“MAYBE WE’LL HAVE a whole line of people from Dark Horse come in who don’t know what to do with themselves when they’re away from comics for a day,” joked Jeff Parker as I was leaving Portland’s Periscope Studio on July 3rd, my day off from work for the Independence Day holiday.
Periscope, formerly Mercury, has become an important institution in Portland’s comics scene, rivaling some local publishers in notoriety and far exceeding several in sheer size. Not a studio in the sense of accepting contracts and assigning a couple of members to work together to complete it, Periscope is instead a collection of over 20 comics writers and artists who share and contribute to the rent on an office space in downtown Portland. Projects range from high-profile work for DC and Marvel to members’ own comics and webcomics.
Members include names familiar to mainstream comics fans like Steve Lieber, Paul Tobin, Matthew Clark, Terry Dodson, and the aforementioned Jeff Parker; as well as artists of the independent and webcomics worlds, like Jonathan Case, Terri Nelson, Ron Chan, Dylan Meconis, and Erika Moen. There are several tiers of affiliation, beginning with interns, then artists who work there as assistants, and full members. Some, like Moen, are classified as “floaters,” who, though full members, do not have a designated work space and work at whatever desk is available.* Since I don’t work downtown, I’ve never been able to make it over during business hours, but I had a standing invitation from Moen to check it out, so called her up, and she offered to give me a tour.
Across the street from Periscope’s home in the Oregon Trail building sits a block-long row of Portland’s beloved food carts. I hit the Brunch Box for lunch (see Steve Lieber ordering there in this video from the New York Times’s Frugal Traveler blog, around the 00:30 mark), decided I didn’t quite have the courage, at least not just then, to try their youCANhascheeseburger—a burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches—and headed into the building and up the stairs to Periscope.
|Original art from DAR. Moen sketches on a computer, prints in blue-line on Bristol board, inks by hand, scans back into the computer, and adds digital gray tones. See the finished comic at darcomic.com|
Before the tour, Moen needed to head to the post office to mail copies of her new book collection of DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary. She sends out a week’s worth of orders every Friday, and that day’s shipment included copies going as far as Norway, where a recent review prompted several Norwegian orders. On the way to the central post office (the nearby one was closed for the holiday, but the trek allowed me to stop at home for my camera, making this the rare entry that I remembered to document photographically), we chatted about the success of the book, Moen’s future plans for the strip, her other upcoming work—including a collaboration with one of her well-known studiomates— and the difficulty Moen had with her printer, who initially refused to print DAR over concerns about the content (if that’s not an endorsement, what is?).
Back at the studio, I got the full tour. The place isn’t huge, looking exactly like the small office that it is, but is packed from wall to wall with equipment, reference, art, and tchotchkes, none of the space going to waste. While I seem not to have gotten a shot of the space as a whole, what follows are some highlights (click any photo for a larger image).
David Hahn chatting in Jeff Parker and Colleen Coover’s corner of the office.
Periscope’s reference library.
The print station, with a fancy printer that can handle large paper, including Bristol board.
Steve Lieber, at his computer desk, drawing table behind him, and “floater” Erika Moen, who sets up her laptop on whatever desk is available.
Susan Tardif (recently hired by Dark Horse’s digital art department), Cat Ellis, Ron Chan, and Rich Ellis obligingly pretend to eat for me, even though all have finished their lunches.
Paul Guinan’s Boilerplate stands vigilant at Guinan’s empty work area.
After hanging out an hour and a half talking comics and other things, it did seem like I should spend my day off as a day off, so I headed out, but it was great to finally see the place after meeting most of the artists who work there and hearing about the place so often. It’s an upbeat place, offering its members camaraderie in an otherwise solitary profession, and the experience serves as another reminder of Portland’s important and ever-growing place in the industry, which I am always in favor of.
* I originally wrote that floaters are friends of the studio rather than full members. Erika is a rent-paying member. I apologize for the error. (July 13, 2009) Back to sentence