By Jay B. Kalagayan, executive director of Cartoon Crossroads Columbus.
Victoria Douglas is the 2022 CXC Emerging Talent Award winner for their work creating CINNAMON, a series about a cat turning normal household life into ginormous tales of danger and adventure. Douglas designed the poster for Cartoon Crossroads Columbus 2023, Sept. 27 – Oct 1. We chatted with them about their work, inspirations and love of Columbus.
Jay: You have been working creatively in Columbus. How has the community been a part of your journey as an artist?
Victoria: Oops, you have made the critical mistake of asking me to talk about how much I love Columbus. And the answer is that Cbus has my whole heart! I truly consider myself a product of the Columbus comics community. I never considered making comics; I was absolutely sure that my future was in milquetoast editorial illustration for lawyers and dentists (Spoiler: it wasn’t). But I came to Columbus to finish my undergrad at the Columbus College of Art and Design and I told myself that I was there to learn whatever it was that the school did best. It took a very persistent comics faculty to convince me to give the comics program a shot, and from the very first class I was hooked.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Columbus has a vibrant comics scene, with a whole cabal of talented cartoonists making work that totally challenged my understanding of the medium. I’m lucky to call so many of them colleagues, mentors and friends. We have access to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library (with the largest collection of comic material in the world). The local comics shows, Cartoon Crossroads Columbus and S.P.A.C.E. have laid the groundwork for my entire career post-graduation. Columbus is a killer city to be making comics in, both inside and out of the academic space. I owe this city so much, it’s truly become home.
Jay: Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Victoria: I read a TON of manga growing up; it was definitely my introduction to reading comics. I’m also from a generation where manga was starting to be readily translated for U.S. readers. What I couldn’t find in stores, I could find in fansubs online. I met my future wife when we were in high school, and the first thing we connected over was a mutual love of Naruto. So it weaves a thread of perpetual inspiration through my work, even now. I don’t consider myself a mangaka nor do I make manga, but I do feel that I pull from manga technique and convention, fusing that with Western storytelling.
Some major influences are Taiyo Matsumoto, specifically for his series Ping Pong. His lineart is meticulously loose, and has some of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen. I’m also a big fan of Katsuhiro Otomo, who made Akira as a manga before the wildly successful movie. Other cartoonists to mention are Jamie Hewlett (of Gorillaz fame), Freddy Carrasco, Luca Oliveri, S.R. Arnold, Nate Powell, Ryan Alves and Caroline Cash.
But I would be remiss not to mention the biggest influences, which are the local Columbus cartoonists who keep me on my toes and are making some of the best work out there: MS Harkness (with the upcoming graphic novel Time Under Tension), Drew Hall, Emi Gennis, C.M. Campbell, Brian Canini, Jessica Robinson and Sarah Butcher. Honestly, there’s so many others to mention, I’d be here all day. I’ll even be as bold as to claim Noah Van Sciver, even if he is no longer a 614 local.
Jay: How was it creating the artwork for this year’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus?
Victoria: It was such a blast. Jeff Smith (CXC Co-Founder, Cartoonist) was my direct point of contact, and he was very clear to lead with the idea that they came to me because they already liked my work and wanted to let it breathe. I wouldn’t say he was hands-off during the process, but from the start I felt I had room to create something that was distinctly my own. I am always chasing motion in my comics, keeping everything as kinetic as possible. So I embraced it with a full on racing theme.
I had a scare in the middle of inking it. I was well along on the idea, and looked back with a critical eye at all the past posters for CXC. And to my horror, nine out of the 10 had a woman on it, reading a comic. And it’s not like that was a critical rule, but of course it made sense! It’s a festival centered on COMICS. And here I was making a poster for a street race. Jeff and I both independently saw the need to “sell” it better. The front grill became a printer spitting out pages, and by the end I think it really nailed the whole direction of “racing towards a deadline.” And if that isn’t enough, the driver is reading a comic.
Jay: Tell us about your upcoming work? Any comic books?
Victoria: My newest book is actually debuting at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus this year! POISON PILL is an absolute stunner of an anthology, with a team of collaborators assembled by MS Harkness. Besides Harkness and myself, it features Heather Loase, Caroline Cash, Sam Szabo and Audra Stang. All bringing some top-of-the-game autobio comics to the table. It’s going to be a great read. We are also doing variant covers for all the cities that we are collectively from, so if you order from me or MS Harkness, you can get the Columbus-exclusive cover.
My contribution is called CONTENT CANNON, a very real, very accurate comic that treads 100% new water. It is…. AN ALLEGORY FOR SOCIAL MEDIA. Told through the lens of…. A GIANT HUMAN CANNON. It is not science fiction, it is real life. Watch me get fired into a brick wall for likes and clout. It’s not to be missed.
Jay: Who are the readers you really want your work to reach?
Victoria: My first series was CINNAMON, an action comedy about a housecat turning normal situations into giant mecha battles in her head. It inadvertently cornered a market, as it turns out, the venn diagram between cat lovers and comic readers is pretty overlapped. And I think I’ve been chasing the same weird kismet ever since. I make comics for the margins. I think when it comes to appeal, trying to make something palatable to the widest audience possible can very easily risk making very homogeneous, safe work. Everyone will like it, but it may not be anyone’s favorite. I’d rather make books that are more authentic, but more limited in appeal or scope. And that mode pays off for me when I’m at a show and someone comes up with a literal garbage bag full of every book I’ve made, wanting to get it all signed because it’s their absolute favorite. At the end of the day, I tell the stories I want to read myself. And then I polish them up so that anyone with an open mind can have a good time. I don’t really know who it’s for, other than the vast army of clones of myself that I keep in a compound on the edge of town. One day we will emerge and single handedly build Ohio a high speed rail system.
Jay: In your opinion, what is the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Victoria: In case I haven’t said it enough, the 100% irrefutable best part of the Columbus scene is the HOT CARTOONISTS IN YOUR AREA. Honestly, Cbus is getting a rep as a comics city, and I think the city itself is gonna be the last to clue in on that. But in the meantime we will keep poaching artists from Chicago, Minneapolis and the whole west coast. It’s a great city to make comics, BUT IT’S AN EVEN BETTER CITY TO BUY COMICS IN. Go to CXC. Support local ink slingers.
See the work of Douglas and hundreds more comic, cartoon and animation artists at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus 2023, Sept. 27 – Oct 1.
This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.