Holy Comic Swap Batman!

Artists, collectors, cosplayers revel together at Chimacum Comic Swap

Posted 7/17/19

Rick Grimes and Michonne of “The Walking Dead” facing off against a pair of Xenomorphs from the “Aliens” franchise is a crossover not even the comics have attempted, but visitors to the Comic Book Swap Meet at the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum July 13 got to see those characters staring each other down, in action figure form, on one of the toy dealers’ tables that Saturday.

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Holy Comic Swap Batman!

Artists, collectors, cosplayers revel together at Chimacum Comic Swap

Posted

Rick Grimes and Michonne of “The Walking Dead” facing off against a pair of Xenomorphs from the “Aliens” franchise is a crossover not even the comics have attempted, but visitors to the Comic Book Swap Meet at the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum July 13 got to see those characters staring each other down, in action figure form, on one of the toy dealers’ tables that Saturday.

Fans could find their favorite sci-fi, fantasy and superhero characters captured not only in plastic and print form, through toys and comics, but also in novelties ranging from PEZ dispensers and themed cereal boxes to stuffed plush dolls, all while artists alternated between filling their sketch pads and chatting with fans about the modern mythologies for which they share such an avid fondness.

SEARCHING THE STACKS

Shannon Herney and Greg Melheim stood shoulder-to-shoulder as their practiced hands flipped through Mylar-bagged back issues together, a study in contrasts in the demographics of modern fandom.

Melheim is a Chimacum local who laughingly acknowledges he’s on the older end of the spectrum, having first caught the comics collecting bug during his childhood “150 years ago.” His tastes range accordingly toward more vintage fare.

“I’m always looking for those hidden gems, the things I had as a kid, but are now long since gone,” Melheim said. “I think about those old Neal Adams Batman issues, and how they’d be worth a fortune if I still had them in good condition.”

Herney was visiting the area from her native California, and is a bit younger, but she also became interested in comics as a kid.

“I’m on the hunt for issues with Captain America and Loki, stuff you could never find anywhere else,” Herney said, before asking the dealer, “Do you have any Journey Into Mystery?”

A key difference between Melheim and Herney is Herney only recently returned to her former hobby, inspired by the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“I know, I’m one of those fans,” Herney chuckled and cringed. “But as I’ve gotten back into the characters, I’ve been able to go onto the internet and figure out which comics I should be looking for.”

Michael Oxford, the dealer whose long boxes Melheim and Herney were so doggedly perusing, runs Prestige Worldwide Comics & Collectibles in Lacey, and he assured Herney she had nothing to be ashamed of.

“The movies have really helped out fandom,” Oxford said. “People see these great stories on screen, then they learn that they were based on stories in the comics, and they get to fall in love with all those old issues.”

This year marked Oxford’s first at the Comic Book Swap Meet, but he was heartened by the event’s enthusiasm and diversity.

“Everyone’s just digging in,” Oxford said. “There’s enough variety that they’ve got a little bit of everything for everybody.”

CHARACTER MATTERS

Chimacum teacher Al Gonzalez, whose sixth-grade classroom is already thick with Star Trek action figures mounted on stand-up bases, couldn’t help but note the selection of “The Walking Dead” action figures available at the Comic Book Swap Meet.

“I’ve already got that Daryl Dixon figure,” Gonzalez said. “I’m a big collector of Star Trek, Star Wars and Marvel stuff. I mean, there’s some DC, but it’s mostly Marvel for superheroes.”

DC versus Marvel is the age-old Coke-versus-Pepsi divide in superhero comics fandom, and when asked to account for his preference, Gonzalez chalks it up to one trait: character.

“Marvel has it all over DC when it comes to the variety and diversity of their characters,” Gonzalez said. “I was turned off of DC by Superman, who always seemed too powerful to me, and came across as more one-dimensional. But Spider-Man, Daredevil and Captain America have much more depth of character. And Wolverine, he’s like the ultimate anti-hero.”

Gonzalez admitted he’s fallen behind on his comics collecting, but he’s also been inspired to catch up again by the Marvel-based films of recent years.

“I just recently saw ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home,’ so I’m all caught up on Phase 3 of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe),” Gonzalez said. “The ‘Captain America: Civil War’ movie piqued my interest in the original Marvel Comics ‘Civil War’ story arc, especially since there seems to be more to it in the comics than what the movie showed.”

A RENAISSANCE FOR COLORISTS

Colorist Jeremy Colwell has been working in the comics industry for the past half-dozen years, and he’s already landed what would qualify as a crown jewel gig in most comics pros’ careers, working on DC and IDW’s Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover series, right on time for the 80th anniversary of Batman and the 35th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

“I’m just lucky, I guess,” Colwell said, when asked to explain his good fortune, although he sees the fortunes of his fellow colorists as a whole as being on the rise in the comics industry. “There’s a lot more awareness now of what we do. Colorists are getting more credit for how much we bring to the books. It’s really a renaissance for our profession.”

Perhaps fittingly, Colwell’s approach to coloring comic book art strives to emulate something closer to the look and feel of the famous Renaissance artists for whom the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are named.

“Even though I’m working digitally, I try to make each page look like a painting,” Colwell said. “I don’t want it to be graphically rendered, but to resemble more natural media.”

Colwell was a stay-at-home dad even before he started his comics career, so he also appreciates how his profession affords him the flexibility to work from home, even as his work gains more attention.

“I love how enthusiastic and excited people get, when I tell them what I’m able to do for a living,” Colwell said. “My kids love it, and all their friends think it’s cool.”

Colwell’s colors caught the eyes of a couple of Port Townsend attendees of the Comic Book Swap Meet, who stopped to talk shop with him.

Jeannette Lynn was accompanying her husband and two children, for whom she was carrying an armful of 1990s back issues, including Cable and other X-Men titles, but she also enjoys Captain America and Spider-Man.

Alice Reed is a little girl who appreciated Colwell’s colored illustration of Gwen Stacy as the Ghost-Spider, a character she became a fan of through the animated movie “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”

“I like her because she’s Spider-Man’s friend,” Reed said. “And her costume has neat colors.”

AVOIDING BORING SHOTS

Scott Adams of Bremerton (no relation to the “Dilbert” cartoonist of the same name) has been writing, illustrating and self-publishing his own comic book, “Sukotto,” since 2013, but he gained a more recent boost in visibility when the Upper Deck trading card company hired him a year ago to produce three sets of superhero sketch cards.

“I drew the art right onto these baseball-sized cards, which were inserted at random into various packs,” said Adams, who credits his hiring to Upper Deck finding his fan art online. “I grew up reading comics, and I loved to draw, so I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If no one likes my stuff, no one will buy it, no big deal.’ But after a while, I started hearing people at the shows in Kitsap asking when the next issues of my comic would be out, and that really motivated me to keep going.”

When asked how he approaches comic art, Adams admitted to an affinity for a more “cartoony” style, but his primary priority is to produce artwork and stories that he hopes will keep his readers as engaged as possible.

“When I’m focused on visuals, I always think about what I would find most interesting to look at,” Adams said. “I try to avoid boring shots, even though they’re sometimes necessary to tell a story. I don’t want to do the sort of art that’s already been done a million times. At the same time, you can’t just continually compare yourself to other artists, because you have to become comfortable with whatever your own style is.”

A MOUNT RUSHMORE OF INFLUENCES

Seattle-based comic book artist Blacky Shepherd, the special guest of this year’s Comic Book Swap Meet, has been having a good run these past five years.

After contributing handfuls of pages of art to comic book pitches and short story anthologies for fellow independent and amateur creators, Shepherd was first contacted by Dynamite Entertainment in 2014, just as he was about to fly to Comic-Con International in San Diego, and found himself hired on the spot.

“I was insufferable for the rest of the weekend,” Shepherd laughed. “I was telling complete strangers, ‘Hey, I’m a professional comic book artist now.’”

Shepherd’s art was featured in Dynamite’s six-issue miniseries starring 1980s animated hero Voltron in 2015, and he’s since illustrated comics starring cinematic horror legends Pumpkinhead and Dr. Herbert West, the “Re-Animator,” the latter of whom Shepherd drew in a four-issue crossover with Vampirella, that just wrapped up this spring.

“When I was offered Pumpkinhead, I sent a single image that was my best impression of (horror comic artist) Bernie Wrightson,” Shepherd said. “It was in the same vein as his work on Frankenstein. I was basically borrowing Bernie for that project. Bernie, Mike Zeck and Michael Golden are like my Mount Rushmore of comic artists who have influenced me. I should just send Mike Zeck a royalty check.”

Shepherd eschews “super-stylistic” art in favor of attempts at realism, by exploring “expressions of light” and the fine details of facial expressions.

“In his earlier artwork for Marvel, Golden always paid attention to the fundamentals of anatomy, depth and foreshortening, so that even when he applied a hyper-stylized expressiveness to it, it was like adding salt to a meal,” Shepherd said. “Kelley Jones is another artist I love, with the long horns and crazy cape he always gives to Batman, because of the contrast he’s able to strike between light and shadow.”

Shepherd enjoyed his first Comic Book Swap Meet in Chimacum, but then again, “it’s rare that I have a bad time at any comic con. It’s a chance to talk nerd stuff all day long.”

CONS ACROSS THE PENINSULA

By her own admission, comic book writer and cartoonist Donna Barr is hard to stop once she gets going on a topic, and after more than 30 years as a comics industry professional, the former Everett native has since moved to Clallam Bay and begun evangelizing the cause of starting up more comic cons on the Olympic Peninsula.

“The entertainment industry is one of the biggest employers left in our economy, and regardless of your profession, everyone has skills that are transferable to working in comics or helping set up conventions,” said Barr, who sees the Comic Book Swap Meet in Chimacum as synergistic with the cons she’s either helped start or supported to the west of Puget Sound, including Raincon in Forks in June, the Clallam Bay Comic Con in July and OpttaCon in Sequim in August. “The comics industry is finally finding out about us here in the west end, and it’s like a gold rush for comic fans and gamers.”

After witnessing the development of Everett firsthand, Barr believes promoting the spread of such conventions across the Peninsula is one way to help the region retain its unique character.

“Raincon was the first comic con I camped out at,” Barr said. “We need campgrounds and hostels and places with cheap lodging, because the average con-goer can’t afford $300 per room.”

Barr feels equally strong the expansion of the convention scene must be accompanied by a more expansive openness toward fandoms of all stripes.

“We should be a refuge for a diverse assortment of folks,” Barr said. “That includes not making fun of the fandom for ‘Twilight.’ Forks has made money, and when the Quileute Tribe objected to their own portrayal in the series, Stephenie Meyer made it right with them. Everybody can benefit.”

CARTOON COSPLAY COUPLE

Not content to cosplay as just one cartoon character, Port Townsend’s John Nutter came dressed as Nickelodeon’s “Doug,” in Doug Funnie’s outfit as his superhero alter ego “Quailman,” while Nutter’s significant other, Teddi Ferraris, accompanied him while dressed as Doug’s girlfriend, Patti Mayonnaise.

Nutter has been a regular at the Comic Book Swap Meet since the event started, whereas Ferraris is a relative newcomer to the scene, but one affinity they already shared was their mutual fandom for the “Doug” cartoon when they were both kids, which made their matching costumes a natural fit.

“We actually met at a Halloween costume party,” Ferraris said. “He was dressed up as Negan (from ‘The Walking Dead’) and I was a raven.”

Nutter not only appreciates the opportunity to see and be seen as a cosplayer, but he also regards the Comic Book Swap Meet as an overdue reunion with his fandom friends.

“(Event organizer) Steve Strout is my best friend,” Nutter said. “Plus, you get to meet all the artists here. The comics are cool, but I’ve been getting more into the individual artists, because the work they do is so impressive.”

Ferraris was grateful to have a fandom event akin to the comic cons held in bigger cities, “but right here in our own backyard.”

TARDIS NEEDS NEW HOME

Port Townsend’s Jenny Ellison not only shares a first name with “The Doctor’s Daughter,” but also has her own life-size TARDIS (exterior only, since she hasn’t yet mastered transdimensional engineering) in tribute to “Doctor Who,” she raffles off to raise funds for various charities at events like the Comic Book Swap Meet.

“If you’re the winner, then for a full day, you can have your own TARDIS,” Ellison said, as event attendees posed for photos with the iconic blue police box. “It only takes about 15-20 minutes to build up and take down, but you need three people to do it because the roof is so heavy.”

Ellison’s TARDIS bears a St. John Ambulance seal, and black text against a white background for the police box instructions, to match the specifications of when Matt Smith began his run as the 11th Doctor, even though Ellison considers Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor to be her favorite.

After nine years, though, storing and transporting a TARDIS has become enough work that Ellison would love to pass it on to new owners whom she knows will care for it properly.

“Some friends of mine had it for a while, but eventually, they ran out of places to keep it,” Ellison said. “If anyone out there wants their own TARDIS, they should let me know.”

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