At the end of the month, the thriving scene of artists studios centered in the Gowanus part of Brooklyn will be no more. As reported last year (but not immediately connected to the comics world) a massive collection of old warehouses that have been turned into artists studios, in the classic NYC sense, are now being turned into…well condos, probably. The area is located near the toxic Gowanus Canal and not considered safe for habitation but that won’t stop anyone. Maybe a bank or an organic dog treat store or a frozen yogurt shop will open up.
The building complex, sometimes called The Troll, since it’s located under a culvert, is currently home to cartoonists including Dean Haspiel, Christa Cassano, Reilly Brown, Simon Fraser, Sara Varon, and many many more. In fact, keeping track of who was who in what studio became quite a task as the number of cartoonists inside grew and expanded.
I believe the first studio was the legendary Act-i-Vate studio which included a huge swath of NYC cartoonists and comics types, including Joe Infurnari, Simon Fraser, Mike Cavallaro, Ellen Lindner, Chris Misciewicz, Becky Cloonan, Nick Abadzis, Nathan Schreiber, Joan Reilly, George O’Conner, Tim Hamilton, Jen Ferguson, Gregory Benton and many others over the years. That morphed into Deep 6, Drawbridge, Hang Dai, Hypothetical Island and others.
The cartooning crew believed that they would have until 2017 to move out, however, that changed suddenly, leaving them scrambling for new studios in an already overpriced market. According to Brown, they only found out at the end of August that this would be the final month.
I visited The Troll last fall as part of the Gowanus Open Studio tour. It was a wonderful place full of energy and art and creativity. I don’t want to go on and on about how this is vanishing from a New York City whose main exports now are banking and tech but my grandparents and my mom all moved to the city to make their name in art, and that world is definitely long vanished. Hang Dai and the rest were a last echo of this world, and where it springs up again is any one’s guess.
Brown told me that the crew is scattering to the winds, but he hopes to move into a new spot in Gowanus with Jason Little and George O’Conner, although the move in date keeps getting pushed back.
I spoke with Dean Haspiel and Christa Cassano about the move and the evolution of the NYC art scene in the brief interview below. Haspiel’s next move is uncertain, but Cassano, the artist on John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Clown, is doing what an increasing number of Brooklyn-based artists are doing: moving to Philadelphia.
Many of the last studios in the building are planning a good-bye party at the end of the month; it should be a night to remember because soon all we’ll have is memories of how cool Brooklyn used to be.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.