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‘Uticon 9’ Brings Out Mainstream and Independent Writers, Artists

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UTICA, NY —  Perhaps Ken Gale summed up Uticon 9 best:

“A real mix of independent and mainstream artists and writers” — a mix which helps educate fans and curious visitors that “there’s more to comics than they thought.”

In other words, they can not only buy comics, and meet writers and artists who helped create their favorite superheroes and villains, but also discover the so-called small presses — from local inexpensively produced books to finely printed comics that some think rival Marvel and D.C. in design and story-telling.

Consider Ken Gale, a New York City writer who, with artist Mercy VanVlack, started Evolution Comics a few years back, producing two main series, a sci-fi/mythology tale and a superheroes book. “We were fortunate they did well enough to do a second printing (of each series),” Gale noted.

Why his own publishing company? “There were so many comics that insulted my intelligence I decided to do something about it.”

Gale added: “One of the things I miss is being able to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys… and also to get a complete story in one issue. So that’s what we do.”

Gale demands “character motivation” from his writers: Characters act the way they do, not for the sake of the story, but due to the influences of the situation and their personalities, which “makes characters more consistent.”

Another small press writer, Utican Bob Elinskas, organized the convention to benefit the American Cancer Society. Uticon 9 took place Nov. 7 at Utica College, featuring local and national celebrities.

Here’s a brief visit with some of the artists and writers.

Bob Rozakis, who illustrated “Superman,” “‘Mazing Man” and “MAD Magazine,” posed for a picture with ORCA Founder Rick Olney before recounting how, as a fan, he used to pester D.C. Comics, writing letter after letter. But D.C. got revenge: Fresh out of college, Rozakis stopped by D.C. to visit one of the editors and somehow talked himself into a job. His first assignment? “Answering the mail!”

Today, besides free-lancing for D.C., Rozakis is active on the internet, producing a daily trivia quiz at

Roger Stern, author of “The Death and Life of Superman,” “Avengers # 1 1/2,” and “The Incredible Hulk vs. Superman,” was excited about his latest project — “Marvel: The Lost Generation.” A 12-issue series debuting in January 2000, “Lost Generation” sort of goes back in time. The series starts with issue # 12 and regresses back to issue #1.

“It’s like getting a new back issue every month,” Stern said.

Now a free-lancer, the Ithaca, NY resident recalled how he was motivated by unemployment to apply for a job at Marvel. “I took a proofreading and editing test” and did well enough to be hired as a proofreader/assistant editor.  Because he was a “warm body occupying space,” Marvel started giving him small writing assignments, liked what he produced, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Artist Michael Kelleher seems to like comics with a moral. He helped ink and color the RIB series — “RIB #2 has always been my favorite…It just flowed right out of me” — which focuses on society’s prejudices through the story of how humans interact with a race of intelligent worms.

Working in comics for 10 years, the last five professionally, Kelleher was showing off his latest art — inking, lettering and coloring “Joe Liberty,” a superhero who protects the economy. In a panel he was coloring on a computer, Joe Liberty was in a plane headed for a mid-east country…to try to talk government officials out of imposing price controls on bread and gas, “how economically it won’t work.”
“Joe Liberty” is written and owned by Dan Ryan, who hopes to get it published sometime in 2000, Kelleher said. 

When Kelleher completes a comic book, he copies it to a CD (since each page takes up about 25 megs of space), and ships it off to the publisher. Kelleher also displayed two covers he colored on his computer for Ancient Studios — “Tragic Heroes,” scheduled for a March debut, and “Logan and the Bunny Squadron,” targeted for release in April.

Graham Nolan’s wife and daughters accompanied the “Batman Annual” artist to Uticon. With the kids there, Nolan reminisced how his 6th grade teacher brought in a stack of comics to class one day, and got him hooked —  for life.

“I took courses in high school and college…I worked in advertising for a bit while doing cartooning on the side.” Nolan got his first big break when he wrote and drew a story for D.C. Comics’ “New Talent Showcase.”

Today he regards “Monster Island” as his best work — and the most fun — because “I wrote it, I illustrated it, I own it.”

Lucador Enterprises, a new small press in Herkimer, NY, showcased its first four books — three series and an anthology — which are a collaborative effort by writer Alex Dorantes, artist Phil Juliano and inker Dan Schmidt. Dorantes said they had been dabbling in comics for six years before deciding to start their own press. As their jacket blurb explains:

“Our ASHTRAY line of books takes the ashcan to new levels. Ten to twelve pages of comic book art for less than a buck. CAPTAIN WHAMO, a golden age throwback, and KISMET? A COSMIC DESTINY are the flagships for this line with more ASHTRAY titles coming. STONE PARKER jumps into a full-length continuing story of a tough-as-nails private investigator and his odd adventures (40 page giant issue)…PULP STORIES QUARTERLY is a retro product so stuck in the past that your grandmother could read it and relate. Various stories of various genres. 60+ pages.”

Andrew Hennessy, artist for “Hourman” and “JSA”, went to college for fine arts, only to discover, “all that’s good for is waitering.”

“A friend of mine was into comics, so I thought I’d give it a try. I got together samples, went to conventions, gave samples to editors.”

Hennessy said he persistently sent out samples to editors and dealt with a lot of rejection before getting his break.

Joe Orzak of Syracuse, NY,  started out with “Captain ‘Cuse” in the Syracuse New Times. The Syracuse Herald American picked up the strip for a seven-year run before Orsak got too busy with custom museum comic books, sports comic books and sports postal caches (illustrated commemorative envelopes canceled on the day of an event in the host city).

Orzak is particularly proud of collaborating with Joe Sinnott on several sports comic books. “The last time I was at Joe Sinnott’s house, I played pool with Frank Thomas (former slugger for the Pirates and Mets).”

Jason Wright, local writer/artist, was displaying Red Sun Press’ “Project 72,” which he wrote and drew, and “Spellbound,” a collaborative work involving Wright as co-plotter/inker, Bob Elinskas as co-plotter/scripter and David Hedgecock as penciler.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys was making the round of conventions, showing off his portfolio when Juanita Hicks suggested he self-publish. They researched it, came up with the money, became partners, started Visual Assault Comics Press, and produced four issues so far of “Visual Assault Omnibus,” packed with four stories per issue. They also published “Sofa Jet City Crisis,” a pictorial novel which won acclaim and a grant from Ninja Turtle Co-creator Peter Laird’s Xeric Foundation, and they are planning to release in March “Genissance,” a retelling of the Old Testament from an angel’s point of view.

Uticon 9 raised $2,000 for the American Cancer Society, Elinskas reported, and that’s a big reason why writers and artists like to participate.

“Because it’s for charity, you don’t have that mercenary feel,” said Evolution Comics’ Ken Gale. “People here have fun.”