Over the past few years, comic books have made a significant move from the basements of children and self-proclaimed geeks, to the mainstream. The genre has exploded in recent years, not least because of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the success of movies like the X-Men series, Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and indie faves like Kick-Ass. The small screen has seen shows like Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD and, most prominently of all, The Walking Dead, practically taking over. Netflix has jumped on board the Marvel ship, with shows like Daredevil, Iron Fist, and The Defenders on the way. Agent Carter has just aired, and DC shows like Teen Titans, and Supergirl are on the way. You can barely turn on a TV nowadays without seeing somebody in a mask and/or cape.O
There has been a shift in perceptions. In truth, it started at the tail-end of the 1980’s when Tim Burton made the first two Batman movies. Those films, starring Michael Keaton plus the villainous likes of Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeifer, introduced a darker tone to the mainstream notion of what a comic book movie, or character, is. What was once considered a children’s medium has done a complete 180 and is now predominantly for teens and adults.
Here in Colorado, we have our own writers, artists and indeed characters to celebrate. Local artist Kevin Gentilcore of Creephouse Comics recently told us that, “There’s a lot of great people around here. We meet up at the conventions around here and some smaller local shows, and I’m part of a group called Web Comic Pioneers. It started a couple of years ago, trying to get some attention on what a web comic is, how it works. It kind of petered out, because web comics are kind of ubiquitous now. I’m woking on a heavy metal-themed comic with some other guys from Colorado.”
In fictional terms too, the state of Colorado has had some impact in comic books. At Marvel, Colorado exists in the Earth-616 universe, which will mean nothing to you unless you’re really into comics already. Basically, the Marvel Universe incorporates a bunch of other universes to allow for discrepancies with continuity. Don’t worry too much about it. Some cool things have happened in that fictional Colorado though. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, created the War Machine Research and Development Facility in the mountains to allow Jim “War Machine” Rhodes to recuperate after injury. Stark put Bethany Cabe (aka Iron Woman, War Machine) in charge of the base, and so she’s here too.
Speaking of mountains, one of them is known as Thunderbolts Mountain to comic fans (we’re not sure which one), headquarters of the mutant superhuman team the Inhumans and also a base for Norman “Green Goblin” Osborn’s H.A.M.M.E.R.
The second iteration of the superhero team the Defenders (Moondragon, Iceman, Beast, Angel, Gargoyle, etc) was based in the Rocky Mountains, and the Vault, a special prison for super-villains, is up there too. While this is generally seen as an inferior version of the team that started out with the Hulk, Dr. Strange and Namor the Sub-Mariner in its ranks, it’s still significant because a Defenders team featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage will be the subject of a forthcoming Netflix live-action TV series.
Dani Moonstar, who has gone by the names Valkyrie, Mirage and Psyche among others, was born in Boulder before hooking up with a number of X-Men-related teams (New Mutants, X-Force). Meanwhile, Mary MacPherran was born in a suburb of Denver and would later go by the names Thunder Girl, Spider-Woman and, more recently, Titania. That unnamed Denver suburb would later be ripped from the Earth and transformed into the planet Battleworld by the alien Beyonder. Yep, we thought that was weird too. One of MacPherran’s friends, is another local called Marsha Rosenberg, Volcana. And then there’s the biker gang the Pipers, who terrorized local drivers before being defeated by Spider-Man villain Lizard after he broke out of the aforementioned Vault.
That’s all just Marvel. DC Comics has it’s own team, the Challengers of the Unknown, based out of Challenger’s Mountain in the Rockies. Dr. Saul Erdel, the man who brought the Martian Manhunter to Earth, is based in Colorado, and criminal scientist Professor Ivo has a base of operations here. Naturally, there are less Colorado appearances in DC Comics when compared to Marvel because DC largely uses fictional cities (Gotham, Metropolis, etc).
it’s all good fun, but of course the real pride lies with the real people – the local comic book writers and artists who do such great work out of here. Kevin Gentilcore works for Creephouse Comics, an online house. “The first one we did was Spirits in the Well,” he says. “Vengeful spirits from beyond the grave in black and white – two short stories. We collected them later into Creephouse Vol. 1. That was our first venture together, and then there’s another short we’ve been doing called Never Send a Monster, which is about a girl who is sick of bing hit on by men so she created a devil through magic so that she can deal with all of the negative attention she was getting.”
Creephouse has grand plans going forward. “We’re working on a couple of new comics right now,” Gentilcore says. “I had been doing Teenage Love Zombies for the past four years and it ended this year. In it’s place, we’re doing The Haunter, which is a superhero horror thing. My partner an I came up with a space sci-fi comic called Krush McNulty so we’re doing that as well. The first issue of both of those, you can get through our website. We’re going to be a Kickstarter to put Teenage Love Zombies into print.”
Historically, Colorado has a lot to offer too. Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman (alongside the far more famous Bob Kane), was born in Denver. Kane took the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the Dark Knight, only acknowledging Finger’s role years after the Coloradan’s death. Finger died in 1974 and, 20 years later, he was posthumously inducted into the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1999. As well as Batman himself, Finger also had a hand in the creation of well-known Bats villains like the Joker, Catwoman, Clayface and the Riddler, and other characters like Robin, Betty Kane (the original Batgirl), Bat-Mite, and Ace the Bat-Hound.
While working on a Superboy series, Finger created Lana Lang, now a massive part of the Superman legend. He also helped shape the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, and he scripted a couple of episodes of the 1960’s Batman TV series.
While Finger is someone that we should celebrate historically, there are plenty of new-breed comic artists and writers that are worthy of our attention, people like Stan Yan who heads up the Squid Works writing group (squidworks.com). Yan has been drawing comics for as long as he can remember. “At four or five years old, the things I was drawing were always in sequential panels for some reason,” he says. “I can’t exactly explain why. Whenever I envision a story, it’s almost always in the comic format in my mind. In high school, I actually took a class on creating comics through Colorado Free University.”
Yan, who describes Squid Works as “a 12-step program for artists who don’t know any better,” says that nowadays there is more awareness that a local scene exists at all. “A lot of it has come about with the growing convention scene,” he says. “We first had Star Fest and that launched a companion convention, Comic Fest and so that brought about more awareness, at least with creators about each other. There had been a lot of isolation of artists within different scenes. The anime convention – they weren’t aware of the more western-influenced comic artists around. I think that, as more and more conventions have come about, we’ve been meeting each other. Now you’ve got the Denver Drink & Draw Group, which sprouted out of Squid Works. With the Denver Comic Con, which is a huge thing, that’s given additional momentum. There are a lot of very successful local artists that, because of the convention scene, have been able to meet and be more willing to help out and communicate with artists that are on the rise.”
Another local artist, Daniel Crosier, creator of Isolation Man, also believes that we have a healthy pool of talent here. “I think it’s incredibly diverse,” he says. “There’s guys still doing superhero stuff, local guys winning national and international awards, Tinsel Press is putting out some fantastic stuff, and Melanie Gillman was up for an Eisner last year for her web comics. They’re doing some amazing stuff. At the same time, events like Denver Comic Con are now poised to be an international platform for other creative endeavors and events. I think a lot of that creativity also informs other industries and mediums, which is inspiring.”
Hamza Pecenkovic also draws attention to the Denver Comic Con. “I think there’s a lot of growth going on,” he says. “I was really involved in a group called Denver Drink & Draw. It’s nice to see people being successful doing what they want. Denver Comic Con has really taken off, and I’m involved with that. It’s nice to see a very big show getting all sorts of attention. It’s reaffirming as far as how big our scene is.”
The Denver Comic Con has been an annual event since the first one in 2012. It’s relatively new, but it already has a strong reputation and it’s drawing some of the big names in comic books and sci-fi, like The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson and Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols. In 2015, it will be held on Memorial Day weekend (May 23-25) at the Colorado Convention Center. Visit denvercomiccon.com for more information.
24 Hour Comic Challenge Anthology
Local writer Jay Sternitzky, who is responsible for putting together the 24 Hour Comic Challenge Anthology, says that, “The Denver Comic Con is a great example of how it’s a growing hot bed. You have the indie self-publishers like me, and then you have the people who work for Marvel and DC. It’s a really vibrant scene, I think.”
“From a writer’s side, the hardest thing is to find somebody to draw it,” Sternizky continues. “I was lucky enough to have a super-talented brother. I asked him if he wanted to make a comic book. He said, ‘I don’t draw that way.” I told him that I know, but I wanted him to do what he always does. The book is called Short Stack: Tales of a Super-Human Plumber. I also write a weekly web comic called Rollo: Nuclear-Powered Pacifist Robot. That’s about this automaton built in the 1800’s who walks around and witnesses man’s inhumanity against man. That’s a lot of fun.”
What this all proves is that there is a massive amount of talent here that we can and should support, plus an impressive history that we can enjoy. On one hand, if the comic creators themselves only recently realized that there was a scene here, then what chance did the rest of us have? On the other, comic book creation is an art form much like any other. There are the big guns who work for the likes of DC and Marvel, and the ultra-underground indie guys. There are the people who stay in Colorado because of the way that the region informs their work, and there are those who can’t wait to get to LA or New York. But all of our local artists deserve our support. So get out there to one of the nearby stores, such as Time Warp in Boulder, and ask where the local books are before picking up a Batman comic. And if you do get a Batman book, think of Bill Finger.
Artwork for this article both online and in print was graciously provided by Sean Tiffany, Andy Moore, Daniel Crosier, Ellie Fortune, Hamza Pecenkovic, Jay Sternitzky, Karl Christian, Noah Van Sciver, Robin Childs, and Stan Yan.
Thanks to Wayne Winsett at Time Warp Comics for his knowledge and help tracking down local writers and artists. 3105 28th Street, Boulder; 303-443-4500; time-warp.com.