My experience attending comic conventions began in the late seventies. Cons made me realize that comics was much more than a medium, comics was a community. When I would walk into a convention hall, wether it was in Philadelphia, or New York, it was easy to recognize the relationship between fans, vendors, and industry professionals.
As an aspiring comics artist, what I looked forward to the most was meeting the pros. In those days cons were a lot different than the extravaganzas that they have become. It was a lot easier to meet and actually get some quality time with the writers, artists and editors. It wasn’t necessary to wait in lines corralled by stanchion ropes. Artists would sketch in your program book and ad a signature free of charge!
Best of all, they would take the time to look at your portfolio and offer constructive criticism and encouragement. If you had real talent, they’d happily refer you to an editor.
Comic conventions were always a great place to learn technique. Artist Alleys were often populated by pros and aspiring amateurs, alike. Many artists would bring work along with them and during down time, they would work on a piece. Most of the professional artists also sold original pages and had stacks of original comic art that could be thumbed through and examined.
There would often be an opportunity to ask an artist how they achieved a certain effect. I always enjoyed talking to the inkers because they had great tips on tools and techniques that resulted in the final line art that we would see when the comic was printed.
There is still the opportunity to have this experience at conventions today but I don’t get the sense that the atmosphere is anywhere near as warm, and relaxed as it was thirty years ago.
A few artists that stood out as supportive when I was a rank amateur were Josef Rubenstein, Bob Wiacek, Ken Landgraf and Dave Simons, these were all guys that could tolerate a pesky kid asking dumb questions and hovering…endlessly.
One guy that was a complete saint to me was the great Filipino artist Rudy Nebres. Rudy was often seen with his family in tow. His wonderfully supportive wife, Delores and their two young boys Edwin and Melvin were regular fixtures behind his table.
To say I marveled at his work would be an understatement. Rudy had a way of illuminating pencils with ink that made the originals appear to glow with with an unmatched radiance. I spent so much time at his table that I became friends with his family and would often keep his kids occupied for a while so mom and dad could catch a break.
Rudy would give me tips on feathering and washes that I wish I was better equipped to fully absorb. He showed me how to graft a number 3 Windsor Newton watercolor brush with a Flair felt tip to make a more comfortable instrument and how to cut india ink with water to get it to flow better. That stuff I could grasp!
Rudy must have had more faith in my talent than I did at the time because he gave me a drawing of Vampirella that he did and told me to ink it, just for practice. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin that beautiful pencil sketch with my rudimentary inking skills, but after much cajoling on Rudy’s part I took on the challenge. It never dawned on me at the time to ink an overlay or to lightbox the drawing so now those beautiful pencils are forever buried beneath my timid inks and muddy washes.
It was a tremendous lesson learned, however. I gained an entirely new perspective regarding inkers and their responsibility to the pencils that they ink. A good inker can make any penciler look better but a bad inker will ruin the best pencils every time.
The opportunity to ink Rudy’s art made me much braver when I inked, especially my own work. I’ll never come close to being the artist that Rudy is but I did learn to put down decent tapered lines and was much more brave when applying ink to another person’s pencils.
Rudy also taught me the value of pros encouraging young talent that they meet at cons. It is a lesson that I always remember when I am on the other side of the table at conventions. Plenty of great talent can be discovered at conventions if given the opportunity, some patience and a fair dose constructive criticism.
Making Comics Because I Want To!