Next Wave of Editors Revitalizes OCC

Liam McLean, Staff Writer

The Oberlin Comics Collective, a graphic arts collaborative and small press on campus, is expanding operations through an unconventional device: the risograph. This bulky print duplicator, developed in post-war Japan and marketed as a cheap and efficient alternative to the mainstream photocopier, has found niche appeal among contemporary artists and designers. For them, as for members of the OCC, its inexpensiveness represents control over their creative output and a DIY philosophy central to the collective’s identity.

“We self-publish,” said Ben Garbus, OCC member and College sophomore. “That just means producing something from scratch and distribut[ing] it, and that’s what I love about what we do.”

The risograph is essential to the renaissance that the 4-year-old organization is undergoing this year, which includes efforts to expand access to printing within the community, as well as a new zine subscription service.

In its earliest days, the OCC was distinguished by the “mega-zines” it releases each semester. These are non-selective compilations of comics submitted by students across campus. The OCC was also known for its “comic jams,” or the times devoted to drinking beer and playing drawing games, according to College senior Sky Kalfus, who joined the Collective as a first-year.

The laid-back nature of the organization has not changed, and, according to College junior Anne Buckwalter, the OCC is committed to being open to anyone who wants to join. Recent developments have set the stage for the Collective’s rise from relatively modest origins to a more potent and pervasive artistic presence on campus.

The Collective acquired the risograph two years ago. “[This] gave us the potential to be a small press,” Kalfus said. The no- tion of small-scale mass production has become increasingly important to the group, according to Garbus: “[This means] caring about something to make enough of it to show other people.”

This is not to say that the OCC is evolving into an exclusion- ary enterprise, according to Kalfus. “The idea behind the col- lective at the moment is to get as many people as possible using the resources that we have and making stuff and printing,” said Kalfus. One of the main goals that the Collective is pursuing is to promote accessibility to the risograph and additional print- ing materials housed in Wilder 328.

Garbus admitted that, since the Collective’s inception, en- gagement has not been as robust as the organization would like. “We’ve been a little slow to get off the ground with com- munity involvement,” he said. In order to increase the number of students involved in the Collective, Garbus runs a workshop that instructs students in the operation of the risograph. After they have been properly trained to handle the equipment, stu- dents are granted unlimited access to the studio.

Kalfus and Garbus both emphasized that the role of work- shops and Garbus’s open office hours do not necessarily exist to teach students how to make quality comics but instead aim to empower them to produce art according to their own creative visions.

One major new initiative is the Collective’s zine subscrip- tion service, the zany fliers for which have become ubiquitous across campus. Subscribers pay $5 to receive six installments of zines, released biweekly. Each installment comprises two to three zines. Distributing the zines, which are drawn, printed, folded and stapled by individual OCC artists, is done not only to promote awareness about the organization’s work but is also, according to Buckwalter, an important way to support the cre- ativity of independent student artists.

Both Kalfus and Garbus describe themselves as among “the next generation” of OCC members. Though most of the found- ers, including M.J. Robinson, OC ’14, James Scott, OC ’14, Matt Davis, OC ’13, and Sam Szabo, OC ’13, have graduated, the Collective is avidly pursuing fresh trajectories without aban- doning the founders’ core creative philosophy, according to Garbus.

Long-term ambitions include collaboration with other on- campus groups. Already, the Collective has partnered with Oberlin’s Exhibition Initiative, a student group devoted to cu- rating exhibitions for student artwork. It has also considered collaborating with the Apollo Outreach Initiative to promote comics workshops at local schools. This would be similar to the Collective’s previous work with The Backspace, a local af- terschool program.