SFZF Featured Artist Spotlight: Justin Hall

“As our concept of queerness changes and our concepts of comics change as well, there’s a lot new material that is happening and new undergrounds are forming.” ~ Justin Hall


Justin Hall referred to the emerging voices that appeared over time. The research he did for his anthology, No Straight Lines, proved there was a lot of material that hadn’t been archived into queer comic anthologies. No Straight Lines was his attempt to change that by including a wider perspective and representation of both comics and queer history.  

A lot of the stories he included in No Straight Lines  were originally underground comics and zines, created by people who didn’t identify with gay stereotypes. Even though mainstream culture has been more inclusive of gay characters over time, most of the characters that appeared in novels, comics, and television were created by straight men, and failed to represent a diverse community.  But the queer comics scene showed a huge collection of talented individuals, who wanted to tell their stories their way. What those independent creators did was form a wider range of identities that broke stereotypes. They were poetic glimpses, and first-hand accounts, that ended up challenging the canon of art and our concepts of what it means to be queer.

The significance of archives like the Center for Sex and Culture’s library, and anthologies like No Straight Lines, is their ability to make underground art accessible to a large audience. It increases the public’s understanding of queer culture, art, and sex. It also forms a model or paradigm of sorts, but with a different lens. “A painter is going to know this canon of art history to fall back on and look over,” Justin explained. “Where as for cartoonists, for so long, there hasn’t been that conversation of who are our great masters. What’s the art history of comics? So that’s important. And the same thing is true for queer people. Who are our role models? How do we validate the experiences that have happened in the past, that we can learn from and grow from? Who do we give props to?”

After reading Justin’s work, looking through the CSC (Center for Sex and Culture) archives, and meeting the artists at SF Zine Fest, a few insights emerge: an artist’s imagination can break through all limits, and that fight for survival has the power to create a cultural shift.

To learn more about Justin Hall’s work, come through to our panel tomorrow, Saturday, August 31 at noon.  

SFZF Featured Artist Interview: Sophia Foster-Dimino

Sophia Foster-Dimino never saw another option but to make art her living. Though she knew from a young age that she was an artist, she still worked vigorously to become better at her craft. She tried one process after another. When something inspired her, she would study it over and over again. The people around her encouraged her to keep going. The result of all her efforts can be seen below. Her line work is light and captures movement. And her work shows the amount of thought she puts into each piece. Every detail has a purpose. Every line leads you to another treasure, be it color, figures, or words. 

1) When did you start identifying as an artist? 

I drew from an early age, though that isn't unusual. When I was in kindergarten, I remember using a whole box of markers to draw a rainbow. The rainbow had every color available, including black, grey, brown, and pink...


When I was a little older, in second or third grade, I remember drawing a painstaking copy of a Lisa Frank folder that had a bunch of orcas on it. Some older girls from the fourth grade saw it, and they were incredibly impressed. I kept it up in my free time after that. I think that's the way these things usually go – you're marginally better at something due to chance, you get a little encouragement at an early age, and that's enough to shape your entire identity.

I attended the MICA pre-college program when I was fifteen, and that cemented my desire to pursue art as a career. I think that was the single biggest turning point – I never really considered any alternate life options after that.

2) What artists / writers inspired you or influenced you the most? 

When I was just about to graduate from high school – like, the day before graduation – my classmates and I were bumming around a used bookstore in Sarasota, Florida, and I found a beaten-up copy of 32 Stories by Adrian Tomine. It's a collection of his Optic Nerve comics. Before then, my experience with comics had been limited to Sandman, Archie, and whatever random manga I could find online... Optic Nerve was my entry point into another world of comics. Within a few months I'd found Chris Ware and (most importantly) the anthology Mome, which I read religiously all through college right up until its demise, just after I graduated. It had been my masochistic fantasy to be featured in it one day... it introduced me to some of my favorite cartoonists: Eleanor Davis, Lilli Carré, Jim Woodring, Gabrielle Bell, Anders Nilsen, Dash Shaw, David B., Laura Park...

Right now I am very drawn to geometric cartoonists like Joost Swarte. I take influence from fine artists, graphic designers, and furniture/ designers as well. One of my favorite cartoonists right now is Henry McCausland – his work is transcendental to me. Some of his comics have been published by Nobrow, and he puts his own zines out as well. I love how he mixes perfectly rigid, cold, metal architecture with chaotic overgrowth... shrubs, twigs, ferns, and grass. His worlds seem bleak, but his characters are very happy-go-lucky, and innocent.

I don't read as much as I want to, but I love Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Borges, Atwood, Nabokov, Lem... I like stories of solitary narrators exploring strange buildings, thinking about human interactions from a remote point. Within the past year or so I read a novella called The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares. It was very much in line with my sensibilities. I like it when fiction is serious in theme, but not in tone. I also like pulp, I love sci-fi. I really love movies and videogames, and I try to let them pollinate my art somehow...


3) What is your creative process like?

I do a lot of planning. I do many layers of sketches. Drawing takes a long time, for me. I'm trying to loosen up a bit, but every time I adjust my process it seems like I just get further into a rut. I'm getting more and more obsessed with geometry, so I draw all sorts of intense guide lines for my images. Sometimes it's all too much and I wind up feeling like I'm just assembling Ikea furniture, there's no spontaneity to it. To try and combat this sensibility, when I draw in my sketchbook I go straight to ink so that I can't be too much of a perfectionist.

Right now I think my process is controlling me a bit too much. I should find some way to snap out of it. When I was in college, I did a lot of printmaking. I've had some trouble finding facilities in San Francisco (or maybe I'm just dragging my feet) but I think a change of medium would help me to relax. I've been wanting to try ceramics, too.

4) What's the most challenging thing about creating your work / the most rewarding thing about it?

Because I tend to over-plan, I sometimes get stage fright while drawing, and nothing comes out right. All it takes is a little bit of resistance and I start worrying – "Why isn't this working? Have I lost it? It's true, I'm a fraud after all..." It's exhausting to try and shake loose from self-doubt. It follows me through almost every piece. And then I can't wait to just get it out the door and never see it again. Only months after completing a drawing can I look at it with any kind of objectivity.

It's rewarding when I discover something new by accident. Or, conversely, when I point all my efforts at a visual problem and finally figure out a solution. When things go well, it's usually by accident, though.

I feel happiest when my peers like my work. I'm friends with some insanely hard-working and brilliant artists, and their encouragement really makes it all worthwhile.

I'm also happy when someone has an emotional connection with my work. Sometimes complete strangers are on my wavelength, they take something empowering or encouraging from my drawings, and that really makes me feel like it's all worthwhile.

5) How important is it for you to have a strong community of artists? Where did you find that community?

Community has been really important for me during the past several years. When I was in college, I was severely introverted, a real shut-in... I felt moody and restless all the time, and it was difficult for me to make a lot of friends.

When I graduated I moved to the other coast, and I found myself even more isolated. I eventually reached a breaking point and decided I needed to commit myself to making connections with people no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel. So I joined twitter and started reaching out. It's been a huge help, an amazing comfort, to see that the artists I respect so much struggle with the same weird anxities. I've learned a lot (both "professionally" and personally) from engaging with the twitter illustration/comics community. And I've made a lot of friends.


Whenever I go to a major comics convention like TCAF, SPX, MoCCA, APE, etc, I wind up running into all these people. I guess this is a situation unique to artists, or at least people who are buried in the culture to the degree that I am, but knowing someone personally really enriches their work for me, it contextualizes it. I've fallen in love with a lot of obscure or difficult work after getting to know the person who made it. I know that comics and illustrations are meant to stand alone on their own merits, but I also feel like one of the most important functions of art is to bring people together, so I guess I'd say that I have both objective and subjective lenses for viewing creators and their output.

6) When did you start tabling at conventions/ or Zine Fests?

The first convention I attended, aside from miscellaneous anime conventions in high school, was MoCCA in 2009. I did table there with some fellow RISD students (we were juniors at the time). I went to SPX for the first time shortly after, though I didn't exhibit. I first exhibited at TCAF, which is my favorite convention, in 2012.

For major conventions, I usually team up with Collective Stench, which is a loose group of ~15 artists – many of whom graduated from RISD, many in my class. They are all incredibly talented and I love to table with them.

SF Zine Fest and APE were a big part of getting to know San Francisco and the local community, for me. I actually first talked to my future husband at Zine Fest 2011!

7) What do you take from events like SFZF, as an exhibitor and as a guest?

Conventions and fests are exhiliarating and a great way to meet new artists (or ones you've covertly obsessed over for months). They're also pretty stressful for me, since I have trouble with crowds. But, to my relief, most artists seem to feel the same way. We all manage. It's a good experience overall.

When I was in college I worked at the school library, and I remain very attached to the concept of a physical library, even in the face of e-books, etc. I've taken a long time to figure out what it is, in particular, that I like so much about libraries, and I think it's something similar to what I like about conventions and fests. When you live and work online, you learn about the things you research, and you learn about the things your friends buzz about, but there's not really a digital equivalent of wandering in a diverse space and finding something completely unexpected. I really value being able to stumble across something I've never seen or heard of before, something I didn't even know was possible. Humans have a natural desire to organize and make things coherent, but the world is never going to be like that, so although the effort is noble (sometimes) it's just as important to accept and absorb how unique and uncategorizable people (and their various forms of expression) are.


SFZF Featured Artist Interview: Roman Muradov

Roman Muradov started off as an engineer, and then came to terms with the fact that he was an artist. His work reflects his many talents and takes from poetry and literature, music, and the symmetry and wonder of moving machines. Roman's shy demeanor misleads the passing eye, for his world is full of color. He works in layers of contradiction, making a few brush strokes form a world of beauty, a world of sadness, irony, but most of all sharp wit. It's no surprise that his work has gained so much recognition in a short amount of time. 


1) When did you start identifying as an artist? 

I've always had mild artistic aspirations, most of them successfully repressed until my 20s, so I still have a lot of catching up to do.

2) What artists / writers inspired you or influenced you the most? 

I've always been attracted to artists who challenge the reader's expectations and the medium they're occupying, particularly Saul Steinberg, Marcel Proust, Georges Perec, Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Tove Jansson and Vladimir Nabokov. The comedy of Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris was a huge influence on me, as well as music of the Fall. My favorite cartoonists are Seth, Tim Hensley and Jason.

3) What is your creative process like?

I have a few approaches, but for most of my work I draw with brush/pen & ink, then color it digitally. I try to keep the roughness of the medium, so I use wellworn brushes and deliberate mess up the bristles or smudge things with my finger. Most of the time I'm trying to create the feel of a beautiful melody played on a tuneless instrument by someone who's on the verge of having a breakdown.

4) What's the most challenging thing about creating your work / the most rewarding thing about it?

The only rewarding part is the beginning, when it feels more like playing with words and ideas, rather than work. Everything else is pretty torturous.

5) How important is it for you to have a strong community of artists? Where did you find that community?

Drawing comics is a tedious and lonesome pastime, and with the intensely unrelatable subject matter that I pick it can feel pointless and unappreciated. So when I do hear from someone who gets what I'm doing and derives some pleasure from my work, it's always hugely motivating. I met most friends & colleagues through posting work online and festivals.

6) When did you start tabling at conventions or Zine Fests?

I first tabled at ZineFest in 2011, before that I felt too insecure to sell my stuff. Of all the festivals, ZineFest & TCAF are my favorites--both are well-curated and pleasantly located, very different from the more commercial and pop-culture-ridden funnybook conventions.

7) What do you take from events like SFZF, as an exhibitor and as a guest?

ZineFest is often the only event of the year when I get to meet and chat in person with fellow cartoonists, as well as share zines and comics. I like the idea of never reprinting my zines so that each one goes directly into someone's hands as a little artifact of that year.


SFZF + CAM Present: Thinking Captions


The Cartoon Art Museum and SF Zine Fest are proud to present Thinking Captions 2013 : Cartoonists Reading Their Cartoons, on Thursday, August 29th from 7pm to 9pm. A diverse lineup of small-press cartoonists will read from their respective works, accompanied by a special Keynote presentation. 

The lineup, consisting of artists exhibiting at this years’s SF Zine Fest, consists of Emily Alden Foster (emilyaldenfoster.com), Roman Muradov (bluebed.net), Sophia Foster-Dimino (hellophia.com), Ric Carrasquillo (squillostudio.com) and Justin Hall (justinhallcomics.com). The suggested donation for this event is $5, although no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

RSVP for the event here.


Zinester Spotlight: Brian Herrick

How did you get in to zines and self-publishing?

Comics led me to the zine world. I think Cerebus by Dave Sim and the original TMNT by Eastman and Laird were the first comics that I saw which seemed to be published and handled by the artists.  I loved that they were black and white and written and drawn by the artists.  It wasn't until recently though, in the past five years that I decided that I really needed to just buckle down and make a comic.

When I started Ebb and Flood I decided that I would just make it and find my way as I went. So self publishing just made sense.  I didn't even know about SF Zine Fest and it was my wife who saw a poster advertising it and said "that seems like something you would like." I was so excited to find a venue where people were making exactly what they wanted to make and had a direct line to their audience. It has been very inspiring to meet other folks at Zine Fest who are talented and creative and following their passion.

You reference a lot of monsters, myths, and old wives tales in your work. Do you come up with those or are they ones you've heard over time?

I've always been fascinated by myths and fairy tales. Growing up in Alaska, I had a friend who was an Aleut and his family had these amazingly scary and creepy myths and ghost stories. Everyone is afraid of monsters, and everyone has a monster that is specifically frightening to them. My childhood monsters don't scare me the way they used to, but they will always be there. 

I learned that myths are hardwired into our psyches when I was in my early twenties. At that time I was teaching 10 year old boys a myth writing unit and they just ate it up. Even though these little boys had no background of having read myths, myth seemed fascinating and even familiar to them. As I started Ebb and Flood, the ghosts drifted into the stories so that they are just as important as the living members of the town. So to answer your question I guess those are myths that I've invented but I've been influenced by many stories I've read and heard over the years.  

Ebb & Flood reminds me a lot of Twin Peaks in there being a dichotomy of subtle, supernatural events that keep happening in a small sleepy town (Beacham Bay). What inspired you to tell an ongoing set of stories in the "Beacham Bay Universe?"

What a huge compliment to compare Beacham Bay to Twin Peaks.  Twin Peaks came out when I was a  in High School and I was instantly taken with it. I loved how weird and dark it was and the more that we as viewers learned, the more confusing and twisted the story seemed to get. I've definitely tried to incorporate that sense of layering into Ebb and Flood. I want readers to dig into the town's history and every time they think they have a finger on its past they find something new.  Beacham Bay isn't as wicked or dangerous as Twin Peaks, but it does have a darker, complex background which lends to its present state. 

When I started writing stories about Beacham Bay I was looking for a vehicle that would provide many story lines and personalities and it made sense to have the town be the main character and build that character by getting to know the people. It's just so much fun now to dig into the town and uncover it's background and convoluted history. The more I do it, the more I find out.

I noticed that water seems to be an ever-present element throughout your work. Is there a particular reason for that?

Swimming has always been a medative, restorative activity for me. I grew up swimming and swam competitively in high school and college. After I moved to San Francisco I discovered the Dolphin Club and started swimming in the bay. Finding cold water swimming changed everything for me though, and suddenly swimming became more challenging and rewarding.  Getting into the Bay when the temperature is in the low 50s is so exhilarating and instantly brings you into a state of awareness unlike any other sport that I've experienced. You have to be aware and careful and pay attention to what you are doing and what the tides and currents are doing. Every swim turns into a little adventure.

When I started writing, open-water swimming became a part of the culture of Beacham Bay, and that came from seeing everyone at the Dolphin Club doing their thing every day. People that jump into 50 degree water are a unique bunch. So when I created Beacham Bay it seemed to make sense that this would be a town where everyone swam and it was just a part of what they did.   

There are a lot of different storytelling styles in your comics. Which dictates the direction you take -- the story you want to tell or the style you want to tell it in?

Starting with genre seems to help me get my ideas down on paper and there are so many genres I would like to explore.  I have some science fiction stories I'm working on and it would be fun to do a Western some day as well. I usually start with genre and the story comes out of that. Occasionally a story idea will come to me and then it's a matter of figuring out what the genre or style will be, where it fits best.  Often it doesn't feel as if I'm creating a story as much as discovering it, which I know is not a new idea, but one that feels familiar to me. When I try too hard to make a story go a certain way, it seems to fall flat or feel forced.

When I started Ebb and Flood I wanted a subject matter that would allow me the opportunity to tell different kinds of stories. Beacham Bay allows me to cover a lot of ground. Ebb and Flood then becomes limitless for me as a vehicle of storytelling and I'm free to explore different themes in each little vignette.  

What can people expect from you coming up? Any new work coming out?

I have two new issues of The Business of Monkeys, which are sketch book compilations coming out at SF Zine Fest. I'm just finishing the pencils for Ebb and Flood #3 and I'm hoping to have it printed this fall. 

I'm also writing Ebb and Flood #4 which is a bit of format change and it's been so much fun to write; I'm really looking forward to getting that going as well.   I'm also working on a mini comic which is a collection of the ghosts of Beacham Bay. I would love to get a third issue of The Milk and Carrots Anthology together and am always on the lookout for more contributors.  That's all for now, but I'm hooked on this art form so I'm curious to see what I'll be making in a few years.

Finally, from your perspective what makes the Bay Area a special place for writers, artists, and DIY creators?

The Bay Area is such a beautiful place to live and it's a perfect mix of urban life and nature. It's so fantastic that I can live in such a dense city surrounded by so many people and then I can just plop into the bay and go for a swim and be completely immersed in nature, or get over to Mt. Tam in 30 minutes and be in the woods. I love having both those worlds at my fingertips.  I'm also amazed at the creativity that people in the Bay Area have.  It's a place full of people who actively follow their interests and passions.  People don't just punch the clock, they all have diverse abilities and viewpoints.  My workplace is a good example of that. I teach art at an elementary school and my colleagues are so active and creative. The Bay Area is a unique and fantastic place, I'm fortunate to call it home.

For updates on new comics and zines, head to brianherrick.com

Join SFZF at SFCB's Open Print Studio!


Hey SF Zine Fest folks --

The San Francisco Center for the Book will be hosting an Open Print Studio evening for Zine Folks and Friends!

Local zinesters and paper people are invited to spend the evening at the SFCB bindery putting finishing touches on all of those last minute SF Zine Fest projects! Jennie Hinchcliff/Red Letter Day will be on hand to assist with tasks such as trimming, sewing, stapling – and maybe show a demo on rounding corners! No reservations are necessary, all are welcome. Bring projects in progress or stop by to get inspired. (“Socializing” counts as “work”!)

When: August 16th

Where: SF Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island (btwn 16th & 17th, in Potrero Hill)

Time: 5:00pm – 10:00pm

Also: Open Print Studio for letterpress is going on the same evening. SFCB’s bindery space is to the left of the gallery; once you’re past the reception area, look left and head through the doorway.

See ya there!