wondrous graphic memoir called "Tangles," about her mother's Alzheimer's and how it affected all of her family. I love the way that she balances flashbacks to the past with the progression through her mother's decline, as well as the way so much emotion is conveyed through her drawings and panels and pacing.

The third artist I would invite is Max Ink, who creates the slice-of-life comic "Blink," which is a sweet story about all the interstitial moments that make us the people we are. His line work is beautiful, his storytelling is subtle, his use of panels is incredible, and I always lean a lot from any discussion about comic art that he is involved in.