Comic Mania

By By Adam Fifield

By Adam Fifield

Given 24 hours to produce 24 pages of comics, with plenty of caffeine and a troupe of comic-book aficionados crammed into the same room, some bizarre things are sure to happen.

For example, take the following premise: two young boys owe more than $200 in quarters — to whom remains a mystery — but following their run-in with “Bearclaw” and other members of the Pirate Club (and, inexplicably, a giant, mechanical worm), the boys meet their ultimate demise. Work in some drama, splattered blood and some pretty twisted rhymes — “Punch this, moron, 1-2-3! Then kick ‘im in the balls for me!” — and you have an idea of what can emerge from a day spent in the aforementioned work room.

This particular comic was the result of local cartoonist Derek Hunter’s valiant effort for the annual 24 Hour Comics Day, put on by local comic book retailer, Night Flight Comics, on Oct. 20. The comic is available for viewing at Hunter’s website, www.pirateclub.com.

“It was a new exercise in creativity against all odds,” said Hunter, who has published several graphic novels under the Pirate Club theme.

Hunter used the same characters he employs in his graphic novels but was surprised by the results of this event, because it was “completely stream of conscience,” and the atmosphere was charged by the presence of so many writers and artists “hopped up on caffeine.”

In the past seven or eight years, “comics have really started to come into their own,” said Mike Justice, assistant manager of Night Flight Comics.

Justice, who has been an avid reader of comic books for 30 years, has watched comics evolve from the “campy,” 1950s Batman series to the graphic novels of today. Now, he said, the genre is experiencing an artistic renaissance fueled by major Hollywood movies such as “Sin City” and “300.”

An indicator of the raising popularity of graphic novels, Justice said, is that the Salt Lake City Library’s graphic novel section has the highest circulation in the entire library.

“I remember when comics had the stigma of a kiddie book,” Justice said. Now, his store carries some risqué books that test the boundaries of what can be considered art.

Historically, the comic book medium has been struggling since its conception to be accepted as a literary art form. This Saturday, Salt Lake City’s first comic book convention, held at the downtown City Library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., hopes to reverse that misconception.

“It’s not something you have to study,” Justice said. All you have to do, he said, is “open your eyes.”

Many educators around the nation have discovered the profound ability for comics to boost literacy in children, Justice said, because “comprehension goes up” when the words are coupled with a meaningful image.

For Hunter, reading comic books as a child was “an easy transition to appreciate literature as a whole.”

Hunter’s comic books rely on imagery more heavily than dialogue to tell the narrative. Rather than a picture being a supplement to the story, the pictures themselves create the flow and drama, while words tend to act as links and references.

The comic books of Batton Lash, who is famous for his Supernatural Law series and will be a presenter at the conference, use language much more prominently, though his images are dazzling all the same. Lash is able to dive into complex legal jargon while keeping the fun alive with imaginative images and plot twists.

In Lash’s books, he creates a bridge between the depths of meaning conveyed through words and the depths of emotion conveyed through the pictures. This link creates a spark of understanding that is unique to the comic book medium.

Justice claims that the books in his store hold something for everyone. Yes, there’s a big superhero section, which is family-friendly and utterly non-controversial. He’s also got many hidden gems in the corners of his store, conducive to the strangest and most marginal of tastes. These books might take you anywhere you like, but all you need to do is just “open your eyes.”

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