Cartoon Crossroads Columbus: A Festival To Elevate Cartoon Art And Artists

If you, like me, live an ocean away from Europe, and you also, like me, have heard the name “Angoulême” and sighed with longing and sadness, I want you to know that all hope is not lost. It may not be an entire city with the love of comics built into its very infrastructure since the 1970s, but the city of Columbus, Ohio has Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, and that really is something. 

“Cartoon” is in the name, and though there is a large focus on comics, the festival deliberately dedicates time to also appreciate animation, political cartoons, and other cartooning-related work and the artists who make it.

Some things that are unique about CXC:

The first evening and two whole days are dedicated to educational panels, presentations, and awards focused on the art and literature of cartoons in many forms, including scholarly work related to them. The last two days are dedicated to a more conventional “expo” experience with a juried selection of artists exhibiting, and additional panels involving guests and exhibitors – including a panel with the organizers of our own Cartoonist Co-op! 

As someone who is more accustomed to comics conventions as pop culture events dedicated to the buying and selling of comics and related memorabilia, this focus on appreciation of the art of cartooning is really refreshing and lovely. It’s a good reminder that art doesn’t exist solely for commercial purposes.

What’s under the surface?

I wanted to understand more about the uniqueness of CXC for the purposes of this article, and over the course of my experience volunteering at the 2023 festival, I was able to speak with organizers James Moore, Han Donovan, and Jay Kalagayan. I really wanted to know what they find great about CXC, and what keeps them returning. 

James Moore, the Operations Committee chair who has helped run CXC since its first year in 2015, has an apt metaphor for the Columbus comics scene. James and innumerable others care greatly about community building, and CXC is a big part of the progression of connectivity within the comics community in Columbus. Before CXC existed, James had observed, “We have all of these… different parts of comics that exist in the city – and if they were just cross pollinating more, they would be stronger and more powerful.” James ran a panel at a smaller Columbus comics convention a couple years before CXC’s founding and predicted, “This culture is a Voltron that has yet to assemble.”

Executive Director Jay Kalagayan likes to evoke the Voltron metaphor as well, when talking about the different organizations that contribute to make CXC unique. “You got mighty robots like the Columbus Museum of Art, and the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Laughing Ogre, the Wexner Center of the Arts, [the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, and CCAD], all coming together and creating this mighty festival – this mighty robot of a festival! Combining budgets, and combining missions. I don’t know very many comic cons or comic festivals that have, for example, a focus on cartoon strip artists and creators, you know?… I think that Columbus is kind of becoming the capital of comics; the capital of cartoons.”

James keeps coming back to help organize CXC both to maintain those connections and community, and for his friend Tom Spurgeon, who served as the festival director from 2015 until his death in 2019 (and for whom one of the festival’s awards is named). James said, “I’ll be honest, there’s always gonna be a little bit… of doing it for Tom; there’s a little bit of maintaining my friend’s legacy. And I think we’re in a moment where we have that talent… it’s rare you have a Caitlin McGurk, or the teachers at CCAD, Lauren McCubbin… a store like the Laughing Ogre; Jeff Smith! How often do you get a Jeff Smith behind your show, right?…  it is a unique combination of extraordinary talents in this festival.”

Han Donovan, the administrative assistant and graphic designer for the festival since 2021, pointed out how the festival events and panels often grow organically from connections in the comics community, among exhibitors, journalists, and more. “The different people at [CXC’s] different partner organizations know different types of people involved in comics. So we have practicing comic artists on committees who know a lot of other comic artists, we have academics who know a lot of academics… people know who they know!” 

What might I get out of going?

I also asked Jay, Han and James how attending and exhibiting artists might benefit from CXC. All three of them pointed out the wide range of special guests who will be there, speaking at keynote speeches, panels, and other events. “This year we’re bringing in a mangaka from Japan [Keito Gaku] for the first time,” Han said. “And as someone who got into comics through manga specifically, [I’m] very excited for that… we have a lot of [guests, for whom] creating comics, in the sense of drawing art and writing comics, are not the primary thing they do. Shelley Bond is an editor… Denis Kitchen does do art, but he’s also very well known for other things, like the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.” Also included this year are two guests affiliated with DreamWorks Animation Studios, director Brenda Chapman and NCBUniversal archivist Chase Schulte. Jay added, “We have Tauhid Bondia coming in, Raina Telgemeier’s coming in, I mean… a lot of the comic cons I know, they might not feature young adult novels/novelists, that kind of thing… I like how Cartoon Crossroads Columbus focuses on the spectrum of what comics and cartoons can be and represent.” 

James pointed out a unique strength of CXC, in that it intentionally pulls in people from different cartooning industries, and from different positions within those industries, who don’t often get to interact with each other. But at an event that’s focused on appreciating the skill of cartooning, instead of about commerce, the guests, exhibitors, and attendees don’t have to lean so hard into selling – they can celebrate. “We talked to a lot of people about the show, and asked them what they thought – I can’t think of any other show I’ve been to where the guests are so happy to be there. They’re always really excited to be in Columbus and see their friends, talk to people.” “And, go to the Billy!” Han adds. James also observed, “I’ve been in shows… especially some mainstream shows, where it was clear that the person was there as part of a business event for their job, and would really rather be doing anything else! And I don’t get that impression from anyone here… I think they get a level of attention and treatment that they just don’t really get in a lot of other places.”

Jay hopes that attendees, exhibitors and special guests enjoy the opportunity to meet and talk to each other. “They get to network, they get to learn, we have a lot of teach-and-talks, so they learn some best practices… maybe form collaborations… And then also for a lot of the exhibitors, I want them to meet our attendees! I’m hoping that we pull, obviously, attendees from Columbus. But also I hope I get some “3 C’s” at the minimum!” – referring to Columbus’s neighbors Cleveland and Cincinnati – “I want some Toledo. I want to go regional. I want Indianapolis, I want Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, I want Michigan. I think it’s a great opportunity for people to come to Columbus, see the different resources we have, and really recognize this as a capital of comics and cartoons.”

Jay also mentioned that his absolute favorite part of the festival is getting to see those human connections get made: “It’s attendees getting to come and meet their favorite artists, meet someone that made a difference in their life with their stories, or with their art. So I love that. I love to see their faces!… they [also] get to discover new stories, and I’m hoping they’re walking away and they get to be inspired.” 

James said that he particularly enjoys seeing closer relationships and friendships play out in panels or interviews, such as the 2021 keynote conversation between Alison Bechdel and Hilary Price. “Anything where two really smart, involved people get to talk to each other… the kind of personal needling you can only get from the person [they] really like. Where it’s that deep dive and [I think], ‘oh there’s no way I would have known [to ask about] that!’” 

James and Han also have a lot of appreciation for the awards given by CXC every year. Han’s favorite award is Emerging Talent. “The moment that happens is a big favorite moment of mine, especially [in 2022], because Victoria Douglass graduated alongside me and is my friend, and I love seeing them get money!” James observed that while most other event-connected awards are very of-the-year, “most of our big awards are acknowledging significant careers or works. So it’s like Transformative Work, Master Cartoonist… [they’re] really good because, comics people don’t necessarily get appreciated very much!”  

This author especially appreciates the Tom Spurgeon award, to honor individuals who have made substantial contributions to the field but are not primarily cartoonists. The 2022 honoree was author and translator Frederik L. Schodt, who made it his mission to translate Japanese manga for publication in English starting in 1977. Where would today’s generation of English-speaking artists be without inspiration from the works he helped make available to us? I can’t even imagine. 

I can’t go to the festival, I’m too far away… 

Starting in 2020, during their digital festival organized by interim director Jerzy Drozd, CXC started recording most panels and events – and they have continued to do so after the festival has returned to primarily in-person. All of the recorded panels from 2020 through 2022 are available on CXC’s YouTube channel, and the recorded panels from 2023 will also be published there in the weeks and months after this year’s festival.

Regarding the YouTube channel, Jay Kalagayan pointed out, “It’s nice to know that, in 10 years, 5 years, 20 years, someone who’s writing a paper on [a CXC speaker] can see the conversation that they had in Columbus in 2022. So, I love the fact that we’re archiving, and I think it’s really important – for future generations, but also the industry in general right now.”

I’m not too far away! I want to go! 

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus will take place from the evening of Wednesday 9/27 through Sunday afternoon 10/1. Here’s the full schedule.

Cartoonist Co-op members and volunteers should note that Sloane Leong, A.C. Esguerra, and Andrew Neal will be in a panel at the Columbus Metropolitan Library on Sunday, 10/1, called “The Cartoonist Cooperative: Fighting for a Fairer Industry!” Blue Delliquanti will be part of a panel on Saturday, 9/30, called “State of the (Digital) Art: Exploring the Possibilities!” 

The table numbers of Co-op members exhibiting:

12 – Charles Brubaker

18 – Blue Delliquanti

19 – Sloane Leong

20 – A.C. Esguerra

71 – Andrew Neal

101 – Dave Baker

Lauren Sparks is probably biased about CXC because it is her FAVORITE comics-related event, and she’s been volunteering for it regularly since 2018. Lauren is a visual storyteller who lives physically in Covington, Kentucky and on the internet @WingedElfGirl. Her work has appeared in projects such as the Ringo Award-nominated Votes For Women: The Battle For The 19th Amendment comics anthology from Little Red Bird Press, the Tidelines zine from Cincinnati-based Cereal Box Studio, Linus and the Fluke of Love by Chris Charlton for Assailant Comics, and more. Her original illustrations, comics and zines can be viewed or purchased via