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Rare event brings comic relief to fanatics

“Eclectic” is not a strong enough word to describe the mix of people and exhibits found at the Albuquerque Comic Con.
“Freakin’ weird” comes a little closer to an accurate description.

For example, one booth hawked “The Shirt of Infinite Bacon,” a blue shirt featuring an infinity symbol made out of, yes, bacon. A large sign next to the booth proudly proclaims the shirt is “Featured on seven of the top 10 bacon blogs!”

The Comic Con was held at the Hilton Albuquerque Hotel on University Boulevard on Saturday and Sunday. According to its website, it was “New Mexico’s first full-blown comic convention since 1997.” And it seemed like people had been saving up the weirdest stuff they had for the last 14 years, waiting for an opportunity to sell it in a forum where it could mix in with lots of other equally weird stuff.

A booth sold a “Racial Toons” DVD (“Featuring the Censored 11!”), full of old-school, racially insensitive Bugs Bunny and Mighty Mouse cartoons.

Another booth sold replicas of the shoes Heath Ledger wore as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” and a third featured a Boba Fett costume, sold piece by piece. What one would do with only the left shoulder-pad to a Boba Fett outfit remains a mystery.
But it wasn’t just the products that were strange.

Mary Ann LeRoy runs the Longtail Art Studio in Rio Rancho, a business that sells portraits of pets. LeRoy, her face painted with cat whiskers and wearing turquoise-colored cat ears, approached potential customers by explaining that she was not born on Earth.

“I’m on this planet because I had to escape my original home planet, which is farther away than far, far away, which is actually farther away than where Superman came from, Krypton,” she said. “So way out there, it’s a long way to travel. But my planet is at war, a ferocious war between the claws and the paws, and I’m from the paws, so I always wear my little paw symbol.”

Reassuringly, LeRoy finished her story by adding, “That’s my comic-book story, so I fit in with the comic-book theme.”

There was also a gray-haired couple selling pornographic comics.
Larry Welz, creator of the “Cherry” comic series, said his idea was to parody Archie-style teen comics.

“It’s a parody of a whole genre, the genre of teen comics. At the time I started, every company was coming out with its own version of Archie,” he said. “They’re drawn a certain way, the eyes are done a certain way. I thought it would be funny, given the underground days when we realized we could do whatever we want. What if we portrayed what teenagers really did, which was take a lot of drugs and have sex?”
And the sex in Welz’s books is extremely graphic. His wife, Sharon, doesn’t seem to mind and in fact encourages him in his work.
“He does all the work. I just hold the whip,” she said, in a seemingly unintentional allusion to “Cherry’s” adult subject matter.

There were some less-surreal moments to be found at the Comic Con. An Albuquerque-based comics company, 7000 BC, had a booth prominently featured near the entrance to the convention. The company’s vice president, Peter Ziomek, said the group got its start as a bunch of friends in Santa Fe who decided to make comics together.

“We got started in Santa Fe. There were a bunch of us that would meet at True Believers Comics. … We said, ‘We should get started. We should do a collective and do anthologies, and really showcase comic book art,’ ‘cause we all love comics, and we all love making them,” he said. “Most of the people that are producing the work, selling at the show today, have day jobs. There’s only one member that is a full-time artist.”

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The group features several high-school students and a few artists who attend UNM, Ziomek said. He said aspiring comic-book artists can join 7000 BC and pay $5-a-month dues, which will allow them to have their comics published in 7000 BC’s anthology.

“If you don’t have the budget to publish your own books, the $5 actually goes toward producing ‘String,’ which is our monthly anthology,” he said. “And that’s something that a high-school student or a college student or anybody can refer to somebody at a store, and try to have their comics at a store. And it’s something you can have on an online reference.”

Ziomek said he encourages people to try their hand at comics, even if they don’t have prior experience as artists.
“We have people that are getting into comics for the first time and might be in their 30s or 40s,” he said.

The Comic Con also featured at least one heartwarming moment, which occurred during a contest to design a cover for a new “Boondock Saints” comic book.

“Boondock Saints” star Sean Patrick Flanery emceed the competition and began asking the audience to vote on their favorite cover when a late entry made its way to the table. Flanery saw the illustration, a black-and-white drawing of the film’s heavily armed main characters in a rainstorm, and immediately declared “Oh, that’s No. 1.”

The drawing, of course, won handily in the audience vote.
The illustration’s creator (and UNM graduate,) Jared Velardo, said he spent roughly 10 hours producing the drawing and was duly rewarded with Flanery’s praise.

“As the star of the movie told me that it was the best piece, that this captures the essence or whatever, that was worth it,” he said.

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