VOL. 132 | NO. 182 | Wednesday, September 13, 2017
After a disappointing turnout last year, the 2017 Memphis Comic Expo nearly didn’t happen. But last year, a little before Christmas, Donald Juengling’s father passed away. Richard Juengling had been a big fan of his son’s efforts to stage a creator-oriented comic convention in Memphis.
“My dad was really proud of the show. He was a really tough guy, like on a cartoonish level, almost. That got me thinking, ‘I’m not gonna quit now,’” said Juengling, the manager of Memphis’s oldest comic shop, Comics and Collectibles. “At that point, in a really short window, in really about a month I put this show together.”
And this fourth annual show (memphiscomicexpo.com) will bring more than 80 artists, writers, cosplayers and others involved in the comic industry, both on a local and national level, to the Agricenter this Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16-17.
Collectively, those artists have won more than 16 Eisner Awards, named after legendary creator Will Eisner and the comics industry’s version of the Oscars.
“As far as our comic creator list, you have to drive a long way (to find a better one),” Juengling said. “We’ve become a haven for the people that kinda want to break into comics, fan artists, indie artists. Just having 80 artists at any one show is a ton of people. That’s something we’re proud of, that we’re accessible for all ranges. You can be the biggest person in the industry or just somebody starting out.”
Some of the bigger names appearing at the expo are Gene Ha, winner of four Eisner awards who is perhaps most famous for his detailed work on legendary creator Alan Moore’s “Top 10;” Kyle Baker, who has won eight Eisners as well as four Harvey awards, another top comic honor; Ty Templeton, winner of four Eisners; Mike McKone, a British artist known for his work with both DC and Marvel; and former Memphian Mike Norton, who will attend his fourth straight Memphis Comic Expo.
“I’ll always come to the expo because no matter how long I’ve been in Chicago,” Norton said, “Memphis will always be home.”
One thing this show won’t have a lot of is “media guests,” meaning people who appear mainly in TV, movies or the like. There are a few, such as local wrestling personality and occasional comic-book artist Jerry Lawler; Walter Jones from “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers;” and Rikki Simons, perhaps best known as the voice of Gir the robot from “Invader ZIM.”
That’s by design, as Juengling wants to emphasize the creators behind those properties.
“Old-school comic conventions, they were about comics creators and comics,” he said. “So many comic cons these days are more about the media. Eventually we might have more of that kind of stuff, but essentially I just wanted a show that would put the focus back on comic creators.”
One of those creators is Ha, who broke into comics more than 20 years ago when he penciled an issue of Green Lantern for DC Comics. Since then, he’s worked on some of the biggest names in the industry, both for Marvel and DC.
Ha’s work is instantly recognizable, both for his penciling style and the coloring, much of which he does himself. A fellow creator, Ha said, recently described his work as “unassuming but clever,” a description the artist enjoyed.
“I try to give the illusion that’s it just random snapshots of the world. But each of these random snapshots is realistically drawn and kind of gritty and a little bit off-angle,” said Ha, who lives outside Chicago. “I’m famous for doing a lot of detail. Not in every shot, but if a shot calls for detail, I’ll do that. And the thing that I do better than 99 percent of the comic artists is being able to do a very detailed scene that doesn’t feel cluttered and draws the eye to where it needs to go.”
Ha’s most recent work is his creator-owned book “Mae.” The book, featuring that distinctive artistic style, tells the story of two sisters, one of whom disappeared years ago to become a heroine in another dimension. As the book begins, Abbie returns to Earth and eventually enlists Mae in her crusade. From there, they encounter all manner of beasts and creatures, something Ha clearly enjoyed drawing.
“It’s my dream project,” Ha said. “I’d be happy to do it for the rest of my life.”
Ha said he chose the Memphis Comic Expo in part because of the creators who were also attending.
“I knew that some people who are very smart on which cons to attend had chosen to go there, like Ty Templeton. He’s also an idol of mine from when I was a kid, a teenager reading comics, so this will be my first chance to meet him,” Ha said.
But there was another reason Ha picked Memphis as well, one Juengling said is pretty common among those creators who attend the con.
“My wife and I had never been to Memphis and we were just excited to see the place,” said Ha, who plans to arrive a day early to play tourist. “We know the thing to do there in Memphis is go see Graceland. We’re actually more interested in just seeing the city and the culture and the music and the food that’s going on right now.”