My annual trek to the Boston Comic Book Convention (Comic Con for short) took place during a scorcher of a weekend. At least I didn’t attend the event in costume. The true superheroes were the brave souls who managed to wear their heavy get-ups and parade through the heat. You need super powers to survive this summer’s weather. The most popular costumes were variations of Batman’s arch-enemy, The Joker. Every incarnation of the Joker was represented: Caesar Romero’s classic clown face, Jack Nicholson’s over-the-top portrayal, Heath Ledger’s manic-depressive look and Jared Leto’s punk stylization. I even saw a futuristic Joker from the Batman Beyond series.
All Jokers aside, I attended the Boston Comic Con this year with a mission. I wanted to speak to some of the artists and writers whose passion drove them down an unusual path to a career in cartoon art. I attended a Friday night panel featuring some famous independent cartoon creators. Listening to them talk about their work fueled my passion for my cartoon art “hobby”. I’ve always wanted to produce a daily comic strip ever since I discovered Dick Tracy and L’il Abner in the newspaper “funny pages” when I was a kid.
There was a long list of classic comic book legends in attendance this year. Buried within these big names was an unassuming artist and writer for the nationally syndicated daily comic strip “Arlo & Janis”. This was the first trip to Boston Comic Con for the strip’s creator Jimmy Johnson. I found his table location in the convention program and I fought my way through the crowd to find him.
Jimmy Johnson was a pleasure to talk to. He came all the way from Alabama to greet his New England fans. His newspaper strip has a large following in the Northeast, probably due to its universal appeal. His creation, Arlo & Janis, is a husband-and-wife family comic strip that everyone can relate to. I asked Mr. Johnson if it was still worth pursuing my dream of submitting ideas to newspapers in the digital age.
“I would never tell anyone not to pursue their dream,” he said in his laid back Southern accent. “Things have changed, though. People have come up to me and said ‘I used to read you in the newspaper’. I told them I was still in the newspaper. Their response was ‘Oh, we don’t read newspapers anymore’. Not a good sign for the industry.”
Jimmy Johnson directed my attention to a group of artist’s tables directly across the aisle. These four artists each had huge lines of fans waiting to greet them. “Those people produce cartoon series for the web. They have huge followings. And I hear they are actually getting paid for their work.”
I was a little skeptical but I wanted to know more about the web-toon phenomenon. I moved closer to the web cartoonists tables and watched them sketch pictures for their fans. A security officer told me if I’d like to speak to the artists, I was welcome to stand at the end of the long line behind me. I didn’t want to wait in line but I made note of the publishing company hosting the booths. Judging by the number of fans, maybe is a market for web-published internet cartoons after all.
I left the Boston Comic Con with a renewed sense of creative inspiration. I’m working on a new strip to submit to a web publisher in September. The key is using social media to generate a buzz which will get my strip more views and hopefully build a following. In a couple of years, I’ll be sitting at an artist’s booth at the Boston Comic Con greeting fans and sketching cartoons for a whole new audience of Millennials who have never picked up a newspaper. To quote Bob Dylan – the times they are
a-changin’ – and I’m ready to change with the times.