Toon In

By David Moye

*Editor’s Note: This story was written by David Moye, not David Nelson as printed in the July issue.

When the summertime sizzle switches from surfboards to drawing boards, it’s time once again for Comic-Con. The event, billed as “the largest comic book and popular arts convention in the world,” lures a crowd of more than 125,000 to the Convention Center.

As legions of tourists dressed as Darth Vader transform Downtown into the pop culture center of the universe for a few days each July, it’s easy to overlook the fact that San Diego has a thriving comic book industry the other 51 weeks of the year, too.

Artist Jim Lee, for instance, who’s famous for his work on The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men, is co-publisher of DC Comics (the company that gave the world Batman and Superman) and does most of his work at his office in La Jolla.

Meanwhile, IDW Publishing in Bay Park is one of the top five comics publishers in the world and is acclaimed for its work on popular movies and TV shows including Transformers, Star Trek and “CSI.”

In addition, America’s Finest is home to some of America’s finest comic artists, three of whom are drawn together here.

Joe Phillips

A native of Atlanta, Joe Phillips came to San Diego 16 years ago. He describes his first Con as “four magical days” where he could “indulge in the sheer joy of looking at art and toys and not worry about anything.”

Phillips has drawn mainstream superheroes including The Incredible Hulk, X-Men and The Silver Surfer, but also creates fine art renditions that bring out the
gay subtext of familiar characters.

“Think about it,” he says. “A guy develops the ability to do something incredible, and the first thing he does is to wear something tight-fitting and colorful and tell the world, ‘I’m going to fight crime?’”

Phillips’ approach to comics is to treat them as a means of escape. “We’re not trying to change anyone’s views, just being thought-provoking and entertaining.”

Billy Martinez

Billy Martinez’s credits range from the publication Heavy Metal to The SyFy Channel’s “The Chronicle” and “Family Guy” trading cards, but his main focus is on creating original titles like “Wildflower,” an acclaimed series which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary; and “Kickass Girl,” which, like the artist himself, is based in San Diego.

“I’d like people to know that comic art is a lot of hard work, and that people do still draw them, not computers,” says Martinez, who holds comic art classes at his La Mesa studio, Neko Press.

Although he’ll be promoting his new book, In Your Face (which teaches how to paint and draw facial expressions), at the Con, Martinez doesn’t seem thrilled with the direction the event has taken over the past 15 years.

“Now, it is less about comics and more about movies, toys and pop culture,” he says. “I’d like to see it become more about comics again, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Livio Ramondelli

Livio Ramondelli spends much of his time working on the Transformers comic for Bay Park-based IDW Publishing-and admits his five years in San Diego have transformed him.

“San Diego is terrific because of the sheer diversity of the various neighborhoods,” he says. “North Park looks completely different from La Jolla, which looks different than the Gaslamp. It can be inspiring to just drive around and study the various architecture as it changes along the way.”

Being a comic artist is a solitary job, so Ramondelli tries to get out of the house to hang out with fellow artists at comic coffee klatches at Rebecca’s in South Park. And he digs going to the Con.

“That week is certainly the biggest professional week out of the year,” he says. “More eyes are on your work than any other time, and it’s a great way to promote what you’re doing. Also, it brings other professional friends to San Diego that I don’t get to see as often.”

Con Game

Also playing at Comic-Con

Worst Cartoons Ever
Animation historian Jerry Beck hosts 90 minutes of the worst cartoons ever made, including “Super President,” a 1960s series about a superhero who is also the president.

Klingon Community Theater
San Diego is home to one of the largest Klingon populations in the U.S. Each year, the local community, or “Stranglehold,” performs an original play featuring authentic-looking costumes, spirited amateurish acting and references only a geek could appreciate.

WHAT: San Diego Comic-Con International
WHEN: July 12-15 (Preview Night July 11)
WHERE: San Diego Convention Center,
111 W. Harbor Dr., Downtown
HOW MUCH: Sold out for months, Dude!
(beware of scalpers selling fake tickets)