Missoula Comedy Artists Collaborate on Drawings and Gallery Mural | Arts & Theater

If a bunch of comic artists were just hanging out, what would they draw?

The answer is all over the walls, whether on paper or drywall, at Zootown Arts Community Center’s Main Gallery this month.

“Highs and Lows” features highlights from years of collaborative pieces made by six Missoula artists in regular drawing sessions.



Six local artists present their collaborative work at the Zootown Arts Community Center this month in a show called “Highs and Lows.” In this accelerated video, they improvise a mural on the gallery wall. The participating artists are Theo Ellsworth, Tony Gregori, Cooper Malin, Daniel Mrgan, Lauren Tyler Norby and Josh Quick.











They dated for four years, minus a year of the pandemic until they were vaccinated and could find a space big enough to spread out.

“Anyone can do whatever they want, there are no rules,” said Josh Quick, adding that “they go for every drawing – whatever they think.”

They didn’t set any limits because it’s supposed to be a break from the deadlines, restrictions, and hustle and bustle of their professional creative work. “A lot of these guys are commercial artists,” Quick said. These “jam sessions” are a return to the freedom to draw when you were a child.

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The designs look like many sensibilities all happening at once, with surprises popping up everywhere you look, pop culture references (Wu-Tang Clan, Wes Anderson, Kurt Cobain) and classic super-style designs. heroes clashing with surreal weirdness and dialogue. – balloon commentary.

For the mural, they dove in and followed each other.

“We don’t have a lot of editorial processes here,” said Lauren Tyler Norby, who draws zines, comics and also creates music.

Quick is a longtime illustrator from Missoula. Last year, he created a large Missoula-themed mural for the Missoula Public Library’s powder room and published two “Quick Facts” books, one about Montana and one about Yellowstone, which bring together original and true information.

Theo Ellsworth, an artist whose intricate and fantastical drawings are on display in galleries here and in Los Angeles, recently illustrated a book, “Secret Life,” based on a short story by Jeff VanderMeer.

Tony Gregori draws comics professionally, including a new title, “The Worst Dudes”, on Dark Horse. Publishers Weekly said his “loud art does visual justice to outrageous concepts with the over-the-top style of a Tex Avery cartoon about speed”.

Cooper Malin drew an original comic for Montana Kaimin, until he was busy with his last semester of school. He lives in Dixon and his strips often filter rural life through a surreal lens with humor and sadness.

Daniel Mrgan is a graphic designer for Adventure Cycling and creates personal illustrations as well as freelance work around town. He showed his work in galleries in Florida before moving out West.

Earlier this week, they were given permission to really stretch and improvise a mural on the wall of the gallery wall. Over a few nights, after hours, they met and took turns creating a sprawling, surreal cartoon that mixed pop culture imagery, inside jokes, purely visual jokes and more.

In their normal sessions, someone will start and others will add, riffing on what was already there or taking a left turn, and someone else will help fill in the “filler” context.

“We’ll all be sitting at a table and they’ll all be randomly laid out and people will just choose which one they want to work on,” Quick said.

Gregori began the mural by drawing a superhero character whose name, if spelled backwards, would be “Mood”, which is written in a speech bubble coming out of his mouth. Mrgan, who has a vintage and whimsical style, drew a fish, happily sitting on a fishing boat in a casual cap, casting his line into Dr. Mood’s translucent cap, where a fish watches the worm on the hook.

They all moved to different sections of the wall, wherever there was blank space to fill, drawing simultaneously in this way, connecting the sections with what seemed right to them.

When Mrgan, who grew up in Eastern Europe and spells his surname without an ‘o’, was young, TV options included silent movie era cartoons like ‘Felix the Cat’, and those- these still inform his designs.

His particular style helped change the way they bonded, Quick said. He moved here from Florida for work and met Quick after seeing each other’s posters. After joining the drawing sessions, Mrgan’s preference for small thumbnails pushed them in a new direction.

Years ago, early rooms had more of a game night style structure – someone drew one panel, and the next person drew the next panel. These gradually evolved into complete free-form compositions. Sometimes it’s easy to tell who drew what if you know their work; in other cases it may be harder to tell.

“These guys are all like Marvel and American comic books. It was never part of my journey,” Mrgan said. “Half the time I have no idea what they’re drawing.”

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