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by Carolina Cooney

The third annual Spectrum Fantastic Art Live took place this past weekend, and whether you came from the east coast, west coast, or places in between and beyond, it was well worth your travels. Taking place in charming Kansas City, Missouri, Spectrum showcased many of the best in brightest in illustration, fantasy, comic, concept, three-dimensional art and beyond. With a goal to make fantastic art truly accessible to everyone, Spectrum offered a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with artists and their original creations.

Creators themselves came from nearly every corner of the globe. Paul Bonner was there from Denmark with both original paintings and sketchbooks. Virginie Ropars and David Thierree from Brittany, France make this one of their only (if not THE only) show in the US, showcasing intricately detailed doll work and fantasy art illustrations, respectively. Frank Cho was there, and in fine form. Justin Sweet. Donato Giancola. Dave Dorman. Camilla d’Errico. Omar Rayyan. Greg Manchess. And so many more, all with original art you so rarely get to see outside of a gallery (or Christie’s auction!). The level of talent in one room was truly staggering.

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This gathering of elite creators not only made from some incredible purchasing opportunities, but also afforded the chance to actually talk to the creators, something that’s becoming increasingly difficult as the popularity of traditional comic conventions explodes. These conversations often continued on into the wee hours of the night, and overhearing artists discuss their technique in such wonderful detail was riveting for aspiring artists and art appreciators alike.

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Panels at the convention were also informative and interesting, providing further insights into artists’ techniques and into the world of buying and selling art. Irene Gallo discussed the job of an art director and gave tips on how to break in to the lucrative book cover market. Dan Chudzinski gave a spirited look into how he repurposes taxidermy to create pieces like “The Haunted Throne of the Voodoo Queen,” an astonishing $12,000 chair made from various animal horns and alligator skin. Iain McCaig, this year’s recipient of the coveted Spectrum Grand Master Award, shared insight into working in Hollywood. Mark Chiarello, Frank Cho, Terry Dodson, Mark Schultz revealed the inner workings of the comics industry. On the main show floor, they even held a live “Sculpt-a-rama,” where numerous artists including James Shoop, a DC figurine mainstay, collaborated on three sculptures throughout the day that would eventually be fired and cast.

A three-day badge to the show also included an invitation to the Spectrum 21 Awards Show, held in the magnificent Midland Theater, which was quite a treat in and of itself. This is basically The Academy Awards for our little corner of the art world, complete with red carpet. A complete list of winners can be found on Spectrum Fantastic Art Live’s Facebook page.

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While presale tickets for this third year of the event doubled from last year, attendance still could use a boost. The production of the renowned Spectrum annuals and the initial Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention was conceived by Cathy and Arnie Fenner, who after twenty years handed over the reins to John Flesk, another highly regarded publisher. While the Fenners are still involved in the Live event, it has become a group effort involving Baby Tattoo’s Bob Self, local web designers The Lazarus Group, and numerous volunteers. As far as the future of the event, John Flesk, who is ultimately in charge of the show, remained cagey. His main concern is to keep the show accessible to everyone, and the central location of Kansas City and this year’s addition of a very affordable Artist’s Alley are testaments to this. Still, it remains to be seen if the excellent show will return next year – if it does, it is definitely a worthwhile addition to your convention schedule.


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Silver Award: Victo Ngai for “A Tiger Beer Chinese New Year”
Gold Award: Kent Williams for “The Criterion Collection Lord of the Flies”


Silver Award: Scott Gustafson for “Little Sambha and the Tiger with the Beautiful Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles”
Gold Award: Nicolas Delort for “The End of the Road”


Silver Award: Mark A. Nelson for “Seasons, page 1”
Gold Award: Thomas Campi for “The Red Door”

Concept Art

Silver Award: Vance Kovacs for “John Carter Punches a Thark”
Gold Award: Theo Prins for “Refugees”


Silver Award: Colin and Kristine Poole for “Hot Diggety Dog”
Gold Award: The Shiflett Bros. for “Vertical Man-Tank, 1892”


Silver Award: Yuko Shimizu for “Hair Tree”
Gold Award: Tran Nguyen for “The Insects of Love”


Silver Award: Justin Sweet for “Blacksea”
Gold Award: Bill Carman for “Shared Eyewear”


Silver Award: Yukari Masuike for “Riding Horse on the Freezing Day”
Gold Award: Omar Rayyan for “The Long Walk Home”

Grand Master Award

Iain McCaig

More information about Spectrum can be found at the official website:


  1. What a nice write up, Carolina! Thanks so much and we’re glad that you made it to KC! We don’t generally talk too much about who does what with the show, but I wanted to make sure that no one got the wrong impression: Cathy’s and my company, Spectrum Fantastic Art LLC, owns Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. Shena Wolf is the Event Organizer and together we make the day-to-day decisions regarding who, what, when, where, and how.

    We consult with our committee, John Fleskes, Lazarus Potter, Bob Self, Arlo Burnett, Amanda Banion, Carl Anderson, and Jeff Smith, who are all equally and incredibly important in making the event happen (and happen right). I don’t think John was trying to be cagey about the future: John is wonderfully intuitive and he knows we all need to let the dust settle a bit, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, see what dates are available in the convention center, consider our options, talk things through, and then make an announcement based on what we’ve learned. There WILL be an SFAL4, we just need to make sure we’ve got our facts straight before we sound the trumpets.

    So at the end of the day we count on our committee to weigh in with thoughts, advice, analysis, and opinions, but the buck, so to speak, stops with Shena, Cathy, and myself. I hope that helps clarify things. And I definitely hope we’ll get to meet in the future!

  2. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live was a truly special event. The level and diversity of talent was amazing, and everyone was really accessible. Comics were represented- artist including Frank Cho, Steve Rude, Mark Schultz, Terry Dodson, George Pratt and others were in the house.

  3. Thanks for the great write up. I was there the last two years and it is such a wonderful event and got even better. Here’s to it continuing in perpetuity just like the book.

  4. Thank you so much for the mention in your article – I hope you come back every year – it’s truly one of the most fun shows for art fans like me and I know my colleagues feel the same way.

  5. Spectrum Live! is the potlatch of the fantasy, science fiction, and horror art community. It is a gathering of the tribes and a wondrous and wonderful event. Where else can you ask Frank Cho what he is working on and have him pull out the pages he’s currently inking and drawing and pass them around the room? My experience from attending all three events is that you don’t just meet artists, you make connections, and friends there. Yes, some of the art on sale is high end like the chair mentioned above but artists also bring reasonably priced books, posters and prints as well as some originals that won’t break your budget. And if your favorite artist is in a long conversation with fans you only have to stroll a few yards to find another one, or better yet, discover somebody whose work you have never seen before. One quick story from last year: I requested and offered to pay for a quick sketch from an artist I admire. He said he’d be happy to do it. But he didn’t have his glasses. I handed him my reading glasses. He needed a pen and I gave him mine. Then, squinting, I took pictures while he did a wonderful little drawing for me. Does that kind of thrill happen anywhere else? It is really like magic. My only advice to fans attending is to be respectful and ask what you can pay for drawings or signatures. My thinking is that the artists who attend are working. If we pay them hopefully they’ll keep coming back! Oh, and as one lady said this year, “Save your money during the year and then break open the piggy bank.” Spectrum Live! really is an event like no other for getting great art and a story to go with it.

  6. Nice work, Carolina. I met John Fleskes (yes, it’s not Flesk, he uses the shorted version for his publishing name) 30 minutes after he finally got home. Jim Vadeboncoeur and I went by to pick up new stock of books and prints from his garage and warehouse. I was surprised John wasn’t worn out from the long drive home, with Mark Schultz and another friend, but he was as even-keeled as ever. The sent progressive emails out as they made their way from KC through parks and the Grand Canyon. He immediately was pulling books for the Big Wow show in San Jose, which began the following day. I loved my first Spectrum show. Missed this year’s just because I was just so busy and also burnt from doing seven shows in the last few weeks. Next year I’ll choose more carefully and will be there, I’m glad to hear it is growing and prospering.

  7. Thanks for the write-up, Carolina. This show was the first one I missed and it hurt not to be there. The story I have that I believe perfectly exemplifies Spectrum Fantastic Art Live happened as I was opening up the Flesk booth on Saturday in 2013. I’d just uncovered a display of Gary Gianni paintings from Conan and Game of Thrones when a young artist stopped at the booth and just gaped at them. I asked him if he liked them and he sorta dribbled on the floor and nodded. “Who is the artist?” he asked. I said, “It’s Gary Gianni, have you heard of him?”
    “No,” he said, “He’s amazing!”. Well, I told him, you’re lucky because he’s also right here, as Gary had just walked up to the booth.
    45 minutes later they were still there exchanging ideas about art and painting, as Gary looked over his portfolio and answered all of his questions. The whole encounter was so perfect that I wanted to cry! That young man hadn’t gotten 50 feet into the hall and he could have turned around and left a totally satisfied man.

    That’s SFAL. The only place where things like that can happen, perhaps not on a regular basis, but on a frequent one.

    I will be there again next year. I missed the ambiance, but I was committed to being a Docent for 13 Illustration History students as they encountered Paris. One must make sacrifices.

    Peace, Jim (|:{>

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