Comic artists drawn to Nittany-Con

It’s a comic book world and the rest of us simply inhabit its ink-strewn pages. Thanks to a bombardment of major Hollywood blockbusters (including some of the highest grossing films in history), all things comic book are arguably more popular than they have ever been. Perhaps what’s even more interesting, especially to those who craft these powerful panels, is that comics, and their extensive, all- encapsulating universes, are finally being viewed as serious art by the masses.

This newfound accession of appreciation and acknowledgement has lead to an explosion of expos, conventions and gatherings to celebrate the fantasy, the art and the culture of the comic. It will culminate in Centre County at Nittany-Con 1 in Milesburg on March 24.

“Nittany-Con is exciting since there hasn’t been a traditional comic convention like it in our area since the early to mid ’90s,” said Jason Lenox, an illustrator who also serves as the convention’s founder and organizer. “It’s also a great platform for comic and fantasy artists who want to meet up with fans in the Centre Region. An event like Nittany-Con is great for local fans who want to meet local talent without making them drive 100-plus miles to go another similar event.”

Although Nittany-Con 1 isn’t quite Comic-Con or some of the other larger conventions and Milesburg isn’t exactly Gotham City or Metropolis, this event is still set to be top-notch.

“The big-name pop-culture conventions have become too unwieldy,” said Robert Hack, a Huntingdon-based artist with more than 17 years of experience. “It’s impossible to see everything, or in some cases, to walk the convention floor without being enveloped in a sea of people. The beauty of the local conventions is the time you can spend searching for that hidden gem, talking with the guests and forming friendships with other like-minded fans.”

“I think it will have more charm and accessibility than the larger cons,” added Brian Allen, a Bellefonte-based illustrator and graphic designer. “The big ones are really cool of course, but in some ways, they’ve really just become a launching pad for Marvel’s newest movies. I think this event will really be just about the artwork and the artists who create comics.”

On top of boasting door prizes, a cosplay costume contest and of course all the comic books that one would ever need, Nittany-Con 1 also will feature an assembly of local artists with decades of experience beneath their superhero belts, who, in addition to creating comics, are massive fans of the genre.

“I grew up reading and loving comics and that progressed to my wanting to create them, which, amazingly, actually happened,” said Hack, the cover artist for IDW’s “Doctor Who Classics.” He since has segued into a respected trading card artist. “I draw for a living, how brilliant and spectacular and unlikely is that? With comics, you can tell literally any story. You are not bound by budget or genre and a vast playground of modern mythology is there for the exploring. What’s not to love?”

“My parents got me a subscription to ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ when I was in middle school and I think that forever changed my artistic direction,” Allen said. He also is involved with Ugli Studios, a creator-owned comic publishing house. “Instead of picking up a paint brush, I picked up a pen.”

While there isn’t a definitive date as to when comic books began to approach modern mainstream respectability, the tides seemed to turn with Sam Raimi’s 2002 big screen adaptation of “Spider-Man” and Christopher Nolan’s gritty re-rendering of “The Dark Knight” trilogy. However, those who have spent their lives engrossed in these worlds have known of its seriousness, plot intricacies, far-reaching capabilities and ambitions for quite some time.

“Comics are a fantastic medium. To be able to create worlds and tell stories is a gift,” said Chris Campana, one of the creators of the comic “Kantara.” “We spend a lot of time crafting these stories and working on our books, we know we owe our fans the best possible work we can do. Pop culture and comics bring people together. How many times have people bonded over a love for a character? Mutual interest in a movie or book? It’s a common thread and one we are happy to be a part of.”

Right now seems to be the new golden age of comics, a notion not lost on these artists and fans.

“I love the idea of sequential art and how today it is more than just something that is seen as geeky or juvenile,” said Nik Hagialas, a Penn State senior and fantasy art fanatic who hopes to become a concept artist for the video game industry. “It is an expression of art and writing and can appeal to a wide audience. It is a very easy and attainable type of media and helps give me inspiration.”

“The back stories of some of the longest series have such a long history that you can really never know everything about any given character without really digging,” Allen said of the grand scope of comics. “Once you learn about one character, it leads to another and another. This makes them different than movies or TV shows that can be consumed without any effort. Reading a comic takes all your attention and it can be very rewarding.”