Conventions come in all types and sizes. There are those that require business attire and a name tag. There are the ones to which you jet off to an exotic locale.
And then there’s Artistacon, an utterly unique kind of convention that will happen this weekend, Saturday, September 17 and Sunday, September 18, in Burlington, New Jersey.
In the event press release, Artistacon is billed as a “convention by artists, for artists.”
Chris Kotsakis, who co-founded the event with Enrico Botta, describes Artistacon as “a celebration of creativity.”
Kotsakis and Botta are artistic professionals, with years of work under their respective belts. Kotsakis is an illustrator whose clients include Dell Publishing; Scholastic, Inc.; and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. And Botta, an artist; writer; designer; sculptor; and illustrator, has worked for Disney and McFarlane Toys, and is currently at work on an independent project, The Black Demon.
For many years, the two regularly attended “comic cons” – gatherings that bring together comic book and other pop culture and entertainment enthusiasts – and drew on those experiences to come up with some new ideas on ways to expand the traditional offerings.
“It’s not that we thought the cons needed to be improved, or that we wanted to go deeper into the business side,” Kotsakis said. “But, while hanging around Artist’s Alleys (areas dedicated to artists showing their work), we began noticing that more and more people seemed curious about how to break into the industry and were looking for some first-hand tips of the trade.
“Our thought was, ‘Maybe we could put on a con to help young artists and designers develop their skills and passions,’” he explained.
So, instead of simply browsing the aisles and booths to discover the newest products, guests of this comic con could actually learn about the process.
“Artistacon was developed around the concept of getting to the crux of real creation,” said Kotsakis. “The event is about narrative art in all its forms, which means comics, of course, but also graphic novels, action figures, video games and so much more.
“We have an impressive list of featured artists and other guests of honor, who will conduct workshops, do portfolio and writing reviews, give demonstrations and lead educational symposiums,” Kotsakis said. “These people are all excited to act as mentors and share their expertise.”
The list of subjects is diverse and compelling. There’s “Creating Exciting Characters” with Mike Gustovich, creator of “Justice Machine,” a best-selling independent comic book; “Reference Photography for the Artist,” a real how-to for using photography for illustration, with well-known illustrator David Palumbo; and “Marketing and Social Networking in Comics,” a session with Mike Lombardi that explores the impact of social media and how it has changed how people communicate and collaborate.
And offerings are not limited to the visual arts.
“When we think of the comic industry, even in an expansive way, we think about images. But that’s only one part,” Kotsakis said. “Writing is just as important, so we will have writers there, and they will present on great topics like self-publishing with Renee Foulks; and writing for comics, a panel discussion with Mark Poulton, Pat Shand, Mike Dolce and Marc Lombardi.”
But, hold on a second. What if you are really a big fan of one (or more) of these genres – comics, fantasy art, animation, gaming or whatever – but sit solidly on the consumer, not creator, side of the universe? Don’t worry. You can meander around Artist Alley, where the work of more than 25 artists will be on view and for sale.
“The Artist Alley is open to the public for a $5 standalone price,” Kotsakis said.
And, after spending time in the Artist Alley, you decide you want to participate more fully in other activities, the $5 fee will be applied to the cost of a one- or two-day admission to Artistacon.
I told Kotsakis that I know a young artist who is 11 years old and has aspirations of becoming a game designer, and I asked if Artistacon is appropriate for him.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There is a huge educational component to this, and students from middle school right into college age will find a lot to interest them.”
These topics truly have a universal appeal, and a primary reason is the way that the culture of comics – which Kotsakis calls the leading narrative art form outside of film – is almost completely integrated into the world at large.
“When I was a kid,” he continued, “comic books were basically just for little boys. But, in the past 15 years, comics have permeated everything – toys, movies, clothing. Now, it is common to see both girls and boys identifying with their favorite super heroes.
“Today, comics and movies are the great classic stories, with the same principles,” he said. “They are just told in a different format. It’s all just good storytelling.”
Artistacon will take place Saturday, September 17 and Sunday, September 18 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the Herman T. Costello Lyceum Hall, 432 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08016 and the Burlington Meeting House,340 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08016. Check out the full schedule of events here. Tickets are $45.00 for an unlimited one-day pass, $79.00 for an unlimited two-day pass and $49.00+ for a student two-day pass and can be purchased via this link.