Wizard World Richmond Comic Con Delivers Small Press in a Big Way

photo by David James Bromley

Never having had a three-day comic book convention before, Richmond is in for a treat. Wizard World, a publicly owned company (WIZD), is in town for two more days and will return next year. Full of celebrities, fans in costume, vendors, toys, games and even comic books, there is plenty to see and write about.

Specializing as this column does in the aspirational world of creators working their way upward to bigger things, I decided to forgo covering more well-known personalities and brands - there are many here, from the large Neal Adams section to the Lego Company - and browse the numerous tables in search of stories-in-the-making. The search was not disappointing, and, as you will read, the talent ranges from local to international.

Hailing originally from England, and crossing the pond to marry his wife Mary, from Chesapeake, Virginia we have one Jason Crawley, a.k.a. 'The Bloke'. Here is a figure deserving of greater recognition for his work self-publishing in the genre of horror comics, and he is achieving it with the winning of such awards as Best Anthology from Comicmonsters.com (twice) and more recently a Ghastly Award ("choke!") named after the legendary Graham Ingels. Jason takes art very seriously and his magazines are dominated by fine illustration. He commissions veteran artist Mike Hoffman, an astute student of the great Frank Frazetta, to paint the covers. The interior artists depict Crawley in caricature as 'The Bloke', a haunted host in the tradition of the old E.C. line. The black and white content is strongly reminiscent of the Warren publishing house, and only top talent need apply.

Publishing while still in England, and collaborating with European publishers as well, Crawley has received support here in the States from the esteemed Count Gore De Vol, popular horror movie host from television and internet. Usually writing most of the stories himself, The Bloke will also be getting some help for his next issue from experienced comics-scribe (and former Warren writer) Roger McKenzie, in a story to be illustrated by Juan Carlos Abraldes. Of all the talent involved, Jason has only met Hoffman, organizing the entire operation via internet. And a successful operation it is, with a strong Facebook presence in 'Bloke's Terrible Tomb of Terror', as well as Etsy, Amazon and IndyPlanet sales platforms. Crawley reports: 'We have recently been picked up for distribution in both France and Spain, where the series is being translated and released by Wetta in France and Tyrannosaurus Books in Spain'.

Dedicated to the great comic art of the past that has now achieved rightful recognition from the broader art world, Jason says, 'While I do try and mix genres up a bit in the contents like EC did, I would have to say that TOMB's overall influence and style comes more from our love for the Warren books and their amazing painted covers that graced the front of each issue. I could sit for hours, just looking at the amazing selection in their cover galleries. The interior artwork of TOMB follows a similar style, whether it's straight up ink work or washes to give the story that captivating retro look.' Based on the evidence, The Bloke is captivating new audiences in his own right.

Two artists down from New York are sharing a table and have very interesting work for those who seek something different. Kwan Wilson presents a humorous zine, 'Rits', about angry superheroes preparing breakfast. His own webpage reveals his dedication to figure drawing and digital painting. His friend, writer & illustrator John Cappello, presents a very poetic series, 'The Wonderful Wheels', about a young schoolgirl who is wheelchair bound by a car accident that also claimed the life of her mother - in her powerful imagination, she becomes the author of her own story.

Richmond arts are well represented by two graduates of our famous Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, Nathan Nelson and Kevin Roberts. Nathan's depiction of famous cartoon characters, very smoothly delineated with Copic markers, has earned him a job with a national trading card company. Kevin's self-described 'critically-ignored indie book', "Stronghold: Hope Is Not Yet Lost", a grim science fiction story, is in fact a successful Kickstarter project that exceeded goal. Both of these artists are friends, as are Kwan and John, and it is encouraging to see young talent support each other on their way up to the top.

Such talent that has already made it to the top of the field is the versatile Renee Witterstaetter. Her "Little Eva Ink" company is representing here in Richmond such noted creators as James O'Barr and Russian artist Konstantin Komardin. Also on display at her table are books she has authored or co-wrote, such as the fabulous 'Nick Cardy: The Artist at War'. This is a beautiful book about a master cartoonist. 'Nick Cardy: Wit-Lash' may also be perused or purchased, among other superbly produced volumes and original collectible art.

And continuing their success since 1977, Heavy Metal magazine is well represented by their friendly staff. Jeff Krelitz enthusiastically promotes the brand and displays decades old back issues for sale that this reviewer urges collectors to review. This publication remains a leader in the market, with art from charcoal drawings, watercolor and photorealism to stories such as erotic science fiction, fantasy and supernatural war drama. My chat with the fine folks at Heavy Metal, who generously reviewed old magazines with me, was a fine way to conclude the evening.

On Saturday, the mega-event will include 'Inside The Batcave with Adam West and Burt Ward', a Marvel Comics Portfolio Review, a panel of comics historians (Tom DeHaven, M. Thomas Inge, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson [granddaughter of comic book pioneer Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson] and Danny Fingeroth) on 'The Origins of Modern Comics', and much more. Sunday will feature 'Storytelling with Michael Golden', and a Kid's Costume Contest, among other special events.

Wizard World Richmond Comic Con continues:
Sat., Sept. 13 from 10am - 7pm
Sun., Sept. 14 from 11am - 5pm
Greater Richmond Convention Center, 403 North Third Street, Richmond, VA, 23219

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