What to Expect at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Columbus cartoonist Jeff Smith

Forget "Cbus" or even"Arch City." Why not "Toontown" as a nickname for Columbus?

Don't laugh-cartoonists Milton Caniff, Billy Ireland and James Thurber are among those who were born, bred or employed in Columbus.

Area arts institutions trumpet the city's funny-papers heritage. "We have the Thurber House and the [Columbus Museum of Art] bringing in a graphic novelist in residence," says Jeff Smith, the Columbus cartoonist of Bone. "And the [museum] was the first in the country to display all of R. Crumb's 'Genesis'-every single page in sequential order around, like, five galleries."

The city's rich cartooning resources will be tapped during Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, a festival of which Smith is president and artistic director.

From Oct. 1 to 3, events are scheduled at a variety of venues, including the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, the Columbus College of Art and Design and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

The festival is a successor to the much-smaller Festival of Cartoon Art, a triennial affair the Billy Ireland museum hosted from 1983 to 2013.

"While attendees appreciated the intimate nature of the experience, we regretted that more of the local community couldn't participate," says Jenny Robb, curator at the Billy Ireland museum.

Smith and Robb, along with Billy Ireland museum founding curator Lucy Shelton Caswell, hatched plans for a more ambitious and inclusive comics-centric event, patterned after European festivals Smith has attended over the years.

The festival will get underway Oct. 1 at the Wexner Center, which will screen animated cartoons from the Walter Lantz Studio. If the studio's name is unfamiliar, its handiwork is not: Starring in its cartoons are Woody Woodpecker and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, among others.

On Oct. 2, the Wexner Center will also be the setting of chats with notable cartoonists: Jeff Lemire and Bill Griffith will be on tap during the afternoon, while Smith will confab with Kate Beaton and Craig Thompson at the Mershon Auditorium in the evening.

Also on Oct. 2, cartoonists of all experience levels will want to make their way to the Billy Ireland museum, which will present workshops, Robb says, "aimed at helping professional and aspiring cartoonists develop the artistic and business skills they need to succeed."

The Cultural Arts Center will be taken over by cartoonists and fans alike Oct. 3, during a seven-hour comics expo.

For the festival's finale on Oct. 3, Smith will again play emcee-this time at CCAD, where he will interview married comics couple Art Spiegelman (whose graphic novel "Maus" won a Pulitzer Prize) and Francoise Mouly (whose comics magazine Raw was co-edited by Spiegelman).

"We're going to have a big talk onstage with Art and Francoise, and talk about the transformative work that they created," Smith says.

An even more ambitious festival next year is promised, which is only fitting given the city's unique legacy.

"James Thurber is one of the most famous cartoonists to come out of Columbus," Robb says, "but few know that the city can also boast the first full-time female editorial cartoonist-Edwina Dumm, who worked for the Columbus Daily Monitor before women even had the right to vote."