Successful pros at the 2011 Comic-con

Mike Dubisch, Rich Kuhaupt, Kimberly Prue, Billy Martinez, Eric Shanower, Batton Lash

“This is the first year that I’ll be coming in under a professional badge,” says local comic writer Carolyn Watson Dubisch. “My plans are to hand out preview copies of my books and, as dorky as this sounds, make friends.”

Carolyn — in her late 30s, with three children — says, “My books are for all ages. There are always a lot of children at these things, and since I sell picture books as well as comics, I see a look of relief on parents’ faces when they come to our table.”

What are Carolyn’s hopes for her first Comic-Con as a genuine badge-bearing comic pro?

“I have two series. The first is a children’s comic called The Horribles, a very gothic series about things that go bump in the night. Most of the characters are monsters and animals, [like] the Creature from Under the Bed, Sylvia the horrible witch girl, and Fang, an outcast of a monster who likes to bathe and smell nice.”

Carolyn’s other comic, The People That Melt in the Rain, illustrated by her husband Mike, won a Drunk Duck award for Best All Ages Comic of 2010. “It’s a fantasy story that mostly focuses on life in a cursed town in the Midwest,” she says. She later emails a capsule synopsis:

The moment that 12-year-old Laura arrives in her new hometown of Deluge, a rain of large green frogs falls from the sky. In the days that follow, she discovers a forest of tiny creatures in her neighbor’s cupboard, and a terrible curse upon the whole town. An old witch and the town’s weatherman struggle for power, and it’s up to Laura to save the people that melt in the rain.

Says Carolyn, “It appeals to teens and adults, but keeps in mind a younger audience.”

In addition to being available as traditional printed comics, both series have been running for years as weekly webcomics and are available as ebooks for the Nook, the Kindle, the iPad, and other digital platforms. The first issue of The People That Melt in the Rain is also available in Spanish. “Both Mike and I are semi-fluent, and that audience is important to us. We’d love to reach other foreign-language markets as well.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Besides illustrating The People That Melt in the Rain, Carolyn’s husband Mike Dubisch writes and draws for indie publishers such as IDW and Monsterverse.

Spongebob Strangepants, by Mike Dubisch

Spongebob Strangepants, by Mike Dubisch

“This will be my sixth time at Comic-Con,” says the longtime comic collector. After landing his first pro gig coloring comics at age 16, Mike attended the School of Visual Arts in New York, studying with renowned comic creators such as Will Eisner (The Spirit) and Walt Simonson (Thor).

Dubisch placed work in the horror anthology Gore Shriek and elsewhere, then “I drew covers for Aliens vs. Predator comics, and I became involved in illustrating for RPG [role-playing game] books and miniature toys based on Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, the DC Universe, and Rifts.” He also wrote, drew, and self-published a full-length graphic novel, Weirdling.

At this year’s Con, Mike wants to spread awareness of Classics Mutilated, a book of short prose that he illustrated for local publisher IDW, as well as his own H.P. Lovecraft–inspired The Black Velvet Necronomicon, a limited-edition art book that will be for sale at the always-massive Bud Plant booth on the main floor.

“Since I already work as a freelancer, I don’t expect anything to happen that changes my daily life. But there’s a lot of potential to land more exciting projects, with higher exposure.”

∗ ∗ ∗

James Ninness is a native San Diegan with a degree in creative writing from Cal State University Long Beach. He lives in La Mesa with his wife and two young daughters.

“I’ve been to the San Diego Con every year for the last five years and would be hard pressed to miss it,” says the 29-year-old. “I got into creating and writing comics about two years ago. Thus far, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several comics published through Semantink, a local San Diego company.

“My first book is Mythoi, a 60-issue tale wherein various mythologies are thrust together and must learn how to help one another.” Formerly illustrated by Jed Soriano, currently drawn by Kevin Warwick, the first four issues have already been collected as a graphic novel (Mythoi Book 1: Birth).

Ninness also wrote a six-issue post-apocalyptic western called Dust, featuring art by John Narcomey (Smart Bullets, Ghostface). He’s served as creator and one of five writers for The Undergrounds, a weekly webcomic.

“My goal at Comic-Con is simple: networking. I’m very happy with Semantink Publishing, so while I’m always looking for work, I won’t be pitching at every opportunity. I believe one of the smartest things creators can do is simply to meet other creators.”

He says Comic-Con changed his life forever. “The single greatest moment I ever had was when Semantink hired several volunteers to hand out Mythoi posters outside [the convention center], at the trolley stop. We ended up getting a lot of enthusiastic support that day, and I remember thinking ‘I can do this.’”

∗ ∗ ∗

“I’m a bit of a newbie and just getting into comic art,” says commercial illustrator Rich Kuhaupt, a longtime pre-press technician for the Union-Tribune. “I don’t expect I’ll be ‘discovered’ at Comic-Con, but that doesn’t mean my life wouldn’t change with the right contact or opportunity.”

The 54-year-old former Marine used comic-style artwork back when he was creating training manuals for the audio-visual departments at Camp Pendleton, Coronado, and MCRD. “After I left the service, I found work as a graphic artist for defense contractors. I spent several years creating training materials for the instructors at the Navy Fighter Weapons School — Top Gun — where we used cartoons to illustrate the pilots’ lesson plans.”

Along the way, Kuhaupt also worked on PS Magazine, a long-running U.S. Army maintenance periodical famed in comic circles for a cartoon-heavy 1950s run (over 350 issues) spearheaded by Will Eisner, whose comics are so revered that Comic-Con’s annual trophy ceremony is named the Eisner Awards.

Currently living near University Heights and North Park, Kuhaupt says, “I attended my first Comic-Con in 1980, and have been attending pretty regularly since 1994. About three years ago, I felt the urge to start drawing again, and my interest in comics was rekindled.”

He’s walking into the 2011 Con with a fair amount of experience in commercial cartooning, but having only worked on one traditional panel-by-panel comic book, the somewhat obscure Legend of Rudy McBacon.

The Greatest Weapon in Human History, by Rich Kuhaupt

The Greatest Weapon in Human History, by Rich Kuhaupt

However, “I’m developing my own comic, which I plan to self-publish, a mini-comic project called “The Greatest Weapon in Human History.” It’s a humorous look at the history of weapons development. I’ve posted the story so far in a photo album on my Facebook page, and the feedback has been very positive.”

“Greatest Weapon” is visually akin to the Rip Off Press series Cartoon History of the Universe, matching well-researched docutext with expressive, if somewhat rubbery, cartoon enactments.

“I don’t have a portfolio to speak of, so I’ll spend Comic-Con looking at how other artists are making a living at comics. I’d like to learn more about the business side and the trends in comic books. I’ll also be spending much of my time in the small-press area. I just want a job in the comic industry, whether it’s as an artist or as a lesser worker bee.”

He says a friend once mentioned a possible job at DC Comics’ La Jolla office. “The work was changing Japanese word balloons to English, and little else. I’d be thrilled with something like that.”

∗ ∗ ∗

“I’m a corporate cube farmer by day, and a freelance writer by night and by train,” says 35-year-old comic writer Erik W. Hendrix. Currently living in Oceanside, Hendrix spent over a decade wearing his not-so-secret corporate identity at Unisys Logistics and Order Management in Rancho Bernardo. “I was the lead in the logistics department for a long time.”

Hendrix has long aspired to be a writer, but hadn’t considered comics until around 2008. “I was working on my first novel, and I had a ton of ideas gnawing at my brain. Just jotting them down didn’t clear them from my thoughts, so I started dabbling in comic scripts, tying together my love of writing with my love of comics.”

Last year, he took a job as VP of promotions at Arcana Comics, which publishes his 1950s Vegas mob thriller SideShows, drawn by Michael Nelsen. “It ties together my biggest loves: superheroes and old Vegas. It tells the story of some circus folk enlisted by a mob boss in Vegas, who is trying to control the burgeoning underbelly of the town’s gambling.”

Hendrix says he’ll spend much of Comic-Con behind the Arcana table, promoting the series with preview copies of the first issue, due to ship shortly after the convention.

“Do I feel my life could be changed by what happens at the Con? I’d love to take 2000 copies of my book and sell out. I’d love for the media to fall in love with the book. It’s not about the money, because I don’t think anyone goes into comics looking at dollar signs. It’s about creating something and sharing it with as many people as possible.”

Hendrix insists that “It can happen here. In 2008, I was a fan. In 2009, an aspiring creator walking around with flyers and pitches. In 2010, I was working at a booth and had contracts. For 2011, I’ll be running Arcana’s booth and debuting my first mass-distributed graphic novel.

“What will 2012 bring?”

∗ ∗ ∗

“I’ve been attending Comic-Con in San Diego every year since the seventh grade,” says 28-year-old Francis Jay Bautista, who heads up a five-person group of webcomic creators called Team Mixed Nuts.

“Right now, we have our hands full with our Strawberry Scented Burnout webcomic, a story about geek redemption and pride. Dumped by his girlfriend for his geeky nature, Francis, the hero, struggles to find his self-worth and the power to stand up for all that is sacred and holy in the geekiverse.”

The stories, like Bautista, are based in San Diego. “Since we’re all fans of manga and anime, the comic has a very Japanese manga feel to it.”

He and his fellow Mixed Nuts are hoping that Comic-Con will provide an avenue for their webcomics to leap onto the printed page. “It’s a really good opportunity to break into the comic industry, since most of the major comic companies have panel reviews, meet-and-greets, and other events. It’s one of the few places where the comic-industry execs can get up close and personal with their fanbase. For better or worse.”

Bautista’s game plan for the convention? “Probably walking down Artists’ Alley and talking to all the small-press people. They’re just like me, putting their hopes and dreams on paper, or on the internet, and trying to get people to read it. I always get a sense of camaraderie when I walk down that section.

“Plus, since it’s an awesome gathering of geeks from all over the world, a chance to be a geek without restraint.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Twenty-seven-year-old photographer Kimberly Prue lives near SDSU and works as a pizza chef at Famous Famiglia restaurant. She has attended two Comic-Cons in San Diego, 2005 and 2010, having spent the intervening years serving in the U.S. Navy. However, she says, “I’ve been able to attend several other conventions, including Komiket and International Anime Fair in Tokyo, Anime Expo, NekoCon, Anime Banzai, and Sac-Anime.

“I’m kind of new at doing comics, so it was a big personal accomplishment to be acknowledged with verified professional status this year by the staff at Comic-Con.” Of course, what constitutes a “professional level” is a subjective call. Prue says, “Anime and manga-style art is what I base most of my drawing technique off of. I’m working on two projects right now. One is called “Dreams and Secrets,” which is what I term a soap-opera comic. The main character, Monica Phillips, is based on me. She’s a professional photographer getting to realize her dreams.”

Of Warriors and Kings, by Kimberly Prue

Of Warriors and Kings, by Kimberly Prue

Prue’s other comic is “Of Warriors and Kings.” “It’s a slash comic, set during the 1600s in a fictional West European country known as Espea. Prince Mathias D’Yrucrem is a crowned prince of Yrucrem, with no desire to marry or have children. He leaves the throne to his younger brother, Sven. He joins the army of Queen Belda and meets General Vincent Krystoff, and they fall in love. Despite the controversy, they decide to return to Yrucrem and are reinstated as princes.”

She says the story is “completely written, but character designs and pages are still in development. With both of these titles, I plan to have them as webcomics, but I’m also looking for a publisher or a way to self-publish the books.”

Her main Con endeavor for 2011 will be to “seek out other artists, to learn from them, and improve. One of the things that I want to do this year is participate in the portfolio review. It’ll be great to be able to get pointers from the people doing the reviews, as well as seeing if they think I might have a future in their company.

“Wendy Pini of ElfQuest fame has announced that she’s going to be there, and getting to finally meet her is important to me. Getting tips of the trade from master artists [like Pini] is a big part of why I’ll be at the convention.”

∗ ∗ ∗

“I began attending the San Diego Comic-Con in 1987, coming down from Washington on the Amtrak,” says 40-ish writer/artist Mikal Vollmer, who spent his teen years employed by the same comic-book store as future Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. “I worked at the Con as a registration volunteer for three years, then moved to Mission Bay in 1990 and joined the Comic-Con committee.”

Around the same time, Vollmer began creating his own underground-style comics (most geared for adults only) and printing them at Kinko’s. “I sold my photocopied comics in Artists’ Alley at Comic-Con from ’90 to ’96. I got really excited about how the art was coming along, so I enrolled in Mira Costa College’s art program, eventually completing an associate’s degree in fine art.”

His Comic-Con efforts will center on the still-emerging digital-comics medium. “I recently converted my comics to PDF files and publish to CD-Rom, so I can deliver hundreds of pages and images for a fraction of the printing cost. I’ll hand out CD-Roms of all my comic stories from the past 20 years, and I’m starting to translate the stories into Italian, French, and German, using Google Translate.”

Vollmer expresses several different dream scenarios. “The best thing that could happen for me at the Con this year is that a publisher picks me up as one of their team that flies around the world displaying at comic conventions. I’ve got 30 years’ experience in marketing, and I love comic books, comic cons, and traveling. I’d be perfect!”

As an alternative, “a book deal would be freakin’ awesome [and] an international book deal from a foreign publisher is always welcome.”

Finally, “There’s always the chance that I could meet my soul mate this year. The most amazing women in the world write, draw, paint, and create in the pop-culture arts. It would be fabulous to meet the one woman who gets a kick out of me, who I inspire and who inspires me. Romance at the Comic-Con. We can go to conventions, wear costumes, attend panels, and be passionate about movies together. In fact, Comic-Con is the only place I can imagine any of that.

“If even one of those things happen, it changes the course of my life.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Writer/artist Tom Carroll is also taking advantage of 21st-century technology to further his aspirations as a comic-book creator.

“I’ll be using social media and iPhone, iPad, and Android apps to get things moving toward recognition at the Con. I’ll also be sending out Android apps for publishers to install prior to the event, so that I can stir up some interest in having them visit me in Artists’ Alley, and I’ll have support materials and physical copies of my comic there as well.”

The property he’s pushing is a political satire called “The Gun Nose Chronicles.” “I have a 22-page comic featuring the Gun Nose character, which I created. I wrote the issue and did art for one story, as well as collaborating with some of my friends and a few comic-industry legends to provide pencils, inks, and colors.”

His list of collaborators includes Joe Staton (Green Lantern, E-Man), Marvel inker Josef “Joe” Rubinstein, Jonah Hex co-creator Tony DeZuniga, Faust inker Johnny B. Gerardy, Elvis Shrugged illustrator Dave Garcia, and Wildstorm colorist Wendy Fouts Broome.

Gun Nose originated as a character in a locally produced stage production called I Survived the Bush Administration (and All I Got Was This $%^[email protected] T-Shirt!), a musical variety revue co-created with Four Eyes guitarist Mark DeCerbo and others.

The production featured six comedy sketches, as well as 11 original songs, including “The Road to Utopia” (“We’ve got the money now / No Democrats around to slow us down”), “The Terrorism Cha-Cha” (“My name is Bin Laden / Am I alive or dead / I could be lying in a crater / Or doin’ Cha-Cha in bed”), and “It Hurts When the Congress Thinks You’re Nuts.”

To promote his comic-book version of Gun Nose, Carroll says, “I’ll have posters and such for people to purchase, and T-shirts that I’ll hand-screen and sell from my table. In addition, I’ll be getting together with toy makers and others. Using Facebook and Android apps, I think I can get the notice of publishers like Dark Horse, Image, Penny-Farthing Press, and others. I guess we’ll go from there.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Forty-three-year-old writer/artist Billy Martinez self-publishes a gothic Tim Burton–esque comic series called The Deepest Dark from his own Neko Press Art Studios on University Avenue, across the street from Helix High School.

Billy Martinez (right) self-publishes a gothic Tim Burton-esque comic series called The Deepest Dark.

Billy Martinez (right) self-publishes a gothic Tim Burton-esque comic series called The Deepest Dark.

“I’ve been working in the comic and publishing industry for over 16 years,” says Martinez. “I also teach art classes at my studio, and I do many gallery shows that showcase my line of ‘Girls’ paintings. I’m doing 1000 different paintings in the series, some of which I perform live right on stage, sometimes working on four paintings at a time while music plays.”

Martinez has been attending Comic-Con in San Diego for 15 years. “Before The Deepest Dark, I was best known for my titles Kickass Girl and Wildflower, which is celebrating its 15-year anniversary this year. I plan to re-release the sold-out trade paperback of the series this year, with extras and brand-new cover art.”

His newest title will be the focus of his 2011 efforts. “I hope to achieve some interest from Hollywood regarding The Deepest Dark.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Which brings up an interesting and contentious subject. Each year at Comic-Con, Hollywood studios — and TV networks and producers — have commanded more attention and display space, eliciting no small amount of controversy and complaints from die-hard comic fans. A recent episode of the animated comedy The Cleveland Show depicted the comic geeks doing costumed battle with the dreaded minions of Hollywood all over downtown San Diego, attempting to wrestle back control of the Con, once (arguably) the nearly exclusive domain of comic fans.

One local publisher chooses to embrace the growing cross-pollination between comics and mainstream showbiz media. Based in Kensington, IDW Publishing has risen to become one of the top-five best-selling U.S. comic companies, thanks in part to developing licensed properties based on CSI, 24, Angel, Transformers, Star Trek, Dick Tracy, G.I. Joe, Doctor Who, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which actually started as a small-press comic book).

“I’m roughly the same age as Comic-Con,” says IDW publisher and writer Chris Ryall. “I think my first show was in 1997. I’ve been a comic fan since I was a kid, and have vague recollections of getting [Superman co-creator] Joe Shuster’s autograph at a show in Los Angeles when I was about four or five.”

Regarding Hollywood vs. comics, Ryall counters that “Comic-Con is so large now that you can easily make it into whatever you want the show to be. If you want movie trailers and to see stars, sure, that’s an option. But there’s so much more, from talking to publishers and creators of current books, to seeing people from your childhood favorites, and everything in between.”

IDW books are nominated for several 2011 Eisner Awards, including their book Dave Stevens The Rocketeer Artist’s Edition, and an ongoing comic series called Locke & Key, by novelist Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez. “That book and the creators are nominated for multiple Eisner Awards,” notes Ryall, “and both of them will be at the show signing comics and meeting fans.”

Having already reached the status and sales only dreamed of by the majority of Comic-Con hopefuls, Ryall says “IDW doesn’t really do [conventions] to make money as much as getting directly in front of fans, offering an outlet for fans to meet IDW creators, and hopefully expose some new people to our books. It also serves as a place to meet and talk to creators face to face, which has led to some nice projects.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Among the successful local comic pros who’ll have a convention booth will be Eric Shanower, a 40-ish writer and illustrator living in Redwood Village, near La Mesa. Best known for his long-running graphic novel series adapting Oz stories, Shanower has attended Comic-Con every year since 1998. His book The Marvelous Land of Oz is up for a 2011 Eisner Award.

Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower

Age of Bronze, by Eric Shanower

“I’ve been a professional cartoonist since 1984. All the major U.S. comics publishers, and many of the small ones, have published my work, and so have Random House, Oxford University Press, and HarperCollins.”

Offering hope to all aspiring creators, Shanower says, “I have gotten work through attending Comic-Con in San Diego, [like] drawing The Secret Origin of the Justice League of America for DC in 1987. I first met Ed Brubaker [Captain America, Criminal, and Incognito] at the 1987 Con…he and I collaborated on several projects over the years. I think the last thing we did together was some Batman stuff around 2001 and 2002.”

Unlike most folks interviewed for this article, Shanower modestly admits that “I have more work than I can comfortably handle right now, so I’m not going to the Con looking for more. The expense of exhibiting, and the insanity of getting through the Con, has increased so much in the past decade that I dread it all year ’round. Except for the week it’s actually happening, when I generally have a blast.

“I do have some resentment toward the Con attendees who are just there for the movie and TV stuff and have no idea what comics are about. From a publicity standpoint, I like the idea that the Con attracts a whole range of people, even if the crowding can get really unpleasant, [but] I don’t expect the Con to offer any opportunities that will change my daily life.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Whether Comic-Con can empower and enable your most heartfelt dreams to become reality, well, that all depends upon what you dream, doesn’t it?

Wolff & Byrd by Batton Lash

Wolff & Byrd by Batton Lash

“I met my wife, Jackie Estrada, because of Comic-Con,” says writer/artist Batton Lash, one of San Diego’s best-known creators, thanks to his own titles (Supernatural Law, previously known as Wolff & Byrd: Counselors of the Macabre) and his freelance work on Bart Simpson’s Radioactive Man (Bongo Comics), Archie Freshman Year: The Hidden Years (Archie Comics), and the infamous Archie/Marvel crossover Archie Meets the Punisher.

The 50-something creator lives near SDSU and has attended 23 consecutive Comic-Cons in San Diego. None were more memorable than the 1990 edition.

“I had sent in a tribute drawing for The Spirit’s 50th anniversary for the San Diego souvenir book and was thrilled when I received a postcard from the editor, Jackie Estrada, thanking me for the drawing and letting me know it would be included. I was pretty excited. The Spirit’s creator Will Eisner was an instructor of mine at the School of Visual Arts.”

Shortly before the Con in San Diego, at a smaller Chicago convention, Lash spotted Estrada at a party sponsored by DC Comics. “I went over and introduced myself and thanked her for sending that postcard. Later on, she saw me hanging out — or, as she called it, ‘lurking’ — and struck up a conversation. I found myself running into her multiple times, each time chatting a bit more.

“I was surprised when she called me each weekend in the weeks leading up to the San Diego show. I thought Comic-Con had some welcome wagon! We got to know each other better during those phone calls, and she invited me to a pre-Con party she was having at her house [in San Diego].”

At that party, “she took the opportunity to show me her collection of original comic-book art, including several pages by my favorite, Steve Ditko. It was obvious that we were on the same wavelength. Needless to say, by the middle of Comic-Con, we were an item. That started a three-and-a-half year cross-country relationship. I permanently moved to San Diego in November 1993 and, in January 1994, Jackie and I were married.

“It all started because of Comic-Con.”

Jay Allen Sanford co-created Rock ’N’ Roll Comics, and his publishing company Re-Visionary Press is known for its line of Carnal Comics. He creates two comic strips for the Reader: Overheard in San Diego (debuted 1996) and Famous Former Neighbors (since 2004).

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