The Out-of-this-World Art of New York Comic Con
The convention center floor at New York Comic Con. Photo: Sarah Cascone.
New York City is once again overrun with cosplay and comics nerds during the New York Comic Con this weekend, and art lovers would do well to take notice. The convention offers a unique hybrid of costumery, pop culture, and yes, fine art (see “San Diego Comic-Con Offers Fine Art, Too“). Braving the crowds is a challenge, but, as artnet News discovered, well worth the effort.
Mixed in amid Star Trek pajamas and heavily articulated action figures are items boasting price tags befitting the most blue-chip of galleries. At the booth of vintage comic book dealer Metropolis, which also runs online auction company ComicConnect.com, artnet News got a glimpse of the world’s most expensive comic book, the famed Action #1. Featuring the first appearance of Superman, the comic, which cost a mere ten cents when first published in 1938, fetched a record $3.2 million on eBay this summer (see “$3.2 Million on eBay for Superman Comic Sets New Auction Record“).
In its upcoming sales, ComicConnect.com is offering a rare copy of Amazing Fantasy #15, the debut of Spider-Man, signed by none other than creator and comics legend Stan Lee. For those looking at a more approachable means of entry into the world of vintage comic collecting, Wolverine’s first appearance, in a 1974 issue of The Incredible Hulk, is available for a mere $2,200.
Much of what Comic Con has to offer amounts to fan art taken to the next level, with familiar characters rendered in all sorts of media and style. Popular subjects across the fair include this year’s breakout hits, Frozen and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as HBO fantasy favorite Game of Thrones and stalwarts such as Batman and Spider-Man. Everything from tile mosaics (by Matt Dimasi) to cake art (from Nadia Burgess) is available for purchase to those who appreciate such pop culture fodder.
artnet News even spotted an entire car, Steven Vaughan’s ArtRod, which has been appraised at $1.1 million. The tricked out 1970 Saab has been hand painted with colorful, hyper realistic paintings of Marilyn Monroe, superheros, flowers, and explosions. The Con also dipped a toe into body painting (see “World Bodypainting Festival Turns Nude Bodies into Art” and “Nude Bodypainting Model Sues NYPD Over Arrest“) with the Painted Pin Up booth, featuring near-nude models made up to look like Scooby-Doo‘s Daphne and, if the initial coat of orange paint was any indication, Velma.
One major section of this year’s event is dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Batman, with a giant bronze statue of the caped crusader and a museum-style display of the costumes from the various Batman films. Conspicuously missing is the yet-to-be-unveiled suit from the upcoming version starring Ben Affleck, which only features a cape and mask. The original Michael Keaton outfit from 1989 actually made its museum debut earlier this year during National Batman Day at Massachusetts’s Worcester Art Museum (see “Worcester Art Museum Celebrates National Batman Day“). The artsy side of the film industry was also on hand at the Weta Workshops booth, which was dramatically topped by a life-size head of Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) with unsettlingly blinking eyes.
In Artist Alley, artnet News was drawn to the graphic, Pop art inspired splatter paintings of Marvel and DC artist Jim Calafiore, featuring bold black silhouettes of characters such as Wolverine, the Joker, and Spider-Man, the negative space filled with color splashes of vinyl paint. Striking portraiture from Brett Weldele and Alice X. Zhang also stood out. And the disturbingly sexualized cartoon posters featuring Ronald McDonald, Mr. Monopoly, and Oscar the Grouch by WizardSkull were hard to miss.
Artists have also made their way into the main hall. Among them are Amanda Coronado, who seamlessly blends the influence of anime and Alphonse Mucha in a kind of 21st century Japonism, and Epyon5, who creates retro, stenciled portraits layered over newsprint. Some artists were demonstrating their talents on the spot on Thursday, such as CJ Draden, who quickly dashed off an ink drawing of Guardians of the Galaxy fan-favorite Groot with to the delight of visitors.
Even booths that seemed to have a less apparent art angle, such as that of 481Universe, a line of pose-able robot toys, are worth a closer look. Ni Merz sculpts his retro-futuristic figures by hand, collaborating with a factory to produce them in kid-friendly plastic. PigFish, a new mobile phone game featuring trash-loving animal characters, was showing off an assortment of colorful acrylic paintings based on the app.
The most mystifying entry this year is undoubtedly B.Duck, a line of rubber duck toys and home wares hailing from Hong Kong. It was such a clear rip-off of Florentijn Hofman’s giant inflatable duck sculpture (see “Giant Rubber Duck Lands at Virginia’s Chrysler Museum“) that the booth attendant made no attempt to hide it, claiming that while the company was not technically affiliated with the artist, they helped him promote the duck during its many appearances in Asia.
There also a few galleries in the mix, such as Cook & Becker, the self-described “next-gen art dealers” from Amsterdam, which offers high quality limited edition prints of digitally created art, and Denver’s Kevin Eslinger Art Gallery, which is exhibiting the artist and gallerist’s brightly colored, sometimes psychedelic paintings of characters from Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, among others.
The Con also affords the opportunity to meet with comic book greats at free autograph sessions. If you’re lucky, they may even fill a page of your sketchbook with an original drawing. artnet News spotted Walt Simonson, best known for his run on Thor during the 1980s, doing just that on Thursday. (In 2011, Simonson’s contributions to the series as a writer and artist were rewarded with a cameo appearance in the character’s feature film debut.)
If you’re inspired by everything you see, there’s even the chance to make your own art, with professionals and fans alike stopping by Marvy Uchida’s booth to contribute sketches made with the brand’s fine art markers. By the fair’s end, there will likely be quite an assortment of work lining the booth’s walls.
A huge part of the Con’s appeal, however, is the inventive costuming of fellow Con-goers. Consider the Con a sneak peek at the best and nerdiest Halloween party ever, with costumes inspired by everything from Superman to the Log Lady from Twin Peaks (see “Artist David Lynch to Resurrect Surrealist TV Drama Twin Peaks“). From sweatshirts emblazoned with superhero logos or a simple pair of elf ears all the way up to elaborate, custom made, head-to-toe outfits of the most obscure characters from fantasy or comics, this is cosplay beyond anything you’ve seen before.
There’s far too much to see and do here than can be taken in on a single day—both a blessing and a curse. Luckily for New York’s comic fans, the event runs through Sunday at the Jacob Javits Center.
New York Comic Con continues through October 12 at the Javits Center.
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