The Michigan State University Comic Forum transformed the university library’s third floor into a hub for comic enthusiasts, artists and scholars on during its 15th triennial convention on Saturday.
From watercolor paintings with pens and paintbrushes to digital creations with a mouse, each artist had their own distinctive styles while staying true to one common theme: using art as a creative outlet.
The library, which houses the world’s largest comic book collection, served as a fitting location for the event and attracted cartoonists like BluRaven C. Houvener. Houvener, whose passion for comics began in fifth grade, has been creating comic art since 2006 and launched his own label, BCH Comics.
"I’m impressed just from seeing all the beautiful art at the tables and how diverse each table is," Houvener said. "There’s a little something of everything here. The general vibe — you always feel so awakened just walking around, talking to people and getting to know people from all walks of life. It’s something you don’t get to do every day. That makes conventions super special."
Houvener said indie comics like the ones highlighted at the forum are unique because of the different perspectives and personal stories that are sometimes overlooked in mainstream comics.
"(My comics) talk about issues I had as a teenager," Houvener said. "It’s a lot of stuff that I haven’t seen, like issues revolving around poverty, being in unorthodox situations and just trying to live a normal life. I still haven’t seen anything quite like that out there. It’s been very therapeutic."
Along with the artist alley, there were keynote speakers, including Boston born cartoonist Keith Knight, who spoke about the history and importance of comics. Knight has been in the business for 35 years and co-created the live action Hulu series "Woke" based on his comics.
"It’s a privilege and an honor to have people want me to come and speak," Knight said. "(Comics) speak truth to power in ways, and they’re a gateway to reading. They’re as powerful as any other medium. I say this all the time — the first season of my TV show cost $27 million to film and that was based on comics that cost me $1.27 to create. That shows you the power of comics."
Keynote scholar Rebecca Wanzo, the Chair and Professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Washington University, led a panel discussion delving into African American comic art.
For MSU students like games and interactive design freshman Talia Disney, seeing Wanzo speak was inspiring.
"From this lecture, I learned more about how comics interact with the actual art world and how they struggled to get appreciated and what they deserved," Disney said. "I’m going to use what I learned from this lecture in my work that I create by being true to myself and what I want to make — regardless of whether or not people are going to appreciate it."
Disney said the forum’s creative atmosphere further motivates her to explore how she’ll use comics in her career.
"It’s cool to me in the sense that you’re able to put a lot of individuality into the comics that you create," Disney said. "It does inspire me. It helps me see other viewpoints that otherwise I don’t have as much of a connection to. It helps me be able to learn more about the history of what I want to get into and inspires me ... it drives me to do more."
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