Vortex I: The Blog Post

I have been dropping hints on social media for over a year on this, but now it’s official: my next comics project is going to be a graphic novel about Vortex I, the 1970 rock festival sponsored by the State of Oregon. I had been doing preliminary work on the project- scripting, character designs, sample pages- but what has tipped this over from hobby to vocation is an early birthday gift from Uncle Sam, in the form of a $4000 grant from the Regional Arts & Culture Council. Now I HAVE to draw the thing or I’ll be cheating the taxpayers!

Vortex I in a nutshell, from the Oregon Encyclopedia:

“During the war-hot summer of 1970, thousands of young people began streaming toward Clackamas County’s Milo McIver State Park to attend Vortex I, a state-sponsored rock-music festival. Ed Westerdahl, chief of staff to Governor Tom McCall, had selected the 847-acre site, some thirty miles southeast of Portland. The park provided all the advantages that Westerdahl sought—a rural setting, proximity to Portland, and easy driving distance from Interstate 5. The festival was strategically planned to attract young anti-Vietnam war protestors who otherwise might descend on Portland to disrupt the American Legion’s annual convention, which would begin on Sunday, August 30.”

Governor Tom McCall

This, it will be remembered, was only a few months after antiwar protests at Kent State had ended in the shooting of four students by National Guardsmen. There was every expectation that protest would turn bloody at the American Legion convention, especially given that the featured speaker was President Richard Nixon. Vortex was a diversionary tactic on the part of Governor McCall specifically to siphon longhairs away from the Portland area, which is why you don’t read in the history books about the Portland riots of 1970. I was 11 when it happened, not necessarily too young to go myself, except that I didn’t have hippy parents. I had long remembered the story, but my interest was sparked by listening to a an episode about Vortex on the Omnibus podcast with Ken Jennings and John Roderick. I realized that there was enough story here for a full length graphic novel.

Omnibus episode about Vortex

Scene from Vortex I

My plan at present is to keep to a quota of two pages a week. Since the script as outlined comes to nearly two hundred pages, I expect this will take around two years. Since I am in negotiations with a major comics publisher to bring it out in book form, I won’t be posting finished pages anywhere yet, but I will share character designs, sample pages, and possibly drawing demos of individual panels. I’ll try to keep posting comics on Patreon on the usual Monday and Thursday schedule, but they may be on the sketchy side.

I’ve posted few pieces of sample art on Patreon. Here is a test panel of Governor McCall making his decision:

A scene at Vortex:

So far I am ahead of schedule. I’ve already completed 20 pages. I can show a little bit of finished art. Here are some panels of Oregonians responding to McCall’s speech announcing Vortex:

The technique here is combining line art with gray watercolor tones. To get a 1970s feel, I’ve gone back to my go-to drawing tool from my teens and 20s- the kind of technical pen generically called a rapidograph. It has a nice flow, until it inevitably clogs, but I’ve found that flushing the nib with alcohol before each use helps a lot!

Samples posted to Patreon:

Title Page
McCall
Oval Office
Vortex Emcee
Vortex Trailer
Traffic Jam
Testing Three Kinds Of Paper
Grace At Vortex
Couples
Balloon Test

Keep watching this space!