“The End of a Beginning, the Start of a New Era” – by Chloe Spencer
“I feel emotional,” Alex Milshtein said, speaking honestly. “I always thought I might cry during it, but it turns out, I’m not, so that’s nice.”
Milshtein and I sat on a wooden bench inside an alcove of Willamette Hall. Behind a door to the left of us, enthusiastic chatter echoed. Aside from this, the space surrounding us held a profound silence.
He had just left his position as the first editor in chief of Art Ducko, the university’s comic magazine. Tyler Crissman, another staff member, will be taking on his position.
“I think it is the right decision for me to leave, and let Tyler have his time with the magazine so that he has enough time to leave his impact and pass the magazine on to the next editor in chief,” Milshtein said. “But you know, as Professor Saunders used to say, the magazine was my baby, and I’m having my baby go out of the nest.”
This year marked the end of an era in the short history of Art Ducko, as some of the last members of the original staff, including Milshtein and also Lauren Amaro, the head copy editor, are graduating in the spring.
Art Ducko was founded to provide a creative platform for students to publish comics. Since its establishment in the fall of 2014 by a small group of passionate students, Art Ducko has grown considerably, producing multiple issues filled with student comic content.
While Milshtein felt sad, Amaro felt somewhat relieved.
“I’m trying to finish all my requirements—I need to graduate, and I need to work on my thesis, and right now, it’s so much work,” Amaro remarked. “And Art Ducko is something that I love so much but it takes up so much of my time.”
Both Amaro and Milshtein are confident in the replacements that they have selected, and express high hopes for the future of the magazine.
“Part of removing myself from the leadership is that I believe in people, and I believe in letting people have the space to do things as they want to do them,” Milshtein said.
By looking inside an issue of Art Ducko, you can tell that Milshtein’s statement is true: each comic is unique. Open up Issue One to the third page, and you’ll come across Art Director Erick Wonderly’s story, Wool Over the Eyes. Fluffy, empty eyed sheep roam across textured grasslands, as a menacing hairy wolf watches from the shadows of the crooked trees, his mouth dripping in anticipation.
Flip forward another seven pages and you’ll see the simple and squiggly line art of another contributor’s comic, Essays Pts 1, 2, and 3, featuring a young rabbit named Billy and his preppy-clothed teacher. Billy submits a paper entitled, “45 reasons birds are fake as hell.” The teacher hangs his head in disappointment, and admits, “You’re the reason I drink.”
Onward to page twelve. A row of emboldened runes are scrawled across the page. Underneath, the translation simply reads Atonement. A woman with haunting eyes and thick raven hair stares upwards. The art appears to be a mixture of pencil crosshatches—with possible hints of charcoal or oil pastel—and thick black ink that fills in the more solid structures in the story: the city skyline, the bridge, and the meadows down by the water. The woman, Rosalind, is a cop working on a series of haunting murders.
Crap Ghost features a young man with a Muppet-like nose and a sweater reminiscent of Sesame Street’s Ernie who is haunted by a ghost that voices his internal fears and doubts. Like Essays, the line art is simplistic and thin. The man sits at a table. Adjacent, a ghost with a squiggly tail and thick arms stares at him with impish eyes.
“You’re awfully quiet today,” Muppet-nose comments.
“Your parents only love you out of obligation,” the ghost responds.
“Shit,” the man says in disappointment.
Milshtein said the idea for Art Ducko came to him in winter term of his freshman year.
“I was walking towards the library, and I thought it would be cool to have something to read,” Milshtein said. “But there was nothing I was really interested in reading.”
After contacting Ben Saunders, the director of the comic studies program, Milshtein hosted a meeting at the EMU to chat about ideas over pizza. In the beginning, there were five people on staff, including Milshtein and Amaro, and they didn’t know each other well. Despite this, they had lengthy conversations.
“I think in the beginning there was such a sense of ‘Yes, let’s do this exciting thing!’–and it was a lot of talking together and making goals,” Amaro remarked.
By attending meetings and going out to eat, they developed friendships. In February of 2015, they released their first issue. Though the team felt successful, it later became clear that there were still issues to work out, specifically in regards to censorship.
When Milshtein submitted his Bite in the Dark story, there was a depiction of a vampire having sex with a sheep. Amaro then urged the group to adopt content guidelines.
“The way that it ended up being drawn, it’s very easy to miss or read over, and I think in the long run if we had left it alone, it probably would have been fine,” Amaro admitted. “But what I think was really important was establishing the guidelines for dealing with something like that, especially since it was so early in the magazine.”
Amaro frequently contested Milshtein’s decisions when no other staff members would.
“That was important,” Milshtein said, “because I did need to have my power checked a little bit, and at the end of the day, she was just trying to be helpful and I really did appreciate that.”
Despite the creative differences that they encountered, their sense of community remained strong. That sense of community is especially prevalent at events such as their release parties, and it fosters their desires to create.
On a Thursday night, at a release party in the EMU, Cheyenne Jaques sat with a flimsy sketchpad in front of her.
On the page, delicate and fragile light blue sketches awaited to be traced. With a Kuretake calligraphy pen, Jaques traced over, slowly and carefully, in subtle curves and emboldened black lines. The darkness of the jet black ink bled through the page. From these markings, a beautiful face emerged: a human preserved on a single page. Her eyes were swooping and catlike, her nose wide yet small, her lips thick and plump, slightly open, as if speaking or smiling. An emotion surfaced in her expression—curiosity? Amusement? Faster the pen moved, curling, diving; forming the bushy shape of a natural afro. It filled in the eyebrows, the stray curls, the baby hairs. The woman lifted her hand almost to touch her cheek. She had thick painted nails, but smooth lines softened her fingertips. The pen returned to her black hair, forming the bands and twists of her head wrap. Jaques called her a queen, but her appearance was that of a goddess.
“Her name is Ephemera,” Jaques said. “Her name means that she is something to be enjoyed only for a short time.”
The atmosphere surrounding Jaques was casual and friendly: the warm yellow light from the room bouncing off of the walls created a sense of intimacy as people chatted, read the latest issue, and ate slices of lukewarm Pegasus pizza. The sound of laughter filled the space as people congregated at the tables and shared stories.
For Jaques, a member of Art Ducko’s art department, the release party represents her connection to the university community. Jaques, a cartoonist, is from Newberg, Oregon, which she says doesn’t embrace the arts.
“When I came here, and I found out that there was a whole group of cartoonists and illustrators who create together and make a physical magazine, I was absolutely enthralled,” Jaques said. “So far it’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Juliet Lasky, a member of the events committee, explained how the parties were important in building community.
“You get a mixture of people who are a part of the magazine, and people who have heard about it and come in,” Lasky said. “It’s a place for people to have a shared common interest and talk about it. There’s not a lot of places like that for comic artists.”
Evidently, friendships and connections are important to the staff. But how does creating comics help each member of Art Ducko individually?
“Honestly, drawing and developing my own characters is my absolute favorite thing to do, and the amount of joy and happiness I get from it is unparalleled,” Jaques said. “When I’m finished with a drawing I also get a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem because I created something interesting and beautiful.”
Staff member Nate Thomas said, “It’s a satisfying feeling to create and build things… Almost like learning the end to a book, it’s something that takes an effort to truly be significant.”