Indie comics publisher takes to the road

Kilgore Books & Comics is an indie-comics innovator, and a nurturer of up-and-coming cartoonists.

On Monday, June 4, six of the publisher's artists will be at Kafe Kerouac, part of the company's largest-ever North American tour.

Two locals, Noah Van Sciver and Emi Gennis, will be there, along with the four who are traveling on the tour.

Readers of Alive know Van Sciver's work, and he is one of the breakout talents from Kilgore's early years.

But the company itself, and many of its other artists, are not as well known.

“We are looking for artists who are putting out work that you just don't see everywhere,” said Dan Stafford, the publisher and co-founder. “As you know, most of comics is kind of superhero, sci-fi and fantasy, whether you're talking the mainstream or the indie scene. We tend to prefer what I think of as literary comics — short stories, humor comics, some historical stuff.”

Kilgore started as an independent bookstore in Denver in 2008 and then got into publishing comics with the work of Van Sciver, who lived in Denver at the time. The co-founders have moved on to different cities, and sold the bookstore to a friend, but Kilgore the publishing company remains as active as ever, using crowdfunding and an eye for talent to produce about 10 titles per year.

Here are the artists who will be traveling to Columbus:

M.S. Harkness of Minneapolis has written and drawn Tinderella, an autobiographical story about a winter she spent in college trying to figure out romance. Her work is darkly funny and “uncomfortably open about her life,” Stafford says. Mike Freiheit of Chicago has a book, Monkey Chef: A Love Story, based on his experience working in a primate research sanctuary in South Africa. Stafford says the premise sets up to a story about homesickness and how a person deals with the natural world. Tom Van Deusen of Seattle draws stories about a ridiculous version of himself. The fictional “Tom Van Deusen” almost always does the wrong thing, in a hilarious way. “You're rooting for him to get his butt kicked, which he always does,” Stafford says. Alex Nall of Chicago is author of Lawns, a book about a small town mayoral election and the tension over the eccentric behavior of one if its residents. Nall has previously self-published books, such as Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours, about Mister Rogers. Stafford describes Lawns as meticulously plotted, with vivid characters.

Gennis and Van Sciver will also be at the event presenting their work. Gennis teaches at Columbus College of Art and Design and will have a new Kilgore edition of Baseline Blvd., a previously self-published autobiographical comic. Van Sciver will have a new issue of his anthology comic, Blammo.

The seven-city tour is largely the brainchild of Harkness.

“We aren't Twitter people and our work is all really personal to us, so it's important to have these events where we invite people in and treat it like a party,” she said in an email. “Cartoonists need these social gatherings too, just because we spend so much time hunched down in our own little worlds.”

Asked to describe Kilgore, she said this:

“Kilgore is a lot of things, but mostly it's Dan Stafford. When I was trying to get Tinderella published, all anyone could tell me about was how Dan was such a great guy who just wants to get people going and work with other hard workers. We're all really flamboyant with our labor for comics and our own dedication to whatever it is we're trying to accomplish. We're storytellers at our core.”