Arts » Culture

Pros of the Con

Local creators talk shop, Library Comic Con

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Josh Shapel has an affinity for cartoons, comic books and graphic novels. As a materials specialist for Boise Public Library, he has hand-picked a few comics titles for the library's collection. After seeing Ethan Ede, Chris Hunt and Adam Rosenlund, speak at the "Comics at the Crossroads: Art of the Graphic Novel" exhibition at the Boise Art Museum in 2011, and visiting a small comic con at the library's Hillcrest branch, Shapel felt there was enough interest to do another, bigger con.

With help from Library Director Kevin Booe, Friends of the Boise Public Library, Captain Comics and the Modern Hotel, Shapel began shaping what will be the inaugural Library Comic Con, which takes place Saturday, Aug. 31. Like cons in other cities, the Boise event will include a host of activities: a costume contest, games, drawing activities, a Star Wars party, a Doctor Who event, a manga (Japanese comics) swap and panel discussions with an impressive array of local and national creators, including Ulises Farinas from New York, Erick Freitas from Newark, N.J., and Los Angeles-based Eric Esquivel.

This inaugural comic con may be small, but it "has the potential to grow in scope," Shapel said. And more than just give the kids something to do for a day, comic cons can contribute to a community.

"There's an economic issue," Shapel said. "When you look at cities that have comic cons, you see they start bringing in people from out of town. It's a boost to a local economy."

'I owe somebody'

For Chris Hunt, the seeds of his future as a cartoonist were sown at an early age.

After Hunt's parents divorced, he went to stay with his grandparents and an aunt who was still living at home. His aunt was young and hip, her boyfriend equally so, and they exposed the grade-schooler to cool clothes, music and culture, including giving Hunt a comic book from Paul Pope's award-winning THB series. Pope would become an idol and the comic book would become a catalyst for the shy, bright Hunt. As he got older and decided cartooning was something he wanted to do, he realized he had no idea how to go about it. He reached out to Pope for advice. Pope graciously obliged and after a few years of email correspondence, the two met. Along with his own film and comic book projects, Hunt now does "flatting"--part of the coloring process--for his mentor. Hunt is moving to New York for a while to work more closely with Pope. Hunt feels lucky to work with his mentor and is participating in the Library Comic Con, in part, because he wants to pay his fortune forward.

"I owe somebody something for that," Hunt said.

Bastards and building a scene

Cyphus Baston is a real bastard. It says so in the title of the work-in-progress by local comics duo Adam Rosenlund and Ethan Ede. It's apparent even from the one publicly available page of the story that Baston is a guy who deserves a surprise punch in the mouth.

Richly rendered in a lush, cinematic style, Cyphus Baston is a Real Bastard evokes the gritty slum-choked future of films like Blade Runner and comic book titles like Judge Dredd--the kind of world in which high technology powers old-fashioned low-lifery, and where a guy who just wants a bite of street food gets inexplicably punched. Finish reading that one page and you're dying to know why Baston didn't get to taste his gyro.

Details surrounding Cyphus Baston--drawn by Rosenlund, whose illustrations are widely familiar to regular readers of the Boise Weekly, and written by Ede, whose online comics diary Falling Apart at the Speed of Light is addictive--are closely guarded secrets. What's known is that it has been picked up by Portland, Ore.-area publisher Dark Horse, is currently navigating the editorial process and will see publication "hopefully this year," Rosenlund said. Aside from that, he added, "I can't spread it around."

Rosenlund and Ede have been hitting the floors of comic conventions and collaborating since 2005. Working with one of the preeminent comics publishing companies represents years of literal and figurative footwork--and one of the biggest success stories to come out of Boise's burgeoning comics scene.

"The interest level in general is increasing, but it's because the number of people consuming this product is growing," Rosenlund said. "And they're not into Batman or Superman," Ede added.

The comic con will bring together creators who often work unbeknownst to one another, a challenge of plying their trade in an isolated place like Boise.

"We do have a decent community and it's growing, but compared to Portland [or] New York, it's very, very small," Rosenlund said. "We do tend to work in a bit of a vacuum here, which is tough."

Perhaps a Boise comic con was inevitable. Rosenlund said the industry is experiencing stronger growth than it has since the turn of the century, driven in large part by the endless appetite of the film industry, which mercilessly mines comics titles for franchisable material.

"We can put a out a lot of ideas quickly," Ede said. Comics are often the birthing ground for much of what we see in popular culture, which is great exposure, but it also encourages some creators to craft work tailor-made for the film industry, "which upsets people like Adam and me, who love the medium," he added.

Events like the Library Comic Con put a face on the industry, and--most importantly--spur passion for the art form among younger, would-be artists.

"It is valuable, because it's outreach to younger people," Ede said. "When we were involved in that BAM show, we taught a class to 9- to 14-year-olds, and that was the most rewarding part of it. ... More than two-thirds of the class was girls, which is so nice to see because comics, like so many other things, had always been a boys' club."

For Rosenlund, the more connections that Boise's comics creators make with each other--and with lovers of the medium--the better.

"Events like this draw out the community," Rosenlund said. "Three hundred and sixty-four days a year we're working in a vacuum; and if there aren't [already], there soon will be very popular names coming out of Boise."

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