Artist wants Dawsonites to tell their stories through comic strips

What if you got your news through a comic book? That’s what the new Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) artist in residence plans to do in Dawson City.

What if you got your news through a comic book?

That’s what the new Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) artist in residence plans to do in Dawson City.

Jonathan Rotsztain has been collecting comic strips drawn by local residents for a printed newsletter that will be released late September.

Named the Dawson Comics Crier, the one-time newsletter will have anything from poetry, reporting, micro-fiction, jokes, games, recipes, trivia, and paintings.

Rotsztain says he will accept anything, as long as it’s not offensive.

For him, the project is about creating a hyperlocal media for Dawsonites to tell their stories.

“There’s never enough local media,” he told the News in an interview. “This project is trying to empower people to feel represented in the media.”

And rest assured, anybody can contribute regardless of their drawing skill.

That’s because penning comic book strips isn’t only about drawing but also about simplifying and deciding what to omit from the strips.

Rotsztain has held seven workshops in Dawson so far, teaching people the basics about comic book drawing.

“We try to focus on helping people recognize that everyone is good at art,” he said. “It’s not a special skill, it’s almost like a language.”

Drawing comic book is about simplifying the world visually.

“With expressions, you can use one or two lines to make someone be very angry or very happy,” he said.

“It’s empowering for people to recognize they can communicate a lot with very little visual information because of the power of symbols and our shared symbol vocabulary.”

The trick is to get people started doing art. The rest will follow.

“Sometimes there are barriers where people feel they can’t make art, don’t have permissions or they’re not good enough,” Rotsztain said. “Once you give people some framework to work in, the results are usually amazing.”

The Dawson Comics Crier is not his first experience with creating local media outlets.

He and Rebecca Roher, who is also working on the Dawson comic book project, published 13 issues over three years of the West Dublin Monitor.

The micro-publication based in West Dublin, Nova Scotia, featured book reviews, community events and portrayed the lives of ordinary local residents.

Everyone deserves an outlet, Rotsztain says, and his project offers something you can’t quite get with a blog or a social media page.

“When you curate … a print publication, this kind of a yearbook of our community, it can be a really valuable touchstone for a time and a place and artistic energy,” he said.

“When I see similar publications from other artists in other communities, you always can feel the vibrancy of that community spirit through these art works.”

Rotsztain, who hails from Toronto, has made comics since he was six.

“I’ve always felt artistic but didn’t really feel like an official artist, not that there is such a thing,” Rotsztai said.

It all changed when he enrolled at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.

“I’ve always been a writer and graphic designer and done illustrations,” he said. “(Comic books) combined all of that into a tool.”

He likes how versatile the medium is: it could be used to create IKEA assembly guides or go full artist and express intense emotions.

As an artist he had heard of Dawson City for many years. He finally applied for the KIAC residency, and hasn’t regretted it.

“It’s so beautiful here … the wilderness is so astounding,” he said. “It makes me feel humble and small.”

On top of his residency, Rotsztain works on his own comic strip, Dreary Diary. He pens a strip every day.

In the most recent ones, he reflects on Tombstone Territorial Park’s size.

He describes a vibrant art scene in Dawson and the warm welcome he got when going around town talking about his project.

“I think we’re going to get a lot of good submissions,” he said.

To submit a comic, email dawsoncomicscrier@gmail.com or drop them off at the KIAC office on Second Avenue.

The Dawson Comics Crier will launch Sept. 27 at the KIAC at 7 p.m. Rotsztain said the comic will be available in print and a PDF will be posted online.

To see some of Rotsztain’s work, visit rotsztain.com.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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