Comic Book Artists Thrive at Local Conventions

On April 5, 2014, Ithaca College’s Emerson Suites was filled with art. This is a fairly general occurrence – everything from art shows to musicians to speakers to performances happen regularly in the college’s large hall. But this art is different, because this art is comic books.

This is Ithacon, the 39th Comic Book Convention held by Ithaca’s own Comic Book Club. Katharine Kittredge, professor of English at Ithaca College, collaborated with the director of Ithaca’s Comic Book Club to bring the event to the campus.

“I’m becoming increasingly interested in the way the fan community and the academic community can get together and share information,” Kittredge said. “If you want to work in pop culture and you want to find someone who has a repository of knowledge, you have to go beyond the walls of the academy and really look at these people who are in some cases committing their lives to this industry.”

 What is comic art?

Many of the artists who participated in Ithacon had been interested in drawing, painting or other mixed media arts since they were children.

“I was reading comic books [as a child], and it just seemed like a natural fit,” said Storn Cook, a comic artist and illustrator. “I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a commercial illustrator and not have to deal with ‘I’m trying to put something new on a canvas for a gallery.’”

Rudolph Töpffer, a Swiss artist and writer, created what is considered the first comic strip in 1827, incorporating text and images to tell a single story. Comics have evolved into a medium in which artists interested in gaming, fantasy, or visual story-telling can thrive.

Why comic art?

There are many reasons artists get into the field. Many of them stem from an early interest of “nerdy” mediums such video games, role-playing or fantasy books.

“I started looking at book covers in Barnes and Noble and moved onto discovering a lot of the role playing and gaming,” Alan Pollack, a fantasy artist who attended Ithacon, said.

Many people expand the artistic medium into trading card design, graphic novels, and now, more artists are getting involved in digital options.

“I went to artist school in Pittsburgh for computer animation and I did a lot of freelance stuff out of school, I did caricatures for a while,” said  Jonathan Haeffner, an artist at Ithacon who collaborated with Steve Ellis on multiple comic books and was an illustrator for a Nickelodeon cartoon called Alien Dawn.

One of the things that local conventions like Ithacon encourage is the chance for fans to see artwork in real life.

“So much of our industry is digital now, and there’s no original anymore,” said Cook.

Why local cons?

Local conventions like Ithacon offer artists the chance to network with other artists, which can be invaluable for a smaller field like comic and trading card design and illustration.

“If you’re an artist in a much larger area, they have to be hooked in with some fairly good connections in order to get work,” said Haeffner. “A lot of that time that comes from the strength of their friendships, and in a smaller community where there’s probably a lot less work to go around, that’s even more important.”

The ability to talk to other artists and network is a wonderful benefit of coming to more local conventions, said Cook.

“There’s a real tight community here that’s amazing,” he said. “To be able to have that give and take, to be able to call someone up and say ‘hey, I’m struggling with this piece, can you take a look at it?’”

Ithacon 39 was a place for artists to display their work, meet fans, gather support and continue to do what they love.

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