Report from Big Wow ComicFest
by Dore Ripley
Wandering through the aisles of Big Wow ComicFest this weekend in San Jose, California, I wondered how I could have missed all these great books!? Did I miss my last GraphicNovelReporter newsletter? I think not. Big Wow ComicFest hosts some of the best-kept secret artists and authors in northern California. It also claims to be the home of the original artist-friendly show—and we’re talking artists with a capital “A.” The quality of work is outstanding; the willingness to share is exceptional, while the panels were just plain fun. Sitting in the audience during Frank Cho’s figure drawing made me think, “Hmmm. Maybe I can draw,” but then it’s Frank Cho and he makes drawing seem easy. The creator of the busty Liberty Meadows loves to draw “the ladies,” and anyone who’s seen his work knows he draws some beautiful women.
Speaking of ladies, the Women of Conan hosted a Q&A featuring Sandahl Bergman of Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja fame. Also at the show was Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s—she’s just finished a new story for The Simpson’s Tree House of Horror comic and is currently working on a meditation CD. But some of the real gems of this show are the women most of us don’t know. Jenny Gosk’s webcomic Zombie Killers features Ros Thompson and Grace Martin, heroines who embark on a road trip after the zombie apocalypse. They must outwit zombies—a no-brainer—VW van gangs, steam-punk enthusiasts, and ex vigilante cops. Gosk’s work features strong colors and lines, muted backgrounds and females that can kick-butt and hate that “touchy-feely crap” while looking good even when a bit of a tomboy. Another Bay Area woman author at Big Wow was Jewels Smith whose (H)afrocentric features the “self-proclaimed radical black feminist Naima Pepper (who has a white mama), and deals with the contradictions of her own life. Both she and her fraternal twin brother, Miles Pepper, grew up in a mostly white and Asian neighborhood.” The culturally diverse San Francisco Bay Area often presents a mash-up of backgrounds; white, Asian, African-American, Latino, leading to confusion and frustration. As Smith notes, “It's hard being Afrocentric in a Eurocentric world,” even in San Francisco. Drawn by John Mathis, (H)afrocentric’s full-color covers surround black-and-white pages drawn in a wavering line and gray half-tone backgrounds.
Cosplay was big at Big Wow, but in a slightly different sense. The Bay Area Ghostbusters arrived in their fully equipped Jeep and protected the fest from Darth Vadar and his 501st Legion of Imperial Stormtroopers, while Captain America, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern, and every superhero imaginable policed the aisles. I might add that there were no outbreaks of violence and peace ruled the realm throughout the entire show. But where did all these costumed crusaders come from? Panels devoted to “Creating Superhero Costumes,” “I Want to Be a Zombie: How to Create the Perfect Costume,” and “Costumes for Fun and Folly” were well attended—I never knew latex could be so complicated (or fun). Wonder Woman (Valerie Perez) emceed the costume contest where 22 entrants dressed as Captain America (best male costume), aliens, Dr. Who (most in character), Romans, Emma Frost (best female costume), a pimpin’ Black Superman, and Captain South America delighted the crowd. Best in Show went to Iron Man, worn by David Proctor. Two Amber Sweets warmed up the audience just in time for a “live” shadow cast showing of Repo: The Genetic Opera hosted by Terrance Zdunich, aka Graverobber.
Big Wow is billed as the best “creator show” and here’s where I got lost meandering through the aisles. Who are all these creative Bay Area people? Dale Berry is one. A history buff, his work Tales of the Moonlight Cutter is a four-edition series set in 12th-century China. The black-and-white artwork highlights the action-packed marshal art fight scenes as the characters face off against the undead. Murdering spirits and evil warriors leave readers asking, “Who do the ghosts believe in?” Oakland native Morrie Turner, creator of Wee Pals and the first nationally syndicated African-American cartoonist, has a new book out, Black Sports Heroes: Past and Present.
A bit south of the Bay Area, Ventura resident Paul Roman Martinez presented The Adventures of the 19XX,a comic set in the 1930s. Beautiful artwork and lots of merchandise! This booth featured a dieselpunk noir world complete with art deco skyscrapers, dirigibles, pin up girls, and adventurers seeking lost relics. Other SoCal notables, Sabine Rich, colorist for JP Roth’s Ancient Dreams, displayed the latest beautiful blend of Midsummer Night’s Dream meets fairy tale. The storyline is set among the gods of ancient mythology with lots of luxuriant action and beautiful women. Down from Portland, Aaron Lopresti, an artist for both DC and Marvel, showed off his artwork and noted that Big Wow was much busier this year—about four times busier.
As an artist’s show, there were some great exhibits like “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Art Show!,” which displayed five decades of art and memorabilia and was sponsored by San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. Big Wow held an art auction of Michael Golden’s artwork for Lady Mechanika and Avengers #79, as well as Steve Mannion’s Deviant Batman. Travis Charest inked a Jim Lee Batman pin-up.
Another fun space was the gaming section. Long tables of Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft, the card game, were lined up alongside Yu-Gi-Oh demos, Munchkin, Fluxx, Waterdeep, Quarriors, Settlers of Catan and many, many more. Awesome players, lots of tournaments, and super helpful demos (and lessons) got me to buy a board game, but it’s a secret Christmas present….
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Big Wow ComicFest. I had heard that it was an “old-school” comic book show peopled by iterations of The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy—there were a few—but I was pleasantly surprised by the intimacy of the show, the variety of fans, and the quality of the artists and creators. While cos players fought their way through the aisles protecting humanity from costumed villains and zombies, fan boys and girls got to rub elbows with their stars and experience new and up-and-coming artists. I’ll be sure to mark my calendar for next year’s Big Wow!