Comic Con brings out best in Cosplay

Kennedy Thomas, Reporter

Approximately 2,500 fans showed up to the Marriott Hotel on Sept. 22 to attend the Bakersfield Comic-Con, the largest turnout in the event’s history.

Promoted and organized by Steve Wyatt, 49, the convention has steadily increased in attendance since beginning in 2008.  Wyatt has a large amount of connections in the industry and has used them to generate interest in comics throughout the community, as well as provide access to many of the mediums most prominent figures.

Sergio Aragonés, 76, illustrator for Mad Magazine since 1962, and creator of the Groo the Wanderer comic, was on hand to meet fans and promote his work. Aragonés, a long time friend of Wyatt, has lost track of the times that he has attended Bakersfield conventions.  Wyatt and Aragonés have a longstanding business relationship.

“I was here last year,” he said.  “We’ve been friends for many, many, many, years.  He’s the only the guy who I trust selling my artwork.  He’s an incredible, decent person.  I trust him implicitly.”

Aragonés believes that even though the Bakersfield convention is much smaller than some larger conventions in other cities, the attendees are more dedicated to the comic-book medium.

“Bakersfield has 300,000 people, so it’s perfect for the amount of people,” he said.  “I like the small conventions because you have a chance to talk with the people, in a more close way.”

In addition to his work for Mad Magazine, Aragonés is known for his incredible work ethic.  He has missed only one issue of Mad, due to a post office error, and has maintained a steady pace of production throughout his over 50-year career.

“When I did Groo, my character,” he said.  “I did it for Marvel for 120 issues, it came out every month and I’ve never been late.  It’s one of the very few things that I am very proud of, and I expect the same thing from my publisher.”

Aragonés’ started his career with Mad Magazine in 1962, and appreciates the impact his work through the magazine has had on fans throughout the decades.

“I think the work in Mad has been making a few generations laugh, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Aragonés offered some advice to aspiring artists that hope to contribute to the medium in the same way as him.

“Get better.  Try to get better; learn.  It’s a lifetime process.  Study your field and get better.  I can see it in my work, from the early Groos to the new ones, it’s like someone else is drawing it,” he said, before adding a final recommendation: “Don’t get hung up in the old-fashioned way to do things.  Get into the new, modern, way.”

Industry veteran Scott Shaw, 62, was present at the convention to promote his work and offer instruction to artists who hope to develop their own comic-book characters.  Shaw is currently a storyboard artist for the popular show “Annoying Orange,” on Cartoon Network, and also writes and draws the graphic novels of the same name.

A winner of four Emmys for his work on Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, Shaw also worked on the prevalent Flintstones Fruity Pebbles commercials, worked on Garfield, and wrote and drew Simpsons comics.

Looking back on how the acceptance of comic book culture has spread throughout the last few decades, Shaw recalled the beginnings of the San Diego Comic-Con in 1970, of which he was an early participant.

“It started out with very few people,” he said.  “Three hundred kids, almost all boys, in the basement of one of the crappiest hotels in downtown San Diego.  Back then the only women were moms who thought their boys were coming to get molested by pedophiles because the idea of seeing fliers saying ‘Come trade old comic books!’ in the basement of a creepy hotel sounded like a very obvious trap.”

The stigma regarding comic culture has definitely changed, according to Shaw, who has noticed a significant shift in the popular culture.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said.  “Geeks may not be in the majority, but there are enough of us.  I mean, I’m sure you’ve noticed the geek influence on things like car commercials and things like that.”

Regarding the Bakersfield Comic-Con specifically, Shaw said that he appreciates the care that Wyatt takes in providing a variety of content for attendees to participate in, rather than focusing solely the trading of memorabilia between fans, and has much respect for him.

“Steve Wyatt is not only a cartoonist himself, he’s a friend to all of us cartoonists,” he said.  “He helps us out, so we’re always happy to come to his shows. Steve has an extremely good reputation among the people in the professional community, so we’re always happy to support whatever he’s doing.”

Celebrities were not the only exhibitors at the event, with several local artists, traders, and fan clubs present.

Stu Livingston, 27, a Bakersfield native who attended Bakersfield High School and Bakersfield College, was stationed at a table with two other BC alumni who have found success in the artistic industry, Edwin Ledford, 28, and Gabrielle Steiger, 20.

Livingston, who graduated from Cal State Northridge and went on to work in animation, most notably as a storyboard artist on the latest season, and final episode, of Futurama, said that BC was a great experience for him.

“My favorite professors were actually from BC, over LA,” he said.  “So go BC! Go Renegades!”

Livingston is currently working at Cartoon Network on an upcoming show called Steven Universe, a program created by former Adventure Time artist Rebecca Sugar.

To current art students at BC, Livingston offered some insight into how to succeed in his business.

“One big lesson I’ve learned is, if you want to succeed as an artist or anywhere, it takes a lot of self determination,” he said.  “I didn’t go to an art school so I didn’t have those big advantages of being connected to the industry, but you gotta realize that you have to take responsibility for yourself to find those things, and be that resourceful person.”

Ledford, a local comic book artist and prior exhibitor at the Bakersfield Comic-Con, was excited for the change in venue from last year’s convention at the Double Tree Hotel to the Bakersfield Marriott.  He felt that the prior location was too small to accommodate the amount of guests attending.

Less experienced in the industry was Steiger, who graduated from BC with an AA in Art, and hopes to transfer to LA, was exhibiting at the convention in order to grow contacts and spread awareness of her work.

“I just made a ’zine for the first time ever,” she said.  “I want to be in the animation industry, but right now I’m just kind of diddling.  A lot of my friends are in the industry too, so it’s kind of nice having some connections.  Mostly right now I’m trying to build up a portfolio.”

The local regiment of Star Wars fan club The 501st Legion, a group that dresses up as stormtroopers, sith lords, and other members of The Dark Side, was present to offer some fun for children and money for the community.

Assistant Squad Commander for the San Joaquin Squad Joe Gonzales, 42, whose daughter attends BC, oversaw the club’s Blast a Trooper contest, in which participants could pay a dollar for three shots at 501st members with a toy gun.  One hundred percent of the proceeds, of the $167 raised from the game, were donated to the Bakersfield Homeless Center.

Fan club members were not the only ones dressing up at the convention.  Cosplayers were prominent, many there to participate in the convention’s first costume contest, with separate rankings awarded to children and adult competitors.

The winners of the adult contest were Denisse Narmandin as Pop-Art Girl, coming in third place, Sara Taylor in her Hawkeye costume, coming in second, and the grand prize going to both Melissa Chambers and Justiny Jackson, who appeared as Two-Face and Scarecrow.  Third place was awarded $10, second place was awarded $50, and first place was awarded $100.

As with previous Bakersfield Comic-Cons, a large donation was made to the Bakersfield Rescue Mission.  Wyatt said that the convention itself earned approximately $2,000, and that by working with local Vons stores, that amount will be doubled to $4,000 worth in food.