The first ever comic book convention (or “comic con”) of note took place in California. The year was 1970 and those present said it was like a church bake sale, with burly dudes sitting around card tables, selling stacks of comic books, while a few notable artists were present. It took a few decades but the event would eventually become the annual San Diego Comic Con that it is today. The four-day event typically features celebrity appearances, showcases for everything big in movies and TV, artist showcases and dozens and dozens of comic book and entertainment merchandise. Since its breakthrough as a mass-media bonanza, variations of the event have sprouted everywhere. New York and even Oahu have their version.
Now, Maui finally has its own, too. The event, which opens at the Lahaina Cannery on Saturday, Nov. 5, includes an artist’s alley, cosplay contests, face paintings, special guests and events for fans of comics, movies and cartoon shows. Like any good origin story, it begins in a place of discovery and wonder, lorded over by a wise sage who loves fantastic tales.
A lot will happen at Maui Comic Con, but have no fear: Here’s our rundown on a few of the biggest names appearing at the convention.
First up, I spoke with Alika Seki, the owner of Maui Comics and Collectibles and the mastermind behind Maui Comic Con. He looked exhausted but determined in his daily efforts to balance producing the event and run his Kahului comic book shop. He told me how the event was shaping up and the unusual and very Maui way he landed the event’s biggest guest of honor, artist Steve Leialoha.
MAUITIME: When did the idea for Maui Comic Con first come up?
ALIKA SEKI: I had been envisioning it for as long as I’ve had a comic book store on Maui. What it looks like is a smaller scale version of what I initially envisioned. I’m working with Ken Gardner, he’s the impetus for starting it. He approached the venue, he envisioned a small scale comic con in Lahaina cannery. He was thinking, maybe one guest artist, one panel. He asked me to help him put it together. My planning goes way back and larger in scale. I took the research I had done and put it into this convention.
MT: Why has it taken Maui so long to get a Comic Con?
AS: I think it has to do with what Maui is. Oahu is knee-deep in cons, Big Island had a collector’s convention–due to a passionate community. There was a big void here for 10 years. There wasn’t a place for collectors to congregate. All it takes is community members to see each other and connect. It’s easy to feel alone unless you have a social space.
MT: What do you hope to accomplish?
AS: The main goal is to bring out the community and see how big it really is, to give them a show. Maui gets bypassed with a lot of things, but it’s such a destination. We just need a net to show that the people here are craving the same thing as everyone else. People on Maui always feel they have to travel to see things. I want a local flavor to highlight as much local talent as possible. I want to put a light on Maui’s local and artistic community and that they are there to support each other.
MT: If this goes as well as you hope, are there plans to make this annual?
AS: Oh, we already have those plans. We hope to do this every year.
MT: What has your approach been to putting this together?
AS: My career in comics has been meeting those who shatter my expectations. I don’t wanna be all business. My mentor, Bruce Ellsworth, taught me you don’t have to be a jerk. My moment was seeing the local community from other islands attending a con. Iit showed me there’s enough demand for it to happen on any island.
MT: Who was the first artist you reached out to?
AS: James Silvani. Then I saw DJ’s Facebook post that he knew Steve Leialoha. He’s so accessible to the people of Maui.
Instrumental to Seki’s connecting with Steve Leaialoha is comic book artist DJ Keawekane, who was signing comics at Seki’s shop when I spoke with him. “I went to my wife’s family reunion,” says Keawekane, “and I see this kid with a Spider-Man drawing. I ask this kid, ‘Wow, who did that?’ He points and says, ‘Uncle Steve!’ I see this tall guy with a beard… it’s Steve!”
Keawekane is the author of Exhillion, a comic book he describes as “X-Men meets Lord of the Rings.” The rich illustrations on the covers convey this connection.
“I got three issues right now,” says Keawekane, “and I hope to get the fourth one out before Amazing Con. I have a lot of time–I’ll get it out there.”
Keawekane’s story of how he got into the form is especially unique. “I was a kid who was always drawing in class,” he says. “I always wanted to draw and always getting in trouble. When I was 18, I asked someone, ‘How do you get into this stuff?’ They said, ‘You gotta move to New York.’ I stopped and did regular work, had fun after graduating. I got into an accident at 25, broke my back. I was bored because I was in rehab and took a year off. My mom brought me my sketchbook and said, ‘Try drawing.’ I channeled all of these ideas. I went to school, my wife introduced me to the internet, I discovered digital webbing. I created digital comics, did small comics here and there. Now, I’m doing my own thing.”
Keawekane says his mother continues to be a major supporter. “My mom loves my comics,” he says. “She’s my biggest fan. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ll see my mom jump into the conversation, like ‘Well, he’s also good at THAT!’”
As for Steve Leialoha, his award-winning career as an inker and penciler for varying Marvel, DC and independent titles has made him an industry legend. He’s worked on Fables, Howard the Duck, Batman, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, G.I. Joe, Uncanny X-Men and others. He’s also pretty easy to talk to.
MAUITIME: When you drew for Fables, did you know you were working on a classic or did the response take you by surprise?
STEVE LEIALOHA: Fables sounded like a great idea from the beginning, but you can never really tell.
MT: I’m a huge Howard the Duck fan. Was there freedom in working on something so bizarre or does that present more of a challenge for an artist?
SL: The challenge is always to do the best work possible but Howard the Duck was so odd that we could do almost anything, which did keep it fun! Marvel was a bit more casual in those days.
MT: Your list of credits touches on every comic book I collect, have read and continue to revisit: Dead Boy Detectives, Batman, Secret Wars II, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, G.I. Joe, Uncanny X-Men. Do you have a favorite character to render?
SL: I’ve been pretty lucky in being able to work on projects I really like, and over the years that’s been most of the characters at DC and Marvel. My favorite is usually whatever I’m working on at the moment (some Polynesian-themed things).
Another towering figure in the comic book world attending Maui Comic Con is Trina Robbins. She’s a major figure in the “underground comix” and her Wimmen’s Comix issue #1 is noted for featuring the first-ever openly lesbian character. She’s written essential works on the role of women in comics, is a noted writer/artist on DC’s Wonder Woman series and is said to be referenced in Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon. (In researching Robbins’ work to prepare for our interview, I came across a detail that made me smile: her partner is none other than Steve Leialoha.)
MAUITIME: Your books provide a definitive look at the historical presence of women in comic books. We always tend to gravitate towards Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, etc. Are there female comic characters that you feel have been vastly overlooked and deserve more attention?
TRINA ROBBINS: Miss Fury preceded Wonder Woman by eight months and was written and drawn by a woman, Tarpe Mills. I have collected the entire 10-year run of the strip into two volumes, and it reads like film noir. Although she had no superpowers, Miss Fury was a beautiful society woman, Marla Drake, who donned a panther skin disguise to have some great adventures fighting Nazis and, later, some pretty mean gangsters. Like all of the best comic heroines, she could take care of herself, and could be pretty tough when she had to be. She had a white Persian cat who just happened to look like and have the same name as creator Tarpe Mills’ cat, Perri Purr, and the cat was no slouch, either. Once, when Marla was held at gunpoint by a particularly bad guy, Perri Purr jumped on the man’s head, claws out, saving his mistress.
MT: I’m intrigued by your refreshing comments about the tasteless qualities in Robert Crumb’s work. Do you feel there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed, regarding sexuality and violence, in comic books?
TR: Obviously, we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this fair country and I hope it stays that way, so we are simply talking about good taste. Yes, a person can depict rape, torture, dismemberment and murder of women, but it isn’t funny, and it’s, as you say, tasteless. Whereas I certainly don’t believe that looking at and reading such stuff is likely to turn anyone into a rapist or murderer, I do believe that looking at stuff like that tends to desensitize the reader to the point where he or she may not be horrified by the terrible things that really do happen to women–and men–in real life, and may be in danger of losing compassion.
MT: Many have noted that female comic book characters tend to be scantily attired, hyper-sexualized, etc. Some have argued these figures exude confidence and female empowerment. What are your thoughts?
TR: It’s hard to be empowered when one’s breasts are so large and waist so tiny that in real life one might break in half or simply fall flat on one’s face, especially if one is also attempting to run in six-inch heels.
MT: Are you optimistic about the upcoming Wonder Woman movie?
TR: Yes! I think Gal Gadot makes a perfect Wonder Woman, and I’m eager to see the movie!
Fans of Drake Mallard, the mysterious, caped crime fighter who goes by the alias Darkwing Duck, are in for a treat at Maui Comic Con. The Disney character, who starred in both after school and Saturday morning cartoons as well as spin-off comic books, is celebrating a 25th birthday.
Present at Maui Comic Con will be the show’s creator, Tad Stones, and James Silvani, an artist on the Darkwing Duck comic book series. I spoke first with Stones, whose prolific career includes The Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers.
MAUITIME: First of all, thank you for your work on The Adventures of the Gummi Bears.
TAD STONES: Thanks, although the show was created by Jymn Magon and Art Vitello. I only story edited/produced the third season. I always preferred the 22-minute episodes that told bigger adventures.
MT: Please tell me about your first experience at Disney, working on The Rescuers.
TS: The Rescuers was underway when I survived the training program so I became an In-betweener, a job I was terrible at. I remember in-betweening the scales on the back of two alligators animated by Dale Baer as they swam away. I went home with a headache every day and had trouble keeping the lines from bouncing around. In the final film, they swam into the fog! I did animate one scene of just Bernard mouse tip-toeing across a desk and turning to look up at a clock. But I realized I’d rather work in story. At the time, Penny and Medusa did not have a real personality scene together. I pitched something that was deemed too harsh. However, Vance Gerry, a top story artist, took the kernel of the idea and created the sequence where they talk as Medusa takes off her make-up. Basically, my contribution was bringing up the notion that they should have a scene together. After that, it was all Vance.
MT: What kind of hours did you put in while Darkwing Duck was on the air?
TS: My hours on Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers got out of hand. I was working seven days a week, about 13 hours Monday through Friday, eight on Saturday and four on Sunday, my “day off.” I was thanked by being pulled off the show toward the end. Darkwing was more sane. I don’t think I put in a lot of weekends but my days probably averaged around 10 hours. The show was more fun and I had a lot more help in the form of additional story editors.
MT: Now that Darkwing Duck lives on in comic book form, are there further plans, in film or gaming form, to expand the narrative of the character?
TS: I can only say that the guys creating the new Ducktales series are huge Darkwing Duck fans and leave it at that. I love what they’re doing so I advise recording all the episodes when they air next year! It’s a new continuity which captures the spirit of all the shows a brings them into this century. Very, very funny people are involved.
Silvani, who lives in Hawaii and works as a cartoonist and illustrator, also took time to answer my Disney-flavored questions.
MAUITIME: Who are the artists who inspired you?
JAMES SILVANI: By the time I could actually pick up comics on my own to read, my older brother had moved out but left me behind all his comics. The first ones I were drawn to were the Carl Barks’ Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics. They were these amazing adventures done with funny animals. Those books showed me all about storytelling. I was also a huge fan of Silver Age artist John Severin. He started off as an artist on western and war comics but I came to know him through his brilliant art on Cracked Magazine movie parodies. I think 90 percent of my humor can be traced back to his artistic sensibilities. My only other artistic influences came from the dying form of newspaper comics. I feel very privileged to have grown up in a time where I could read and draw inspiration from such greats as Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes and Bloom County on a daily basis.
MT: When you’re working with established characters, like Star Wars or other Disney characters, how much freedom do you have to make personal interpretations?
JS: Disney characters don’t really offer a lot of room for interpretation, at least in the comics. I’m fine with that as I try and keep them as on model as possible. I never really liked stylized comics of licensed characters myself. On the Star Wars end, I have a little more freedom. Lucasfilm is very encouraging, as far as fine art interpretations of their properties. I’ve done fine art for Star Wars in everything from rock poster style silk screens to Little Golden Book-style paintings.
MT: I notice you tour the con circuit a lot. What are your favorite parts of conventions, and what can be some of the pitfalls from an artist’s perspective?
JS: My favorite part of cons is to hang out with my peers in the comics industry. I love living on Maui but it gives me little opportunity to hang out the pros that are doing such exciting things in the business today. The downside to doing the cons is all the travel puts me behind on getting the books I draw out on a timely basis. Plus, I make it a point not to sell prints of any kind at my tables. Only original art. All those originals take a lot of prep time.
Maui Comic Con takes place Nov. 5-6 at the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Programs start at 10am on both days and go until 6:30pm on Saturday and 6:45pm on Sunday. The event is free to the public. For more info, go to Mauicomiccon.com.
Cover design: Darris Hurst