It's been a busy year for local cartoonist Nathan Ward. On the same day as the birth of his newborn, he was awarded one of this year's Creative Workforce Fellowships from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture and the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. Thanks to the fellowship, he has been able to dedicate more time to his comics, which is a damn good thing.
In celebration of the release of his latest self-published comic, Loop Tremont presents an exhibition of his recent work, opening with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. this Friday, as part of this month's Walkabout Tremont.
The exhibition showcases Ward's latest creation, Warpwish Comix, which he's been working on all year. The exhibition includes original black-and-white ink drawings from the comic, as well as larger full-color prints of some of the pages. A followup to Ward's 2014 Fun-O-Planet, Warpwish Comix #1 is printed on newsprint pages with a glossy cover. "I like floppy comics and I like that newsprint ages over time," says Ward. "It puts a comic in a time and place. Thick hardcover graphic novels are nice, but it's sad to read a comic like that."
In addition to drawing comics, Ward has plenty of other interests; he plays in a number of punk bands, such as Cruelster, Perverts Again and Smooth Brain. And he combines his love of art and music by creating flyers for local and national bands and concerts. He also hosts The Good Nite Show with Little Triv, a radio show on WRUW that satirizes The Mike Trivisonno Show on WTAM.
Fellow Workforce Fellowship recipients include John "Derf" Backderf and John G., who introduced Loop's Amanda Lee to Ward's work.
"I knew that he was a guy around the Cleveland punk scene. I had seen some of his flyers and they had piqued my interest, but it was John G. (of Shiner comics/Lake Erie Monster) that finally got me into Nate's comics," says Lee, Loop's organizer of exhibitions. "He had been talking Nate up, and I finally gripped a Fun-O-Planet comic and some rad pins at John's Ghengis Con. After that, I totally got it. Nate is carrying the Cleveland torch of underground weird comics. I know Cleveland can't quite claim R. Crumb — he lived here for a while and helped make our most famous comic, American Splendor — but I feel Crumb's presence in Nate's work."
Looking forward to the exhibition and beyond, Lee says, "Now that Nate has won the CAC Grant, it's going to be interesting to see his transition from comics, ads, and flyers to fine art pieces and larger scale works. My favorite thing about showing people who have done DIY artwork for awhile is that they have an ethos that I care about; they'll have stuff for our poor punk Cleveland friends — like $10 comics and prints — and they'll have bigger or original pieces for the collectors."
A lifelong Clevelander, Ward was born in 1992, and grew up in Fairview-Park, on the city's west side. As a child, Ward and his twin brother Alex borrowed comics from the Fairview Public Library. During his high school years, his go-to shop for reading material became Carol & John's Comic Book Shop. Today, Ward's comics can be found in that very shop in a special section dedicated to local creators, like Ward's fellow CWF recipients Derf and John G., as well as Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which played a major role in Ward's development during college.
Ward received a BFA in illustration from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2014. Originally planning to study two-dimensional animation, Ward found inspiration during his first year at CIA in the school's library, and its collection of alternative comics. Ward's comics feature a strong DIY aesthetic, influenced by th0se underground comix of the 1960s and '70s.
"I found solace in the school's library where I would just pummel through their (tiny) alternative comix section," he says. "I knew of Harvey Pekar from the American Splendor movie, so I was drawn to those books first. I'd read those while riding the Rapid to the east side every day for hours and I felt some kind of spiritual connection with this gritty, cranky Pekar man. Robert Crumb's pages blew me away, so I looked into that whole movement and it was all so gross and hairy and amazing. For the rest of college, I just tried honing my personal artistic vision through every assignment, even if it didn't always fit. Drawing ugly is easy for me, and it's the right thing to do."
His comics and illustrations have been featured in numerous publications, including Scene's annual Comics Issue, the Plain Dealer, Happiness Comix Anthology, Maximum Rock 'n' Roll, Pork Magazine and countless punk concert flyers and album covers, both locally and nationally.
Last year, Ward self-published the first issue of his new 'zine, PUS, which features comics, interviews, record reviews and work by other artists with a focus on Cleveland's punk music scene, both past and present. He also began travelling to various small press conventions and expos throughout the country.