What to expect in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego? A never ending sea of people. As far as one could see, masses of people dressed in a variety of costumes trying to catch everyone’s eye walked among the attendee’s.

Some people carried art portfolios, others shoulder bags in anticipation of buying comics, graphic novels or t-shirts they would carry inside the convention.

The sun was shining in San Diego, as people of all ages, sizes, and shapes crossed the trolley tracks then street to get to the convention center. I’m not talking about all the children still in strollers being pushed by their fathers and mothers, but a growing crowd of teens to the mature adult. All with the same anxious look on their faces – Comic-Con is here. Finally it is our time!

Surrounded by giant banners depicting scenes from new movies coming out everyone looked up and took note of how one banner covered the entire façade of a professional building. “Where are you from?” I asked, one couple walking by.

“Australia,” they said. “We have been here since Wednesday.”

Now curious to know what other areas others arrived from some of their answers were, “Poland, Philadelphia, and Arizona.”

Checking in at Comic-Con is pretty easy. You get a name tag which is your ticket inside (at all time – you must wear it around your neck or pinned to your clothing or be escorted out). Plus you are presented with a convention guide, souvenir book, and oversized bag to put all your goodies inside. Inside the convention, I quickly noticed how well thought out this nonprofit educational organization was. And this being my first time here, I decided to go from floor to floor so I could view everything before deciding which area to concentrate on. I am glad I did as my plan was to interview professional artist’s and illustrator’s in the industry. Questions like how they got started, what was their latest idea for a graphic novel or what new comic were they working on.

Upstairs, downstairs… everywhere one looked exhibits showcased various types of illustrations, actions figures, and dolls to collectable toys. And plenty of stars were on hand offering their voices to panel meetings while others stood behind major television studio platforms talking about their situation comedy series. I wandered the halls and found myself strolling inside the X-Men panel. After quickly taking pictures the lights were dimmed and the meeting was about to start. I ran into Markus and friend Brett both twenty-two from Pennsylvania.

“Are you both fans?” I asked, before sitting down.

“I am a fan of the comics,” Markus said. “We have been coming for three years in a row.”

“I collect X-Men graphic novels,” Bret said, chiming in. “They come in straight paperbacks.”

“I see. So you two are real diehard readers?” “Yes pretty much,” they said, smiling.

As the lights dimmed I sat next to Michael Hammersky, a comic book blogger and social media consultant. “When did you start coming to the convention?” I asked, Michael.

“I started in 1972 as a dealer for Marvel Comics. That was back when Conan the Barbarian was fifteen cents and I sold it for five dollars. Now, I go as an attendee. I listen to the panels like this one with Neal Adams talking about X-Men. My wife comes for the pop-culture panels. She’s interested in finding out what new films are coming out,” he said.

“What made you transition from selling comics?” “I sell comics online now at: www.comicbookcollectorsblog.com,” Michael answered.

“What is your favorite comic to read?”

“That would be the Fantastic Four but I also read independent comics also.”

After the X-Men panel I walked down one of the corridors and passed various teenagers and children dressed in their favorite comic and movie characters. Star Wars and Superman characters also paraded down the hallways and main vendor showrooms waiting for someone to stop them, and ask to take their picture.

Visiting downstairs, I made my way inside the main exhibit hall from the Bayside Lobby area. Oh my, was I taken back and eyes widen. Surprised to see even more people than I could ever imagine, In so many directions people were coming and going. Comprised of retailer booths, and areas specifically set up for major studio networks there were autograph areas, a small press pavilion, and webcomic sections. I also noticed a gold and silver jewelry area, a collectible section, and the artist alley all well presented within the limits of the exhibit hall.

Stepping in line with the rest of the crowd I tried to catch every booth wanting to at least glance at what they were promoting. But I only stopped when my interest was piqued. Crossing paths with tables filled of photographs of past television shows, there were glass cases showing off action figures and miniature collectables, to original paintings of comics, and plenty of costumes for sale. I stopped to talk to brothers Ryan and Dean Tumaliuan (www.tumaliunbrothers.com), who self-published as a way of showing off their original artistic talents. Creators of, At The Blade of Dawn and Star Knight. I picked one of Ryan’s comic’s up to flip through the pages but he politely reminded me that traditional Japanese books are often read from right to left.

“Ryan when did you start drawing?” I asked, smiling, turning to the back cover then open it to read.

“Since I was a little kid. My Grandfather is the artist in the family. We got our talent from him.”

“Did you go to school?”

“Otis Art College,” Ryan said.

“How long have you both been in business?” I asked, having him sign my copy of his comic.

“About two years,” both Dean and Ryan said. “We used to be toy designers, but are trying to make this a full time gig. It takes a lot of hard work and determination.”

Leaving, I shook Ryan and Dean’s hands thinking these two brothers have an eye on the future. Being a first-timer at Comic Con, I had an idea for a graphic novel in the back of my mind. So part of my mission was to scout possible illustrators. Finding Artist’s Alley neatly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of noise but not people, one artist caught my eye right away.

“Have you been drawing for a while?” I asked, flipping through the art of Philip Moy.

“It is a passion of mine,” Phillip said, using a watercolor brush to highlight a part of a picture he was working on. “I’ve been doing this for seven years.”

“Have you had any professional training?” I asked.

“I’m an architect by trade. Maybe that has a little to do with some of my ability. But I have been drawing since I was a kid. I just practice,” Mr. Moy said.

We talked some more then I took his picture. But as I watched him work using subtle watercolor tones, I felt soothed somehow and thought, I’ve got to try that. How wonderful it is to be able to draw. Just two chairs down from Mr. Moy was an illustrator all the way from Italy.

“What type of art do you do?” I asked.

“I am children’s traditional illustrator,” Leonardo Meschini said. “This is my first time coming to Comic-Con. It is a big pleasure for me to meet such wonderful people. I work mostly in Europe. My site is: www.leonardomeschini.com. But I hope to work with many Americans. I draw anything related to children’s books ­ dragons, fairies, and animals,” said Leonardo.

After viewing row after row of artist’s work, I stopped at a young man’s table, intrigued by a graphic novel’s cover art titled, Whiteout. Steve Lieber (www.stevelieber.com), was inking a small picture on a card for another attendee when I approached. I gleamed, picking up this illustrated book and I must have starred at the character’s eyes on the cover for minutes ­ completely understanding the whole story without looking at a single inside graphic. As a writer I know a good a plot line, characters, and cover art helps to sell a book. Might this be the guy to help me with my own work? I wanted to know more about Mr. Lieber.

“Did you study professionally?”

“Yes. I studied at the Joe Kubert School of Art. I learned a lot from Joe,” he said, smiling.

“How did you get your start in this industry?”

“I broke into comics by putting together samples of my art and mailed them to every single address I had,” said Steve. “I would mail out packages at the first of every month. And then after about a year my clients noticed I was making deadlines before I had any.”

“I see you have a couple of graphic novels here. Did you start out that way? Or was it in comics?”

“They are both the same. To me it is just a marketing category. I started out doing a few helpful illustration projects then that lead to more work. With that slightly higher profile that lead to more work. You see the pattern,” Steve answered. “Whiteout, the graphic novel you are holding eventually became a movie at Warner Brothers. But it is always the same. It is about telling a story with pictures.”

“Do you just do the artwork or do you also write?” I asked, thumbing through the pages.

“I prefer to work with the writer. I stick to the art work and make the pictures as clearly as possible.”

So impressed was I when I walked away, I took his card. I was about to leave the exhibit hall when I crossed paths with two agreeable gentlemen sitting behind a row of graphic novels. One book in particular caught my eye. The cover art was amazing. I asked a slew of questions to Justin Randall a published graphic artist and writer, and Wolfgang Bylsma of Gestalt Publishing (www.gestaltcomics.com), both from Australia.

“Justin, are you hear to promote your graphic novel?”

“Yes, Changing Ways,” Justin proudly said in his native accent. “I did all the art and authored the book.”

“Is this your first time at Comic-Con?”

“Yes,” both Justin and Wolfgang said. “We are trying to get American audiences interested in our own graphic novels,” Wolfgang said. “I am the publisher of Gestalt.”

“It is hard to impress me,” I said, flipping through Changing Ways, “But your pages are done with great quality. How did you get started in publishing graphic novels?”

“I was a teacher,” Wolfgang said. “One of my students showed me what he was working on. He said, he was very happy doing it as a career so I thought I want to do that.”

After a long talk with Justin and Wolfgang I took their business cards and left noticing I had been at Comic-Con the entire day. As my time ended, I came away with more inspiration, a new appreciation for comics and graphic novels, and plenty of new contacts. I now understand what the graphic artist does and the time it takes to painstakingly create pictures out of nothing to tell a story – whether done by hand or by computer. Of course illustrators love what they are doing, but I appreciate what it takes to do original art. If only I could draw!

Things to know: Comic-Con International also hands out awards. The InkPot Awards are given to individuals for their contributions to the worlds of comics, science fiction/fantasy, film, television, animation, or fandom services. The Icon Award is presented to a creator who has been instrumental in bringing comics to a wider audience. And, the prestigious Eisner Awards. The Will Eisner Awards are given for creative achievement in American Comic books.

Are you now inspired to come to Comic-Con? A few tid-bits of information before visiting San Diego during Comic-Con: The weather in July ranges from 70 to 80 degrees and mostly sunny. Everyone attending dresses comfortably (shorts and jeans). There are plenty of places to stay and eat within walking distance of the convention center in areas like The Gaslamp Quarter, www.gaslamp.org. And for shopping there is Horton Plaza: www.westfield.com/hortonplaza. If you are driving parking can be stressful, but if you arrive early there are plenty of parking lots to choose from before the crowds arrive. Hint: park four to six blocks away and walk to Comic-Con.

I expect to see all of you there next year!

Robin Garland loves to do interview articles in a variety of genre. She continues to writer novels and now after visiting Comic-Con will start working on an idea she has for a graphic novel. To read more about Robin visit: www.robingarland.wordpress.com, www.livingtreemedia.com, and www.livingtreemedia.wordpress.com.

Written by Robin S. Garland

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