DiNK: Bringing Creatives Together Through Comics and Collaboration
Gabrielle DeCristofaro • April 27, 2018 • Art •
The Denver Independent Comics and Art Expo, or DiNK, was a two-day long event that took place at the McNichols Civic Center Building in downtown Denver over the April 14th weekend. In its third year, the expo showcased both new and established artists, and students as well as teachers. Expo-goers were able to enjoy a wide range of presentations, from exhibits, to classes, to panels, to movie screenings. And even to a meet-and-greet and panel discussion with John Leguizamo, featuring his Eisner-nominated graphic novel, Ghetto Klown.
Despite the focus on comics, there was a much broader perspective on the “art” part, with zines, painting, sculpture, tattoo art, music, and up-cycling. Collaborative art was also an essential part of the experience, with expo-goers able to participate in painting, drawing and crafts. Live paintings by established artists were also visible inside and outside the venue. The expo culminated with the ridiculously adorable International Dog Cosplay Competition.
With over 100 exhibitors, coming from as close as Denver and as far away as Scotland, you were sure to see something that touched one of your interests, whether it was pop art, something more whimsical, or something darker. This expo had a different feel from other comic book conventions, as this was created with less of a commercial aspect, and more of an independent spirit. Partnered with The Denver Zine Library, a portion of the proceeds go to Camp Comic Book, a non-profit organization helping underprivileged youth in Colorado experience the outdoors, while also creating their own art and comics.
John Leguizamo’s panel, moderated by John Wenzel, was both funny and honest as he discussed the beginnings of his career, coming from an immigrant family in Queens, NY, to the success of his graphic novel Ghetto Klown.
One of the issues he discussed that he saw in the ‘80s in New York that is still relevant today was representation.
“Being a Latin man in this country I felt invisible,” Leguizamo said. “I didn’t see myself and my people reflected the way I saw me…The really smart, funny, intellectual people I knew, I never saw in the media, or in novels, or in history textbooks. I felt like I needed to write something for my people, for myself as a young man, so I started writing my own stuff…. And the place I felt really comfortable wasn’t the comedy club cause it was all set up joke, set up joke, and that wasn’t my thing. It was the avant garde world downtown, where New York City was very broke and disheveled and dirty. It was the perfect breeding ground for art…. I could go there and tell my stories the way I wanted to, with emotion, anger…. I felt like I helped change the humor in America in a lot of ways, because Latin humor is much more long storytelling as opposed to set up joke, set up joke. It’s always a long story with a lot of characters.”
He explained how nowadays there are a lot of comedians borrowing from that type of storytelling. That of an exposé with autobiographical aspects.
In discussing his graphic novel, Ghetto Klown, he said nobody had cracked the career paradigm: the telling of the story of your own career. And it took him 10 years to crack that paradigm.
“You have to be completely honest,” he continued. “You can’t be sort of honest. Otherwise it’s boring. People can’t related to it. So I had to reveal a lot of very difficult things…. You feel like you have to be perfect. That happened to Kat Williams, and Martin Lawrence, and Dave Chappelle…. You have to talk about your failures. You have to expose yourself in a way that’s very against being a celebrity, being successful, is revealing your flaws, your faults, your failures. That’s more the honesty of what goes on. You have to reveal the tricks, the pain, so that’s what I talk about. ”
His inspiration for using the graphic novel as the medium for his story is the highly-acclaimed, yet controversial, Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
“It’s a masterpiece,” he said. “I was so moved by it, and I saw the possibilities with a graphic novel that I’d never seen before. I could really capture reality…. And because Ghetto Klown travels so much, it’s my whole life, you know, birth, coming of age… I thought a graphic novel could really render that and make it accessible to somebody that doesn’t read screenplays or plays.”
When asked by an audience member if he experienced any catharsis while working on his graphic novel, he replied, “During the process of it I definitely felt I came to terms with personal demons, and a lot of the failures. Because putting it out there, it’s embarrassing…. And putting it out there that I was kind of difficult to work with, maybe that’s why I do one-man shows. But it definitely helped me heal. I think that’s what art is. It’s a way for the artist to play God with his trauma.”
Another fascinating panel from the weekend was one with some of the members of Meow Wolf. Based in Santa Fe, Meow Wolf “creates immersive, interactive experiences to transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of story and exploration.” Concept artists Jaco Foster, Lysander Cramer, and Sahaiah Escobedo discussed both their own beginnings with Meow Wolf, as well as how Meow Wolf was started.
Escobedo, who was friends with the founders of Meow Wolf in high school, described the job as a concept artist as “a way of conveying ideas in somebody’s head in a visual sense. It makes it more tangible and gives it a sense of direction.”
Foster explained coming up with concepts: “It’s not this pipeline thing where we have an art director and we communicate with them and it gets built.… We have this artist that has his own ideas…. There’s so many moving pieces. You have to figure out a way to represent everybody’s voice, and everybody’s ideas and passions.”
Escobedo continued: “Meow Wolf is very collaborative. When it first started it had this open door policy. People would come in and brainstorm and see what would come out of it. So there’s been this transition from going from this ramshackle, just throw it out there and see, sort of process, to now something that has building codes, budgets, and timelines. When it comes to concept art, there has been this figuring out what exactly needs to be conceptualized in this way. And try to find this balance between this democratic artistic process and also being a creative studio, so always trying to maintain that culture, but also streamlining things.”
Foster, Cramer and Escobedo all expressed optimism regarding the future of Meow Wolf. Escobedo says he believes that he can see a Meow Wolf in every major metropolitan area. And with the Denver location being worked on now, there was a lot of buzz and interest amongst members of the audience.
As a whole, DiNK was an amazing way to join artists from all over the world together to discuss art and culture. All of the exhibitors were extremely accessible, and to see such a wide and varied range of genres and mediums was an enlightening and collaborative experience for all.DiNK Meow Wolf Buy John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown today!