For many comics creators, moving to Portland is an easy career choice. For some of the same reasons why New York was once heralded as the hub for aspiring writers, Portland’s comics scene can provide career-shaping experiences simply because of its proximity to the beating heart of the comics industry. The city is host to some of the most influential comics publishers, it holds major comics events every year, and it’s home to legendary comics writers, artists, and editors. Access to these things aren’t the only reasons why Portland might be appealing to creators interested in the medium, but it’s certainly a good start. It’s no wonder that locals have started a campaign to get Portland the moniker “Comics City, USA.” To get a sense of what makes Portland such an important place for comics professionals, here’s a look at just some of the highlights of the comics world of Stumptown.
Image Press made big news when they moved their base of operations from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland in 2017. The third-largest comics publisher in the world, Image publishes series like The Walking Dead, Saga, and Monstress. With their move, Image joined a vibrant comics community as Portland was already home to major houses Dark Horse Comics and Oni Press. Founded in 1986 by Milwaukie native Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics has been operating out of the PDX satellite since its inception and has produced top titles like Umbrella Academy and Hellboy. Oni Press has a catalogue which includes the incredibly popular Scott Pilgrim series and an impressive array of other titles. For more than two decades, Oni has been at the forefront of the alternative comics scene from their east Portland offices. Shortly after Image’s move to the city, IDW announced that they, too, would be setting down roots in Stumptown. The company opened their imprint Woodworks, named after Dirk Wood, IDW’s vice president of marketing, which has since started publishing the quarterly comics and culture magazine Full Bleed.
With so many major comics publishers in the Portland area, it’s no surprise that the region has produced some of the most notable players in the industry and has become a new home to others who have moved to the city to be close to the comics action. Legendary writers like Brian Michael Bendis, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, and Greg Rucka all call Portland home along with equally legendary artists Steve Lieber, Ibrahim Moustafa, Colleen Coover and Cat Farris. Because comics need development just like any other medium, Portland is also home to notable comics editors like Diana Schutz and Sean Mackiewicz. Each of these lists could go on for miles, but the point is clear: Portland is home to one of the highest concentrations of talent in the comics industry.
While it’s easy to get starstruck by all of these well-known creators operating out of Portland, the creative resources that have sprung up to support people in the industry aren’t limited to A-list writers and artists. In fact, Portland is uniquely positioned to help up-and-coming comics creators excel at their craft. For those interested in indie comic production, Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) has a year-long certification program designed to teach creators how to make their own comics. Artists may be interested to know that the city is home to several artist collectives, like the famous Helioscope. Formerly Periscope Studio, Helioscope offers a mentorship program for artists who want to develop their skills under the watchful eyes of cartoonists like Erika Moen or Ron Randall.
For the writers out there, opportunities abound to learn the craft of comics writing as both Portland Community College and Portland State University offer coursework in writing comics (accredited coursework at that). The latter is home to the renowned Comics Studies program where you can learn everything from comics history to publishing to comics scholarship, all while earning a degree. Students in the Comics Studies program have the opportunity to work with industry professionals and to learn from Eisner Award–winners Brian Michael Bendis and Dr. Susan Kirtley. And for those interested in developing their comics careers, Portland boasts other helpful resources like the comics production company Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and the headquarters of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the first amendment right of people in the industry.
Of course, the entire industry has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Comics events like Rose City Comic Con and Indie Con have been postponed and local comics shops like Books With Pictures have had to get creative to continue to serve their customer base. But Portland’s comics community lives on strong despite the challenges, and there’s little doubt that it will thrive once again.