Nights at the Boston Comics Roundtable

boston comics roundtableA sampling of the anthologies the Boston Comics Roundtable has helped bring to life.

“You think of comics, and you think of superheroes or fantasy or whatever. But everything that happens in our natural world really is just as unbelievable.”

Jordan Stillman is one of the editors of Boundless Anthology, a comics compilation that will debut this August and which she refers to as “a love letter to science.” She and co-editors Olivia Lee, Neil Johnson and Heide Solbrig set out in the fall of 2015 to tell stories of hard science through the unique art of comics. “I actually just sort of jumped on board, but passionately,” laughs Stillman, who calls herself a science and a comics enthusiast.

All four editors are members of the Boston Comics Roundtable (BCR), the oldest and largest community of independent comic creators and cartoonists in the Boston area. The group got its start in October 2006, when Cambridge-based comic artist Dan Mazur responded to a “tear-one-off” flyer seeking someone interested in starting a comics meetup. This led him to Dave Kender, a writer who was inspired to launch a meetup after having trouble finding a local artist for his graphic novel script. The two met at Cafe Pamplona and together formed the BCR.

The group quickly doubled in size from two to four members, and they began scheduling weekly meetings. Shortly thereafter, the number doubled again to eight. But then, interest teetered, and people started dropping off. When Mazur and Kender found themselves back where they started—just the two of them at Pamplona—they began formulating a plan to mobilize the BCR.

Their solution? “We sent out an email announcing that we were doing an anthology,” answers Mazur, “and the next week everyone that had ever come to a meeting turned back up.”

That first anthology was titled Inbound—a reference to the T. It opened the door for a slew of theme-based puns. Over the past decade, BCR has published collections including Outbound (science fiction), Spellbound (magic), Hellbound (horror) and In a Single Bound (superheroes). Some of these titles have spanned multiple volumes— the collective published five Hellbound anthologies before wrapping up the series in late 2014.

“The good thing about anthologies is it gets people motivated to finish a story,” explains Mazur. “A lot of people get their first stories published in these books.” Mazur is dedicated to supporting local artists, and he sees the BCR as an opportunity for outreach. “It’s about community,” he says. “It’s about community of the people who are in the group—the artists and writers who come to the meetings every week—and from there it’s about connecting with the broader local communities.”The BCR meets weekly at the Cambridge Public Library, and this past May the group held its first Cambridge Community Comic Arts Fair in the teen room of the main branch. The event was all local, with free admission and no charge for tables. Students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and Somerville High School took advantage of the opportunity to showcase their work and talk with local creators. “We give local people preference, but people do come from all over,” says Mazur. “There’s a big benefit for the artists, because you can sit there face-to-face at a show and talk to people who may discover an interest in your comics.”

The Boston Comics Roundtable also taps into those broader local communities through events like the The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), which grew out of a joint project with the BCR in 2010. Much like the Comic Arts Fair, MICE is a free event in Cambridge that’s open to the public. Its goal is to create a platform for Greater Boston’s artists and writers in the field of comics and to connect local creators with area audiences while peeling back some of the mainstream commerce found at traditional comics shows.

The BCR anthologies that are exhibited at shows like MICE are not only an opportunity for visibility but also a chance for local creatives of different backgrounds to work together towards a common goal. Collaboration is natural in comics—the medium invites writers and illustrators to work in concert to create something that one might not be able to do without the other. BCR fosters this sense of companionship on and off the page. Husband and wife Braden Lamb and Shelli Paroline met through the BCR and have had successful careers, most notably as illustrators for the Adventure Time comics for Kaboom! Studios.

Mazur, who creates and self-publishes his own comics in addition to contributing to anthologies and working with MICE, encourages people to develop their own projects outside of BCR anthologies. Personal mini comics, like BCR member LB Lee’s autobiographical stories about mental health struggles, as well as queer and trans identities, have made impactful connections with readers.

“They exhibited at MICE in one of the early years and got this email afterwards from someone who basically said, ‘I was suicidal, and I got one of your comics and it made me feel like someone who’s out there understands,’” Mazur recalls. “When comics lean towards really surprising, good stuff … it can just be so powerful.”

Boundless Volume 1, which consists of over 30 pieces from nearly 40 artists and writers, will debut at the Boston Comic Con in August. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign coordinated largely by Stillman, this is the first BCR anthology in which the contributors will be paid for their work. “It’s something that’s really important to us,” Stillman explains. “They put in an enormous amount of work, and the more we can support them and give back, the better.”

This story originally appeared in our July/August print issue, which is available for free at nearly 200 locations throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.