Imagine Your Story- RiverCon Interview with Dan Gorman and Josh Nealis

Welcome back to our RiverCon interview series! RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our summer reading inspired RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” great local comic artists and authors from home!

This week is our final week of interviews and I have not one, but two comic creators for you- Dan Gorman and Josh Nealis. Dan has done sequential work for various comics, including AC Comics and Dark Horse, and he also creates weekly cartoons for the Akron RubberDucks. Josh is an artist and owner of Cutthroat Comics and Publishing.

Dan Gorman Image from http://www.dangormanart.com/
Josh Nealis Image courtesy of Josh Nealis

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?     

Dan: I always had the ability to draw even as a very small kid. I originally thought I’d be a syndicated cartoonist, which still might happen, some things are in the works. When I was 12 I fell in love with Spider-man Comics and it was at that point that I decided I wanted to be a comic book Illustrator.

Josh: I had previously been in a heavy metal band. We decided to call it quits. Afterwards, I knew I needed to still be creative. I started a review website for movies, video games, and comedy specials. After about a year or so, it wasn’t fulfilling my creative needs. I had always wanted to write a book, and an idea popped into my head and I ran with it. That book became, Stuffed Squirrels & Porcelain Angels. Once the floodgates opened all these ideas started pouring out. So I decided to do all of it. Books, comics, children’s books, even a self help book. I write whatever pops in my head.

Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?       

Dan: My Mom always bought me Archie’s when I was a kid, but it was The Amazing Spider-man that captured my attention the most. I also loved and still love Peter Porker Spider-Ham and Anything drawn by Mike Zeck. His work on Spidey and Captain America is my favorite.

Josh: As far as specifically comics, I loved the X-Men. I had toys, the comics, watched the shows. I mostly stuck to Marvel, but I do have a soft spot for DC, as well as some mid 90s Image franchises like Spawn, and The Maxx, and WildC.A.T.S. And the always popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although I never had the comics.

Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?       

Dan: Storytelling helps us deal with issues we ourselves are experiencing. Both as a creator and reader the medium of comic books has inspired me to overcome situations in my own life. When I see my heroes are in trouble but fight to defeat whatever challenge they face, it gives me the confidence I can also defeat my challenges. Whatever form storytelling takes.. whether its comics.. movies.. books.. video games.. whatever it is.. participating in that process.. from either side is therapeutic and cathartic. Stories are meaningful even if they aren’t true.

Josh: Well comics are great for learning how to read. It’s not overwhelming, or overly wordy. Plus you get the art with it. As an artist, writing comics is totally different from a novel. You get to collaborate and see your thoughts come to life right in front of you. Plus, you get two art forms wrapped into one. A well written story with colorful characters, and dramatic art, not only the images but the words and sound effects as well.


How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work? 

Dan: All of our modern heroes are influenced by mythology and folklore. Studying and reading about heroes from the past sparks the imagination. My original character, The Akron Knight, has influences from Greek and Roman mythology, modern day comics, and concepts from film and animation. All of those images and stories can be seen in the mythos of The Akron Knight. 

Josh: A lot of my work, has morals and meaning tied in with the story. I don’t often come right out and explain it to the reader. I let them figure out the point. A great story makes you think. Not just about what happened, but why. When you think about the fairy tales and mythology, etc, they are still popular for that reason. The themes stick with you. Depth makes a great story.

Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?   

Dan: I always gravitated towards Greek and Roman mythology. So many great stories and lessons to be learned in those tales. I don’t know that I can site just one as being my favorite.  They all kind of work together in my opinion.

Josh: I love Robin Hood. So much that my son is named after him. But, I love Greek mythology. I like religious mythology as well. King Arthur. Really anything like that has always interested me.

What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Dan: I don’t get to read a lot of stuff that I’m not currently working on.  That’s the catch 22 of being a busy creator.  If it’s not a script you are working on its difficult to find time to read other stuff. With that said, the only GN I sat down and read from start to finish this year was “Kringle” written by David Hayes and published by Source Point Press.  I drew the backup story. I will warn you, its not for kids. It’s a very adult-themed book. So certainly read it before you decide to let your children read it.  It could ruin Christmas for them for life lol.

Josh: Aside from my books and comics right? I read Mr. and Mrs. X. really liked that. Absolute Carnage was pretty cool. I am currently reading the Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles cross over. It’s pretty neat so far. I also started Saga recently. It’s very creative, but is for adults. Sorry kids.

Pencil drawing by Dan Gorman.

Thanks so much for following along with us here as we got to know some Ohio comic creators and artists just a little bit. I hope you have enjoyed reading these interviews as much as I have enjoyed conducting them!

Fingers crossed for an in-person panel one day in the future. Until then- don’t forget you can read stellar comics and graphic novels without ever leaving your home thanks to your library card and Hoopla! Happy reading and stay healthy.

Can You Ever Have Enough Houseplants?

I currently have one goal:

Crazy Plant Lady by Isabel Serna

I have always liked plants. I got my green thumb from my mom. Some of my plants are from her collection and I take such comfort in being able nurture these keepsakes. My mom never reached crazy plant lady status. I, however, have accepted the challenge. Here are a couple of my favorites. The top right is a new baby I started from my mom’s plant (I also have momma) and bottom right is also from my mother’s house. She bought it over 30 years ago to cover a hole in her dining room floor! I’ve started a couple of babies from her as well. I love buying plants. I love receiving plants as gifts. And I really love the thrill of propagating my plants.

A big part of my plant hoarding lifestyle includes books. Oh, how I LOVE a gorgeous plant book and RRPL keeps me in books.

Wild At Home by Hilton Carter
Plant Parenting by Leslie F Halleck
House Jungle by Annie Dornan-Smith

Don’t have a green thumb? We have a book for that!

Handmade Houseplants by Corrie Beth Hogg

My next plant purchases are going to be large floor plants and I think I need to start browsing our home improvement books for some shelving ideas. I am out of surfaces for potted plants!

If you are more of an outdoor gardener we have seeds for you! We are so excited to have our own Seed Library, courtesy of the Cleveland Seed Bank. To learn more about the seed bank and get your free seeds, check out our page on the RRPL website. I have my eye on some milkweed seeds!

~Megan

Imagine Your Story – Twins, Two Ways

Wow! I just yesterday finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and it has been taking up much of my brain space over the last 24 hours. If you haven’t heard of this brand new, of-the-moment novel yet, listen up. The story is set from the 1950s through the 1990s and begins in Mallard, Louisiana, a town whose population is composed mostly of light-skinned African-American people whose founder believed the lighter they are, the better they are. There, readers meet twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, descendants of their town’s founder, who run away when they are sixteen. The two separate when Stella decides to embark upon a life passing as a white woman – a secret she intends to keep from everyone, including her white husband and daughter. Following the trajectory of these sisters’ vastly different lives had me on the edge of my seat and I literally couldn’t put down this book. Not only is it thought-provoking and timely, it is also an exceptionally well-written look at relationships between mothers and daughters and the men they love that had my heart aching. Read this one. I know your book club will.

If you want to totally twin-out, I have one more twin-focused read. This one is a bit lighter but still tugs at the heart-strings. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is the perfect novel for word nerds. It tells the stories of Daphne and Laurel Wolfe, red-haired twins who begin speaking their own private languages as toddlers and are obsessed with words and grammar ever since. Unfortunately, they are equally obsessed with an old dictionary that their late father gave them, something that drives a wedge between them. Watch these wicked-smart girls become adults, figure out their careers and raise families, drifting apart even as they can never lose that twin connection.

And, yes, these are very different reads. I guess, maybe, just like twins can be.                     ~Carol (not a twin)

Imagine Your Story -Book vs Movie

How often have you had the discussion about which was better -the book or the movie? All the time, right? And how often do you pick the movie over the book? Not as often as you pick the book, right? Well, I’ve got a win/win for you this week! You can read the book *and* watch the movie, in any order, and walk away thinking, “that was great!” Are you curious yet?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson blends his personal experiences and life journey with his drive to create social justice and encourage us all to get involved. I read this book when it first came out, and have enjoyed it as an audio book as well, and I think part of what makes Mr. Stevenson’s book so special is how a reader can emotionally connect to experiences, feeling his pain and his joy, while breaking down those systemic issues surrounding the inequality of our justice system. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative leading force in the creation of the Legacy Museum as well as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Mr. Stevenson is changing our World for the better!

“But what about Just Mercy as a movie?” you ask. This movie focused in on how Mr. Stevenson became Mr. Walter McMillian’s lawyer over other experiences in the book. Sometimes it’s that trimming that can leave a reader feeling like something was missing, but I would be surprised to hear that after you watch this film. Instead, I’d guess you might also think of this as an additional chapter to the book?

I hope you read *and* watch Just Mercy, and then -please, let me know what you think!

Take care
—Stacey

Imagine Your Story- RiverCon Interview with Clare Kolat

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Welcome back to our RiverCon interview series! RiverCon, our first annual mini-con at the library, was moved to at home activities to keep everyone safe this summer. We have also adapted our summer reading inspired RiverCon panel discussion to blog format so you can enjoy “meeting” amazing local comic artists and authors from home!

This week we hear from Clare Kolat, a talented Cleveland native who is a spectacular comic creator, artist, and designer. Clare’s comics have been featured in Vagabond Comics, The Ohio City Tremont Observer, and Cleveland Scene Magazine. You can learn more about Clare and her work by visiting her website- just click here!

What inspired you to pursue a career in comics?

Clare: Making my own stories and art always came naturally to me. I’ve found mountains of books and comics I made as a kid in my parents’ attic. Somewhere along the way, I realized that it was something I could keep doing as an adult, so I never stopped! 

Was there a favorite comic book you read in your youth?

Clare: While growing up in Mentor, my parents always got the News Herald, and for a time, they would include reprinted copies of old Spider-Man comics on Sundays. I would always grab the newspaper and shake out my comic to read first thing in the morning! I was also really into manga because of Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Why do you think storytelling, specifically in the comic or graphic novel format, is important?

Clare: Stories teach us valuable lessons and let us escape to worlds outside our understanding. They let us explore, grow, and share experiences with others we would never have otherwise. I absolutely think graphic storytelling is important as well. It’s a highly accessible medium. Anyone can read comics. Even if you don’t necessarily understand the words, the art is there to guide you through the story. It is really unique in that way. Comics are for everyone. 

How have folk tales, fairy tales, or mythology influenced your work?

Clare: I’ve always loved fantastical stories and magical worlds. Fairytales and mythology always gave me an exciting place to escape. They offer you a different perspective and an opportunity to find magic in the mundane.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

Do you have a favorite folk tale, fairy tale, or myth?

Clare: It’s so hard to pick one. I’ve really been getting into American folklore lately, especially stories about Appalachian cryptids and ghosts. I love the story of the Tailypo and did my own version for Vagabond Comics issue 9.

Image courtesy of Clare Kolat.

What is a favorite comic book or graphic novel that you have read in the past year?

Clare: Again, it’s hard to pick just one favorite, but to name a few Paper Girls, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, and Pilu of the Woods are all excellent.

Be sure to join me next Thursday morning for our final Imagine Your Story RiverCon interview! Stay safe and happy reading.

What to Read While You Wait for Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz

Daughters of Erietown is Connie Schultz’s debut novel. It’s the story of Ellie and Brick McGinty, two rural Ohio teens whose lives were changed by an unplanned pregnancy. While Ellie and Brick learn to be a married couple in the 1950’s they also battle with the demons of their past. The young couple navigate societal norms, limited opportunities, and dreams deferred. They raise a middle-class family on a union job salary.  They watch their children grow up and forge their own paths in the world. It’s a quiet story, rich in character and it’s likely on your summer TBR list. You aren’t alone. So, while you wait for your library hold to come available, check out some of these generational stories.

~Megan

Imagine Your Story – Book Recommendation

In case you need an excuse to pick up a new mystery series, I’ll give you two. First of all, Rosalie Knecht’s sleuth Vera Kelly is a smart, cynical New Yorker and CIA-trained sleuth who must navigate life in early to mid-1960s–an interesting time to be a spy and challenging time to be a woman. Secondly, it’s PRIDE month, and Vera is a lesbian, and is also forced by the times (and clauses in her employment contracts) to lead a double personal life in addition to her professional one.

In her first outing, Who is Vera Kelly?, Vera is approached and trained by the CIA. Her  surveillance mission to Argentina to infiltrate local student revolutionaries and wiretap government offices for potential coup information comprises most of the novel’s action. Along the way, flashbacks into Vera’s youth show her struggles to get close to others, to fit in, and to build healthy relationships.

Book two, Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery, takes place a year later. Vera is done with the CIA, fired from her latest job because a co-worker outed her, and dumped by her girlfriend Jane. Desperate to make a living and keep her apartment, but without references to get hired, Vera opens her own private detective agency where she struggles to be taken seriously. When a Dominican couple finally hires her to track down a boy, Vera uncovers much more than a missing persons case and ends up, yet again, in another foreign country with a fake passport, reexamining her priorities.

Both books in this series are part spy thriller, part character study, and part historical fiction and will check all the boxes if you like introspective slow-burning mysteries with plenty of international action and a bit of tame romance. What’s truly great about Knecht’s two-fer (and my fingers are crossed that there will be more) is that Vera is vulnerable and unsure of her self–at work, in life and in relationships. Vera has personal problems and regret. She’s not sappy, but it’s hard for her to change. Vera Kelly is just like us.

Will she solve her cases? (Spoiler alert) Yes. Will she find true happiness? I sure hope so. Read her story and I think maybe you will, too.  ~Carol