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Pow!!! Web comics expert hides out, at the Rutgers University Libraries

August 19, 2013
Last year's event poster. A spacship diving into a wormhole of artist's images.

The front cover of the program booklet for the 2012 Intervention convention.

As sure as Archie loves Veronica (or Betty, depending on the day), and Superman will defeat Lex Luthor, the influence of comic books and graphic novels has grown markedly in the entertainment field and popular culture.

Paralleling that growth, university professors and scholars have devoted increased attention to the study of this cultural and literary phenomenon. Academic conferences on graphic novels, comics, and related pursuits have been held in recent years at Fordham University, Michigan State University, the University of Florida, and internationally in Madrid, Manchester, and Sweden.

At Rutgers, a growing number of faculty members have devoted courses, in whole or in part, to the study of this literature form. These courses range from a fall 2013 “Topics in Literature: Comics and Graphic Novels” course offered by the English department in Newark, to a spring 2013 “Twenty-First Century Writing: Blogs, Graphic Novels, and Social Media” course offered by the American Studies department in New Brunswick, to a fall 2013 “The Jewish Graphic Novel” course offered jointly by the Art History, Comparative Literature, and Jewish Studies departments in New Brunswick. There are other courses, on related themes, as well.

Scholars of graphic novels and comics in other forms at Rutgers, as well as serious fans, might be surprised to learn that a web comic creator with a broad audience, who (with a few others) runs an annual conference that attracts hundreds of attendees, is quietly hiding out in the Rutgers University Libraries.

James Hartstein, Digital Media Coordinator in the Scholarly Communication Center of Alexander Library, is the co-creator, with his wife Karrie, of the Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos web comic (, which regularly attracts between 50,000 and 100,000 unique readers each month.

James and Karrie also founded, organize, and run, with a small circle of friends, Intervention – a national conference held in Rockville, MD designed to allow artists and performers of all sorts to learn from experts in the field, share ideas, and consider pursuing  their passions in web comics or associated popular culture as serious hobbies or as vocations. The 2013 convention, set for August 23-25th, will be the fourth annual Intervention and it is cosponsored by Warner Archive collection, 4imprint, and Smith Micro Software.

When James and Karrie were dating, they starting looking for a joint project that would let her use her artistic abilities and let him use his IT skills, which he developed in part in a web design  certification program at Rutgers. They developed and launched the Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos web comic in 2003.  The comic features Japanese style art and focuses on two characters, Onezumi and Harknell, who are loosely modeled after Karrie and James. Onezumi and Harknell, along with a set of oddball friends and associates, are engaged in a running battle with evil counterparts of themselves in a parallel dystrophic dimension.  

Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos slowly developed a serious following and helped James and Karrie refine their respective skills. The web comic also started to attract attention and acclaim from different sources such as the Geek Out! blog on, which published an interview with James and Karrie about the web comic in October 2011 (

As part of the growth of Stupid & Insane Defenders Against Chaos, James and Karrie were invited to speak or to host exhibit tables at different comic or popular culture oriented conventions. While they enjoyed the opportunity to network with people interested in similar pursuits, they noticed a serious shortcoming in all the existing conferences – there were few or no practical workshops, and little active encouragement, to help the talented but hesitant launch their own efforts.

James and Karrie decided to fill the void they noticed. Using their own funds, and working with a coterie of friends with financial, contractual, and organizing skills whom they’d met at other conventions, they organized the Intervention convention in September 2010. The convention featured 49 guest speakers/panelists, many well-known online comic artists, authors, and/or performers, and offered workshops on Adobe Illustrator, Auto-Biographical Comics, Photoshop Techniques, Copyright for Artists, Webcomic Portfolio Reviews, Finding your Niche, and other topics.

Despite the fact that the conference had never been held before and there was no guarantee it would be held again, over 500 people came out to participate. The conference was widely seen as a success and, even though they did not recoup their initial funding, James, Karrie, and the other organizers decided to conduct the conference again the next year.

The 2011 Intervention attracted over 700 participants, a much larger organizing group, and a similarly impressive roster of speakers and workshops. The 2012 convention attracted over 850 participants and was the first to generate a small profit, which James and Karrie have invested in the 2013 conference.    

James and Karrie are encouraged by the growth of Intervention and are particularly proud of the artists and performers who came to the first conference as moonlighters but now pursue their crafts full-time, making enough money to continue working at  their artistic dreams.

For more information on Intervention, please see: