Life + Arts

Comics festival frees inner nerd

Comicpalooza 2009 gave Houston geeks of all niches the chance to meet their favorite artists and learn about the industry.

While the size of the dealers’ room paled in comparison to other conventions such as Comic Con International and A-Kon, hardcore aficionados and casual fans alike still enjoyed a diverse array of artists and collectibles.

Over the weekend, the dealer’s room provided a host of collectible classic comic books with hefty price tags, graphic novels and action figures. Contemporary comic books were also released without a price stamp in celebration of the international Free Comic Book Day, held each year on the first Saturday in May.

Not even the recession seemed to slow the spending of fans and collectors. Pete Krolczyk, an independent comic book seller, said the economic recession has actually improved his sales.

‘These are the people who want color in their lives,’ Krolczyk said.

Krolczyk also said the convention’s diverse array of independent and popular comic artists brought in devoted fans ready to support their favorites with purchases of prints and books. The convention must be applauded for using its resources to bring in artists and attractions to please every nerd.

Superhero fans saw artists Steve Scott, Rodney Ramos and Andy Kuhn. Dirk Strangely showed up to sell gothic prints and pieces. Independent superstar David Mack arrived to sell his whimsical mixed-media paintings. Manga creators Priscilla Hamby and Clint Bickham spoke at a panel about the challenges of breaking into the manga industry, while many freelance artists sold artwork.

University staff and at least one alumnus spoke at the convention as well. Nicholas Pitarra, an alumnus whose work appeared in The Daily Cougar’s comic strip ‘Bipolar Bear,’ showcased his artwork as a Marvel professional. Creative writing professor Mat Johnson, who authored Vertigo graphic novel Incognegro, came as a guest of honor.

Johnson said in an e-mail that he views conventions as a chance to meet the greater community of Houston comic book readers, while getting an interesting look at nerd-dom’s quirkier denizens.

‘My favorite part is seeing the people dressed up in the costumes,’ Johnson said. ‘They look stupid. They know they look stupid. And they don’t care; they’re having too much fun to.’

Comicpalooza also took advantage of West Oaks Mall’s proximity to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to host several free panels featuring some of the industry’s most popular names.

Kelley-Sue DeConnick, Bickham and Hamby bantered about the manga industry during ‘Comics of the Rising Sun,’ while a screening of Telling Stories: The Comic Book Creators gave an intriguing look at the lives of comic writers and artists.

Comicpalooza did not appear to attract too many costumed fans, with the exception of Lana Marie, who routinely attends conventions in homemade costumes. For Comicpalooza, she arrived in vinyl and bright-blue contacts as Lady Deathstrike, one of Wolverine’s nemeses.

Marie said appearing in costume combines many of her loves.

‘I’ve been acting for over two years, and Halloween was always my favorite holiday; and I love video games and comics, so it all went together,’ Marie said.

The Saturday portion of Comicpalooza ended on a note of compassion. Fans bid in a silent art auction to raise money for the family of Leigh Boone, the executive assistant for the Houston Center for Photography. Boone died in a traffic accident in early April.

While Comicpalooza has not achieved the prestige of other American conventions, fans definitely enjoyed a free showcase of different aspects of the geek scene.

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