Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America storm into Albuquerque this weekend to fight bad guys and look cool while doing it.
The Albuquerque Comic Expo is a three-day celebration of all things comic book and pop culture related, and this year’s expo features Marvel legend Stan Lee, comedians Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes and countless booths of prominent comic book writers and artists.
Comic book fan and manager of comic book store Astro-Zombies Maxx Maclennan said comic culture has been growing exponentially, especially this year with the release of films like “The Avengers” and television shows like “The Walking Dead.”
Local comic artist Andy Kuhn said events like the Albuquerque Comic Expo invite viewers old and new to open up and enjoy a comic book.
“It does nothing but bring new people in, or people who once distanced themselves from comics,” Maclennan said. “They go and see ‘The Avengers,’ and it goes and rekindles that passion they once had for characters like Captain America, and they come back and say ‘What’s new with Captain America?’”
Comic fans are renowned for the elaborate costumes many of them wear to conventions. Maclennan said that dressing up is more than just wearing a costume; it’s a process of actually becoming that character for a day.
“It gives you a chance to be Captain America. Some little kid is going to look at you and not see average Joe behind the mask; he’s looking at Captain America,” he said.
Maclennan and a few other employees will be selling merchandise at this year’s expo, as well as promoting the comic store’s podcast. Maclennan said it was a great year for comics.
“Nerd culture is becoming mainstream, so I’m really excited to see people who haven’t gone to a convention before, who aren’t really the veteran comic book readers, getting into it for the first time,” he said.
Maclennan said comic books should not be dismissed as just another form of pop culture — he said they are an art form.
“It’s not the lame thing to do anymore, it’s not only the kids who get picked on that are reading it,” Maclennan said.
Even some of the industry’s oldest employees are getting a new start due to the public’s renewed interest in comics. Allen Bellman started working in the comic industry by responding to a job advertisement in 1942. In 2011, he attended the premiere of the movie “Captain America,” which was based on the first character he helped draw at Marvel Comics. Bellman said that at the time, he never thought characters like Captain America would be as popular as they are today.
“Never. Neither did Stan Lee,” Bellman said. “He never would have known where he was today, as I never knew where I’d be today. It was just something you didn’t fathom or think possible.”
Bellman worked alongside Stan Lee in a period most comic book lovers refer to as the “Golden Age of Comics.” He created comic books and characters like the Patriot, the Human Torch, the Destroyer and Jet Dixon of the Space Squadron.
“Whatever Stan Lee threw at me, I did,” he said. “It was a love; drawing to this day is still a love. It’s not just a job. In fact my son once told me, ‘They pay you for this?’”
While artists like Bellman have rekindled their careers at comic conventions, local artist Kuhn began his career at one. Kuhn was tired of his animation job in Indiana and decided to take a step into the world of comics by handing out pieces of his work at a local comic convention.
“Animation is really cool if you are the guy in charge, because if you are just a guy working in a studio, you don’t really have a style,” Kuhn said. “One guy can’t make an animated movie, but one guy can make a comic book.”
Kuhn said he was quickly noticed by Marvel Comics, where he was hired to pencil and ink comic book characters like Spider Man, the Incredible Hulk and X-Men. Kuhn said reading a physical copy of a paper comic book is a unique experience.
“It’s the combination of words and pictures in a way that no other medium can do, and the way that comics are structured … so the reader fills in that gap on there, so it’s a more interactive kind of thing,” he said. “I don’t think anything else can really replace it.”
Albuquerque Comic Expo
June 8 – 10
Albuquerque Convention Center
$15 daily pass
More price options and information at abqcomicexpo.com