Need a little break from your partner or kids? Tired of eating the same food week after week? After more than a month of sheltering in place, many of us are. To help, local illustrator and entrepreneur Cagen Luse provides comic relief by tackling daily life during the pandemic with his LunchTime ComiX “The New Normal” comic strip series.
The comics are posted on social media each week and explore our new normal, highlighting everything from losing track of what day it is to family meetings on Zoom. In one scenario, a dad looks out the window and wishes he could go somewhere. His wife reminds him that he never went anywhere before. But still, he insists, “I miss the option of going places.”
That sentiment is one of many that readers might relate to right now. Social distancing, incessant snacking and in-house workspace woes also get examined. The coronavirus-centered series appears each week on DigBoston.
LunchTime ComiX centers on Luse’s life and family and aims, at least in part, to document “the racially ambiguous experience,” he shares. Luse can’t recall seeing many images of a family like his in the media as a child, and in his hometown of Searsmont, Maine, he remembers “being the only mixed-kid or kid of color in my school for the most part and that was a very lonely experience,” he says. “I wanted to reach out and let people know that they're not alone and that there's multitudes of different experiences and this is mine.”
The idea for LunchTime ComiX stems from a self-imposed challenge to develop a comic strip each week using his one-hour lunch break. After completing the strips, Luse shared them on Facebook in 2016. The positive response was overwhelming.
At that point, Luse — a married father of two — says he just kept going. “Then it turned into something way more than just doodling at my desk. …I was searching my own experiences and revealing myself in a way that I'd never done before and …it turned into something much bigger than I expected it to be.”
That ability to share the intimate along with the mundane without being heavy-handed is part of LunchTime ComiX’s allure. Developing the strip is an ongoing process, Luse says. He’s “constantly writing them in my head.” Then, he works to “thumbnail them out and do the artwork.” Being home with his family 24 hours a day has led to a flurry of creativity.
Luse’s love of comics stretches back to his childhood. As a shy kid bursting with imagination, Luse spent his time working on art and devouring strip comics like “Garfield,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” and later “The Boondocks.” For comic books, Luse points to “X-Men” and “G.I. Joe” as favorites in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Though he worked on art for most of his life, sharing it didn’t become a reality until about six or seven years ago. After high school, he initially attended the Atlanta College of Art in 1994 (which has since been absorbed by the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design), but had to put college on hold to start working to provide for his growing family.
Later, he went back to school and got his bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. That was when Luse began to see himself as a real working artist, developing and selling his own work. Since then, Luse has worked diligently to promote his art. He sells prints, comics and T-shirts that rep Roxbury and celebrate racial ambiguity through his Etsy shop, 950Design. Luse has also been a vendor at local events such as Roxbury Open Studios, Boston Night Market and the Boston Art & Music Soul Festival.
Through exhibiting his art and vending, Luse learned “that people want to know what the story is, why you made the artwork,” he explains. “It really taught me to speak about my artwork and let people in.”
In addition to LunchTime ComiX, Luse and his business partner Barrington Edwards, an artist and teacher, founded Boston Comics in Color (BCIC) with a mission to produce free and accessible events, raise awareness around creators of color and empower and support artists of color to tell their own stories. Pre-pandemic, the group met consistently in Dorchester at the Grove Hall branch of the Boston Public Library. Luse and Edwards along with other team members planned to host their first Boston Comics in Color Festival, April 4 at the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center and had already sold nearly 500 tickets. The festival has been postponed due to COVID-19.
Ardent comic book fan, gamer and Boston Arts Academy teacher Jean Binjour Jr. attended BCIC meetings pretty regularly. He was grateful for a space where he could talk about his passions freely and “I can be myself as much as possible,” he says. At one session, local talent Tak Toyoshima was a featured guest. Toyoshima developed the popular, syndicated comic strip “Secret Asian Man.”
Toyoshima first learned of Luse’s work through DigBoston where he used to work as creative director years ago, he says. The two have kept in touch since then and Toyoshima, who always appreciated Luse’s work says over the years, Luse has “sharpened his skills.”
The “New Normal” series, and all of LunchTime ComiX strips, lets audiences dive into a slice of Luse’s life and by doing so, readers get to explore and hopefully identify with the frustration, beauty and comedy present in all of our lives.
Find LunchTime ComiX’s “The New Normal” series and other bonus comics on Facebook.