Ben Passmore began drawing at 8 years old, remaking some of his favorite superheroes like Spawn, Wolverine and the X-Men. In middle school, he spent his time drawing during class. His teachers were not amused.
“I was a great artist but a terrible student,” Passmore said. His teachers would take away his papers, saying he would never make a living doodling. This did not discourage him. He would simply take out another sheet of paper and begin a new drawing.
As he got older and matured as an artist, Passmore, now 34, became more conscious of the world around him. He began to draw social and political comics during the Bush administration, commenting on issues like war and trade agreements.
Last year, Passmore won an Ignatz Award, recognizing outstanding achievement in comics and cartooning, for "Your Black Friend," an 11-page comic book that stemmed from a conversation with his roommate about racial identity. He now works as a freelance contributor for Vice magazine, drawing comic strips that comment on news. Most recently, he drew a comic about Take ‘Em Down Nola and the removal of Confederate monuments.
Passmore is one of the organizers of this weekend's New Orleans Comic and Zine Festival, or NOCAZ, an event designed to bring amateur artists in one place to share their work and attend workshops. The NOCAZ festival will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 19, from noon to 4 p.m., at the New Orleans Public Library.
“I was fascinated by cartoons, which were essentially drawings that came to life,” organizer Hugo Martinez said. He started drawing because he liked the idea of creating things — an idea his community supported.
“I was known as the kid who could draw,” said Martinez, 36. Kids from the neighborhood would buy his comics.
He likes to tell stories about his background and Hispanic culture. His family is from Nicaragua, but he said he also tells stories about Mexico and Latin America, particularly about the border and the drug policy. He doesn’t shy away from controversial topics.
“I want people to be more aware of how people are affected by the drug trade,” said Martinez.
Martinez moved to New Orleans from Tennessee to be a part of the art community, meeting Passmore and joining him as a member of the NOCAZ team.
During the festival, local artists and artists from Mississippi and Alabama will get together to trade and sell comics and zines, or self-published works. Attendees can also attend workshops on inking techniques, image sourcing and journal and zine making. All of the materials are provided, and admission is free. This year they expect to see about 1,000 people.
“The goal is to bring out more diverse voices to the public,” Martinez said. They believe it is important for people to find different ways to express their ideas, and they especially want to attract artists who are just starting to develop their skills.
“I want more people to feel like they can be artists and have access to materials,” Passmore said.