This week, Comics X-Change is focusing on the local scene, with an extensive report about the goings-on at the first-ever Comic Arts Richmond, which took place last weekend and was a rousing success.
Happiest Wednesday, comic fans! Welcome to the dirty thirty edition of our biweekly comic exchange. Not only are we old enough to drink and rent a car, but we can finally unironically tell youths to get off our lawn — and we’re reveling in it.
This week, instead of comic recommendations I am giving you one big, hearty recommendation in the form of a brand new comic fest to enjoy — Comic Arts Richmond. Comic Arts Richmond kicked off its inaugural event this past weekend at the Dabney Road location of Strangeways Brewing with a heavy focus on local artists and comic creators in the area.
Co-founded by comics scholar and writer Francesca Lyn and artist Christine Skelly, Comic Arts Richmond brought together various creators in the area, along with fans and the curious, all under one beautiful beer-scented roof. The event brought a myriad of genres together — from horror to indie, and even a superhero or two. However, the biggest takeaway from everyone I spoke to was the exact same sentiment: there was an overwhelming amount of support throughout.
“We really appreciate the work that William Ragland [and the staff at Strangeways] has done with us,” said Skelly. “”He has been super accommodating and communicative. All of our tablers were super happy that they have come. Some of our tablers have had to travel, and we have tried to be as in touch as possible. We hope it’s been a really good experience for them.”
The feeling was certainly mutual from the patrons’ perspective as well. The event remained busy for the duration of the day. Fans mingled with creators back and forth from the entrance all the way into the event space in the back. Even a rogue bridal party looking for its lost bridesmaid stayed for a while, checking out the various art and comics at the tables. (No word on whether they ever did find the bridesmaid.)
Richmond has always been and will forever be known for its thriving arts scenes and all the various subgenres that exist within it. However, an interesting note was just how many people were surprised to see that a thriving not-so-underground comic scene is hiding in plain sight.
“I don’t think people realize that we could have made this show three times as big and still not have been able to fit everyone, [even with] most of these people being local,” said Lyn. “There are people who are here to drink beer, and that’s fine, but there are some [of those] people who are sticking around and leaving with a print.”
Despite the fact that the arts and the comics scene especially is so strong and vibrant, the continuing existence of events like this and other similar ones remains vital. Comic Arts Richmond and similar events such as Richmond Zine Fest and the upcoming RICE! (Richmond Indie Comics Expo) at VCU continuing to provide a place for other artists and creators to meet and generate exposure for their work.
“Maybe it has to do with an old-school punk rock ethic, with Zine Fest especially,” said artist Oura Sananikone. “Making tangible, paper products in a world that is almost entirely digital.”
One of the most important things that events like this create is just a chance to meet others interested in what you do. Artist Meg Gandy noted that drawing itself is such a solitary act that it naturally leaves a lot to be desired where social interaction is concerned. So the chance to leave your house and meet other people? Totally worth it.
“It makes sure people mingle,” said Gandy. “In VCU you have all of the kids in their separate grades and they’re putting on RICE! and that’s great. But us older folks don’t get to go see that necessarily, and the younger folks don’t necessarily get to see us. When you have a show like this, we all get to learn from each other, see who’s coming up, see where they’re going, get tips.”
Having the event at a brewery was not just very on-brand for Richmond, but also a good way to attract many people who otherwise would not have attended had the event been somewhere more predictable, like Gallery 5 or ICA. It attracted a slew of people who thought they were coming in for an IPA and suddenly were asking questions about issue #2 at table 18.
“Events like this are important for getting exposure for different artists,” said artist Emily Bradfield. “Especially having this at a brewery, you’ll get people walking by who otherwise wouldn’t come.”
Needless to say, the event was a success. Whether you were there and had a blast or missed it and are wondering if there will be another one – fear not. Comic Arts Richmond and its faithful mascot, Scraps, are already discussing plans for next year, possibly including a larger venue to accommodate more artists. Here’s to hoping 2020 brings Comic Arts Richmond 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Until next time, comic fans.
Photos by Ash Griffith