The world of comics has dramatically changed in recent years. For an often overlooked medium, much of today’s popular media first came alive through panels on a page. But in an era where our screens battle for our time and attention, many have opted out of visiting their local comic shop for other alternatives. But how do these changes impact the audience and the industry? For the folks at Panel One, the answers can be found in the community.
“ Comics are for everyone,” says Joey Gruszecki, President of Panel One.
For the past few years, Panel One has fostered an accessible community with the aim of highlighting local comic creators. Originally Calgary based, the collective now aims at helping Canadian artists wherever they may be, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Reduced Inequalities and Sustainable Cities and Communities. By setting up the Comic Creator Festival and routinely hosting workshops and events, creators can find a community to bond over and connect to Opportunities that would be gatekept are shared through these initiatives. All paths on the journey of comic making intersect in these spaces; through comics and for comics. Arts Help's Daniele Pieroni spoke with the president of Panel One, Joey Gruszecki about the collective and its goals.
How would you describe Panel One to an unfamiliar audience?
We’re a non-profit collective of artists and creators that set up the Panel One Comic Creator Festival. This is a space for creators to affordably sell their comics and zines every year. The table fees are fixed and won’t rise in price other than to reflect changes in the cost of production. This started as a response to how difficult it is to find creators at larger expos. Artists are forced to primarily sell fan art. Booths devolve into an artists’ arms race of increasingly imposing merch structures at every table.
We have outlined rules as to how content can be displayed at each booth: nothing above two feet of the booth is allowed. We wanted to enforce a level playing field for everyone; nobody can be dwarfed at our festival. If a creator doesn’t own or hasn’t been commissioned for it, others’ IPs cannot be sold; this means no Spider-Man at the festival.
On a broader scale, I think it’s important to build a community that offers creators a place to network and that promotes professional development. Through skill-sharing workshops, events and sketch sessions people connect to artists from a variety of backgrounds. We aim to build a place where the community serves the medium and not the other way around.
Why have skill-sharing workshops rather than a traditional lecture-based format?
The environment is much more relaxed, it’s an opportunity to learn and connect with others. You can talk about art while also getting in the weeds of technical applications. This provides a base to meet cool people with similar interests from which you can learn. Making comics can be a very lonely process. You may collaborate with others but you don’t work alongside them very often. We remind people they aren’t alone in engaging and working on the medium.
What are the benefits of being a non-profit?
Being a non-profit allows us to receive grants for funding and connect with businesses that deem the cause worthy and wish to sponsor us, while not having to go through the route of becoming a charity. This also allows creators to see the possibilities of the festival knowing they won’t be invisible. People don’t go to conventions for comics anymore, they go [shopping] and meet Captain Kirk.
What’s the biggest barrier to entry for the comics industry?
There’s no money in comics. Even in working for a large publication, you may never see the profits due to the structure of the business. You have to love to make comics to make comics and you shouldn’t make them if you don’t. You have to accept that not a lot of people may ever read them. I’ve made many comics that have been read by 13 people, at most. Ironically, I hate tabling and having to be a salesman for my comics. But you have to be there for the passion. There’s no magic trick either, every comic starts with writing details of page one, panel one.
Another reason is that comic book shops don’t exist as they did anymore. The market’s changed, you find things online nowadays.
What do you find is the strength of having such a diversified collective?
The education I’ve gotten from the diversity of not only the subject matter but of the creators has been eye-opening. I’m grateful to my team for putting emphasis on such diversity while providing opportunities to individuals who may experience barriers. For example, as we grow, we have a larger budget to commission members of our community to make posters for the festival. And we make it a point to reach out to marginalized creators that may experience trouble getting these opportunities in more traditional avenues. Plus, comics don’t equal superheroes; there [are] comics from everywhere in the world about everything we can think of.
We have zero editorial oversight, within reason, so we welcome a plethora of work from any stage of development. We’ve received concerns about having to focus more on polished professional work but that’s not what this is about.
How does the public benefit from investments in their local art landscapes?
Well, it’s hard to quantify into words but there's more to life when we grow our avenues for artistic expression. We should champion making art for who we become in the process and not what we get out of it. Art isn’t a simple pursuit. The world is better when artists are able to express themselves.
This year’s Panel One Comic Creator Festival will be held on Saturday, Jun. 3, 2023, at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association. For more details visit https://panelone.ca