by Jeff Newelt
From November 9th to 14th, I had the honor and pleasure (duh) of being a Guest of the RIO Comicon, the first comics convention in Rio de Janeiro since 1993. The seven-day arty/indie comics fest took place at the Leopoldina Central Station, a cavernous former railway station, built in 1925, the sheer grandness of which lent the proceedings an epic surreality. Also instantly impressive was the mindful 360° design of the space. U.S. con-runners take note: art direction matters! From a cheerfully pervasive purple and orange color-scheme, to an upliftingly exquisite superbly-curated art exhibition of international masters & independent Brazilian artists, to a specially-constructed “castle” showcasing Italian living legend Milo Manara’s art, guests and artists alike were transported upon arrival.
I knew there was fun to be had — it’s Rio ferchrissakes, but I couldn’t have predicted the sleepaway-camp for super-artists vibe with so much magic per-square-moment that there’s objectively a pre- and post-Rio me-o. I’m not going to purport to provide a comprehensive report, but rather a robust one from my caipirinha-addled perspective. Speaking of comprehensive reports, cartoonist Daniel Gnattali created a comics-report in real time including every panel and guest! Its in Portuguese, so you may want to take a peep and wait for the English translation, coming soon. Many additional photos on in my Rio Comicon Album.
This show celebrated comics and creators, the medium not the “industry.” The only “buzz” was a constant electric hum of mutual appreciation among artists and fans and artists and each other. “The most thrilling aspect of the Con for us” says Rio Comicon director Ricky Goodwin “was the communion between artists, established and newbie, from several countries or from different regions in Brazil, getting together & sharing experiences on the common ground of comics & creativity.”
English-speaking Guests included artists/frequent Alan Moore collaborators Kevin O’Neill (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and Melinda Gebbie (Lost Girls) and comics scholar / “man at the crossroads” Paul Gravett (Great British Comics) repping Great Britain and myself (editor, Pekar Project; comics editor SMITH, Heeb, Royal Flush), bringing the US of A-ness.
Prominent in my personal Rio-universe but not the only representatives from their respective countries (see the Rio Comicon site for full Guest-list + program) were Italian renderer of sumptuous sirens, the master Milo Manara and French cartoonist Killoffer, co-founder of L’Association (early publisher of both Sfar and Satrapi), whose graphic novel 676 Apparitions of Killoffer was launched in Brazil at the Con by publisher Barba Negra, whose booth boasted the giant octopus below.
The home team starters were “the twins” Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá (Casanova, Umbrella Academy), Rafael Grampa (Mesmo Delivery, Strange Tales) and Rafael Coutinho, Grampa’s studio-mate, as well as son of legendary Brazilian cartoonist Laerte, who was also present.
The first new-to-me artist I encountered was Ziraldo, who upon the eve of my arrival presented a series of classic superhero-inspired paintings, a mixture of Kurtzman/Wood/Elder MAD, PopArt, and the more recent superhero work of Frank Miller (DK2) and Kyle Baker (Plastic Man.)
The next afternoon was my first panel appearance, on the overlapping subjects of comics collectives and webcomics, with Daniel Esteves from Quarto Mundo (Brazil) and Killoffer a founder of L’Association (France). I know a bit about both topics, having been “minister of hype” for webcomix collective ACT-I-VATE and comics editor for SMITH (Shooting War; A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge; Next-Door Neighbor; Pekar Project) since 2006. It was really three parallel presentations because we each spoke a different language. The translators did a fine job, and oddly, yet of course, what we each spoke about rang similar notes. A moral of the story was that creators need to actively create their own alternatives to mainstream publishers as well as their own means of getting noticed by both those publishers and the public. I got chills when Daniel said that Quarto Mundo was inspired by ACT-I-VATE and that they’ve all been been following both AIV and SMITH comics since they began. “The internet is changing and furthering comics,” said Rio Comicon’s Goodwin who moderated. “This is the magic of our connected times, where boundaries dissolve and new ways of publishing reach out to people all over the world.” Amen bruddah Ricky!
I didn’t know from Killoffer or his work before I came to Rio, but he’s one of those hyper-stylin’ mofos you know is a rockstar even before you Google him. His 2002 graphic novel 676 Apparitions of Killoffer is a “perennial” according to Dean Haspiel, one of my pals who got my Rio-reports in real time. Like Killoffer himself (more about him and his missing undies later in this recap), the book is absurdly unselfconscious, jazzy, genius/kookoo, and autobio in that its a glimpse into the relentless fever-daydreams within his head.
Young Brazilian cartoonists were eager to hear about their U.S. counterparts, full of admiration and respect, but with palpable pride that what they’re doing is just as much real deal comics-wise, that they’re not just following the gringos. For example, Raphael Fernandez, editor of MAD Magazine, Brazil, was so happy to meet and hear stories from someone who worked with Harvey Pekar, the love poured out his pores and when I told him I also helped promote Al Jaffee’s recent MAD LIFE bio, he plotzirinha’d.
What blew my mind was that among the couple dozen artists I met, they had a corresponding couple dozen artistic styles. Each creator was fiercely individual, not striving to be the next anyone else, American, Brazilian or otherwise. It was a fun accidental experiment to get to know so many wonderful creators before reading their work. As expected, there is indeed a correlation between the vibe of the artist and the work. Their laugh, their smile, their swagger, their comics.
Disclaimer: I don’t speak any Portuguese, but I do speak Spanish, so reading Portuguese, I get the gist, and when comics are great, its like listening to music with lyrics in another language, you don’t reeeallly need to understand 100% to love it. Of course proper translations complete the picture and then some, so I hope U.S. publishers get on the ball and put out some of these guys! Below are some of my new BFFs and their creations:
The trio of Gabriel Goés, Gabriel Mesquita, and LTG edit / publish the brilliant SAMBA anthology, #2 of which debut’d at RCC, and which includes an impassioned intro manifesto on the “will to make comics” and over twenty sublime strips. I also picked up the badass “KOWALSKI” by the same crew. Another gorgeous anthology, Beleléu, features work primarily by Daniel Lafayette, Eduardo Arruda, Elcerdo, Stêvz
It’s a good thing Gabriel Goés is not on Facebook or I’d “like” every image he posted. His stuff is like doses of Gary Panter and Jay Stephens, highlarious, funky and cosmic. “SOCO!,” from Samba 2, below features an AstroBoy / Powderpuff Girl hybrid saving dinosaurs from a giant robot gorilla… in 3D!! ROCK AND ROLL.
“Most my comics have sequences that respond to some sort of wiggly dream logic,” says Diego Gerlach‘ whose work is fulla balls-out nutzo grimy greasy goodness. His Phantom homage Ano do Bumerangue and other strips seem inspired by Rick Veitch’s dream comics, One Trick Ripoff-era Paul Pope, and early Gilbert Hernandez. DC should bring back Bizarro Comics just to have Diego do Shazam!
I also dig this candy-colored version of Aquaman a la Moebius-meets-Yellow Submarine, written by Estevão Ribeiro, drawn by Juam, from the anthology “Little Heros”
“Yes I know what it means in English,” said cartoonist Cynthia Bona to me before I could even think about asking “Do you know what ‘Golden Shower’ means?” referring to the title of the “adult-humor” anthology she edits, the first issue of which debut’d at the Con. Cynthia’s the Harvey Kurtzwoman of the bunch. A leader, entertainer, illustrator, editor, and total sweetheart. “Golden Shower” waves the underground flag high; it’d be easy to imagine Spain or S. Clay Wilson contributing. Among Bona’s strips in the mag she drew herself include an ambitious adaptation of the story “Guts” by Chuck Palhaniuk.
“A comicbook is born out of someone– the author– and this person’s necessity to tell someone else — the reader — his vision of the world” say Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá in “Atelier” a beautiful little Con-giveaway comic they created as a “window into to their work.” Far from being aloof, the Ba’s behaved like benevolent twin princes, showering smiles and attention on fans, verbalizing respect for their elders every step of the way, many of whom were in the house.
Rafael Grampá was the young Lion King of the bunch, loved and respected by all, his work a mesmerizing virtuoso combination of sheer brawn and hyper-detailed finesse.
Grampa’s studio-mate Raffa Coutinho guided my first few nites of Rionanigans with aplomb escorting me on my first eve to a wikkid three floor party where each DJ was a cartoonist. His own art could easily be mistaken for that of a European master twice his age, so accomplished and elegant is his linework. His comic “Drink,” another Con debut published by Barba Negra, is a wordless masterpiece about a couple who hook up in a bar, get wasted and go on parallel hallucinatory benders. Quintessential cartooning, not surprising considering his papa is Laerte a universally adored Brazilian master.
I’ve adored the work of Melinda Gebbie and Kevin O’Neill for years, so what a gift to get serious hang time with two such extraordinary gentlepeople. Both were so generous to fans with their time and pens, and twas magical to see them together, almost siblings, each with a special relationship to a certain magus. I spent an afternoon with Melinda and Ana, a terrific photographer, our guide-for-the-day, journeying up to Santa Teresa an exquisite mountain town with gorgeous graffiti and eccentric characters, like Getulio who made toys out of garbage! We each bought a few and bought more “toys” at a few different spots along the way. That night Grampá, Melinda, Kevin & I hung out after-hours at ¡Cucaracha! the comic / clothes / head-ish shop of Mathias Maximiliano. We drank beers, listened to cartoonists DJ then met more cartoonists at a bar nearby, celebrating the launch of Golden Showers. Melinda to Cynthia “Do you feel rebellious when you do sex comics?” What a question!
The penultimate night we, (me, Kevin, Grampá, Melinda, Milo Manara) and the Con organizers, went to the “Mangueira” pre-Carnival “Samba School” concert/party. A lime & pink people-palooza with dancers rehearsing for Carnival to the beat of 50 drums, which with no amplification sounded as loud as a thumping club. We were whipped into a frothy caipirinha-fueled frenzy, and the evening concluded with myself, Grampá, his lovely girlfirend Carolina (well-known actress) and Killofer on the Copacabana beach at 6am sipping more caipirinhas out of coconuts. Suddenly, Killoffer’s off into the waves, we can’t see him so I go in, jeans rolled up, yelling “KILLOFFER!!” and next thing you know, out he comes naked as a Bronx Zoo gibbon, merguez flailing by the dim light of the sunrise to the rhythm of the echos of mangueira. Undies unretrieved to this day. Thank Zeus my Pekar Project presentation was not until 5pm the next evening. Destroyed we were, burnt like phoenixes.
The fest concluded with an ambitious presentation including every single guest. Beforehand, we each had to pick 3 different artists that influenced us, an image for each, and then talk 2 minutes about each. My three were Paul Pope, Rick Veitch, and Dean Haspiel. Three artists I admire more everytime they do something new. You can watch why at minute 7:20 of this video.
Rio Comicon felt like a hybrid of American indie shows like SPX or MoCCA, and what I’d imagine extended European fests like Angouleme or Comica to be like. However, this “non-mainstream” focus was a decidedly double-edge sword in terms of bringing in the masses. All attendees, approximately 20,000 in all were wowed by the exhibit, vendors, programming and each other, ensuring a loyal base of artists and connoisseurs to return next year, but, as opposed to an SDCC or NYCC, there wasn’t much to attract your average Joao and/or his kids, which is what brings in the $$$. Rio Comicon director Ricky Goodwin acknowledges this, “Next year will be much bigger. We’ll still showcase the independents and comics legends, we’ll do all that and then some, including more mainstream attractions, invite more American artists, and delve deeper into pop culture manifestations which run parallel to comics, like manga, sci-fi, film and kids’ entertainment.”
The final night, all the Guests + Rio Comicon organizer, took over an Italian restaurant and the joy and appreciation of each other and of the amazing week we shared was palpable. Songs were song, wine was drank, hugs were had, caipirinhas were drank, emails exchanged, champagne was drank, caipirinhas were drank, caipirinhas were drank…
Photos by Jeff Newelt & Ana Alexandrino