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