Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vermont cartoonist Ed Koren honored by state leaders

I had a great time Friday evening at the ceremony to honor New Yorker cartoonist Ed Koren.

October 27, 2007

By Daniel Barlow Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER – Amid a stream of congratulations, playful verbal jabs and thunderous applause, Edward Koren became the first cartoonist to be given the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts Friday evening.

Koren, a Brookfield resident who has drawn cartoons for the New Yorker magazine for four decades, was praised at the Vermont Statehouse by Gov. James Douglas, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and others for his ability to poke fun at modern life in Vermont in his single-panel creations.

As Koren prepared to take the crowd of nearly 200 people gathered in the House chambers through a sampling of his rustic cartoons, he noted that he has always been suspicious of awards that involve the words excellence and the arts.

"That is, until right now," he quipped.

Presenters and speakers mined Koren's talent of drawing hairy and furry monsters in his cartoons and his strong civic mind, including his ongoing stint as a member of Brookfield's volunteer fire department.

Margaret "Peggy" Kannenstine, the chair of the Vermont Arts Council board of trustees, joked that she was happy to "honor the most renowned firefighter from Brookfield."

She went on to mention that Koren is part of the growing community of cartoonists who call Vermont home, noting that two years ago the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction opened its doors.

"It feels good to have welcomed Mr. [Garry] Trudeau to Vermont in the same week that we are honoring Ed Koren today," Kannenstine said, referring to the Doonesbury cartoonist who held a fundraiser at Junction opened its doors.

"It feels good to have welcomed Mr. [Garry] Trudeau to Vermont in the same week that we are honoring Ed Koren today," Kannenstine said, referring to the Doonesbury cartoonist who held a fundraiser at CCS on Monday.

Letters from Vermont's two U.S. senators were read by staff members to congratulate Koren. Sen. Patrick Leahy's letter noted that Koren is "clearly the most talented artist in the Brookfield Fire Department." Sen. Bernard Sanders' letter called him a "cartoonist of the first order."

Welch, Vermont's freshman representative, attended the event and noted that he was proud to hang a Koren original in his Washington, D.C., office, which was given to him soon after his election to the office last year.

Welch, without describing the cartoon, said that it is "provocative and politically incendiary" and that anyone who wants to see it is free to "come down and take a look."

He then praised Koren's cartoons for giving people a "greater understanding of who we are together."

Tunbridge filmmaker John O'Brien, a close friend of Koren's, upped the humor ante in his remarks, which included showing off early nudes that Koren had drawn at the dawn of his career and reading from a paperback science fiction novel that shares its title with Koren's last name.

In his remarks just before Koren was awarded the prize, Douglas, who picks the winner based on recommendations from the Vermont Arts Council, noted that he was "no stranger to cartoons," especially those that satirize him and appear in local newspapers during legislative sessions.

When he discovered there was a cartoonist among the award candidates, he prepared his "trusty pair of scissors" to remove him from the list, Douglas joked – until he found out that cartoonist was one of Brookfield's most famous residents.

"Ed's work is a classic reminder of what it means to live in Vermont and be a neighbor," Douglas said.

Koren, who read punch lines from more than a dozen of his cartoons that were displayed on an overhead screen in the House chambers, spoke very little during the ceremony.

But he beamed with pride and smiled strongly as he and his wife, Curtis Koren, sat near the speaker's podium.

"I don't think I would be here today if I was an editorial cartoonist," he told the crowd, which, as expected, exploded with laughter.

Koren joins other luminaries who have received the Arts award since it was first offered in 1967, including writers David Mamet, Grace Paley and Howard Frank Mosher, and filmmaker Jay Craven.

Contact Daniel Barlow at

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Few Quick Notes of Interest

Burlington artist Gregory Giordano – who did that fantastic NEW STARS cover for us – landed the cover of Seven Days this week, Vermont's large alternative weekly, with a Halloween-themed cover. Giordano went the extra mile to get a mention of the Sputnik-theme anthology comic and the Trees & Hills comics group in his bio that the paper published! These are just a few of the reasons we love him.

Congratulations to CCS grad Colleen Frakes , who returned to Vermont from SPX last week to discover that she has been awarded an Xeric Grant. Frakes plans to use the grant to publish a collection of her awesome mini-comic TRAGIC RELIEF for MoCCA 2008.

In case you didn't hear: Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau came to the Center for Cartoon Studies! Here's the Associated Press story about him speaking to the students there and here's my story for the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus on his lecture he gave that evening to a sold-out crowd of 250.

Keene, N.H. Cartoonist Tim Hulsizer, the fine artist of the first issue of $ELL OUTS, first issue out in March 2008, has posted rare strips that Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson did for his college newspaper. His find has been linked by Heidi MacDonald's The Beat, BoingBoing and others. But we all know Tim is really just upping the ante for me to post the Frank Miller high school newspaper strips that I have.

There's a few Trees & Hills members that also appear in the new DEAD MAN'S HAND anthology ,published by Tree Fort Press, a new publishing group that has formed in the CCS community in the White River Junction, Vt. area. The square-bound book looks great and is shock full of western comics, including a new story by Stephen R. Bissette. Other notable contributors include Morgan Pielli, Cat Garza, Bryan Stone, Colleen Frakes, Megan Baehr and a story written by myself and drawn by Bill Couture!

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If you meet Edward Koren, you may end up in The New Yorker

Between the publication of NEW STARS and my trip to SPX, I totally forgot to post my recent profile of Vermont cartoonist Edward Koren.

For 40 years, Koren has been one of the most popular NEW YORKER cartoonists to draw comics in a small single box. He's receiving the Governor's Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of, er, I mean the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt.

I'll probably be covering that ceremont tomorrow night too. Anyway, this was published in the Times Argus and the Rutland Herald on Oct. 7. Ed left me a nice message a few days after it ran, saying the profile was "more flattering than [he] deserves."

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Vermont Press Bureau
Photo: Stefan Hard

Edward Koren's little creatures – furry, monstrous things with horns, large teeth and wide eyes – are all over his home in the quiet, off-the-beaten-path village of Brookfield.

They're printed on the tiles of his kitchen counter and they hang in numerous portraits on the walls.

He's drawn them on scraps of paper that are now stuffed in the corners of his busy art studio and has carved them from wood, giving these little monsters a three-dimensional, lifelike quality.

"They're extreme, they're aggressive, they're horripilations," Koren says with a sharp smile when asked to describe the unidentifiable creatures that often pop up in his single-panel cartoons.

Just don't call them cute.

"I hate the word 'cute,'" he says, adding that he sees the creatures as extreme and fierce representations of regular people. "It's a quick read of a subject that is far more nuanced. They're not cute, they are complex."

Despite his contempt for the blandly endearing, Koren – who has spent 45 years drawing cartoons for The New Yorker – is a chatty, likable and polite man whose comics, although satirical and pointed, could hardly be considered mean or menacing.

Koren, 71, started his career as a cartoonist in New York City, but nearly 30 years ago moved to a spacious 19th-century home in the heart of Brookfield, a central Vermont town of about 1,200 that is known mostly for a floating bridge rather than as the inspiration for one of the most celebrated cartoonists working today.

That geographical move has infused Koren's work with characters and quirks inspired by his new surroundings. Astute readers will notice Montpelier-area restaurants as settings or the name of a local school or community group on a character's shirt.

Koren will be honored for his artistic contributions when he is given the 2007 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts this month.

"He really loves Vermont," says Mark Singer, a longtime New Yorker writer who befriended Koren more than 30 years ago. "Everyone knows that when you go to Vermont, you have to visit Ed. It's a state that he was really drawn to."

Koren was born in New York City and attended the private Horace Mann School and Columbia University, where he honed his cartooning skills while drawing for the college's humor magazine, a sort of 1950s version of the famous National Lampoon periodical.

At the time, Koren aimed his wit and pen at what he and some peers decided was the greatest threat to the academic institution: the college president's plan for students to volunteer part of their time in the community as a requirement for graduation.

Koren believed that would distract the students from their academic work, which he considered their mission there at the college.

"The proposal had the campus in an uproar," Koren remembers. "They had to shelve those plans, although I can't attest to the fact that we were responsible for that."

But his outlook on that issue has clearly changed over the years.

"I can see now that it was a very narrow vision that I had," he says. "Wisdom has caught up with me."

Today, Koren exemplifies the ideal Vermont citizen. For 19 years he has been a volunteer with the Brookfield Fire Department, including several years spent as its captain. He helped raise money to renovate the community's historic town hall and often donates art for fundraisers by organizations including Vermont Public Radio.

"Joining the fire department was one way of doing something for the community and getting to know the people here," he explains. "I've become friends with people I would probably have never interacted with in New York."

Koren got his artistic break in May 1962 when The New Yorker accepted one of his cartoons. This one featured a sloppy-looking writer, cigarette dangling from his lips, sitting before a typewriter. Printed on his sweatshirt is one word: Shakespeare.

"Let me explain that one," Koren says. "This was before people had slogans on their shirts. Everyone wore plain shirts."

That comic launched a lifetime freelance relationship between Koren and The New Yorker. After several years of continued publishing, he quit his teaching job at Brown University and devoted himself full-time to cartooning.

Koren says his art started out in a more traditional style. But over the years, in a move he says was more subconscious than intended, he developed the scratchy, etching-like style that he has become renowned for.

"Ed's style is unique, and that's really the only way to put it," Singer says. "No one has even tried, if they were smart, to replicate Ed's style and look."

In an era when cartoonists are now doing much of their work on computers, Koren still draws by hand, using pencil and pen, in his cluttered and darkened studio space on the first floor of the family home. He and his wife are now empty-nesters.

Koren says he is a constant doodler, and his art – drawn on scraps of paper or whatever else was handy at the time – sits in piles on the two drawing tables in the studio. Posters he created for benefit concerts 20 years ago are piled next to the art he drew just last week.

His bookshelf is filled with collections of famous and forgotten cartoonists; underneath his drawing tables are shelves full of his own work, nearly all of which he has kept over the years.

To fix his artistic mistakes, Koren uses an eraser nub and a razor blade, which can scratch out a regretted thin line. He also draws on paper too large to scan into a computer and instead mails his work to The New Yorker.

"I'm a draftsperson as much as I am an artist," he says. "This method has worked for me over my lifetime, and I don't plan on changing."

Koren's early comics focused on upper-middle-class life in the city. They still do sometimes, but his work now has a purely Vermont flavor — beat-up trucks with shaggy dogs riding in the back, overalls and baseball caps.

A 1989 drawing of his featured a suited businessman approaching two anglers by a stream in a beautiful Vermont setting. He asks, "Could you fellas tell me if there's anyplace around here where I could find a fax machine?"

"Ed was part of that whole world of people who moved to Vermont after the late '60s," says John O'Brien, the filmmaker behind the "Tunbridge Trilogy" who met Koren through mutual friends about 20 years ago. "He has really documented that perfectly in his cartoons, and when he skewers people for it, he's also poking fun at himself."

Koren says his cartoons can be appreciated both by the city types who are typical of The New Yorker's audience and his neighbors and friends here in Vermont. Similarly, he finds jokes in both conservative and liberal positions.

Asked about his political beliefs, Koren first describes himself as a "left-of-center Democrat, but not a full-blown Progressive." But he also describes himself as a social conservative.

"I'm concerned about sprawl, about development, about the lack of general education."

Wary of sounding like a cranky curmudgeon, Koren still says he is greatly concerned with what he calls "the general dumbing down of the population." It's disappointing that the younger generations are watching TV or playing video games instead of reading books, the local newspaper or, yes, cartoons, he says.

Although he knows some might still refer to him as a flatlander, Koren sees himself now as a true-blue Vermonter. He still returns to New York several times a year, yet says he doesn't feel at home anymore among the lights of the city.

While the place he calls home has changed, Koren's muse has not. People, as always, are his inspiration.

"What was funny to me then," he says about the subjects of his early work, "is still funny to me now."

Edward Koren will receive the 2007 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in a public ceremony Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Statehouse in Montpelier. The award is given each year to a Vermont artist who has achieved national or international stature for advancing his or her art form.

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CCS Portfolio Day

Show your portfolio for an admissions review, Learn more about the program and courses, Meet faculty and students, and Tour the campus!

Who should attend? Prospective students, Applicants, High School seniors and graduates, College students.

Location: The Center for Cartoon Studies, 94 South Main St., White River Junction, VT (directions) Questions? (802) 295-3319.

R.S.V.P. Space is limited! Contact Robyn Chapman: chapman at cartoonstudies dot org.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

NEW STARS available in the shop!

Trees & Hills latest anthology NEW STARS is now available for online purchase at Trees & Hills Comix Distro! The anthology debuted at SPX in October 2007, and since that month also marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, we took that as our theme. We're not some kind of fascists, though, so every piece didn't have to be about Sputnik itself - most of them do relate to space in some way, though. This all-ages anthology by the Trees & Hills Comic Group features an eye-popping full-color cover by Gregory Giordano and comics by Daniel Barlow, Marek Bennett, Miles Cota, Colleen Frakes, Cat Garza, Chris Grotke, Jade Harmon, Tim Hulsizer, Matt Levin, Keith Moriarty, Kathie Mullen, Raymond Prado, Matthew Reidsma, Colin Tedford, and Anne Thalheimer. 5.5" x 8.5", 52 pgs. $3.00

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

24 Hour Comics Day & Other News

24 Hour Comics Day is coming up this Saturday October 20. If you would like to attempt the venerable challenge of creating 24 pages of comics in 24 hours, then here are the official event hosts (those that have registered at in our region:
-Artists' Mediums, 300 Cornerstone Dr. Williston, VT 05495 (802) 879-1236
-Center For Cartoon Studies, 94 S Main St. White River Jct, VT 05001 (802) 295-3319
-Modern Myths, 34 Bridge St. Northampton, MA 01060 (413) 582-6973

Time is running short to sign up for E.J. Barnes's non-credit workshop in Editorial Cartooning at Greenfield Community College! It runs We. 10/24 - We. 11/14, 6:30--8:30pm. It's for those who have some cartooning basics and will concentrate on aspects specific to editorial & political cartooning. The cost is $69 and will meet at GCC's Downtown Center in Greenfield, MA. The class code is CSW-183-2. Registrants under 17 require approval of the Dean of the Community Education Program. Registration info is here.

Vermont cartoonist Edward Koren, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker for 45 years, will be presented the Vermont Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts at a public ceremony to be held Oct. 26 at the Statehouse. Congratulations to him! You can read the full article at the Burlington Free Press.

We finally have a devoted Trees & Hills email address: treesandhills at gmail dot com. Also, I've managed to get our online calendar to display in a more sensible fashion, so email us if you'd like to be able to post events on it (also email us if you'd like to be able to post items to this blog).

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CCS hosts 24-Hour Comics this weekend!

Center for Cartoon Studies student Bryan Stone wrote in today to let us know that the school WILL BE hosting a 24-Hour Comic event this Saturday, Oct. 20 in White River Junction, Vt.

Start time is noon Saturday and the whole thing will finish by noon Sunday. I'm sitting this one out (still too tired from SPX), but I'm sure several other Trees & Hills regulars will be over there.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Back from SPX

This was my first Small Press Expo in Maryland and I gotta say I'm impressed. Smaller and maybe less as quirky as MoCCA, the show still felt like busy, friendly and really, I dunno, happening and hip and other encouraging h words.

Elsewhere on the Internet, you can find all the pictures of gorillas winning Ignatzs and a brief, busy party called the Nerdlinger Awards with a bathtub full of ice and drinks, but these are the images that stick in my head for SPX 2007.

Flew out of Manchester, N.H. And into Baltimore with Marek Bennett After a maze of buses and subways, got picked up in D.C. By his friend, Karen, who works over at a famous think tank. After the midnight tour of the city, we called it a night around 1 a.m. That would be the most sleep I get all weekend.

It was odd at first to be set up by 11 a.m. and then not have people start shuffling in for another three hours (the show, on the first day, began at 2 p.m.). Still, gave me time to say hello to a few people and eat an apple on the grass in the sun.

The Trees & Hills/ Mimi's Doughnuts table was near the front door, the first table in on one of the center aisles. Pretty great location, especially considering I Know Joe Kimball, the collective of Center for Cartoon Studies students and graduates who debuted the Dead Man's Hand western anthology (which I and several other Trees & Hills regulars are published in), were right next to us. The Center for Cartoon Studies was nearby too, along with the SUNDAYs collective, another group that has sprung from CCS.

We were debuting NEW STARS, our new mini-comic anthology with comics inspired by the Sputnik launch 50 years ago this month. Marek had a new copy of his Mimi's Doughnuts Zine, which also featured a story about Sputnik. We did a package deal of the two for $6 and that seemed to seal several sales.

Several times I had people come up to the table because they had heard about NEW STARS and sometime over the weekend Matthew Reidsma
sold out of all but one of his contributor copies because people just saw it at his table and wanted to buy it.

The book sold pretty well, I think, because of the hook of its theme (I'll forever have the pitch, which I probably repeated 1,000 times, stuck in my head) and because of the gorgeous cover image by Gregory Giordano

Tim Hulsizershowed up Friday afternoon with Meagan Frappiea, finally sealing the wonderful fact that I both had a hotel room there to sleep in and my own bed in that hotel room. Tim got me into a great party over in Sara Bauer's hotel room, who thankfully had a corkscrew for the two bottles of wine that I wanted to share with people.

One thing I noticed was the the attendees were mostly looking for square-bound collections of comics or graphic novels. We did well with out self-published mini-comic anthology, but even when I did my buying, it was more for the collected books of creators I know than new mini-comics, which I usually try to do at these events.

There just seemed to be so many cartoonists who last year had minis and this year had professional and beautiful collected books. Great for them and an interesting trend, I think, because I suddenly found myself spending money on say, Julia Wertz's FartParty collection from Atomic Press, than buying an armload of $3 minis from a bunch of great new creators I never heard of.

We did great on the second day. Within the first three hours I had surpassed the previous day's sales. I bumped into The Beat's Heidi MacDonald and gave her a copy of NEW STARS. She told me she posted my press release a few days ago – it's right over here. I had no idea because I felt like I hadn't been on the Internet at that point since 1996.

I drank wine at the Ignatz Awards (Dead Man's Hand was nominated for the debut comic award!) and met comics writer Matt Rhodesand his wife, Shannon, with whom I would later spend a good part of the evening with chatting about Alan Moore, Amsterdam, tattoos and the nature of the universe. Somehow I ended up in Kevin Dixon's hotel room talking about Fats Domino and Alf.


With a flight scheduled for the early evening, I only sat in on on the day's first panel on media and comics, which distributed vital info on things like sending your comic to a magazine to be reviewed or how long your press release should be. Already being in that biz, little was knew to me, but I did catch a glimpse of my Internet dream girl Whitney Mattheson, the blogger behind USA Today's Pop Candy.

SPX felt more social and even communal than MoCCA, mostly because this show is much smaller and is held in a hotel, where most of the exhibitors are staying too. It's also a really energizing convention; Marek and I chatted on the way home Sunday about future plans, both for our comics and the Trees & Hills comics group.

I know I'm going to forget people, but shout-outs to Dave Kender, the founder of The Boston Comics Roundtable and Bellen's Box Brown, two people I was hoping to spend more time with.

Next year: camera, blogging during the conventions, more comics for sale and a vow that I will go to bed at a decent time one of the nights.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Message from SPX


Colin! Emergency! NEW STARS selling out!


Huge crowds... milling about... must talk to every customer...


CCS Alumni holding our right flank... Much mob interest in their work, too... "Dead Man's Hand" nominated for Outstanding Debut Award...

Boston comics group also here in force... Must get to their table...

Dan going back to hotel room for reserve copies of anthology...


"Field Guide" anthology also sold out! Marek sold out of ADULT MEDIUM T-shirts!



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Friday, October 12, 2007

First Reports

Daniel Barlow has called in to report the good vibes so far at SPX - I imagine he'll have a full report when he returns. In the meantime, here's a look at the cover and table of contents of the NEW STARS anthology:

That eye-popping cover is by Gregory Giordano of Burlington, VT. If you're near Bethesda, drop in and pick up a copy at SPX! Otherwise it'll be available online next week, and at finer local retailers as we get it to them.

In honor of the new anthology, plans are afoot to revamp this site to make it easier to use and maintain, so we can keep it updated better; click here for a preview.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Off to SPX soon!

I'll be at the Trees & Hills table at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland Friday and Saturday. Mimi's Doughnuts' Marek Bennett will be there too.

NEW STARS, which is printing right now, will be available at table G1 for only three bucks. We're near the front doors, so hopefully you can find us!

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Cat Garza in space! page two

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Cat Garza's space tale continues! Read the rest of the story - and more than a dozen others - in the NEW STARS anthology from the Trees & Hills comics group. On sale this week at SPX!

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Cat Garza's space visions

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Here's page one of Cat Garza's contribution to NEW STARS, the Trees & Hills comics group's new anthology of work by New England creators inspired by the launch of Sputnik 50 years ago this month!

You can read the whole thing in NEW STARS, on sale next week at the Small Press Expo in Maryland. Only $3!

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Friday, October 05, 2007

CCS' James Sturm talks about his new baseball comic

Newsarama has an interview with Center for Cartoon Studies co-founder James Sturm about Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, his new comic with Rich Tommaso. You can read it right here.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

NEW STARS on sale at SPX next week!

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The final page of the NEW STARS anthology story by Dan Barlow, Keith Moriarty and Tim Hulsizer, the team that brings you $ELL OUTS. More than 50 pages of cartoons by New England folks inspired by the launch of Sputnik 50 years ago. On sale next week at SPX!

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

More weird space comics from the Trees & Hills comics group

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Page two of "The Cosmic Cocktail Conundrum" by Dan Barlow, Keith Moriarty and Tim Hulsizer. This is just one of more than a dozen comics that will appear in NEW STARS, a new mini-comics anthology published by the Trees & Hills comics group that will debut at SPX.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Trees & Hills previews NEW STARS anthology

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Just back from camping and I thought I'd post the first page to "The Cosmic Cocktail Conundrum," the story that will be printed in the new Trees & Hills anthology, NEW STARS, which we're publishing in time for the Small Press Expo later this month.

NEW STARS is our third anthology book and our first themed one. Full on promotion to begin this week. Tons of comics inspired by the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite, which kicked off the space race.

Other contributions to the book include Matthew Reidsma, Cat Garza, Marek Bennett and a host of others. 52 pages of comics by people from New England for only $3!

This comic is brought to you by the $ELL OUTS team of myself, Keith Moriarty and Tim Hulsizer. Two more pages to follow later. And for the comic smart people out there, yes, we did do that; letters of apology have been sent to Stan Lee and the family of Jack Kirby.

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