Gotham City, Krypton and … Columbus?
Although Ohio’s capital city might not initially seem like a typical comic book setting, a new project is localizing the art of comics and incorporating the spirit of a community into the adventures that fill its pages.
The “Weinland Park Story Book” project is a “hand-illustrated, limited edition publication” that is set to tell the stories of the Weinland Park area, according to the Ohio State Wexner Center for the Arts website.
The book is set to include more than 100 stories and anecdotes collected from residents of Weinland Park, accompanied by illustrations created by children who live in the area, as well as professional artists.
“It is a graphic anthology of different styles of drawing, different stories and different perspectives on one particular neighborhood,” said Jean Pitman, educator for youth programs at the Wexner Center.
Pitman said the book is set to contain approximately 150 pages of artwork contributed by 40 different artists.
The project was funded by the Wexner Center, Cardinal Health Foundation and independent donations through the Greater Columbus Art Council’s crowd funding platform, power2give.org, Pitman said.
Weinland Park is a Columbus neighborhood defined by the boundaries of High Street, Fifth Avenue, Chittenden Avenue and the railroad tracks on the east boundary.
According to the Weinland Park Community Civic Association website, the neighborhood was founded more than 90 years ago to serve individuals who utilized the streetcar system to travel to jobs downtown. Weinland Park also served employees of manufacturing industries who worked along the railroad lines that mark the eastern boundary of the neighborhood.
The neighborhood now has high levels of poverty, but Pitman said she thinks the neighborhood is in a period of transition.
“It was very interesting to me that this neighborhood has been changing so dramatically in such a short period of time,” Pitman said. “It is just a very interesting transition point in a neighborhood that I thought would make a great sort of intersection for artists to interpret.”
Pitman said she was approached in 2012 by two women from Weinland Park who asked her to consider their project proposal for a graphic anthology detailing the history of their community.
Throughout the summer of 2013, Pitman and a group of Wexner Center interns visited Weinland Park to collect stories from residents, she said.
“Mostly I just physically walked the neighborhood with a group of youth that I worked with that summer,” Pitman said of collecting the stories to include in the book. “We ran into people, we bumped into people, but we also made some appointments with some elders and community members.”
Amin Ebady, a student at Columbus Alternative High School and a resident of Weinland Park, said he helped Pitman collect stories from members of the Weinland Park community.
“At the time when we were going around gathering stories, I was mostly the ambassador from the Wexner Center for Weinland Park,” he said.
Ebady said he also contributed a couple of comics to the “Weinland Park Story Book.”
“I had the chance to draw my own story,” he said. “It was the story of me sledding down a giant gravel hill over the winter. And there was another story about a new shop that opened up (called) Pursuit.”
Ebady, who has lived in Weinland Park for 10 years, said he enjoys the sense of community prevalent in the neighborhood, but was upset to find that some attitudes toward Weinland Park did not reflect his own positive experiences.
“During this project, we had some information on what people from the outside think of Weinland Park and we really didn’t like (what they said),” he said. “We really just wanted to change the opinions of other people.”
Ebady said he hopes this project will challenge some of the stereotypes associated with this neighborhood, and he sees this project as a catalyst for positive change.
“I have definitely learned that judging something by its cover is a really deadly thing,” he said. “I am looking forward to how the community might give back to what we’re doing.”
Chris Summers, a fourth-year student in fine arts at OSU and one of Pitman’s interns, said he has contributed a piece to be included in the “Weinland Park Story Book.”
Summers’ piece, titled “Little Ballers,” follows the neighborhood rivalry of two preteen boys named Sam and Syquee. In the comic, both boys claim to be the best basketball player in Weinland Park, Summers said.
Summers said he was provided with photographs of both boys and tried to base his comic’s characters off of this historical information.
“I liked how (the project) ties together not only the present Weinland Park, but the past Weinland Park and the people who are still there,” he said. “It ties together the (neighborhood) and all its historical factors. It tells the story of (this community) in a coherent manner through all of these different voices.”
The variety of stories and diversity of artistic styles is something that appealed to local graphic designer and contributing artist Katie Valeska.
“I know it is a collection of a really wide range of artists and styles,” Valeska said. “There’s a lot of diversity in the neighborhood of people and histories and backgrounds. It will be really interesting to see those represented in the different kinds of styles and with a lot of love from each of the artists.”
Valeska illustrated a piece titled “Good Morning,” which tells the story of a boy who wakes up to find a bird flying around his room.
In addition to its inclusion in the “Weinland Park Story Book,” Valeska’s “Good Morning” piece was also chosen by the Wexner Center to be featured as a mural in the Short North. It is displayed at 1204 N. High St. as part of the Short North Arts District’s “Viewpoints” public art exhibition.
“Just realizing the importance of this project has been really cool,” she said. “I’m just tickled that there is all this art down in the Short North and they wanted this big comic book page on the side of the wall. I think that is just great. I want to see comics all over the Short North.”
Pitman said the book is set to be completed and printed by mid-June and 1,200 copies are expected to be distributed free of charge to Weinland Park residents.
A summer release party is slated for June 29 at Godman Guild in Weinland Park. Pitman said the books will be distributed at this event.
The final artwork from the “Weinland Park Story Book” is set to be donated to OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Collection, Pitman added.
“The comic book form is an interesting, very accessible, very democratic way in which to circulate information and share stories,” she said. “It is hard to contain this buzzing multitude that I feel like Weinland Park is … and we just thought that a graphic anthology would really capture that.”