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April 20, 2015

BigWow! Comicfest a Colorful Success

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On a spectacular spring day in northern California, cosplayers, children, gamers and even a few Golden State Warrior fans lined up outside the San Jose Convention Center anxiously waiting for the doors to open at BigWow! Comicfest.

BigWow! Comicfest touts itself as the “original artist-friendly convention,” so what could be a better way to start the con than “Copic Markers and Adam Hughes”? What are copic markers, you ask? It’s not some weird historical sect, but a kind of pen that comic artists use to create beautiful work --- specifically, what Adam Hughes (Catwoman, Before Watchmen: Manhattan) uses to illustrate the women of his comics.

Peppered between colorful phrases such as “white, china white, chalk white, and pro-white,” Hughes gave his artistic audience some advice worth listening to. Hughes, a 28-year veteran of the industry, has had no formal training as an artist, but spent years at Gaijin Studios under the tutelage of Brian Stelfreeze (CyCops, Shadow of the Bat) and will be “an aspiring artist until the day I die.” He believes that “successes bring no challenge. It’s when I have to fix something that I discover a new tool for my toolbox.”

Lately he’s been working in gray scale, as evidenced by the stunning Vampirella that appeared on the screen behind the overhead which he says “is just another new technique.”  His women are drawn to mimic the glamour queens from the 1950s, à la Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. When Hughes is feeling his “Wheaties,” he will draw “all faces and hands,” when he’s not so invincible he focuses on “trees and rocks.”

On the convention floor, the big comic names were out, including Jim Steranko (Legendary Captain America) and Frank Cho (Mighty Avengers), to name a couple, as well as familiar acting faces Tom Felton (cinema’s very own Draco Malfoy) and Battlestar Gallactica’s Richard Hatch. Weaving between the mega-lines were some really wonderful “almost-famous” artists, such as Jason Beckwith (Taking Eden) who has some new work out, including ANARCHY BEYOND THE WALLS, a western fairy tale with a crew racing to prove who will complete the secret mission --- great graphics presenting a dystopia where the world is in financial chaos.

Meanwhile, the cutest green cyber bunny is hopping through RED GIANT: The Baron Goes Hunting, by Rich Foster. What a great looking comic! The line work and colors are reminiscent of Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau posters transported to a semi-steampunk galactic universe. The writing, too, proves top notch, as the Baron gathers his team, including the green bunny “psychic shield,” to save his universe from the Red Giant as he explores space, that “epic void” that “is beautiful but wicked.”

In between the comic booths ran a number of Rasterstache Bots --- adorable little robots that double as boxes made from “wood, upcycled materials, and antique pieces.” The bots come in a number of different themes, from pirates and superheroes to steampunk and clockwork. They would bring a smile to any face looking up from its work station.

After walking what seems like three miles through some great booths, a panel is the best place to head in order to rest your feet and exercise your little gray cells. At “Cultural Diversity in Popular Media,” the star-packed panel shared their experiences with comics, the creative arts and diversity. Speakers included J.J. Kirby (X-Babies), Joyce Chin (Superman, Legion), Damion Poitier (Jarhead, Avengers, Star Trek), Erik Larsen (Savage Dragon, Spider-Man), Jane Wiedlin (the Go-Gos,Pinky and the Brain, Star Trek IV), David Williams (Spider-Man, Red She-Hulk), and Shannon Denton (X-Men, Spider-Man).

Joyce Chin started out not by drawing women, but superheroes. The worst stereotype she finds in comics? “Woman gets raped, then cries.” She advises writers that it’s better to “put something on the table. It’s better to see a woman struggle to hold back the tears.”

Jane Wiedlen’s experience in the Go-Go’s displays the historical prejudice towards all-girl bands. The Go-Go’s were “selling out up and down the West Coast and couldn’t get a record deal.” Finally, the band was approached by a small label, and thanks to the Go-Go’s they became a big label --- but it’s “still hard for all-female bands to make it.”

J.J. Kirby created a book with an African American female lead that was not accepted because the publisher wasn’t sure if she could carry a comic. He insists comics, or any storytelling, is about telling “a good story, a true story.”

David Williams talked about being pigeon-holed as an African-American—“You want to draw The Falcon, right?” Not so fast. Williams wanted to draw Spider-Man, and we can all appreciate the black Spider-Man costume he designed for Marvel. Williams talked about growing up with the African American ghetto stereotype, but he doesn’t want to draw those caricatures. “Comics offer inspiration beyond stereotypes.”

Damion Poitier, who many may recognize as Thanos at the end of The Avengers, talked about his love for comics. As a child there weren’t many superheroes of color --- so he is determined to create that space in a soon-to-be-unveiled project. Comics are becoming more diverse, he said, which helps all of us because the “way we learn is through stories and storytellers help to teach culture.”

Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon cartoon series wasn’t trying to make a statement when there weren’t any sympathetic white characters. Studios complained when Larsen portrayed the black experience --- “There’s no ghetto.” He believes there’s more to diversity than that. If there is just one African American character in a comic “they represent all black people.”  Women in comics don’t all have to be “hardcore feminists.” Media needs to present a wide range of characters.

Shannon Denton agreed, saying people are aware of diversity, and that you don't want to lump everyone all together.

Back to the aisles, where big news was found on a giant booth touting Silicon Valley Comic Con (SVCC) created by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The inaugural event is set for March 19-20, 2016, also to take place in the San Jose Convention Center. Wozniak believes that “the lines between entertainment and the technology we love so much are getting blurrier every day.” So he is teaming up with comic greats, including Stan Lee, to create a place where geeks from San Francisco to the Valley can come together under one roof to celebrate “movies, TV shows, web series, music, video games, and social media.”

There has been a hole in the northern California comic convention scene since Wondercon moved from San Francisco to Anaheim in 2012, so SVCC hopes to fill the gap alongside BigWow!, which will be moving into a Fall time slot.

Stan’s advice to Woz? What else: “With great power comes great responsibility.”