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    The Shift

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    The Shift: a monthly column about how Louisville works.

    When I ask the waitress where the cartoonists are, she points to a group at the back of the bar that I initially mistook for a family dinner. Arcade games ping, and the smell of deep-fried something is in the air. The eight or so artists, sitting at a long table under a bright overhead light, brings to mind The Last Supper.

    By Stephen Johnson

    Members of the Louisville Cartoonist Society gather at Zanzabar on South Preston Street every Wednesday at 7 p.m. for Drink and Draw. Who shows up, and even who is in the group, is constantly evolving. There are no official members or dues, and anyone can come to the events — like this one, which doesn’t stray far from the title.

    This isn’t the place to be precious about your work. Despite open notebooks, baskets of cheesy sandwiches and golden fries keep coming. Phil Back, the former president of the society, gets tacos and shrugs when I mention the cavalier attitude about mixing food and art supplies. “You keep it casual,” he says. His sketchbook is full of “weird” drawings (his word): frogs in tuxedos, waiters with robotic arms. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to draw,” he says. “I just start and see what comes.”

    Stephen Johnson, a graphics teacher at Eastern High School who plans on ascending to stardom as a syndicated cartoonist when he hits retirement, says, “As people talk, if something sparks a joke idea, I’ll write it down. I don’t draw-draw; I doodle and write joke ideas.”

    By Miranda Layman

    Lori Kelly met her husband Zach through the group in 2011. She has just arrived from Home of the Innocents, where she works as an art therapist. Zach Kelly, who describes himself as a classic cartoonist, is an engineer with LG&E by day and president of LCS by night. He started coming to the group a year after it was founded by Ted Nathanson in 2009. Nathanson hasn’t come in a while, but everybody seems understanding — he got a job, had kids.

    One of Johnson’s former students, Miranda Layman, sits across from Zach Kelly and says, “I like to draw creatures and worlds and that kind of stuff. If I’d been born in the ’30s, I’d do action pulp covers.” Rene Blansette is the group’s self-proclaimed “geezer.” He first started publishing his comics by printing them at Kinko’s — where he worked — and selling them through newspaper ads.

    Every year LCS puts out an anthology featuring the work of 15 to 20 cartoonists. In the early days, artists had to pay $100 to appear in the anthology just to cover the printing. Today they’re proud not to have to charge because sales of the book — and seed money from a few Kickstarter campaigns — cover the cost of the next year’s anthology. They say they typically sell between 100 and 150 copies. This year’s version is $15.

    When an aggressive rock show begins to blast through the wall behind the group, Zach Kelly, in a comically understated tone, says, “Sometimes there are bands.”

    By Zach Kelly

    “This is from their collection of lullabies, the children’s album,” Johnson adds in jest as guttural yelling envelops them. But the point of Drink and Draw isn’t necessarily focus or perfection. The point is community.

    “It can be hard to keep making art,” Lori Kelly says. “Coming here helps keep those juices flowing, even if you’re just sketching. That can be just as important as coming and working on a project.”

    By Lori Kelly

    Steven Beezer read about LCS in the C-J’s now-defunct alt-weekly, Velocity, shortly after they started meeting, and he has been driving down from Indiana to join them ever since. He started drawing as a teen but never knew anybody else who was into it. Zach Kelly had gotten out of the habit altogether, but the group has made him get back to work. “It’s infectious,”
    he says.

    Throughout the night, people and drinks come and go. As the music gets louder, the bar gets more crowded with 20-somethings wearing thin denim jackets despite the cold outside. A man pulls on his companion’s sleeve and gestures to the table, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the sketches. He mouths the word “cool.”

    The group usually disbands at 9, and by 9:15 only a few people are left, baskets of abandoned fries and emptied drinks littering the table. The bar is crowded, and even the trills of the arcade games have been lost under the music. Blansette shows me a drawing of a figure standing precariously on a ledge in a canyon; an unsympathetic speaker below asks, “Did you pee on me?”

    Beezer and Back are on the last pages of their sketchbooks, and they won’t leave until they’ve finished.

    By Rene Blansette

    This originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Cover illustration by Phil Back

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