In 2009, I started on what I thought would be a quick, fun educational project: Creating 10 small comic books about Oregon’s history. My friends, myself, and the majority of Portland didn’t grow up in the state, so researching and writing these comics was a way to help build understanding of our surroundings in a relevant, accessible medium.
The project grew bigger (and took longer!) than I ever thought it would! Local arts and culture nonprofit the Know Your City joined on as a collaborator and over the past two years we’ve raised $2,500, hired nine local artists, and published the ten comics over the course of two years. Between all the people who pitched in to create the comics, we had nearly 150 collaborators.
One big challenge with the project was figuring out which stories from Oregon’s past we should focus on. We chose the topics of these comics with an emphasis on marginalized communities whose history has been misrepresented or not fully incorporated into the dominant narratives textbooks tell about Oregon’s history. But we also wanted to provide a balance between cultural, social and political histories, so these ten short tales are a mix of explorations of Oregon’s racial relations, art scene, economy, political wonkery and sacred places.
The box set of comics were finally released this March 4th, 2011 at Powell’s! Lots of people said nice things about the project in newspapers and the release was standing-room-only. The next morning, artist Nicole Georges, historian Eliza Canty-Jones, and I were on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think out Loud program talking about the comics. Check it out! Portland Tribune also published a very kind profile of the project.
Videographer Adam Willumsen made a pretty little video about the release and here’s also a short video I made about the project back in 2010:
Here’s the list of comics and the artist who illustrated each:
Life and Death of the X-Ray Cafe — John Isaacson
Dead Freeways — Don Barkhouse
Portland’s Black Panthers — Khris Soden
The Streets of Chinatown — Harry Lau
Voices of Celilo Falls — T. Edward Bak
The Vanport Flood — Nicole Georges
The Lives of Loggers — BT Livermore
Votes for Women — Suzette Smith
Oregon Bikes — Shawn Granton