Archive for May 2014

Comic Art Friday: It’s a con test

May 23, 2014

Last weekend brought us the Bay Area’s biggest annual comics-related event: Big Wow ComicFest at the San Jose Convention Center. (Of course, the Bay Area used to have an even bigger annual comics-related event called WonderCon. But don’t get me started on that.)

For me, as a comic art collector, a convention marks my best opportunity to interface one-on-one with artists and add new artworks — commissioned on the spot — to my collection. Many artists, due to their schedules for publication projects, only find time for commissions at cons. Even with those artists who regularly do commissions out of their home studios, there’s something special about being able to watch a drawing take shape in real time, and to make a personal connection with the creator as the magic happens.

Big Wow 2014 delivered on that score, and on several others. This con continues to expand and improve each year, filling the WonderCon void aptly. But even as Big Wow grows, it maintains its focus on comics and comic art — in contrast to the big daddy of cons, San Diego Comic-Con, and its smaller sibling WonderCon, whose foci have gone mass-market Hollywood in recent years. Big Wow’s comics- and comic art-friendliness can be traced directly to its owners, Steve Morger and Steve Wyatt, who are themselves fans, art collectors, and artists’ representatives.

I went into this year’s con with specific objectives, and almost without exception, I achieved them. As you scroll through the rest of this post, clicking on any of the photos will take you to a closer scan of the art depicted. Trust me — you’ll want to see these pieces in detail.

Brian Stelfreeze and Isis, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

My first priority was an Isis commission by Brian Stelfreeze, who drew Mary Marvel for me at Big Wow last year. I pitched the idea to Brian’s art representative in advance of the show, and serendipitously, Brian turns out to be almost as enthusiastic an Isis fan as I am. In fact, Brian had just recently discussed Isis with a friend during a trip to Australia. He loved the idea of doing a drawing of her — so much so that he stayed at his table working on it more than an hour after the con closed on Sunday. Here’s the proud artist with the result of his creative efforts. (You can check out a YouTube video of Brian at work on Isis, here.)

Aaron Lopresti and Mary Marvel, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

I’ve had a running joke with Aaron Lopresti about the fact that I always seem to miss getting a commission from him. At every opportunity, I dutifully add my name to Aaron’s sketch list. For four straight con seasons, I’ve fallen a slot or two shy of the goal. At last year’s Big Wow, Aaron was working on the request immediately above mine on the list as the con concluded. He told me to remind him of that the next time I saw him, and he’d be sure to take care of me. This year, Aaron was as good as his word — this lovely Mary Marvel helped take the sting out of my five-year Lopresti drought.

David Williams and Ms. Marvel, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

David “BroHawk” Williams is one of the most underrated talents in comics, in my opinion, as well as one of the nicest people I’ve met in my convention experiences. Although David wasn’t sporting his trademark hairstyle this year, he still came through with a stunning Ms. Marvel. When I showed David’s creation to a pair of fellow collectors, one said, “That should be a cover image.” The other had but one word: “Iconic.” I can’t argue with either assessment. I’ve been telling David for years that he doesn’t charge enough for his con commissions. Even though he bumped his prices up this year, I still feel as though I picked his pocket, given the labor of love he poured into this one.

Ron Lim and son, with Vixen and Black Cat, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

My Common Elements theme gallery gained two new additions — Common Elements #118 and #119, respectively. Ron Lim, one of the artists who first inspired this series, contributed a matchup of two animal-themed heroines, Vixen and the Golden Age iteration of the Black Cat. These two characters share at least a couple of other commonalities: (1) both of their alter egos are in show business (Mari “Vixen” McCabe is a model in non-costumed life; Linda “Black Cat” Turner is an actress and stunt performer); and (2) both are characters for whom I had reference images on hand and for whom I could concoct a “common element” on the fly. Seriously… I didn’t plan this one ahead of time. Sometimes, you just have to improvise. (As you can see in the photo above, Ron is already embarking on a self-cloning project that will ensure new Lim art into the next generation.)

Chris Marrinan and the three Novas, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

The second Common Elements came with much more forethought. I’ve long wanted a commission from Chris Marrinan, but it seemed as though every con passed without my having connected with him. This time, I came with a project tailor-made for Chris: a scenario starring Nova the Human Rocket (whose adventures Chris both drew and wrote in the mid-1990s), Marvel’s “other” Nova (Frankie Raye, former herald of Galactus — Frankie appears in non-powered form in the second Fantastic Four movie), and Nova Kane, girlfriend of First Comics hero E-Man. Chris did a terrific job on his “triple Nova” assignment. (Credit an assist to Ron Lim, who provided the art board on which Chris’s commission is drawn.)

Tone Rodriguez and Taarna, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

Some years back, Tone Rodriguez contributed a Wonder Woman drawing to a charity auction that I immediately fell in love with. Which means, of course, that I got outbid at the last minute and the piece went home with someone else. Turns out that artwork was a favorite of Tone’s also, as I discovered while chatting with him at Big Wow. It still rankles me that I missed out on that Wonder Woman, but I love this Taarna that Tone drew for me almost as much.

Dave Johnson and Supergirl, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

There are two prominent comics artists who could sign their work “D. Johnson” — Dave and Drew. (Neither of them actually signs that way. But they could.) Both were in attendance at Big Wow this year, and both added stellar new art to my portfolio. First up, “Reverend Dave” Johnson — he’s an ordained Methodist minister — channels the 1970s in his Supergirl drawing.

Lady Blackhawk, pencils and inks by Drew Edward Johnson

Next, Drew Johnson imbues his Lady Blackhawk pinup with heroic flair. Somehow, I missed getting a picture of Drew with his artwork. My only excuse is that I picked it up first thing on the morning of the con’s second day, and I probably hadn’t had sufficient coffee. Please be advised that Drew is a fine-looking specimen of a human being, and the absence of his photo is not in any way intended to reflect otherwise. Mea culpa.

Steve Mannion and the Golden Age Valkyrie, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

I’m a huge fan of Steve Mannion‘s work. He’s that rare comics artist whose distinctive style can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s — when you see a Mannion, you know instantly that Steve drew it. This gorgeous pinup of the Golden Age Valkyrie (aviator hero Airboy’s sometime-nemesis, sometime-ally) will always be special to me for a reason beyond its inherent beauty: Steve drew it on his wedding day. He and his longtime partner Una were married elsewhere in the convention hall mere minutes before I snapped this photograph.

Cat Staggs and Black Cat, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

When I saw this drawing of the modern Black Cat by artist Cat Staggs, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a “Cat by Cat” to my collection. Cat — the artist, not the comics character — does some absolutely beautiful work, much of it for the various Star Wars comics. One of these days, I’m going to persuade her to draw a Common Elements piece.

As hard as it is to imagine, Big Wow 2014 offered several highlights even above and beyond all of the fantastic art I acquired.

Darick Robertson with his 2006 Common Elements commission, Big Wow 2014

Eight years ago, Darick Robertson drew the 42nd installment of Common Elements during a signing at the Comic Book Box, the fine retail shop owned by my friend (and current Eisner Awards judge) Kathy Bottarini. (You can view a YouTube video of Darick at work on the piece, here.) I thought it would be fun to get a photo of Darick with his creation all this time later. When he saw the piece, Darick immediately recalled it, and the circumstances in which he had drawn it. Neither he nor the art have changed one bit in eight years. Nor have I. (Ahem.)

Frank Cho painting Emma Frost, Big Wow 2014

I took some time to watch Frank Cho paint (above) and Brent Anderson ink (below), in live art demonstrations.

Brent Anderson inking Batman, Big Wow ComicFest 2014

The Pirate Queen (who accompanied me on Day Two) and I met one of our favorite comics creators, Terry Moore, and his wife and publisher Robyn. Terry graciously autographed both volumes of my Strangers in Paradise Omnibus (I spared him the chore of signing all 30 issues of Echo) and the Pirate Queen’s Rachel Rising trades.

I got my Xenozoic compilation volume signed by Mark Schultz. Sadly, I can only afford Mark’s incredible artwork when it’s published in book form.

Throughout the two days, I visited with several other artists I’ve met at previous cons, many of whose works are represented in my collection.

I also met in person for the first time several fellow collectors whom I know from various online forums. It’s always good to put faces and voices to names.

All in all, Big Wow 2014 offered all the excitement that its name implied. I’m already looking forward to next year!

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: The ineffable WHY

May 9, 2014

Saturn Girl, pencils by comics artist Paul Abrams

It’s always the most difficult question to answer…

WHY?

And yet, it’s the question that shapes so many of our thoughts, impulses, and actions. Even when we don’t know the answer.

On my iPad, I use a news aggregator called Zite. (I probably won’t be using it for much longer, because a couple of months ago, Zite was purchased by its competitor Flipboard, which will probably extinguish its new acquisition sometime in the near future.)

Here’s how Zite works: It serves up a smorgasbord of links to articles from around the Internet – articles it believes you will want to read, based on your stated interests. For each article that appears, you have the option of giving a “thumbs up,” meaning “show me more articles like this,” or “thumbs down,” which of course means the opposite. The aggregator internalizes that information, and adjusts its future selections according to what you’ve indicated that you liked or didn’t like.

On the whole, Zite performs this function relatively well – which is, of course, why a competitor bought it. But there’s an inherent weakness in its processing…

Zite never knows WHY.

Let’s take a random article from my current Zite feed: “Apple Reportedly Acquiring Beats for $3.2 Billion.” Now suppose I gave this article a “thumbs up.” Zite, in its uniquely algorithmic way, would think, “Aha! He likes this! Let’s send him more stuff just like it!”

But how does it know what to send? It has no idea why I “liked” this particular article.

Here’s a list of some of the hypothetical reasons I might have given this a “thumbs up,” just off the top of my head:

  •  I’m an Apple stockholder, so I’m materially interested in news about the company.
  • I use Beats headphones, so I want to know whether the events described in this article will impact my ability to keep buying and using this product.
  • I’m a fan of Dr. Dre, the co-founder of Beats, so I like knowing what the good Doctor is up to.
  • I’m a gadgetoholic, and I devour anything tech related.
  • I’m a professional musician, so the future of streaming media directly impacts my livelihood. (One of the reasons it’s thought that Apple wanted to buy Beats is because Apple covets Beats’s new streaming music service.)
  • I like the site The Next Web, where this article is published.
  • Josh Ong, the author of the article, was a college buddy of mine, so I want to read everything he writes.

These are but a few of the possible reasons I might flag this article positively. I could probably come up with a dozen more if I kept pondering the matter. But the point is that Zite has no way of knowing which of these – or which several of them, or perhaps even none of them – is my real reason. (None of the above is true for me, incidentally. Okay, I might be a bit of a gadgetoholic. But not enough to care about Beats.)

Now, based on its interpretation of my feedback, Zite might show me more articles about Apple, about Beats headphones, about technology, about Dr. Dre, about streaming media, published by The Next Web, or written by the author of this article.

Or it might send me articles that meet any or all of these criteria, since it doesn’t really know which answer is correct, and it wants to cover all possible bases.

Which could mean that, instead of me getting more content that I want to read, I could conceivably be overwhelmed by a tsunami of content that doesn’t address my real interests.

All because Zite doesn’t know WHY.

This is the same issue that continually befouls Facebook’s ridiculous attempts to manage what posts – and what advertising – I as a Facebook user see. If I “like” something, Facebook’s algorithms will decide to show me more of what I “like.” But since Facebook hasn’t a clue WHY I “liked” that item, it could be making horrendously incorrect assumptions about my preferences, and therefore choosing to present content that I don’t care to see, while at the same time hiding from me content that would genuinely interest me, had I the opportunity to view it.

Which is, by the way, what almost always happens.

All because Facebook doesn’t know WHY.

This problem isn’t limited to our online apps and tools. We encounter this same roadblock in all manner of human interaction. Every moment we’re around other people – in the real world or in cyberspace – we take note of the words they speak or write, and the actions they manifest, and make judgments based thereon. But because we have such a hard time evaluating WHY people say what they say and do what they do, we often misjudge each other.

Complicating the problem is this…

We don’t always know WHY, even when the subject is ourselves.

I’m reminded of a story a friend once told. When he and his younger brother were preteens, their father severely chastised the younger brother for jumping up and down on his bed – risking his own safety and the structural integrity of the bed. The father made it clear that harsh punishment would ensue if the younger brother got caught jumping on the bed again.

Moments after the father left the room, the younger brother resumed his trampoline act. “Didn’t you hear what Dad just said? He’s gonna tan your hide!” whispered my panicked friend. “Why are you doing what he just told you not to do?”

The brother continued pogoing for a minute. Then, without stopping, he replied in mid-bounce, “I don’t know.”

We’ve all been that younger brother.

Inquiring minds want to know: What does any of this have to do with comic art?

Perhaps not much.

But then, there’s this.

When I post a piece of art from my collection here, or when you peruse my online galleries if you’re so inclined, you might make any number of assumptions based on that piece or group of pieces. You might theorize several reasons why I commissioned or purchased that artwork – could be the subject; could be the artist; could be that the scenario depicted holds some personal meaning for me; could be all of the above; could be any number of things.

Unless I tell you, you’ll never know for sure WHY.

Sometimes, I might not know WHY myself.

As for today’s featured artwork: That’s Saturn Girl, from the Legion of Super-Heroes, as drawn by the talented Paul Abrams.

No big WHY here… I just kind of like it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.