AS A NEW YEAR of American comics conventions gets fully underway in the wake of its Arizona kickoff, Comic Riffs comes bearing an open request:
For 2013, for the fans, let’s make even more cons spontaneously creative through the power of performance.
Yes, there is a bold and beautiful and crowd-friendly way to inject yet more life into your nearest con.
And it involves death.
That’s because two cartooning events last year in D.C. trotted out supremely well-received creator-performance events: animeUSA’s Super Art Fight (with its Wheel of Death), and “Literary Death Match,” Cartoon-Style, at the AAEC’s Damn Cartoons Festival. .
Both these performances — the former at Washington Marriott Wardman Park, the latter at George Washington University — served as lively and genuinely spontaneous crowd-pleasers.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists’s Cartoon Death Match was hosted by Adrian Todd Zuniga, who founded Literary Death Match (and who returned to D.C. on Thursday night for his creation’s free Kennedy Center debut).
The inspiration behind Literary Death Match, Zuniga tells Comic Riffs, is to “bring disparate people together and go beyond the boring book reading. Audiences deserve more if we’re going to lure them away from the 417 e-mails they just got while reading this sentence.”
So Zuniga’s goal: “Make it a show. Make it spectacle. And they’ll come in droves and cheer their way through the delight.”
SEE THE FIRST “CARTOON DEATH MATCH” (GWU):
The Cartoon Death Match pitted such political cartoonists as Mark Fiore, Jen Sorensen and Keith Knight in spontaneous drills at the drawing board — with comics/publishing figures Dean Haspiel, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald and The Post’s Gene Weingarten serving as judges. The scene played like a mix of great anecdote-sharing and quick wits amid bouts between world-class Pictionary artists.
“Ideally. I think that’s so wonderful about the LDM format: It’s old tropes made fresh and exhilarating ... ,” Zuniga tells Comic Riffs. “I felt, on that stage, like the unanointed. I always read cartoons, but that night I ‘got’ them in a new way. Now I’m hooked.”
So what did Zuniga think of playing D.C. — especially in front of cartoonists?
“It was one of my favorite shows we’ve ever done — out of 256,” he tells us. “I love the vibrancy and support of the literary/artsy DC community, and take any chance I can to be in that city. Especially with [the literary] Obama at the helm.
“It was fresh and exciting and surprising. I loved every second of it.”
FOR AN EVEN wilder, more raucous time, comics events could consider toting in the Wheel of Death.
At last fall’s animeUSA, cartoonists with pistol-fast pens in hand waged a Super Art Fight, filling their wall-sized canvases with rapid ideas.
“The show was a blast!” recalls area cartoonist Jamie Noguchi (Yellow Peril, Erfworld, “Shattered”), who helped start Super Art Fight. “It’s always good to get in front of an audience that hasn’t seen us before and blow their minds.
“[We’d] never done animeUSA before,” Noguchi continues, “so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but when we walked in to the panel room and it was packed, we knew it was going to be a good show. I guess we’ve gotten to a point where we have a pretty good reputation at cons.”
Noguchi explains the comics showdown, which he says grew out of an “Iron Chef”-inspired event called Iron Artist.
“Two artists get a ‘secret ingredient’ and spend an hour drawing a piece based on that theme,” he says. “It was an annual thing at Katsucon. ... But one year, the tech kind of went awry at one of the Iron Artist shows. That year it was a team setup instead of individual artists. Nick DiFabio and I were on opposite teams and somehow we decided to just kick things up a few notches. We started running over to each other’s pieces and drawing weird things. Then we decided to grab more paper to extend the canvases.
“By the end of the show, we had two huge pieces with all sorts of insane things drawn on them. The crowd absolutely loved it, so Nick and I decided to see if there would be any interest in such a thing outside of a convention.”
Where else to head after a con, then, than a local bar?
“We did our first proper Art Fight at the Ottobar in Baltimore in their upstairs bar,” Noguchi says. “We weren’t too sure if anyone would be interested in two artists drawing things for an hour, but we managed to keep the attention of the crowd. Our second show was on the main floor of the Ottobar. We added Marty Day and Ross Nover to emcee the event and recruited more artists so that we could have three bouts. From there, we’ve just kind of grown and expanded as we need to.”
The next big step of expansion involved a way to inject another element of spontaneity into the proceedings.
“The Wheel of Death came out of a long and terribly unproductive brainstorming session,” recalls Noguchi, a D.C. native who grew up in Bethesda and studied at the University of Maryland. “At one point, Ross Nover, said, ‘...Oh sure, and we can have a Wheel of Death that throws out topics.’
“Chris Impink, one of our first artists and the founder of Katsucon’s Iron Artist event, said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ By the end of the meeting, he had programmed a basic wheel of death that did exactly what we wanted it to do. He’s refined the program now so that all we have to do is update an XML file for new topics and send him a few jpgs to create a new skin.”
Numerous comics cons already encourage spontaneous performance, of course. But in the name of making the scene even more lively in 2013, Zuniga and Noguchi are on call — ready to help ratchet up the comics world even further.
And cons should certainly take notice.