Monday, April 4, 2011

Prague Pints pt. 5: Komiksfest!

 Days Remaining to Next Beer: 349
Perhaps while lounging in the Shadow Cafe, or perhaps while wandering about Prague, somewhere along the way we learned about a comic book convention happening while we would be in town. Having never been to a comic book convention in Europe, or anywhere outside of North America for that matter, the opportunity seemed too great to pass up, so we re-calibrated our admittedly extremely loose schedule and began plotting out how we’d get there, by bus, train, or as turned out, cab. 

Our journey to the comic book convention hiked us across several neighborhoods until we located a theater that initially we’d mistaken as the actual event site. The theater turned out to be associated with a parallel animation festival; however we were on the wrong clock for that event, and apparently not at the right doorstep for the convention. We found a flier and went to the first hotel we could find to get help with directions from someone able to read Czech, and as turned out, someone able to also cal us a cab, since we needed to be more or less on the far side of the city.

Stepping out of the cab we didn’t immediately see where to go, we were standing on a sidewalk before a row of brick buildings and storefronts, nothing that screamed convention center or even church basement. The a poster caught our eye, and from that we found signs and arrows that lead us to an entrance into a burly brick building that might have been a warehouse once upon a time, and now housed an eclectic art center with studios and a state of the art auditorium.

As we walked into the space down a long hallway we spot the trappings we’ve come to expect from a local comic book convention, tables with fold down legs like you’d find in any church basement or high school bake sale laden with wares and comics, venders on one side and prospective buyers browsing along the line touching, hefting, and flipping through things as they went like Szechwan grandmothers in the produce section.
Once we stepped from the hallway into the proper main hall of the place my excitement, already riding high on the coattails of an extended journery to reach the convention, redoubled again when I spot something that seemed like a slice iof paradise, the perfect Draw Jam set up.

What is a Draw Jam? I’ll go into the history and incarnations of it in later posts, especially as I’ll need to dig up and scan some of the resulting doodles from said occasions. Brief summary, Draw Jam is when a bunch of artists get together on a patio or in a pub, someplace with tasty pints readily available, and get some drawing on. It’s a chance to exchange ideas, compare techniques, egg one another out of their respective comfort zones, or to collaborate on pieces together that typically become progressively more obnoxious or bawdy as time passed and glasses emptied. 

The first Draw Jams I ever went too were in Eugene, Oregon, largely started by an insanely talented guy named Shane Glines that worked for various animation houses doing character design. After I moved to Vancouver my friend Gabe Frizzera, another insanely talented wrist, said we should start up a Draw Jam in Vancouver. That bounced around venues and evolved into other events long past Gabe and I both getting too busy with our own lives to keep up with it. A while later my crazy talented colleagues at Radical started up another incarnation called Draw Club, largely hosting casual get-togethers at the Anza Club up on 8th and Ontario. Since we’ve left Radical and gone our separate ways been hard to arrange any drink & draw sorts of sessions.

Standing in the main central space of the place, my jaw likely hanging open, we’d found ourselves looking at effectively the biggest Draw Jam I’d ever seen. Dozens of people doodling and chatting comics and other related topics at a scattering of tables and along the long bench couch running down one wall. Running along the opposite side of the space, an expansive and well groomed bar from which were poured towering pints of liquid gold pilsner. To a man of my wiring and passions, this is an oasis, a slice of heaven, a veritable womb of divine creation. 

Were I weathly, I would have this space replicated  as a part of our domicile so that artists and like minded creatives could have a safe spot to exchange ideas, inspirations, and pass pencil sharpeners.

One of the sponsors of the comic convention turned out to be Altoids, and there were blank comic book panels available from Altoids to draw on, and should you choose, give to Altoids with your information so that your work could show up in an anthology Altoids planned to publish at some later date. After we’d explored the convention and dropped dime at a few of the vendors’ tables, Lindz and I claimed one of the tables in the main room, secured a couple mighty pints, and like so many of the men, women, and children around us, I dug out my trusty drawing tools and set to making a page of comic art mischief to donate to the Altoids agenda.
Using my sketchbook as my drawing pad, I sketched fast and furious, working up a mighty thirst only pints of pilsner could quench. I have no idea how long I took rendering the page, might have been seconds, could have been hours, another fine example of the theory of relativity in practice. Lindz, as always a great sport about impromptu artistic ambitions, left me to it and explored more of the convention before returning to read her Lonely Planet Prague guide and some of the materials she’d picked up at the con. 

A few things were striking about the scene other than the way everything existed like the rings around Saturn with the bar as the central celestial body. One aspect, which I somewhat regret not contributing too, was a massive Jam Sheet that had been mounted down the length of one long adjacent hallway. 

A Jam Sheet, for those not hip to the vernacular, is a page that gets passed around among artists, generally the artists sitting behind vender and autograph tables, guests of the con and the like. Each artist adds something, typically their signature character or something from their currently paying gig if they’re fortunate enough to have one. I once sat at a small convention in Eugene where local artists like Mike Allred and Shane Glines were in attendance, and while I was mostly there to sell toys, I also had printed off a bunch of copies of my better sketches on cardstock at Kinko’s to sell on the cheap, or even give away, since as an unpublished artist the drawings had to find affection in the fickle, jaded hearts of comic book aficionados on the sheer merit of themselves alone, without imprint or brand to bolster them. Either someone took pity on me or actually liked my brand of monsters and macho Asian women, because late in the day I was asked to contribute to the con’s Jam Sheet, and so I got to sandwich my character into a page rippling and bristling with doodles from a myriad of artists far, far more talented than I. The image looked something like a crew of heroes and heroines, and my Raggedy Camus monster, standing around at a bus stop waiting for Godot or something. Pretty cool despite my best efforts to add that inherent, incidental flaw the Japanese prize in their ceramics and stoneware so much. Wish I had a picture of it. 

The Prague convention organizers had gone several magnitude better, and made the Jam Sheet a thing for the people and by the people, or at least, a coalition of the willing, instead of an elitist checklist of who’s who behind the tables at the event. While I had ample gusto for pitching in on the Altoids aspect, I shied from trying to add artwork to pages that were taller than me and ran down a hallway that up close could have as easily been the Berlin Wall. Or Pink Floyd’s Wall, for that matter. 

Actually, come to think of it, there were a lot of cartoon pigs in the developing mural. I wanted too, oh how I wanted too, I just felt intimidated by the scale, the sheer audacity of the scale. Perhaps why, for all my enjoyment of quality graffiti, murals, and paste ups, I’ve never myself made any. I’m intimidated by the scale, and further, I’m intimidated by the notion someone might be watching me do it and judge. And despite years of theater and speech team, the idea of turning my back to strangers and trying to create art at an uncomfortable scale, one not containable in a lap or between elbows on a bar, is somewhat terrifying to me. I definitely need to work on that, because I hope to make large scale art with my son when he’s old enough. Can’t do that if I clench up over being watched.

So I took a pass on the Jam Sheet mural, but took lots of snapshots because it’s an idea that should become a standard for conventions here, and if I’m ever involved with any, I’ll certainly pitch and support the idea.
The other aspect of the convention that really stood out to me, besides having as much a European comic book influence as a North American one, was the incorporation of art styles and mediums that tend to sit parallel too yet distinctly outside of North American conventions. It would be like having Bansky sharing an artist’s booth with John Byrne, or Junko Mizuno to share a booth with Cathy Guisewite. 

The Prague convention had a broader, controlled shotgun burst of styles and influences, and the incredible diverse and exciting local artists displayed content resultant of that breadth. This is a town where Mucha and Shiele remain revered, where both religious cannon and Soviet propaganda inform foundational aesthetic attitudes, where multiple ruling bodies created entire neighborhoods to demonstrate their prowess and power before being deposed or replaced by another. A city never destroyed by war, yet witness to war all around it, a veritable melting pot of culture and styles through history with enough tradition and sensibility to not be exclusive or limited to any particular one.

Were I wealthy, in addition too having a permanent artist space for encouraging multidisciplinary exchange and discourse, I would also make a travel show wherein my family went ot conventions in every country or significant place that has them simple to compare notes, cultures, attitudes, themes, fluff, and escapist overtones. Like a geeky Michael Palin, a comic book & collectables connoisseur version of Anthony Bordain, a banjo-less Billy Connolly, a fast walking Eddie Izzard, and an utterly block-headed version of Karl Pilkington.

No comments:

Post a Comment