NC Comicon, now in its fifth year, is an annual treat for comic book fans. With dozens of different publishers, dealers and retailers in the main exhibition hall, it’s a little slice of heaven for local collectors.
But the convention, happening this weekend in Durham, is also a major event for local comic creators, of which there are a lot more than you might expect. Thanks to ongoing advances in digital design, crowdfunding and print-on-demand services, self-publishing is an increasingly viable way to break into the comic book world.
Alan Gill, owner of Durham’s Ultimate Comics store, which produces NC Comicon, says around 100 writers and illustrators will be staffing tables in the Artists Alley section this year. “And about half of those are amateur artists trying to break into the business,” Gill said.
‘Not So Super’
One of those local artists is lifelong comic book fan and Cary resident Jacques Nyemb, who will be selling three different titles under his indie imprint Not So Super Comics. A mild-mannered Web designer by day, Nyemb has been writing comic book stories as a hobby for more than 30 years, partnering with illustrators and other artists to create original comic series.
“It’s a small press, basically,” Nyemb said. “I work with a bunch of different artists to publish different stories I have in mind. Not So Super is about trying to create comics that aren’t so heavy on spandex and tights. It’s more into the human element, but in fantastic and fun ways. We’re trying to get all kinds of people to read comics.”
Nyemb sends his comic book scripts to artists and collaborates online to produce a digital version of an issue, which is then sent to a printer in California.
“I initially start with small batches, 20 or 30, and sell them online,” Nyemb said. “If the interest is high, I’ll do a Kickstarter campaign to pay for a larger run. I found that was the easiest way to handle the cost and not get stressed out.”
Nyemb’s flagship series, also titled “Not So Super,” will be available at this year’s NC Comicon – the first that Nyemb has attended as a publisher.
“It’s a story about a guy who has a normal life, has a job, and then gets these random super powers,” he said. “It’s called ‘Not So Super’ because it’s not so fun for him, really. He’s not going to use the powers to fight crime. It’s more like, how can he live his life?”
Other titles in the “Not So Super” lineup: “This Bites,” about the singular challenges of a vegan vampire, and something called “The Smorgasboard Squad.”
“Yeah, that’s a story about a group of people who dress in food costumes and try to save their city from mustachioed villains,” Nyemb explained with a chuckle. “It’s ridiculous, but there’s a deeper story as you progress.”
The organizers of NC Comicon make an effort to accommodate local and amateur artists, Gill said. As the convention has expanded, Artists Alley draws in talent from across the Southeast.
“The big difference between our show and a more corporate-run show is that we also have these learning opportunities,” Gill said. “For instance, we have three comic book publishers that are going to be doing portfolio reviews for aspiring comic book artists.”
Other highlights from this year’s convention include an appearance by actor John Barrowman, from the hugely popular BBC series “Dr. Who” and “Torchwood.” Barrowman is NC Comicon’s first “media guest” – a performer rather than a comics industry professional – and his appearance is an indicator of the NC Comicon’s growing profile on the convention circuit.
“As soon as we announced him our ticket sales went crazy,” Gill said.
Films, panels and more
This year’s ComiQuest film festival, programmed by Carolina Theatre film curator Jim Carl, will feature a lineup of comics-themed movies throughout the weekend, plus the U.S. premiere of the latest “Kung Fu Panda” animated short from Dreamworks Animation.
This year’s convention will also feature the usual schedule of NC Comicon events – panel discussions, costume parades, art contests, cosplay events and a silent charity auction.
Looking for a big break
Meanwhile, over in Artists Alley, aspiring comic book creators will be hawking their wares and looking for their big break.
“There’s a good amount of precedent for success, actually,” Gill said. “‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ – that was self-published and now it’s a multi-million dollar franchise. ‘American Splendor’ – Harvey Pekar did his own comics and self-distributed.
“There are a lot of people out there doing this. They have that passion.”