Anime characters Nepeta Leijon, Goldymarg, Kagome Higurashi, as well as more than one Batman mingle as they crowd into Kelowna’s Black Box Theatre last Saturday.
Sitting on a stool at the back of the main stage, Bonnie Gratz says she’s surprised by the turnout at Kelowna’s first Comic-Con.
“It’s great, the number of people who have dressed up and made their own costumes…we didn’t know if it would be just us (dressed up),” says Gratz, pointing to her son, Brock, who is wearing a costume that took him “a week of all-nighters” to create.
Sitting at a table near the other side of the stage, John Delaney glances at his tablet. The director, designer and comic book artist whose resumé includes pencilling Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, as well as characters from Futurama and The Simpsons, already has the room buzzing about his upcoming question-and-answer session.
Near the front of the stage, Davin Hobbs, 7, and his brother, Cailen, 4, strike poses in their Batman and Robin outfits while their mom snaps a photo.
Toward the middle of the room, several friends and strangers congratulate Jennifer Pynn on her cosplay costume contest victory.
At the Black Box Theatre’s entrance, more spectators continue to enter the venue.
Looking out at the crowd, Gratz says, “We just couldn’t believe that there hadn’t been a Comic-Con here before.”
When Bonnie Gratz set out to create the Kelowna Anime and Comic Festival, she didn’t know what to expect.
The artistic director of New Vintage Theatre already had the Black Box Theatre booked for The Astonishing Adventures of Awesome Girl and Radical Boy, a comic book superhero musical.
Gratz and other organizers agreed it would be an interesting addition to host a Comic-Con, of sorts, prior to the play’s final show.
Gratz, who is from Calgary, says her family would regularly attend Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo. It was something they missed when they moved to Kelowna.
“I was doing research for the play and I found that John Delaney lives here.
“We’ve got Disney Interactive, we’ve got Yeti Farm…and there’s no (Comic-Con) here? It was crazy to me.”
The addition of the festival just before the final showing of the musical fits well with New Vintage Theatre’s ethos.
“The play is an event; it’s an experience,” says Gratz.
“It’s not that there isn’t another great theatre in Kelowna, because there is, it’s just we want to do really different stuff.”
The Kelowna Anime and Comic Festival began with a cosplay costume contest: A Comic-Con staple, which encourages participants to create homemade costumes depicting anime, manga, comic book, video game or film characters.
Jennifer Pynn, a civil engineering student at UBCO, won Saturday’s contest, dressed as Quinn from the video game League of Legends.
She frequently goes to anime and comic conventions in Vancouver and Calgary, so she was excited when she heard a smaller version was coming to Kelowna.
“I’m actually very surprised at how many people came. I was a little bit worried, and I was trying to tell all of my friends…I was hoping if we had a big enough turnout, maybe somebody would take it on (annually),” says Pynn.
The 20-year-old takes cosplay seriously and is constantly creating the outfits worn by various characters.
“The first thing you’ve got to know about (cosplay) is it can get very expensive, and it’s time-consuming,” says Pynn.
“But it’s a wonderful hobby to get into.”
She says her favourite thing about visiting the conventions is seeing how excited others get from seeing her costumes.
“They get so much enjoyment from seeing that character come to life; it sparks something special inside of you.”
Although studies take up a large portion of Pynn’s time, she says she’s always on the lookout for clothes and accessories that can go with her costumes.
“It’s one of those things where you’ll just go out to have a good time, going shopping or whatever, and you’ll find something that’s perfect when you don’t really expect it. You’re always on the hunt.”
Pynn’s cosplay victory earned her two tickets to Fan Expo Vancouver this April.
Delaney took the stage following the cosplay costume contest.
He has professionally sketched characters such as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman for 20 years and recently completed directing and co-designing the Netflix series Voltron Force, a sequel to the anime series, Voltron: Defender of the Universe.
His resumé also includes: University instructor, band member and designer of over 200 different animation TV commercials.
He says his main source of income these days comes from pencilling well-known characters from Futurama and The Simpsons.
Wearing tinted glasses, an upturned collar and several pieces of jewelry, Delaney admits he has become “a rockstar” thanks to movies such as The Avengers.
“It’s very exciting. I feel very blessed to do what I do,” says Delaney.
But landing what many consider to be a dream job didn’t happen overnight.
Delaney began knocking on the comic book industry’s door when he was 16 years old. As a teenager, he sent DC Comics four pages of his best Batman drawings; he mailed a Daredevil submission to Marvel Comics.
“Both rejected me,” says Delaney.
“It didn’t deter me, I was very determined to be a comic book artist.”
Every year, for the next 11 years, Delaney continued to send submissions to DC Comics and Marvel Comics. During that time, he continued to fine-tune his craft by regularly attending life-drawing classes and eventually landing a job in animation.
Finally, at the age of 27, Delaney got the call he had been waiting over a decade for. DC Comics commissioned him to draw Superman in a children’s sound book.
“Those are the first kinds of jobs you usually get in this business.
“A lot of people (have) this real kind of glamorous, or sort of fictional idea of how this actually works, where you sit down and go: I’m going to come up with my next comic…it doesn’t work that way.”
Delaney says if you’re lucky enough to write your own script, the editor will typically give you an outline of what you’re expected to do.
Throughout Delaney’s career, practice has been the key to his success.
“I keep a little pad of paper with me all the time…I find that ability to always be using those muscles really helps.”
He encourages aspiring artists to never settle for mediocrity and always try to perfect their work.
“A lot of people get this idea that: I draw great—I draw a lot better than that guy.
“Well you’re not competing against that guy. You’re competing against Jim Lee. You’re competing against the guys who are out there who are the best.”
During his time in the industry, Delaney has seen the perception of comics evolve.
“It’s interesting watching how the entire world has sort of changed toward what comics are now.
“And you know what? It’s high time. Comics are a very unique and original medium.”
The internal dialogue, conveyed through the thought bubble, lets readers know not only what the character is saying, but also thinking, says Delaney.
He adds the knowledge of what the character is thinking impacts the way he draws that character. For example, if Batman is deep in thought, Delaney will pencil a slight wrinkle under his mouth.
The nature of Delaney’s job allows him to work from just about anywhere, so when his wife showed a desire to live in Kelowna, closer to family, they made the move.
“It used to be you’d sort of have to be in New York or LA. That’s not the case now.”
He says he’s in the process of working with a company that’s trying to do a lot more film in Kelowna.
Though mum on details of the project, he says the company is hoping to take advantage of local talent in the area to build up the local film community.
He’s also working to bring life-drawing classes, specifically related to comic book art, to the Okanagan.
Just after Delaney’s question-and-answer session, a line-up formed from a table at the front of the stage all the way to the entrance of the theatre. Those in line were hoping to get an autograph or original sketch from the comic book artist.
After seeing the success of Kelowna’s first Comic-Con, Gratz hopes the Kelowna Anime and Comic Festival will become an annual event in the community.
“Even on like a small scale like this, (it) celebrates something that’s a really cool part of our city,” says Gratz.