This past Saturday saw the advent of the Toronto Fan Days convention at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. There were near naked gladiators who fought to death in a bear pit. There were live scale demos of interstellar spacecraft with fully functioning controls that you could fly up into the stratosphere. And you could pose for free on Santa’s lap with Darth Vader and stormtroopers flanking you.
Okay, so only one of the above things is true.
The Fan Days event is a small show put on by the group that organizes Fan Expo over the Labor Day weekend. Though this show is fairly small, it’s got a little bit of everything that a regular show does:
Comics both vintage and new.
Lots of merch…
… and even some original art! A friend pointed out that a lot of people were wearing Santa hats or other Christmas trappings and that was indeed festive!
I talked to Kevin Boyd who’s a key component of the team that organizes these cons about the process of running them:
Koom Kankesan: How and when did you get into organizing cons?
Kevin Boyd: Conventions have been part of my life since I was about 12 years old. I started selling at local shows as a teen (in the artist alley initially, but later on as a vendor selling back issues). As a young man in my 20s, I started traveling a lot more to bigger shows in places like Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and seeing how they were run and meeting creators that never made it to Toronto.
I pushed to bring some of those elements to our local Toronto shows and also help improve the events some friends were doing. We restructured those events and tried to do a big comics-focused show that ultimately failed, but I learned a lot along the way doing them and made a lot of great contacts. Around 2007, I joined the Fan Expo team to work on the comics side of their events, and after a short break from 2012-2014, I rejoined the team in 2015 as the Comic Relations Coordinator.
KK: What aspects do you enjoy most about the process?
KB: I meet a lot of great people on all sides. I enjoy working with creators and helping connect the readers and fans with them. I love organizing things, and that may stem back to the habits I picked up as a collector organizing my comics and looking for the things I was missing. I know I do that with events, making lists, organizing programming, looking to make sure every aspect of comics fandom is properly addressed and has a voice.
KK: What aspects do you find the most frustrating?
KB: The challenging part of what my section has to deal with is making sure that comics have a voice at our events and aren’t just lost in the shuffle, drowned out by other aspects of the events such as celebrity guests, or cosplay. This is not so much of a concern at a one-day event like Toronto Fan Days where comics are very well represented, or at Toronto ComiCON in March, where comics are the main focus, but more so at events like Fan Expo Canada which unites a number of different genres and mediums under the same roof.
I have to work extra hard to make sure that comics fans don’t write off the event, but want to come down and be a part of it, meeting their favourite creators, hearing from the publishers about upcoming projects, and learning from the pros, not to mention finding those elusive items for their collections.
I also talked to Mike Rooth, a very friendly and enthusiastic artist whom I’d known only through social media and met for the first time at Fan Days:
Koom Kankesan: You’ve been doing an interesting series of Swamp Thing illustrations lately. Can you tell us about the motivation for this and some of the approaches you’re taking to complete them?
Mike Rooth: Drawing pictures of Swamp Thing is my anti-depression medication. This year has been particularly tough, there’ve been a lot of challenges and I have experienced a lot of grief. Swamp Thing has been a strong remedy for that. Swamp Thing is a very low pressure drawing experience for me–my brush knows what it’s doing before I even dip it into the ink. It’s a very relaxing exercise, and as someone who was constantly assailed with bad news and hard losses this year, drawing Swamp Thing was a sure cure for the blues.
At the beginning of the summer, I was drawing pictures of him using a dirty old steel nib that I found in my studio, and I was doing the drawings without any pencil under sketch–direct to ink. It helps increase self confidence, and I need much more of that, so I try to do this exercise regularly. Working directly with ink means there’s no opportunity for me to make any changes or corrections. I can’t erase it, which helps me accept the fact that sometimes in life, there are mistakes that we cannot undo and we either have to quit or live with them and move forward. And I never want to quit.
My theme for Inktober this year was “all of the things” and so Swamp Thing was featured a lot–but to change it up this year, I decided to use objects from nature I found in the woods–dried flower stems, dried leaves, various kinds of roots, pieces of bark and sumac, etc. I would use these dipped in ink to create drawings of Swamp Thing. It was a lot of fun, and received a very positive response.
KK: Who are the influences on your art style, and what have you taken from them?
MR: As a lifelong fan of so many artists in comics, it’d be hard to list them all, because I’m sure I’ve borrowed a little bit from everyone. John Byrne and John Buscema really stood out to me as a kid. They were like gods to me, but I’m not sure I’d ever come close to having their command of perspective or drawing the human figure. I love the darkness in Bernie Wrightson‘s work, his unbelievable draftsmanship and fearless control of ink is something I’ve always been in awe of.
I love the grit and filth and whiskey-fueled evil magic of Simon Bisley’s work. I love Matt Wagner’s painted covers. Mike Mignola. Joe Jusko. Mike Grell. Frank Frazetta. I could list them all day. I can’t say what I’ve taken from them specifically, but I will say that I keep them all very close to my heart while I work, and they’ve given me a lot. This year, I studied with the great Ty Templeton at his famous boot camp, and it really opened my head up. I’m looking forward to taking more of his classes in 2018.
KK: What projects are you currently working on?
MR: Right now, I’m just trying to wrap up left over commissions and pinups for my indie pals, etc. I have a couple of pitches I’m developing with some amazing talent right now, but that kinda stuff can be a bit slow going amidst all the other work. Something REALLY big is coming for me in early 2018, and unfortunately, I can’t say a word about it yet! But in the meantime, I know I have some more cover work for Aftershock coming soon–they are the best company I’ve ever worked for, and I’m always happy when they call me for a gig.