The Minnesota Comic Book Association (MCBA) holds two events a year that they say are “the largest comic book conventions in the Upper Midwest.” The first one of the year, MSP ComicCon, was held May 16-17 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Along with comic book and comic book-related dealers, fan groups and other organizations, MCBA says that MSPComicCon has more than 250 “creators” — comic book writers, artists and publishers both mainstream and independent.
When I attended MSP ComicCon, I was delighted to find African American creators among the exhibitors, most of them Minnesota-based. There also were some African American dealers and a couple of people in costumes based on comic book, sci-fi/fantasy movie and/or TV show characters (known as “cosplayers” in the sci-fi/fantasy fan world).
Local emerging artists
Taylor Payton of Minneapolis is in his mid-20s, but he’s already won awards for his sci-fi/fantasy-based artwork and has a booming freelance career that includes working with a production company to provide illustrations for a History Channel show. When I told him that there was a richness to his work that reminded me of the late, great fantasy book cover artist Frank Frazetta, Payton gushed his thanks: “I’m entranced by Frazetta’s work,” he added.
Minneapolis’ Jason and Tim Tapp are brothers in blood and in comic-style art creating. Tim got a B.S. from the Art Institutes International Minnesota this year and is an animator and storyboard artist. Jason just graduated from high school and does poster art; he wants to write as well as illustrate comics in the future.
Even younger than these artists is 14-year-old Sarai M. Lewis, who not only does comic book-style artwork (including an online comic), but is also a product designer, inventor and entrepreneur. She and her father created a stylus for use on any electronic device that uses touch screens, such as tablets and smart phones. The styluses are manufactured in St. Louis Park, and Lewis and her mother had them for sale at their table along with t-shirts with her artwork on them.
The youngest artist I found at MSP ComicCon was the niece of Phil Howe, a Minneapolis resident who writes and draws web comics and does commissioned work such as illustrating characters from DC Comics, anime and video games. His niece has already started her own freelancing career: People were giving one dollar for her to draw Batman, Spiderman and other characters for them. She was also a little cosplayer, wearing a cute bee girl outfit complete with wings and a mask.
Originally from South Carolina, self-taught artist Willis Nance lives in Minnesota. Alongwith creating posters and drawings for sale, he is currently writing and illustrating a comic book named Agents of B.A.M.N. and is a member of ANA Comics, an independent comic and graphic novel publisher. His career goal: “To be able to provide comfortably for my family by doing my artwork.” Like many of the artist at the show, Nance was drawing pictures at his table.
Charles Stewart III has spent the past eight years in Minnesota after being born and raised in California and living in Washington, D.C. He got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Comic Art and Illustration from Minneapolis College of Art & Design.
MCAD’s unique degree program “was one of the main things that attracted me to Minnesota,” he admitted. Stewart is an emerging artist: This is the first time he’s had his own table at one of the MCBA conventions, he works a day job, and he takes every opportunity he can to use his talent. For example, he provided illustrations for a Christian curriculum book produced by his church.
Minnesota artist Avery Moneco Walker creates posters and caricatures and does graphic design in the comic book style. He hasn’t done a comic book yet; by his own description he feels that he’s “breaking in” to the field of comic-style art-making. His goal: “To be great in the field and be known, be appreciated around the world, [and] give back what’s been given to me, which is art.”
Minnesota comic writers
In the creation of a comic book, there’s often one person who draws the comic and another who writes the story and the text. Bobby “B” Smith, born and raised in St. Paul, writes mostly self-published comic books in a variety of genres, plus he writes prose outside the comic book medium, including screenplays and novels.
For 18 years, David Watkins of Minneapolis has been a comic book writer for a number of independent comic publishers. He also runs an interesting business called KarePax, a subscription service in which people can get a package of snacks and candies from around the world plus some comic books from independent publishers.
Veteran artists from out of town
Uko Smith is an established comic book artist and illustrator from Columbus, Ohio. He got a bachelor’s degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design and is now an instructor there. He’s done work for the toy company Hasbro and “merchandising work for Marvel and DC…cover artwork, storyboarding, character designs… I got my first professional gig around ’95, and I’ve been doing this full time since about 2004.”
Nashville, Tennessee-based Sherard Jackson is another well-established artist who’s worked with DC Comics Online and Marvel as well as “a lot of small press and online web comics” as part of a nearly two-decade professional career. He’s also an animator whose work has been in the feature film A Scanner Darkly.
Dealers and cosplayers
Online retailer Monologue Comics, run by Jamie Robinson, was sharing selling space at the convention with Brainstorm Movies, Comics and Gaming, a Chicago bricks-and-mortar store owned by Sean Akins.
Robinson’s story of how she got into comic book sales shines a harsh light on sexism in the trade: “I was at a convention, [and] this little girl was looking for a My Little Pony book. She was looking at every single dealer, and every single dealer was mean to her, right? Like, ‘Shoo, shoo,’ or ‘Go find your dad’ or whatever. So she went to this one dealer; he did have it, but he was like, ‘[scoffs] It’s 10 bucks!’ just to be a jerk to her. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to be a dealer. Forget this…girl power!’”
On the second day of MSP ComicCon, Jamie Robinson wore a costume based on the Jack Skellington character in the animated movie The Nightmare Before Christmas, making her one of the many cosplayers at the event. Minnesota Superheroes United is made up of cosplayers who make appearances at events and even visit children in hospitals as superheroes and villains. Among the members of this group at the convention was Anthony Garnett as the Falcon, a character in some of the current spate of Marvel Studios movies, including Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The Falcon, introduced in Marvel Comics in 1969, is mainstream comics’ first African American character, as opposed to the African-born character Black Panther, which first appeared in Marvel in 1966. More than four decades later, the Black presence in the comic book world may still be small, but our superpowers of pride and tenacity make us undeniable and invincible.
Stephani Maari Booker welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
See more of Misha Oneby’s photos from the event below: