Word of advice:
Do not dismiss this weekend’s Cola-Con as an event for pasty nerds in black T-shirts who dig men in tights and scantily clad women in their comic books.
Instead, embrace it as a pop culture experience.
In other words, this comic convention isn’t just for comic-book fans.
Cola-Con, now in its third year, is carving its niche in the comics world by merging graphic art with hip-hop music. Founder and organizer Preach Jacobs wanted a forum to showcase Columbia’s comic and hip-hop artists. But he didn’t want to host a traditional comic-book trade show, which can be intimidating to those who may not be interested in every detail of Superman’s 75-year history.
“My tagline for this has been ‘People come for the music. They stay for the art,’” Jacobs said.
Cola-Con has a new home this year as it moves to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Lincoln Street.
At Cola-Con, visitors can wander the convention floor to meet artists and to buy comic books, graphic novels and records. Visual and performing artists also sit on panels where they talk about everything from raising money for projects to influences in their work.
Jacobs said there will be a lot of good advice and networking for “do-it-yourself” artists in all fields.
At night, the convention transitions into a hip-hop show with local and national acts taking the stage from 5-10 p.m.
Over the course of two days, there is a lot to see and to hear. Here are some highlights:
The Foreign Exchange
A Grammy-nominated group that is billed as an R&B/electronica/hip-hop duo. The artists made their first album before they ever met in person. The duo recently won independent album of the year, song of the and duo/group of the year in the 2013 SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards. The latest album is “Love in Flying Colors.” The Foreign Exchange performs at 8 p.m. Friday.
New York hip-hop duo Dead Prez describe their sound as “revolutionary hip hop with a gangsta lean.” The duo’s lyrics have a political bent but the sound is all hip-hop and rap. Their latest album, “Information Age,” was released this month. Dead Prez performs at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Click here for website
Known as the “guy who killed Captain America,” Epting is a local artist who works on a big stage. He is a University of South Carolina graduate who has drawn for Marvel, including the storyline where Captain America was killed. In the comic-book world, Epting is a “penciller,” which means he draws the original sketches that someone else enhances with ink and color. His latest work is the comic book series Velvet on the Image Comics label. Epting has kept a low profile in Columbia so it’s a coup to get him to the con. He will be on a panel at 1 p.m. Saturday.
When people say comic art is more than superheroes, Piskor is a fine point to their arguments. He is billed as an “alternative comics artist” and got his start with Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comics. Piskor’s Wizzywig series grew out of his interest in computer hackers and tells the story of a hacker and the effects of his work. But it is Piskor’s Hip-Hop Family Tree that makes him a perfect fit for Cola-con. The series explores the evolution of hip-hop from early DJs to Run DMC and beyond. He will be on panels at 5 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday.
No comic convention is complete without people in costumes. Known as cos-play in the industry, Cola-Con isn’t as well-known for elaborate costumes as other shows in Atlanta or Charlotte. But there will be people wearing superhero and science fiction costumes. And if your kids already have their Halloween costumes picked out, why not let them wear the outfits to Cola-Con?
Ron Wimberly, creator of Prince of Cats, will be part of a panel about the melding of hip-hop and comics. His book is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He also has worked on a Run DMC inspired book. Wimberly will be on panels at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday and at 4 p.m. Saturday.
A great way to get involved and meet artists is to ask for sketches. Most artists charge a small fee to draw a picture just for you. If you want to collect several, bring a sketchbook. You can ask them to draw one of their characters or challenge them with something creative such as a ’70s disco diva or their favorite Saturday morning cartoon character. But don’t make it too complicated by asking for five characters in a detailed fight scene. These are supposed to be quick and fun for you and the artist. Shigeharu Kobayashi usually brings a button-making machine so visitors can ask an artist to sketch on a piece of paper and then Kobayashi turns it into something they can wear.
While plenty of national talent will be in town for Cola-Con, the event is a chance for the local guys to show their stuff. Find Sanford Greene, Chad Bowers, Dre Lopez, Sammy Lopez, Jay Potts and others to check out the diversity in the Columbia comic art scene.
TICKETS: $20 for a one-day pass; $30 for two-day pass; available at www.cola-con.com
ALSO: The University of South Carolina will host a daylong symposium on the study and teaching of comics and graphic novels 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, in Thomas Cooper Library. The event, which is free and open to the public, will focus on the theme of “Comics Studies in the South.”
Guest presenters will include legendary writer Roy Thomas, former Marvel editor-in-chief and publisher of the comics magazine, “Alter Ego,” at 1 p.m., and Jeremy Love of the DC series, “Bayou,” at 3:30 p.m.
Other presentations include ones on Southern superheroes, black editorial cartoons from the Civil Rights era and popular comics set in the South such as The Walking Dead and Stuck Rubber Baby. The symposium coincides with Cola-Con, Columbia’s comic book and music convention.