‘POCtober’ makes the leap from virtual world to paperback with new book

Artists Raeghan Buchanan and Frank Lawson recently released the ‘POCtober Sketchbook,’ which is currently available for online purchase

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Raeghan Buchanan and Frank Lawson photographed in front of Upper Cup Coffee on Parsons Ave. on Thursday, April 14.

In recent Octobers, a number of daily drawing challenges have emerged under names like “Drawtober,” in which artists are given prompts each day with a goal of completing 31 individual works over the course of the month.

Columbus artist Raeghan Buchanan participated in her first October drawing challenge in 2017 but found some of the prompts less-than-inspiring, launching her own “POCtober” series the following year centered on Black and POC musicians. Immediately after Buchanan announced her plans, fellow artist Frank Lawson reached out and asked to take part, contributing a sketch of Cleveland/Columbus punk band Minority Threat that helped kick off the ongoing Instagram collaboration on Oct. 1, 2018.

“The first year I definitely did a lot of the punk and hardcore bands that I knew from Pittsburgh and Cleveland,” said Buchanan, who joined Lawson for a recent interview at Upper Cup Coffee. “And then Frank … has brought a lot more rock ’n’ roll, so it’s kind of evolved in that way. And then both of us are always sending each other articles [on other musicians] to consider.”

The project has also continued to evolve in its aims, beginning as a way for the artists to improve in their respective crafts and then quickly becoming a means to document musicians and scenes that have often been overlooked, to the point where the two sometimes had difficulty tracking down source images from which to work.

“Some of the older bands, maybe they didn’t have a publicist, and maybe they’d get lucky and someone would take some pictures at a show,” said Lawson, who recalled the challenge of tracking down a photo of Cleveland band The Plain Dealers from which to work, even though the group formed in 2009. “But a lot of that stuff got lost to time, to where I’d be looking online for reference for a drawing and I might come across like two or three decent pictures.”

“I don’t know how many people know of Thin White Line outside of Pittsburgh, but I think it’s important,” Buchanan said. “Then there are people here [in Columbus] like Elijah (aka Jah Nada of Bloody Show), and people in Cleveland like Mourning [A] BLKstar, where it feels like they need to be written about a lot more, so that there are footprints [preserved] of these people. When Bobby Porter of Thin White Line died, they had Porter Fest for years in Pittsburgh, and I don’t know why they stopped having it, but people talk about these things less and less, and I don’t know where it goes. … These are [musicians] people might still be interested in, but that history can be harder to find.”

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A bit more of that history has now been preserved in the 56-page POCtober Sketchbook, released for sale online this week, which compiles around 60 of the drawings completed by Buchanan and Lawson. (The two artists will also take part in a signing at Prologue Bookshop on Saturday, April 30, and in a talk at East Side art gallery Streetlight Guild on Thursday, May 12.) 

In addition to the assembled drawings, the POCtober Sketchbook also contains a pair of essays by the artists, with Lawson exploring the forgotten Black origins of shoegaze and Buchanan going deep on the Sista Grrrls and the Sista Grrrl Riots of the 1990s, in which musicians Tamar-kali Brown, Maya Glick, Simi Stone and Carolyn “Honeychild” Coleman created a safe, alternative space for Black women punks.

For her 6,000-word feature, Buchanan interviewed all four of the women, relating certain aspects of their stories to her time coming up in various music scenes in Columbus and elsewhere. 

“There was this one quote from Maya … where she said, ‘One day I looked out and I saw a Black women mosh pit, which I had never seen before.’ And I’ve never seen that. I’ve seen mostly Black moshes, but nothing like that,” Buchanan said. “There were times I felt alienated in the Columbus punk scene, and there were things you just couldn’t talk about, or things you just had to put up with. … I had a hard time listening back to some of the [interviews] because I would just cry. Simi was getting flown out to visit record labels, and they would literally tell her manager that they didn’t know what to do with her because she was a Black woman playing rock ’n’ roll.”

In a follow-up message, Buchanan said she also related to sentiments shared by Brown, who told Buchanan that most of the men in the scene only took seriously the women with whom they wanted to have sex, and Coleman, who said Black women weren’t treated as equal partners within bands. “They don’t even bother to spell our name right most of the time,” Coleman said, with Buchanan noting how sometimes it feels as if people spell her first name “by sprinkling Scrabble pieces in the middle.”

“I definitely related to the idea that people would let you take on certain roles as long as you were quiet,” said Buchanan, relaying her experience of getting kicked out of one band under the delusion that she was taking attention away from another member. “Even with bandmates you would get in trouble the second you said something, or when you had an opinion, which was so weird, because punk rock.

“People are like, ‘Punk is not racist! Punk is not homophobic!’ Oh, yeah it is. … If you were a Black woman, people would literally laugh at you. It wasn’t like they were hiding their laughter. Or you would say something, and they would be like, ‘Why are you even here?’ … And I feel like there’s been some fairytale built around it that it wasn’t like that.”

“Yeah, everybody wants to remember things with rose-tinted glasses,” Lawson said. 

“A lot of people want to think that if they were in that situation, they would have done things differently, like, ‘If I was the booker in that club, I would have booked their act,’” Buchanan said. “But that booker is answering to the club owner, who is answering to the audience, and none of those people wanted to see a Black woman rocker onstage, so, no, you wouldn’t have.”

In the process of documenting these overlooked musicians and communities, Buchanan and Lawson have also managed to create one of their own — one built on a sense of discovery, admiration and celebration.

“For me, I do look up and follow different accounts now, which have introduced me to new bands,” said Buchanan, who first connected with Coleman after the Sista Grrrl started following the "POCtober" account on Instagram, later contributing a handful of drawings. “So, it is a lot of discovery, and I’ve made friends or acquaintances, too.”

“That’s one thing I like about the punk scene or the alternative scene — community is important to them, and connection is important to them,” Lawson said. “Very rarely have I met someone online where they snubbed me on some rock star shit.”