April 19, 2018

Q&A with Kevin Moore, EveryLibrary’s 2017 Artist in Residence

Kevin Moore cartoonThe 2017 EveryLibrary Artist In Residence, Kevin Moore, is an editorial cartoonist and has been a reference librarian at Portland Community College, OR, since 2007. Moore was invited to create a series of weekly editorial cartoons focusing on library-related issues from September 4 through November 7—“the traditional ‘Labor Day to Election Day’ period when political and issue campaigns are in the minds of voters across the country,” according to EveryLibrary political director P.C. Sweeney (a 2015 Library Journal Mover & Shaker). The cartoons are available for library supporters to use, copyright-free, in their advocacy work.

Artist-in-residence programs have been around since the early 20th century. From artists taking up stations in the national parks, to New York City’s residencies at Department of Corrections facilities, to Amtrak’s writers in motion, to upscale hotels offering artists rooms, residencies have offered artists time, space, money, or platforms to create—hopefully, in some way, inspired by their hosts.

EveryLibrary, a nonprofit political action committee dedicated to building voter support for libraries, has had an Artist in Residence program since 2015. Each year the organization invites an artist to create work in or about libraries, with a focus on advocacy, to be posted and publicized on the EveryLibrary website. In the program’s first year, artist/librarian Steve Kemple curated a series of virtual installations and performances at libraries, titled “We’re In This Together,” to be executed over the course of six months. In 2015 and 2016 artists from around the country created “Vote Libraries” artwork for library campaigns to use free of charge.

Moore contributed ten weekly cartoons, touching on issues from library values to net neutrality to book challenges. His work is sometimes surreal, sometimes slapstick, and will strike a familiar chord for anyone who works or spends time in libraries.

“Libraries and political cartoons share a common American ancestor in Benjamin Franklin,” wrote EveryLibrary executive director John Chrastka, a 2014 LJ Mover & Shaker. “Around the same time he set up the Library Company in Philadelphia, his newspaper was printing the ‘Join or Die’ cartoons calling for American self-determination. There is a long and important interaction between the arts and politics. We want to purposely bring this tradition to the discussion of library funding and library ballot measures across the country.”

LJ spoke with Moore about his work and influences, in libraries and on the page.

LJ: How did you become a working artist? Who are your influences?

Kevin Moore: Way back in the 1970s I started drawing cartoons at a very young age, about 4 or 5 years old. I took art classes in high school and on weekends at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. Eventually I was drawing political cartoons for high school and college papers; after graduation I contributed to alternative weekly newspapers and magazines in the late ’90s and early aughts. All the while I self-published minicomics, and I started doing webcomics around 2001. These days I do a lot of freelance illustration and commissions while working on Fetch, a webcomic that combines political satire with autobiographical and fabulist elements.

My influences are all over the place, not only cartoonists, but satirists and comedians, too. I grew up with MAD Magazine, Monty Python, Mel Brooks, and Warner Brothers cartoons. I still look to Harvey Kurtzman, Walt Kelly, and Robert Crumb as inspirations. There are so many great cartoonists self-publishing these days, and so many great webcomics.

How— and why—did you become a librarian?

I came to librarianship almost by accident. I was a bored graphic designer when I noticed librarian friends of mine were having a much happier time in their careers. I looked into it and found the core values of the profession—connecting people with information they need, preserving history and ideas, advocating for intellectual freedom—resonated deeply with my own. I entered Emporia State University’s cohort program in Portland, OR, and graduated in 2007. Along the way I have been influenced by great teachers like Candace Morgan [Emporia State] and John Agada [Chicago State University]; YA librarians like Dawn Rutherford and Sara Ryan; bloggers like Jessamyn West; and so many great colleagues it’s hard to name just one. I have the real pleasure of working with people who care passionately about information literacy and fostering the success of students, and I feel I am constantly learning from them.

How do those two disciplines inform and feed each other?

That is a good question, and one I wonder about often. Sometimes they seem to compete with each other: as a cartoonist I have the freedom to express myself in ways that when I put on my librarian hat I put to the side. It’s important to me that a student or patron sees me as their ally in finding the information they require, that my thumb is not on the scale, so to speak, when finding resources for them.

Nonetheless, that process of open-minded yet critical inquiry has led me to become a better informed writer of cartoons. One thing they both share is skepticism of received opinion and conventional wisdom. Just because a study is published in a peer reviewed journal does not make it the inerrant word of some academic god. Information is contextual, created by humans, who, despite their best efforts, are prone to error and to self-interest. In teaching information literacy I try to impart some of that critical thinking to students, to empower them to use what they find more carefully.

Who are your artistic heroes and who are your library heroes? What comics do you follow?

Along with the names mentioned above, my artistic heroes include Franz Kafka, John Lennon, and Lenny Bruce, because I came across their work at a tender young age, and the impression has been indelible. They all share a sense of irony and skepticism, and a subversive sense of humor that I nurture.

My library heroes are people like my old friend Jane Corry, a children’s librarian who recently retired from Multnomah County Library [OR]. No matter whom she interacts with—teenagers, children, or adults—she treats them with kindness and respect, does not talk down to them, and creates space for them to be themselves in return.

Many comics I follow are on the web these days. Matt Bors manages a great stable of political cartoonists at The Nib and Jen Sorenson edits some wonderful stuff at Splinter (full disclosure: I have worked with both of them). Jake Richmond’s Modest Medusa is adorable fantasy-driven adventure. Dylan Meconis’s Family Man is a brilliant story about 18th century intellectuals and werewolves (among many other things). Have you read Jenn Manley Lee’s Dicebox? Or Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder? You should. Whatever Chris Baldwin or Shaenon Garrity are working on now (both artists run multiple projects at once) will be rewarding.

Wow. I just went full reader’s advisory on y’all.

How did you find out about the EveryLibrary Artist In Residence program?

Erica Findley and John Chrastka approached me earlier this year and asked if I would be the Artist In Residence. I was surprised and very honored. EveryLibrary is a great organization with a lot of dedication and talent. I have known Erica since grad school, so it was a great opportunity to work with her again. And working with John has been a wonderful experience.

What has your process been like? Did you have a series of topics in mind when you began, or did you pick subjects each week as you went along?

John has given me a pretty free hand in choosing the topics I address. He pitched me the general idea of doing a cartoon a week for the ten weeks prior to election day this November. I put together a list of topics related to library values and the values of libraries to their communities, and we tossed ideas around over a few phone calls. John encouraged me to let my imagination run wild. Intellectual freedom, freedom of access to information, funding public libraries, libraries as a resource for the poor and unemployed, and issues like that are recurring themes.

How has the experience been?

It’s been very positive. John and EveryLibrary are great to work with. I am proud of the work I have done, cartooning-wise, and I am glad I got to address some issues in my professional life that I care about.

What kinds of reactions have you gotten? Have any surprised you?

In general the reactions have been very positive and supportive. People laugh at the right jokes! That’s a relief. Unintended laughter is something I dread. A few people were offended by my use of slapstick, for reasons I have some sympathy with; not everyone has that old Bugs Bunny cartoon running in their head like I do (usually the ones directed by Bob Clampett). What I was really happy to see was debate inspired by some of the cartoons. I really like art to be not only a means of expressing my own thoughts, but also a vehicle for people to discuss important ideas and issues. I have been surprised by how much readers respond to those issues, and care about libraries.

What do you hope to accomplish with the residence?

Getting people to laugh was my first task. Libraries are a great social invention, an experiment with ideas and knowledge. I hope my work helps to promote them, to communicate their value to the public, and to encourage people to support them in their communities. Posters are great, so are T-shirts!

Are there aspects of your life as a librarian that you feel are off-limits in your work as Artist In Residence?

As someone who works in education (and who has kids in school, too), it was tempting to address some of the fads in school reform that have been transforming the learning professions for the past couple of decades. But that was too far outside the scope of my residency’s focus. It’s a rabbit hole I could easily have jumped into.

What didn’t I ask you that you’d like to comment on?

It’s probably best that you didn’t ask me about the larger political situation, and in this context, probably best I don’t offer an answer to the question.

Lisa Peet About Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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