Julianna Coleman, email@example.com
Steve Richter is an Athens native who says he’s been drawing for as long as he could hold a pencil. He works to transform his innate silliness into something that he can share with the world through comic books, graphic novels, and the occasional greeting card, all of which he was working to sell at an exhibition at Fluff Bakery on Thursday. Many of Steve’s works have been on display at Fluff for several months, an arrangement that both lets Steve display his own artwork and livens up the bakery’s décor with some light humor. After Steve’s exhibition at UnionArts in May 2012, he was looking for somewhere else to display his work, and a cooperative effort with Fluff’s management brought Steve’s work to the walls of the bakery.
In addition to that ongoing display, Steve put together a special exhibition of his work for a few hours Thursday night, selling books and greeting cards while also taking the time to chat with potential customers over coffee. A fairly steady stream of people came in and out, many of them stopping to talk and laugh with Steve as they traded stories, laughter, and occasionally cash. The bakery provided free coffee and cookies for anyone who chose to drop in during the event, and Steve was able to sell more than a few of the merchandise that he had brought. Steve has quite a community of supporters, friends, and fans, many of whom came to Fluff to support him and his works, and others who, not having the privilege of meeting the man himself, have purchased his books at places like the Athens Book Center or The Wizard’s Guild, both within short walking distance of Court Street. For a man who says he probably came out of the womb thinking, “how can I draw a cartoon of this?” that network of supporters has probably supplied many ideas for various comics over the years, including a genuine greeting card that Steve drew for a friend in the hospital and later decided to market. Steve has quite the fan club here in Athens, many of whom came into support him, catch a sneak preview of some of his books, or simply to chat for a while with a man who is as funny in real life as he is on paper.
Steve Richter is, first and foremost, a devotee of the comic art. He laughs almost as much as he talks, and his comics, whether single-paneled or an entire graphic novel, are uniquely and succinctly funny. Common themes in both his graphic novels and standalone works run from making light of fears and anxieties in everything from a grocery store to an amusement park, to in his graphic novel series Neener Neener, creating an ongoing side plot of a toad and his constantly annoyed friend, a fish who can never seem to stay at his bowl for more than half the book.
What’s Steve’s secret to the near-constant humor of his comics? “Don’t take it too seriously,” he says. “Very few people actually make a living doing this sort of thing, so if you take it very seriously it’s easy to get very disappointed.” And in fact, despite the success of many of his works, Steve is not one of the few people who actually make a living drawing comics. He currently works at the Athens Book Center, where many of his works can also be purchased.
While Steve does take his comics seriously enough to publish them, his drawings are created as much to entertain himself as they are to entertain anyone else. “Playing brings out creative energy,” he says. “Most of the time, when I sit and I draw, I’m not trying to draw something in particular. I’m going to do a little scribbling and see what happens. Who cares what the hell it is, it’s me having fun.”
Some of these “scribbles” that don’t necessarily fit into his graphic novels can serve another purpose. Steve has a cartoon caption contest for the occasional single-paneled comic on his website, www.steverichterart.com, where until recently, he’s been giving away his comic books as prizes. But he recently decided he wanted something different, something a little more special and unique for his winners. Starting with the most recent contest, the winner can ask Steve to draw anything the winner wants on an 8.5×11 piece of paper and Steve will draw and post it on his website. Steve says he asked his most recent winner to “make it a challenge – something a little personal, something that you’ll want to show off.”
Steve is rather proud of a video he made in which his cat, as advertised on his blog, actually helps him choose the caption contest grand prize winner. “I thought it would be really funny because I always say my cat helps me choose,” he says, though it’s not likely that such a video, which compresses over five hours of cat-finagling into just under four minutes, will be something that Steve chooses to do again. However, this type of silliness is exactly what Steve is hoping people will be drawn into. He hopes that visitors to the site will think, “This guy sounds kind of fun. He’s a nerd, he does silly things with his cat, let’s throw money at him.”
Does Steve consider himself a nerd? “Absolutely,” and he says he’s been one for some time. “One doesn’t really consider oneself a nerd in high school. One doesn’t notice one’s own nerdiness. Other people just notice it.” Steve says he fought that distinction some before he got to college, but soon he began to embrace it. “In college,” he says, “I was a nerd but I was proud of it.” Steve truly embraced his innate “nerdiness” when it became funny for him to announce to folks, “I’m the ultimate nerd.” These days, Steve takes pride in his nerd self, and expresses that self mainly through drawings. “I think all the characters in these books are probably nerds,” he says. He admits that he’s not quite the ‘ultimate’ nerd, but as a comic artist, proud cat owner, and blogger, “all these things that I like to do, that I think about, that I like – I think they mean that I’m a nerd. And I’m all right with that.”
Steve’s talents are likely to stay in the Athens area for some time. Born in Athens, he returned here after a stint in Seattle to get a degree in special education at Ohio University, met his wife, and has now been here for 10 years with no plans of leaving. His advice for other aspiring artists and nerds? “Draw. Play with the what-ifs, have fun with it – but play. That’s the thing. Play.” It’s obvious from his work that the expert takes his own advice.