Comic-Con bringing in top artist

Kennedy Thomas, Reporter

On Sept. 22, the Bakersfield Comic-Con will return for its sixth year in a row.  Featuring world-renowned illustrator for Mad Magazine Sergio Aragonés, local comic book artists, and many veterans of the comic book industry, the event will offer a wide array or talent.

Promoter Steve Wyatt, 49, who has overseen each annual convention, was present this month at Bakersfield’s First Friday celebration on Sept. 6 to stimulate interest in the upcoming convention, as well as to display his own work alongside the myriad variety of other artists who set up tables to showcase their work to the public.

Wyatt did not hide his excitement for his guest list for this year’s convention, especially regarding Aragonés, who is primarily known for his contributions to Mad Magazine from 1963 to present.

“This is probably the greatest living cartoonist,” said Wyatt.  “Everybody has seen his work, even if they don’t know him.  Almost everybody at one point has picked up a Mad Magazine.  The guy is a god.  He is in our industry, what Jimmy Stewart was to the acting industry.”

Wyatt, who has been involved in the comic book industry for 35 years, has worked with prominent artists and writers, and published multiple comic books of his own.  His extensive experience has allowed him to form a large group of connections within the industry, many of which have appeared at previous Bakersfield Comic-Cons and will return this year.

Many returning guests, such as Mike Hampton, a self-publishing comic writer, Tone Rodriguez, who works on “Futurama,” “Simpsons,” and “Kiss” comics, and Derek Fridolfs, known for work such as “Batman:  Li’l Gotham,” do not attend merely to promote their work.  Wyatt’s stable of exhibitors consists of more than just business associates.

“We have a lot of returning guests, and the reason they’re returning guests is because almost every guest I bring in is my friend,” said Wyatt.  “I know these people.  Sergio Aragonés, I sell his art for him.  Tone Rodriguez, one of my closest friends.  Mike Hampton’s like my other son, he lived with us, he’s worked with me since he was 14.  So these are all my friends.”

Erwin Ledford, 28, a graduate of Bakersfield College and local comic book artist, was also present at First Friday.  Ledford will be one of the exhibitors at this year’s convention, promoting various books that he has created over the past year.  He hopes that the Bakersfield Comic-Con will contribute to a growth in comic appreciation within the area.

“I was born and raised in Bakersfield,” said Ledford.  “There aren’t a lot of Bakersfield comic artists making their own stuff.  In terms of Bakersfield natives, physically creating comic books, it’s a bit of a unique thing in my opinion.  I would like to cultivate some sort of comic creating culture.”

Ledford is not alone.  Progress toward a more active comic book culture in Bakersfield is also Wyatt’s goal, as he perceived a lack of celebration of comics in the community before organizing the first convention in 2008.

“Somebody needs to do it, and when I moved to town there was nobody doing it,” said Wyatt.

Wyatt’s assertion, that a potential audience was not being served, was correct.  Attendance has grown every year, with approximately 450 people during the inaugural convention in 2008 increasing to approximately 1,000 in 2012.  Wyatt expects this trend to continue.

“Last year was a thousand people,” he said.  “This year I’m hoping for just 1,200, I’d be surprised if 2,000 people came but it could happen.”

Continually growing an event of this scale, however, has not come without its challenges.

“The hardest part is getting the word out,” said Wyatt.

In addition to gatherings such as First Friday, Wyatt collaborates with local businesses and clubs, and uses Facebook to spread awareness.

“I use Facebook a lot,” he said.  “Some of my posts get four or five, six thousand views.  We have 1,400 likes on the Bakersfield Comic-Con site.  Last year, our numbers [of attendees] went up from 750 to 1,000, so I did something right.”

Wyatt hopes that in addition to the many recurring guests from previous shows, new guests will help to spur interest.  Some of those new to the floor for this year are Dan Brereton, who has worked on “Batman” and “Superman” comics, and Drew Johnson, known for his work on “Star Wars” and “Wonder Woman” comics.

Workshops, contests and prizes will be a large part of the festivities at this year’s convention.  Classes will be held that will lead participants through the process of creating and distributing their own work: “Creating a Character” with Scott Shaw, “The Story & Script” with Dan Brereton, “Drawing the Comic” with Tone Rodriguez and Drew Johnson, and “Publishing Your Comic” with Stephanie Lesniak.

This year will feature the convention’s first-ever costume contest, door prizes for the first 300 attendees, a charity raffle, and a special game involving local members of the Star Wars fan club “The 501st Legion” titled “Shoot the Stormtrooper.”

Wyatt emphasized that the money raised at the convention from the raffle is used strictly to help the community.  Wyatt uses the funds to donate food through local Vons stores, which help to match his donations and contribute to the Bakersfield Food Bank.

“I’m not doing it for money.  I’m doing it out of a love for the industry,” he said.

In addition to new guests, prizes, a reduced cost of admission from the previous year’s $7 down to $5, attendees can also look forward to a new venue.  For the first time, the convention will be held at the Bakersfield Marriott instead of the previous location, the Double Tree Hotel.  Wyatt cited the lack of space at the Double Tree as the primary reason for the switch.

“At the Double Tree it was a great location, don’t get me wrong, I like those people there, it had nothing to do with bad people, but the hallways there were so thin, people were elbow to elbow.  The Marriott just has so much more room and it’s got these lobby areas, and their lobby is three times as wide as the Double Tree.  It’s more for the fans, the cost’s the same, everything’s the same.  It’s convenience for the fans.”

The Bakersfield Comic-Con will be held on Sept. 22 at the Bakersfield Marriot at 801 Truxton Ave.  from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Attendance will cost $5 and parking is free.  A complete list of guests, workshops, and events is available at