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Just in time for Comic-Con, some of the most notable artists in San Diego’s thriving and sizable comics community are being brought together for an exhibit titled Unmasked! Comic Art in San Diego Revealed. The exhibit, hosted by Artlab Studios at 3536 Adams Avenue, will showcase comic art from local cartoonists and offer fans a sneak peek at some of the projects that will be on display at Comic-Con International.

Curated by San Diego–based cartoonist Batton Lash, the gallery show represents a wide range of styles and genres. Cartoonists include long-time veterans of the comics field such as Eric Shanower (creator of the award-winning Age of Bronze series) and underground comix artist Mary Fleener, as well as rising stars such as Rebecca Hicks (Little Vampires) and Tyler Crook (Petrograd graphic novel). Other artists include Dan Bois, Chynna Clugston Flores, Paul Horn, Mark Irwin, Dean LeCrone, Billy Martinez, and Jorge Pacheco.

The show opens today, July 7, with an opening reception at 6:00 pm, featuring live music by Phil Diiorio (6:00om) and Hills Like Elephants (7:00pm). Doors open at 5:00pm.

The art show's timing with Comic-Con is no accident: the annual pop culture fest looms large in the lives of local cartoonists.


“I met my wife, Jackie Estrada, because of Comic-Con,” says the show's curator, writer/artist Batton Lash, one of San Diego’s best-known creators thanks to his own titles (Supernatural Law, Wolff & Byrd: Counselors of the Macabre) and his freelance work on Bart Simpson’s Radioactive Man (Bongo Comics), Archie Freshman Year: The Hidden Years (Archie Comics), and the infamous Archie/Marvel crossover Archie Meets the Punisher.

The fifty-something creator lives near SDSU and has attended twenty-four consecutive Comic-Cons in San Diego. None were more memorable than the 1990 edition.

“I had sent in a tribute drawing for The Spirit’s 50th anniversary for the San Diego souvenir book and was thrilled when I received a postcard from the editor, Jackie Estrada, thanking me for the drawing and letting me know it would be included. I was pretty excited -- the Spirit's creator Will Eisner was an instructor of mine at the School of Visual Arts -- and was pleasantly surprised by her thoughtfulness at letting me know.”

Shortly before the Con in San Diego, at a smaller Chicago convention, Lash spotted Estrada at a party sponsored by DC Comics. “I went over and introduced myself and thanked her for sending that postcard. Well, I guess that made an impression, because later on, she saw me hanging out – or, as she called it, ‘lurking’ -- and struck up a conversation. During the rest of the weekend, I found myself running into her multiple times, each time chatting a bit more.”

“I was surprised when she called me each weekend in the weeks leading up to the San Diego show. I thought Comic-Con had some welcome wagon! We got to know each other a little better during those phone calls, and she invited me to a pre-Con party she was having at her house [in San Diego].”

At that party, “She took the opportunity to show me her collection of original comic book art, including several pages by my favorite, Steve Ditko. It was obvious that we were on the same wavelength. Needless to say, by the middle of Comic-Con we were an item. That started a three-and-a-half year cross-country relationship. I permanently moved to San Diego in November 1993 and, in January 1994, Jackie and I were married...and it all started because of Comic-Con!”


43 year-old writer/artist Billy Martinez self-publishes a gothic Tim Burton-esque comic series called The Deepest Dark from his own Neko Press Art Studios on University Avenue, across the street from Helix High School.

“I’ve been working in the comic and publishing industry for over sixteen years,” says Martinez. “I also teach art classes at my studio, and I do many gallery shows that showcase my line of ‘Girls’ paintings. I’m doing 1000 different paintings in the series, some of which I perform live right on stage, sometimes working on four paintings at a time while music plays.”

Martinez has been attending Comic-Con in San Diego for sixteen years. “Before The Deepest Dark, I was best known for my titles Kickass Girl and Wildflower, which is celebrating its fifteen year anniversary this year. I plan to re-release the sold-out trade paperback of the series this year, along with extras and brand new cover art.”

“I hope to achieve some interest from Hollywood regarding The Deepest Dark. I feel the story works well for film, and it’s geared for all ages.”


Eric Shanower is a 40-ish writer and illustrator living in Redwood Village near La Mesa, between University and highway 94. Best known for his long-running graphic novel series adapting Oz stories, Shanower has attended Comic-Con every year since 1998. His book The Marvelous Land of Oz is up for a 2011 Eisner Award.

“I’ve been a professional cartoonist since 1984. All the major U.S. comics publishers and many of the small ones have published my comics work, and so have Random House, Oxford University Press, and HarperCollins.”

Offering hope to all aspiring creators, Shanower says “I have gotten work through attending Comic-Con in San Diego, [like] drawing The Secret Origin of the Justice League of America for DC in 1987. I first met Ed Brubaker [Captain America, Criminal and Incognito] at the1987 Con…he and I collaborated on several projects over the years. I think the last thing we did together was some Batman stuff around 2001 and 2002.”

Unlike most folks interviewed for this article, Shanower admits (modestly) that “I have more work than I can comfortably handle right now, so I’m not going to the Con looking for more. The expense of exhibiting and the insanity of getting through the Con has increased so much in the past decade that I dread it all year ‘round. Except for the week it’s actually happening, when I generally have a blast, even though it’s a lot of hard work.”

“I do have some resentment toward the Con attendees who are just there for the movie and TV stuff and have no idea what comics are about. But, from a publicity standpoint, I like the idea that the Con attracts a whole range of people, even if the crowding can get really unpleasant. I’m fortunate to have a booth to stand behind most of the time, but trying to get to the bathroom and back is sometimes a challenge.”

“I don’t expect the Con to offer any opportunities that will change my daily life. I’m not looking for any of those.”

The comic art show will run until July 31. Information on Artlab and a full list of the comics artists participating in Unmasked! can be found at www.artlabsd.com.



ROCK 'N' ROLL COMICS: THE INSIDE STORY - In 1989, local Revolutionary Comics ("Unauthorized And Proud Of It") launched Rock 'N' Roll Comics, featuring unlicensed biographies of rock stars, most of which I wrote. Some performers, like Frank Zappa and Kiss, were supportive, while others like New Kids On The Block considered our comics akin to bootlegs and sued. In June 1992, publisher Todd Loren was found dead in his San Diego condo, brutally murdered...



NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK VS REVOLUTIONARY COMICS - The inside story of how a hugely successful boy band tried to sue local-based Rock 'N' Roll Comics over an unauthorized biography of the group, sparking a court case that established, for the very first time, first amendment rights for comic books. Illustrated by comic superstar Stuart Immonen (Superman, etc.)...



THE KOMPLETE KISS KOMIX KRONICLES - Comprehensive collection of stuff I’ve done about working with Kiss on a comic book series, along with a bunch of never-before-seen artifacts from the Kiss Komix archives AND an article by Kiss comic author Spike Steffenhagen, offering his own very-different take, ala Rashomon, on the same events I describe in my essay...



OVER A MILLION CARNAL COMICS ARE IN PRINT - Here's how and why we made some of the top-selling erotic comics of all time, right here in San Diego, including what Gene Simmons has to do with it all, backstage tales of porn stars, and more confessions of a comic pornographer...



THE ROCKETEER AND OTHER FAMOUS '80S COMICS BEGAN RIGHT HERE IN SAN DIEGO - Here's a detailed history of local Pacific Comics, who recruited comic superstars like Jack Kirby to create one of the first successful indie comic book lines. Pioneers in the fight for comic creators' rights and royalties, former employees and operators reveal how they did it, and what went so terribly wrong...



COMICS AND CENSORSHIP - DON'T BE AFRAID, IT'S ONLY A COMIC BOOK - A local-centric history of comic book censorship, and the fight for the rights of comic creators...


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TWILIGHT ZONE AND STAR TREK WRITER GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON PRESENTS - The inside story of a local horror comic book series featuring Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, plus sci-fi king Larry Niven, Zap Comix co-founder Spain Rodriguez, Matthew Alice artist Rick Geary, Vampire Lestat painter Daerick Gross, yours truly JAS, and many more...



THE BIRTH OF IMAGE COMICS: INSIDE STORY OF A LOCAL PUBLISHING POWERHOUSE - Illustrated tale revealing how Spawn creator Todd McFarlane and local comic artist Jim Lee (the Punisher, etc.) conspired to create the ultimate creator-owned comic books...


 Down the Slippery Slope - Arrested For the Crime of Viewing Manga

On March 30, 2004, when Dwight Whorley found the Japanese website of Fractal Underground Studio via Yahoo and clicked on a couple of the thumbnail images... ( http://comipress.com/special/miscellaneous/down-the-slippery-slope-the-crime-of-viewing-manga )

More comic-related links:

OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/

FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/

JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford

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