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Q & A: Portland comic artist Max Young tells all

Illustration by Max YoungLast month the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability published "Portland’s Central Eastside," a visual story about this unique and dynamic part of the city. One of the most notable characteristics of the book is the striking black and white illustrations done in a quasi-comic art style. These drawings were commissioned from local Portland comic artist Max Young, whose own history mirrors the dynamic and creative nature of the district he rendered so effectively.

Young moved to Portland in 2012 after receiving his Master of Fine Arts in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design, and BA in Drawing from University of Tennessee. Although classically trained in the arts, Max has been making comics since he was a kid.

Young’s portfolio includes a back-up issue for Hell Yeah (an Image comic series) and plenty of self-published comics like Jetpack Shark, Sydney Sage: Extreme Exterminator and Blacked Out. In addition to action and adventure comics, he also creates illustrations for various clients.

Staff found Max through Periscope Studios, a collective of comic artists working in the Central Eastside. We asked him about working with Portland’s creative community, the industrial district and working on this project.

Tell us about the group of artists you work with. How does the collective work?

It's a fun experience to work in a studio with other cartoonists. At my own studio, it’s a two-person operation with a lot of individual feedback and collaboration. But I also interned for Periscope Studios in the Central Eastside, where nearly 20 artists work in a large open space. I make an effort to drop by and work there every once in a while because the energy there is so contagious. Everyone works in their little space, listening to music or podcasts while we're all working on our own projects. Anytime there's something you're struggling with, it's incredibly easy to get someone else to look at it and help out. Also, there's a lot of influencing that happens, where you see something cool that someone else is working on, and that influences the work you're doing. It's really the best way to make art, outside of your own personal bubble.

Your studio is in the Central Eastside, right? How do you like it?

It's actually in the Lloyd District, which is just outside of the Central Eastside, a block or two north. It's a great area to live with so many places within walking distance to shop and eat. I love it. It's quiet, but right near everything with a MAX station a few blocks away.

Does the industrial district help you connect with other working artists, book designers and communications folks?

That was probably one of the most shocking things that happened when I moved to Portland. Interning at Periscope got me immediately in touch with a multitude of cartoonists, and before I knew it I was meeting many others at various places. The artistic community is so big that you can't help but meet talented people. I've met a ton of writers, illustrators, cartoonists and other art-making professionals, and I'd attribute that directly to Portland's overall sense of community. It's such a unique melting pot that it develops and enhances creativity, and that abundance helps to inspire my own artwork.

What was your impression of the Central Eastside planning project when you first learned about it?

It sounded like a fun challenge honestly. I really hoped that I could be a part of it because it was something new and different. I had no idea how the project would come together in the end, but I knew it was going to be an interesting journey to get there. When comics and graphic novels can reach a new and wider audience, I think those projects work out well. People love comics and illustrations, and using them to share information is a really good way to get people to stop and read.

What do you think about the future of the Central Eastside? Of Portland?

The tour of the Central Eastside was really eye opening. I'm always in that part of Portland; my favorite restaurant of all time, the Montage, is there. But I was really shocked at how little I knew of the area — so many more studios, shops, restaurants and businesses that I never knew were there. People are making a lot more things in Portland than I realized. I didn't know there was so much industry in that area. It felt like I experienced a new side to a place that I had been to so many times previously, that I honestly had to completely re-evaluate and change the way I look at the Central Eastside.

I think the Central Eastside will start to see some growth in the coming years. It's a unique area in a special city, and until recently its cool and different quality has been something of a secret. Once people start to learn more about that, I imagine that it'll start attracting more businesses. It's a lot like Portland. You hear a lot of good things, and then you go there and it's even better than you expected.

Will you be here then?   

I certainly hope to be! I can say with confidence that if there was ever any city that I felt like I belonged in, it's definitely Portland.

You can find more of Max’s artwork at maximilianyoung.tumblr.com or follow him on Twitter at @OhCayBro. His primary website, www.maxyoungart.com, is currently offline and will be relaunched with a new web comic in the coming months.