Just between the Metropolitan and Lorimer exits of the G and the L in Williamsburg, there’s a curious storefront whose sign says, in a few different fonts, and in different pieces of signboard which look to have been attached in different decades, “Sparacino’s Bakery: Italian French Sicilian Bread and Comic Booklets.” That’s Fowler’s indie comics store, Desert Island. Gabe Fowler also organizes the annual Comic Arts Brooklyn festival, and publishers the free experimental comics newspaper Smoke Signal. Most recently he made a special protest issue called RESIST! with guest editor Françoise Mouly, which was distributed nationally at Women’s Marches.
How and why did you become involved in your line of work? What would you even call what you do? I’m basically a comics curator. Through my shop Desert Island, annual festival Comic Arts Brooklyn, and free quarterly anthology Smoke Signal, I try to spotlight lesser-known illustrators and expand access to difficult work.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake. I report for work at my store every weekday, talk to customers, play records, and seek out new work to stock. But I’m always working on some additional project. Most recently the RESIST! newspaper project became an all-encompassing quest to give a platform, primarily to women artists who are disgusted with Trump’s election. Along with guest editor Françoise Mouly, we were able to do a huge print run of 58,000 and distribute nationally – a scale that is new for me.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work? Working directly with artists and their fans never gets old, and I love helping people discover their new favorite thing.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge? I’m proud to have found a way to work with populist art with a street-level, day-to-day engagement. My background is in the fine art world, which seems to pride itself on being disengaged. My biggest challenge is the rent is too goddamned high! It’s hard to be a creative person in this world, especially in New York where the landlords are constantly turning the screws.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future? I’m excited to see a new wave of artists using print as a vital medium for telling stories with pictures. People are pushing the envelope of the possibilities of print, and I’m happy to help the material gets little air space.
Who would you nominate for this list? Erik and Rachel from Secret Project Robot have been humbly supporting artists in Brooklyn for years (decades?), but they’re so self-effacing that not many people know them. Excited to see them with a new space for 2017.