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Kat Foyle scatters a stack of sheets across the table.
Seven people reach in to leaf through half-drawn pages from the week before, twisting the caps off their fine-tip pens.
Inside Little Deer Comics on Emmet Road, there’s a rising chatter from the comic artists meeting for their monthly Thursday evening Dublin Comic Jam.
It’s the second time they’ve met here, says Foyle. For 15 years, the group had mostly met in pubs – but that was getting old.
Pub-goers would approach all the time with varied intentions. “Sometimes giving you hassle, sometimes being nice.”
Loud pubs were hard to chat in and the group, hard at sketch, felt out of place, she says. “Like it’s an odd thing, or unusual thing to do.”
Drinking didn’t match too well with drawing comics, says Anthony Kelly, as he pencils characters in his own comic. “Beer can impair your drawing skills, I’ve found anyway. You’re likely to get more shaky and wavy.”
“And the tables are sticky,” says Gretchen Allen, sat opposite him.
So when Matthew Melis, owner of Little Deer Comics, offered to let Dublin Comic Jam use his shop space to meet, they jumped at the opportunity.
Now, the group can regularly set up and make their own noise, in the centre of the shop, the warm evening light spilling through the wide window.
Flanked on either wall, displays of indie comic books and graphic novels by artists like Luke Healy, Aoife Dooley and Debbie Jenkinson line the walls, with sections like LGBTQ+ and Housing.
“I really like this, it’s really cool,” says Foyle, settling down at the shared table in the centre of the room, which is usually covered in comics but cleared for the comic jammers, and pouring a glass of Club Orange.
Jamie Chapman starts to draw a prompt for a comic that he’s come up with. “Like just an open-ended drawing, see where it goes.”
Maybe other jammers will draw inspiration from it and carry away into a fun, wacky, or profound narrative, he says, by adding another panel, and passing it on to someone else at the table to add more.
He divides the first panel into triangles, and in the top triangle, draws a person with fingers on their chin, as though deep in thought.
“And there’s going to be a closed box on the other side of the panel, and it’s going to be a, ‘What’s in the box?’ kind of thing,” he says.
Allen doodles a cartoon anemone.
It’s her first in-person jam, she says. “This is what I’ve been, like, wanting to do, basically since I moved to Dublin and started getting back into comics.”
Oceanic creatures with problems are her favourite to draw, she says, filling in a dark background. “This one can’t get a date. He’s got no idea why.”
The anemone might get a dating app, she says.
Foyle appeals to the room: “Please take it in a totally different direction now. She’s admitted to having a preference for where the story goes. We must destroy it.”
Part of the fun is subverting narratives or pushing a strip towards pure silliness, she says after. Passed around a table, comics can take a life of their own.
“The format is yours to set and for other people to completely misinterpret,” says Foyle. “So just like, give up control now, because people are going to ruin your comic.”
The group laughs. Aloud, they ponder their own twists, like an actor collapsing to the floor in a comic about a play, or one character proposing to another, to add to the panels that others have drawn.
“Now you’re jammin,” says Allen with a grin.
Melis, the Little Deer Comics owner, says he’s not keen on drawing around people at the jams. “I like showing people when I finish something.”
Foyle says she felt the same – until she went to one.
She was precious about her work, determined not to share it until it was perfect, she says. “Therefore I, like, never finished anything.”
Jam comics are quick, messy and silly, she says. “I’m not saying they’re not art, I’m just saying I don’t think anybody is like, rushing to claim them as personal work either.”
Kelly, who self-publishes his work, says he came to meet other comic artists. “I suppose it is quite a solitary hobby.”
It’s a place to be creative without any pressure, says Foyle. “In order for this to be like a chill space, it’s got to be something to do so you’re like, allowed to stop working.”
Chapman says he doesn’t turn up with ideas for what to draw. “I feel like it’s more just a dump whatever’s on your mind. Whatever comes first.”
At one end of the table, Rosie Jackson sits shyly in front of a closed sketchbook, listening to the chatter about anime and graphic novels.
“I just wouldn’t know what to draw,” she says. To Chapman’s first panel, others had added panels of the person and the box in a silent stand-off, without any dialogue.
Jackson had added a question mark next to the person, giving the sense that not even the characters in the comic strip know what they are doing together.
“I don’t know,” she says with a shy grin. “I just like watching people, I guess. I just like to see what people come up with.”
Allen looks over a comic about two characters from the TV show Breaking Bad that has one panel left for the punchline.
“It’s just devolved into pure camp, which is everything that I love,” she says. In the comic, Walter White is proposing to Jamie McShane from the show.
“Now I’m trying to sit here and be like, can I come up with something that’s like, worthy of the ending?” she says, pen in hand, an excited look in her eye. “I think I can.”