top of page

WildStar Press | Illustrated by Masha Zhdanova

By: Masha Zhdanova

Cartoonists of a certain age and temperament (meaning, chronically online twenty-somethings such as myself) often forget that it’s good to interact with other people who do what you do in real life. Instead of online, on social media platforms that keep getting worse and worse. Or Discord servers that are either too small or too big or too active or too quiet to really feel like you’re making any friends. And it’s true, it feels like it’s easier to be friends with people inside your phone or computer instead of leaving the house. But what if I told you... you could do it? You could go outside and find friends who share your interests and hang out with them and draw together at a physical location?

Here’s how I did it.

I got the idea in January 2023. I was TA-ing a virtual workshop on webcomics with Kane Lynch, and we got Ryan Estrada in as a guest speaker. I was already a fan of Estrada’s work, so I was excited to hear him speak that day. I was expecting him to talk about his idiosyncratic comics practice, but I wasn’t expecting him to talk about how he built connections and a comics community in Busan, South Korea.

As I listened to him talk, I thought, “wait, I could do that.” And out of view of my webcam, I pulled out my phone and messaged two of my friends who lived near me and liked to draw, asked if they were free to come to a cafe and draw with me that following week, and they agreed.

And that’s how it all began.

Me, my fine-arts-major friend from high school, and an animation major I randomly befriended at NYCC 2019, started to draw in cafes, every Monday and then every Tuesday morning. (We all work retail/customer service so we’re off on random days.) And pretty soon, we started thinking about how we could expand the size of our group and bring in people we didn’t know already.

My animation friend honestly did most of the hard work here: she went over to an artist’s cooperative nearby (a space where multiple artists make and sell their work together) and befriended someone who had connections at the Princeton Arts Council, then the two of them worked out a way for us to use a room there every week for our meetups. She also made posters and postcards advertising the meetups and hung them up around town. The three of us split the costs for everything, but due to various reasons we didn’t manage to get our advertising up and running until after the first few “official” meetings of this meetup group, in January 2024.

And our advertisements worked! People saw our posters and stopped by to see what we were about. Cartoonists, animators, character designers, graphic designers, illustrators, hobbyists, all with an interest in narrative art and making new friends. Most people continued to show up week after week, even if they didn’t live immediately in our area. People who lived half an hour’s drive away or even more than that considered this to be worth the trip.

Two lessons here: The first is, if you build it, and they know about it, they will come. The other lesson is: see what already exists. I’m lucky enough to live in a town with an arts council, and an art collective nearby. You might have something like that nearby too! It could be a gallery, or even a library open to arts-related programming.

The other thing I did to help build this community (somewhat impulsively, after driving back from Small Press Expo and grumbling to myself how much I wanted a comics festival I didn’t need to drive more than 15 minutes to get to), was submit a proposal to the Princeton Public Library for a potential Zine Fest. I knew they’d held events for children’s books and poetry in the past, so why not zines?

And the library liked my proposal! They thought it would dovetail nicely with NJ Maker’s Day weekend, a thing that I recently learned existed, and asked me to design the logo and promotional graphics for the festival and consult on things like how it should be run. The library did most of the hard work of putting the event together, and I even got paid for the graphic design work and a free table at the Fest.

Ask your library if they would like to do something you want to have happen. You’d get to support your local library by using their free resources!

This festival happened March 16, and it was small, but very fun. The room was full of people for the full five hour event. People traveled from NYC and Philadelphia to table. I made friends with some of the other artists attending the event, or at least connected with them on social media. Because of its success, the librarians were discussing putting it on again next year.

The representative from The Word zine distro said he hadn’t seen a zine fest in NJ in a long time other than last year’s Lambertville Zine Fest (which I hadn’t heard about.) Jennifer Hayden, the author of The Story of My Tits, was thrilled to meet other cartoonists in the central NJ area. And I was too. I was also excited that having an event so close to my house meant my mom and little sister could come see my work, as well as one of my old coworkers and a friend of mine from high school who had never attended any kind of zine or comics-related event before. At the event, we handed out postcards advertising our weekly meetup group at the Arts Council and told people about it, and a few people promised to stop by. A few joined our meetup group’s discord server to keep in touch while being physically too far away to regularly attend our meetings.

A year ago, I decided I wanted to make friends with cartoonists in my area, and I did. And you can do it too.

~Masha Zhdanova

bottom of page