The floorspace for Artists Valley at Denver Comic Con was expansive, and positioned between the vendor and publisher areas in the front and the celebrity signing booths and food court at the back. It was almost arranged like a centrepiece, and to judge from the ethos of the con, that was intentional. A wide range of artists were invited and the “valley” was persistently busy, right up through Sunday when I finally managed to spend some time there. I wouldn’t say that my exploration was wide-ranging, but the folks I did speak to had a very affirmative attitude about the con and were busy, busy, busy making sales and doing commissions. They were pleasantly surprised by the way the con had boomed in only its second year, and found the atmosphere and fans celebratory and encouraging.
I looked up indie creator Noah Van Sciver, for whom this was practically a local con, and though Van Sciver is habitually understated, found him surprisingly ebullient about the weekend in Denver. He had optimistically brought a stack of his award-winning graphic novel THE HYPO with him, suspecting that he’d be lugging those copies home again, only to sell out of them by midday on Sunday, and was also launching his 7-year-in-the-making eighth volume of the celebrated anthology BLAMMO. The letter page inside cover alone is entertaining, including a rejection quote from a publisher and plenty of peer support for the series. Van Sciver also had copies of his comic 1999 from Retrofit Comics and a nifty poster of the back cover of BLAMMO 8. Everything was going fast, and having consumed a dubious Philly Cheesteak but not yet suffering any ill-effects, Van Sciver was prepared to say that it had so far been one of his best con experiences ever.
Nearby I found current Dark Horse god Matt Kindt presiding over his New York Times Best-selling collected edition of MIND MGMT Volume 1. There is no way Kindt would have condoned that description of him, so I didn’t ask permission. He’s also a rising demi-god with other publishers, too, and has long reigned supreme over his own indie creations. Seriously, though, Kindt was having a great time, too, and patiently, even cheerfully signing massive stacks of comics being dumped onto his table. Hopefully they weren’t all about to be sold on ebay for crazy money, but even he knew that was a possibility. “Sell them on ebay”, he said, “and get something better”, he encouraged as he insisted on signing my own back-issues. I think he genuinely would not have minded if I did. No thanks, though. I have my retirement funds to think of some day, and his early issues will probably secure me an island mansion by then. Kindt also had on hand his even more recent collection RED HANDED: THE FINE ART OF STRANGE CRIMES which I also highly recommend checking out. It’s no generalization here to say that success couldn’t have happened to a nicer, or harder working guy.
I sought out another special guest of the con, Farel Dalrymple, who I’d heard on podcast before, but hadn’t met in person. Dalrymple was selling original artwork, prints, and copies of work he’d done on the Image series PROPHET, as well as POP GUN WAR. PROPHET he described as excruciating, as he showed me a double page spread, but was clearly pleased with the beautiful and maddeningly detailed results. But for Dalrymple, the biggest subject of interest was his current webseries IT WILL ALL HURT from studygroupcomics.com (that is now in print issue #1 also). It was a project which he had entered into with plenty of energy and interest, but that had gained momentum for him and was now something he was increasingly proud of. Judging from the print I picked up depicting the slow-motion explosion or deconstruction of an android’s rather adorable head, the series is visually stunning, and Dalrymple’s bibliophile lettering and elegant watercolors are all a bonus. Con comic book sellers, by the way, had cannily set aside sections by different creators at the con for easy access, and there was plenty of Dalrymple work on hand.
I made my way over to find the creative team behind WICKED AWESOME TALES, a book I had just recently reviewed, and found the group, all local, or semi-local basking in the glow of what for some was their first con appearance. Todd Jones, writer on many of the stories in the anthology, had, in fact, just been roped into making his first panel appearance on behalf of comics and was still dazed from that strange honor. Nearby were Lee Oaks! selling a wide-range of hand-painted artwork, and the internal combustion engine that is Ron Fortier. Fortier is a tireless reviewer, writer, and hub for creator-owned projects who sings the praises of the internet for connecting him with artists and keeping his own inspiration flowing. He regularly puts out calls online for artists to draw his scripts, and takes particular pride in watching young artists break into full-blown comics production and helping them along that road. His recently released comic MR. JIGSAW #4 couldn’t have a more noir cover, with plenty of evocative genre accents, though the clean black-and-white inking of the interior celebrates indie tradition. The WICKED AWESOME enclave, like many of the artists at the con, represented the rise of the creator-owned project and that’s just what fans were looking for at Denver Comic Con.
Ben Templesmith, whose travel routes around the world, if traced on a globe, would look like a ball of yarn at this point, stormed through piles of commissions several inches thick and had really nothing left to sell by Sunday. That didn’t stop con-goers from lining up with sketchbooks and comics to sign and sketch on top of the commissions. He had his own slot at comic vending stalls, too. This turned out to be a lucky thing since I found a copy of THE ART OF WORMWOOD, a gorgeous large-format floppy art book from IDW to arm-twist him into signing as possibly the last signing of the day. Templesmith’s series TEN GRAND is currently on the move, but he has so many projects in different formats and distribution modes ongoing, that the series is only one among many ventures. I watched him produce a free Batman sketch in a fan’s book in loose, brushed strokes which somehow produced an alarmingly detailed sense of mood in about 7 seconds flat (maybe less). He hinted meaningfully that some other big announcements may be forthcoming from him about creator-owned work in the near future, to which I can only reply here, “Yes! Do it!” Templesmith sets the example in diversifying ones work in comics and his full-steam-ahead attitude is something that other creators are watching closely, and taking note of to build on their own progress.
The pioneering souls who spoke to me in Artists Valley on Sunday were only a small percentage of the army of artists and writers represented at the con. Their tables saw as much activity as any vendor’s, and most likely more, and many were face-palming that they hadn’t brought more copies of their books to sell. But that’s a hell of a lot better than feeling under-appreciated as a comic creator at a con that’s geared away from the value of the people behind comics, so Denver was definitely doing something right helping creators achieve their lofty goals. Creators are the acid test of any con and their commentary on their experiences should be heeded. Like amphibians, they are the first to pick up on the signs of something wrong with the environment, but so far, so good for the right mix of features to make Denver Comic Con a well-rounded approach to celebrating comics and pop culture.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.