CAROLYN BELEFSKI has a scolding grade-school teacher to thank for one of the turning points of her life.
“I met Joe in middle school during art class, when he got in ‘trouble’ and was asked by the teacher to sit at my table as punishment,” the Virginia-based cartoonist and designer says of Joe Carabeo, who now is both her personal and professional partner. “Our first discussion was about ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and ‘My Little Pony.’ Thus started the dark and light or our opposing sides, and our admiration for art, animation, and comics.
“We didn’t work on our own comics together until college,” continues Belefski, who got her BFA in Communication Arts and Design from Virginia Commonwealth University, “but I feel like we’ve had ideas brewing in our brains for years. ... I’d like to think we met through cartooning and mischief!”
This weekend, Belefski and Carabeo will bring their creative mischief and talent to Awesome Con, an inaugural comics and pop culture convention Saturday and Sunday at the Washington Convention Center. (For schedule, guest and ticket info, click HERE.) The event is being led by Ben Penrod, who has coordinated other cons in the region, as well as nationally.
“I have traveled all over the country setting up at comic-cons, and D.C. is the only major city without one,” Penrod tells Comic Riffs. “That’s ridiculous.” [Note: D.C. has had the occasional Con over recent decades, including GigaCon.]
“I figured, we run conventions, so let’s try to do one in D.C. It’s been the most amazing thing so far, and I think this weekend is going to be super-fun. I just hope the space isn’t too small! We were originally expecting about 4,000 attendees for the weekend. Right now, it seems like we might overshoot that number.”
Those attendees will have multiple chances to catch Belefski and Carabeo, who are participating in several Con events. Comic Riffs caught up with Belefski to talk about Awesome Con, as well as her podcasting, her webcomic “Curls,” her editing of D.C.’s Magic Bullet newspaper and next month’s Free Comic Book Day:
MICHAEL CAVNA: How did you first get into cartooning and design, Carolyn — what’s your origin story?
CAROLYN BELEFSKI: I was born and raised in Virginia and began drawing at an early age, mostly because I wanted to emulate Chuck Jones and other animation styles. Growing up, my parents supported me taking art classes and teaching me about nature and history.
MC: Can you tell readers who might not be familiar with “Curls” what it’s about, and why they really should be checking out?
CB: “Curls” is my comic strip [available for reading at www.curls-studio.com/curls]. It’s about the adventures of a girl, her animal friends and a life-size piece of toast. It’s written for all ages, so my hope is that the comic will be enjoyable for everyone. It is also an outlet for me to experiment and showcase my visual observations about the world and everyday events that are fantasized or relatable to slice-of-life situations. I like to make people happy and hope to achieve that with “Curls” and the other art I bring to life.
MC: So how did you first hear about Awesome Con, and what sparked your interest enough to decide to participate? Was D.C.’s apparent thirst for its own Con part of the appeal?
CB: I first heard of Awesome Con through Ben Penrod, who operates the Southern Maryland Comic-Con and Annapolis Comic-Con shows, which I started exhibiting at last year. It was really energizing to hear about a comic convention being planned located directly in D.C. Apparently there may have been one once before at a hotel over 20 years ago, but I’m not too familiar with that since it was before I started doing comics professionally.
Since D.C. is a major city, and the nation’s capital, it seems like there should be a comic convention here. There are smaller shows in the suburbs, but I admire Ben for taking on a massive event-planning challenge. There has been a lot of energy in the area recently, and many talented creators locally. Obviously we get overshadowed by the political scene in the city, but people have stories to tell, and Awesome Con seems to be a perfect outlet for our creative culture in D.C.
MC: Your Awesome Con dance card is mighty full. What do you and Joe have planned for Awesome Con — and what excites you about these events?
CB: On Saturday, there is a “District Comics” panel at 3 p.m. where we’ll be discussing “District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, D.C.” with moderator Mike Rhode. Also on Saturday at 6 p.m., Joe will be on a Professional Wrestling panel. Then on Sunday at 2 p.m.,Joe and I will both be co-hosting a live edition of our podcast, “The Carolyn & Joe Show.” We will have Theo Crane from “The Walking Dead” on as our special guest. Curls Studio will be at Table #223 to exhibit our comics and art on both days of the show, as well.
MC: “District Comics” was one of my favorite books of last year. What did you enjoy about creating your contributed story, and what makes you particularly proud of the book as a whole?
CB: “District Comics” was a great opportunity because the concept really connected many of the local artists and writers. Matt Dembicki edited the book and got everyone on board. [My story with Carabeo] is “Spytini,” about Elizabeth Bentley and her espionage activities inside Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown. Joe and I went to eat lunch and take photos of the restaurant so we could get a feel for the location and make sure the visuals were on tap with the true history. Elizabeth Bentley also used to hang out in front of Georgetown Pharmacy, which is no longer around. One of my former co-workers had reference material for me because her grandfather actually used to own the store. We enjoyed knowing that the book got people excited about history, and the material isn’t typical of a traditional history book. It was also a good feeling to be acknowledged by ... Graphic Design USA.
MC: What can you tell us about Joe’s “Pro Wrestling” panel? It looks indeed “awesome” – yet I have no idea what quite to expect from it.
CB: Apparently a lot of professional wrestling fans read comics! Spandex jokes aside, there are many of great overlaps with the two art forms. Once you sit back and study wrestling, you’ll see storylines and characters. There are also a lot of great visuals and advertising taglines involved when wrestling is written smartly. Joe pitched the panel as “how we’d book it,” so I think they’ll be discussing the current state of wrestling and what they’d do with the talent. DC 101’s Mike Jones is on the panel, as well. It should be a fun event!
MC: Tell us about your and Joe’s Sunday podcast: What do you expect out of it — anything you really-really want to ask Theo Crane. And can you tell us about your and Joe’s podcasting history?
CB: Joe and I have been doing the podcast for over 222 episodes — a new release every Tuesday at www.carolynandjoeshow.com. Our conversations are raw and unedited — be prepared for a conversation that will offend or entertain! We started a radio show with a friend on cable-access, then realized we could produce the shows ourselves and started releasing them on the Internet. Joe has seen “The Walking Dead” and read the books, so I’m sure he will drive that material. I’m interested in Theo Crane as a person — how he got his acting roles, and seeing where the discussion will take us.
MC: I’ve contributed to Magic Bullet twice but have only a sense of how demanding it must be to edit an issue of it. What’s it been like editing the new MB #6 — what was most challenging, and most rewarding?
CB: Editing Magic Bullet #6 was a rewarding experience because I worked with over 40 published contributors, largely based in of the D.C. metropolitan area. Magic Bullet is Washington, D.C.’s comics newspaper [and] is available for free at many venues ... . It was challenging to obtain advertisers to help us fund the print run of 5,000, but I was able to reach out and obtain the money we needed. Matt Dembicki, Rafer Roberts and Art Hondros helped us with some advertising. In a way, a large part of the editor position for this publication is being a salesperson, because we don’t have the traditional support team of most publications, so it felt like I was doing outreach, working with contributors, handling advertising, finances, layout, distribution and basically being a single publisher. Many of the contributors have helped to distribute the newspapers around town and we have been taking photo documentation for our online presence, so people can see what we are up to and where to get the publication for free. We hope the newspaper will bring enjoyment and comic awareness to the general public.
MC: Speaking of Magic Bullet: What will you be doing — and where — next month for Free Comic Book Day?
CB: On Saturday, May 4, 15 of the Magic Bullet #6 contributors will be appearing at nine locations in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey to celebrate Free Comic Book Day, when participating comic shops around the world give away select comics books absolutely free to anyone who comes into their stores, It is also a great opportunity for the audience to meet creators right on their backyard. Joe and I will be at Laughing Ogre Comics in Fairfax — check www.magicbulletcomics.com to see where the other contributors will be located.