Comic Con Descended on New York This Weekend. Here Are Our Favorite Works of Art From the Giant Pop Culture Fest
Meet the artists and designers who are the life blood of the annual event.
The alternate universe art world that is New York Comic Con touched down in the Javits Center on the far West Side last week, bringing with it all manner of action figures, crossover promotions, and super hero-themed apparel. Amid all the spectacle, as always, were hundreds of artists, selling their work to a different breed of art collector.
The range of work on display is impressive. Down on “Artist Alley,” there’s no shortage of old school comic artists who draw for the big name series you know and love, many of whom will hand ink a new drawing on the spot for a hundred bucks or so. There’s also quite a few young artists who work primarily on the computer, creating their drawings and paintings digitally and selling prints of the finished design.
“People want it done it right away,” said Sacramento artist and graphic designer Nooligan, who was exhibiting on the main floor with drawings of beloved pop culture characters, reimagined in a unique style that blends hip hop and graffiti with old Saturday morning cartoons. “They want corrections, they want things moved around, so you have to do it digitally.”
But even for artists trained in computer drawing techniques, the allure of the pencil can still remain strong. “I went to school for game art design so my background is more on 3-D modeling and programming,” said Wisconsin artist Timothy Von, who was offering intricate, fairy tale-like pencil drawings—both originals and digital reproductions—in a dreamy, white and gold fabric-draped booth that had caught the ire of con organizers. “I have to take some of it down tonight,” he laughed. “It’s a bit excessive; I got yelled at.”
Drawing remains a common sight down in Artist Alley, but it was almost a shock to see Nen Chang at work on an easel, painting her darkly feminine characters with a bold array of watercolors. She too had prints for sale, but had also brought a large-scale oil painting. “It’s nice to whip one out every now and then remind people what they look like,” she quipped.
Also unexpected was Eli Neugeboren, a Brooklyn artist and school teacher with a distinct lack of fan art in his offerings. Instead, his work included delicate watercolors of a bowl of ramen and a bagel and lox, a poignant pen and ink portrait of the late Anthony Bordain. “I’m a little more fine art, but I do cartooning as well,” he said. “I think there’s people who are surprised to find this art here—but they’re happily surprised!”
Neugeboren was also showing a bold sketch of the Fearless Girl statue facing off against Wall Street’s Charging Bull. “You lose control over dictating the meaning of your art when it’s out in the public sphere,” he said, referring to the controversy over the way Fearless Girl, a viral marketing stunt, recast Arturo di Modica’s original artwork as a bully.
Occasionally, you’ll find strong art history references, as in the work of Missouri artist Megan Lara, who opted out of attending art school as her illustration business took off. “Someone told me my art looked Alphonse Mucha—and then I started researching the Art Nouveau movement,” she admitted. Many of her pieces feature strong female characters like Princess Leia, framed by elaborate decorative borders.
Channeling the Golden Age of illustration was Jae, who goes by the moniker pineapple bread, with a modern take on the Saturday Evening Post covers of J.C. Leyendecker, featuring Marvel characters Iron Man and Captain American in a romantic relationship. “[Leyendecker] was a closeted gay man,” said the artist, explaining her inspiration.
Another Artist Alley highlight was the new hit web comic Strange Planet, by Nathan W. Pyle. Since his quirky four-panel drawings poking fun at humans’ idiosyncratic behaviors went viral in February, he’s teamed with Threadless on a new line of merchandise. For the Con, they’ve released an exclusive set of signed screen prints, separate from the posters available online.
Currently, Pyle is riding the wave of the series’ success. “I make a new comic every single day,” he said. “The book is coming out in November, which gives me a chance to explore more of the narrative in the universe.”
Artists were also scattered around the main convention floor, where booths are more expensive but easier to get. “Artist Alley is juried—you have to have more industry experience,” said Nate Jones, who was showing a series of portraits of pop culture characters like Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson that replace the faces with a memorable quote by the character. “It’s never gone really viral, but Bob’s Burgers’ official Instagram shared it.”
The upper level also includes art vendors and galleries, offering everything from vintage comic illustrations, collectible comic books, all manner of poster art, and even officially licensed artworks depicting beloved franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel and DC universes.
We even spotted Thomas Kinkade Galleries of New York and New Jersey, which recently acquired the rights to make Star Wars art in addition to saccharine landscapes. Kinkade himself, of course, is dead, but his studio is selling the work of artists like Blend Cota, who specializes in DC characters rendered in bold brushstrokes, as well as anonymous canvases sold under the Kinkade brand.
“They don’t announce the artists from the studio,” explained gallery co-owner Sal Catalfumo. “You have Zac Kinkade, who is Thom’s nephew, and you have Pat Kinkade, who is Thom’s brother.” All of the works for sale are lithographs, reproductions that can sell for up to $2,000. “We don’t have no originals here,” Catalfumo added, pointing to the details in one canvas. “These are actually raised. They put a brushstroke texture over it and add highlights in oil.”
If Kinkade’s not your jam, you could also find some of the more established greats of the field, like Bill Sienkiewicz, an Eisner-winning comic artist and classically trained painter who has also shown work in galleries around the world, including the National Museum of Fine Arts in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the Con, he was celebrating the release of his new book, Bill Sienkiewicz: Revolution, in which artnet News’s own national art critic Ben Davis examines the artist’s work as fine art, not pop culture.
“There should be a little bit more of that,” said Sienkiewicz.
Other artists at the Javits Center, like Nooligan, agreed. “A lot of us are just as talented [as fine artists], but we decided to do things that are more fun,” he said.
See more photos from New York Comic Con below.
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