Comic Art Friday: How now, Big Wow?

Last year, Big Wow ComicFest coincided with the Pirate Queen’s and my honeymoon. (A honeymoon outranks a con every time.) That accident of timing, coupled with the greedy [plural expletive redacted] at ComicCon International moving our beloved WonderCon to SoCal, meant that I hadn’t had the chance to attend a comics convention these past two years. It was, therefore, with giddy anticipation that I awaited this year’s Big Wow.

My eagerness did not go unrewarded.

Unlike WonderCon, which has become increasingly multimedia-focused over the past decade, Big Wow remains mostly what it claims to be — a festival celebrating comics, and the talented people who make them. Perhaps in part due to WonderCon’s departure, the event has ballooned to attract many of the biggest names in the industry, including the legendary Stan Lee, who drew hordes of autograph-seekers to his signing appearance on Sunday afternoon. The focus on comics means that one need not wade through acres of gaming displays and movie studio publicity machinery to access artists, many of whom spent the weekend busily sketching away for their fans.

Namely, yours truly.

After scoring a gorgeous Supergirl commission from Brian Stelfreeze at (what proved to be San Francisco’s final) WonderCon two years ago, a companion Stelfreeze ranked high on my shopping list for Big Wow 2013. Thanks to Brian’s fan group coordinator, I was able to arrange a Mary Marvel commission in advance of the show, and Brian spent a fair chunk of Saturday working on her. I’d specifically asked Brian to draw Mary old-school — that is, not in the hypersexualized style in which the character is often presented these days. (Mary is, after all, supposed to be a teenaged girl.) Brian complied with a wonderfully adorable rendition that captures Mary’s sweetness perfectly. Both artist and commissioner took delight in the result.

Brian Stelfreeze and Mary Marvel, Big Wow 2013

Mary Marvel, pencils and inks by comics artist Brian Stelfreeze

I’d also reached out prior to the convention to Steve Mannion, who’s probably best known for his Fearless Dawn creator-owned series. Steve has done several commissions for me over the years, including two entries in my Common Elements theme. I’m always fascinated by his unique, distinctly off-kilter style. This outing, I decided to have him draw Mantis, a heroine from the Bronze Age period of the Avengers for whom I’ve always had a certain fondness. Steve did not disappoint, turning in a quirky-cute portrayal of the Celestial Madonna. This One likes her very much.

Steve Mannion and Mantis, Big Wow 2013

Mantis, pencils by comics artist Steve Mannion

Ron Lim, one of comics’ underrated classic superhero artists, can always be counted on for a solid commission under the time pressure of a con. My original plan for Ron was to have him draw a solo piece featuring the Falcon. As I approached his table, I decided instead to have him add a third Common Elements project to the two he’d drawn previously. I came up with the concept on the spot, pairing Falcon — Marvel’s first African-American superhero — with Storm, the company’s first black superheroine. And of course, Ron rocked the execution like nobody’s business. I couldn’t resist fitting Ron’s young son, who spent the weekend happily sketching alongside his dad, into the photo. (Ron assured me that his son did not draw any part of this commission. But give the kid a few years. The apple does not fall far from the tree.)

Ron Lim and son, Big Wow 2013

Storm and the Falcon, pencils by comics artist Ron Lim

I hadn’t crossed paths with David “BroHawk” Williams in a few years, but I was delighted to see that Big Wow’s website used the Mary Marvel commission David drew for me back in 2008 as an example of his work. Dave recalled that piece fondly when we chatted at Big Wow — a typically self-critical artist, Dave noted several details in Brian Stelfreeze’s rendition of Mary that he wished he himself had included. I enjoyed chatting with him about his recent and current projects, as well as watching him polish off this striking portrait of Vixen. Dave is another criminally undervalued talent whom I’d love to see doing more high-profile comics work.

David Williams and Vixen, Big Wow 2013

Vixen, pencils and inks by comics artist David Williams

One of the genuine pleasures of conventions is meeting in person artists I’ve interacted with, and even commissioned, via the Internet. This time out, I had the opportunity to thank Drew Johnson for the incredible Common Elements commission he completed for me earlier this year. Not coincidentally, I brought Drew’s artwork with me to the con, and got him to pose for a photo with his creation.

Drew Johnson with his Common Elements commission, Big Wow 2013

Having dialed in my collecting focus on commissions in recent years, I rarely buy preexisting art these days. A handful of pieces, however, managed to find their way home with me from Big Wow this year. The big prize among these was a stunning noir-inspired drawing by pinup artist Jim Silke, whose work I’ve admired for a long time. Jim’s work generally rides above my usual price point, so I mostly content myself with salivating over his portfolios whenever I see him at a con, and hope that someday I’ll stumble on that winning Powerball ticket. When I saw this piece on Saturday, I immediately felt drawn to it — and Jim’s listed price on it fell into a range where I could at least permit the flirtation. I showed it to the Pirate Queen on Sunday, and her reaction surprised me: “You should buy it.” I demurred, but I found myself back at Jim’s table several more times during the day. (I tried to pick times when Jim had stepped away. I didn’t want to be one of those people.) After I’d collected my last completed commission for the weekend, I still had enough budgeted cash left to cover the Silke. With the Pirate Queen’s blessing, I brought her home. Jim was probably more relieved than anything.

Jim Silke and his femme fatale, Big Wow 2013

Pencil pinup by artist Jim Silke

Cat Staggs has worked on various Star Wars properties, and more recently has been drawing interiors and creating digitally painted covers and pinups for DC. This introspective Saturn Girl is the original pencil art for one of the latter, and I was thrilled to pick it up for a surprisingly discounted price. I’ve posted both the pencil art I purchased and a scan of the finished painting, so that you can see how Cat completed her masterpiece.

Saturn Girl, pencils by comics artist Cat Staggs

Saturn Girl, digital painting by comics artist Cat Staggs

Most comic art fans know Joel Adams as “Neal Adams’s son.” While that is true, it’s a more than a trifle unfair to Joel, who’s a talented artist in his own right. I couldn’t decide whether I liked his Supergirl or his Spider-Woman more. Lucky for me, Joel offered a price for the pair that made it unnecessary to choose between them.

Spider-Woman, pencils by comics artist Joel Adams

Supergirl, pencils by comics artist Joel Adams

Part of the fun of a convention’s Artists Alley is wandering past all the tables of budding artists whose work I’ve never seen before. Most of these I glance at and keep walking, usually with a smile and a (hopefully encouraging) nod to the artist. Every once in a while, I come across something that actually makes me stop and take a longer look. At Big Wow, that happened to me at the table of Ramon Villalobos, a young artist previously unknown to me. I found Ramon’s style intriguing enough to pick up two of his original drawings. There’s an otherworldly, yet somehow retrospective, quality in his work that appeals to me. There’s some Frank Quitely in Ramon’s style, some Los Bros Hernandez, and maybe even a bit of Juan Gimenez in there as well.

Wonder Woman, pencils and inks by comics artist Ramon Villalobos

Mary Marvel, pencils and inks by comics artist Ramon Villalobos

A panel we attended on Sunday stands out among the highlights of the con: The legendary Olivia DeBerardinis, in my opinion the greatest female pinup artist ever, being interviewed by Jim Silke, no slouch himself in the pinup genre. Both the Pirate Queen and I enjoyed hearing Olivia’s unique perspective on the art world in general, and specifically on her place in it as a woman who paints women almost exclusively. I’m rarely starstruck, but I could not resist having a photo taken with Olivia after her panel, and having her autograph a copy of her Bettie Page art book.

Olivia and fan, Big Wow 2013

All in all, Big Wow 2013 proved well worth the investment of time and capital. I’m already looking forward to next May.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, My Home Town, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

6 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: How now, Big Wow?”

  1. Thanks for the kind words and support! It’s always cool to be apart of a collection so much other great work. Very humbling.

  2. You obtained some really awesome pieces. I liked the cute Mantis sketch by Steve Mannion. She is one of my favorite characters, and was interesting to see her drawn by Steve, especially since I really like his artwork.

    • Thanks, Ben. Mantis was always a favorite of mine, too. Back in the ’70s, martial arts-themed characters were everywhere, but Mantis was one of the few that managed to transcend the genre cliches and evolve into something different.

      And yeah, Steve Mannion. Who doesn’t love that guy’s art? I love artists with unique and instantly identifiable styles, and that’s Steve all over.

  3. Bob Almond Says:

    I missed this post. That’s one show I’d love to make it to one day. A sincere congrats on these incredible acquisitions and photos, Michael!

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