From Iron Man to Funky Winkerbean, a guide to upcoming comic book events in the Triangle

Posted by Zack Smith on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 2:35 PM

This Friday Iron Man 3, which was partially filmed in Cary and throughout North Carolina, will blast into theaters after already taking in $200 million internationally. While it's the biggest comic-book-related event in the Triangle, it's not the only one, as a series of local and national creators are headed through the area during the next few months. These events help emphasize the variety and diversity of the medium.

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  • Image via FCBD site
Saturday sees the annual Free Comic Book Day event, where comic book retailers provide sample books created by publishers designed to hook new readers of all ages. Though the samples include a Superman comic from DC co-written by Richard Donner, director of the Christopher Reeve Man of Steel films, and the start to a new Marvel Comics event scripted by South Carolina writer Jonathan Hickman, there's a large and occasionally bizarre variety among the many offerings.

Scholars of classic illustration would do well to check out Fantagraphics' sample from their reprints of the classic comic strip Prince Valiant, while fans of the AMC mega-hit The Walking Dead should check out the free issue of the comic book that inspired it.

Local creators are also represented at Free Comic Book Day. While there's plenty of books for kids featuring Adventure Time, the Smurfs, the Simpsons, Spongebob Squarepants and even translations of Swedish Pippi Longstocking comics, we recommend checking out the Princeless/Molly Danger book from Action Lab Entertainment, featuring a pair of well-developed, strong-willed female heroes that are equally appealing to young boys and girls — and their parents.

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  • Image via Jeremy Whitley
Princeless, the tale of a princess who decides not to wait around in a tower for a prince to rescue her, has earned multiple award nominations for its writer, local creator Jeremy Whitley, including the Eisner, comics' top prize. He'll be at the Free Comic Book Day event at Chapel Hill's Ultimate Comics along with Pittsboro-area creator Tommy Lee Edwards, who in addition to his comics work has helped design such feature films as The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington and the scuttled live-action remake of the popular Japanese anime/comic Akira.

Ultimate Comics celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, along with the fourth anniversary of the Durham-based NC Comicon, which attracted such record numbers to the Durham Convention Center last fall that they've doubled the space for this November's show. In celebration, they're doing a series of events with Marvel Comics creators over the next few months.

The first is a combination signing and comics-writing workshop on May 10 with Kelly Sue DeConnick, one of the few female writers at any of the major companies. Currently scripting such books as Ghost at Dark Horse and Captain Marvel, DeConnick (whose husband, former Charlotte-area resident Matt Fraction, is also a major writer at Marvel Comics), has some of the strongest characterization and wittiest dialogue in comics today, and it's a rare opportunity to learn about the writing side of the process from an experienced creator.

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  • image via Chapel Hill Comics
Also celebrating its 10th anniversary, in a sense, is Chapel Hill Comics, located on Franklin Street near another Chapel Hill literary mainstay, The Bookshop. The store's celebrating what is technically its 35th anniversary, having started as the Second Foundation bookshop (a companion to the Raleigh store Foundation's Edge), with a split focus on comics and SF/fantasy books.

Former store clerk Andrew Neal became its owner in 2003, sold off the books and later moved to its current Franklin Street location, a fire engine-red shop that specializes in small-press collections, minicomics and offbeat materials such as McSweeney's anthologies and reprints of classic children's picture books alongside the more familiar superhero materials.

The store has attracted top talent for past signing events, including Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O'Malley to acclaimed surrealist comics creator Brandon Graham. It also has planned an extensive series of events for the rest of the year, starting with a Free Comic Book Day signing by cartoonist Max Huffman, whose Tumblr says he's doing a 900-page graphic novel called My Lord, It's Lonely.

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  • image via Chapel Hill Comics
Next on May 18 is Lucy Knisley, whose graphic memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen just hit the New York Times graphic book bestseller list and received a rave review from NPR. It's a sweet, intelligent look at Knisley's lifelong relationship with food, filled with both anecdotes and a slew of recipes.

June 1 features a launch party for the prose novel The Shambling Guide to New York City by award-winning Durham author Mur Lafferty, which features a cover by Jamie McKelvie, artist of the hit Marvel Comics book Young Avengers. It's followed on June 8 by Tom Batiuk, creator of the long-running newspaper comic Funky Winkerbean.

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  • image via Chapel Hill Comics

Batiuk is promoting the first in a series of collections reprinting the entirety of his strip, starting from its early days as a light-hearted series of high school jokes...to its current incarnation as a bizarre repository of gallows humor that's about as cheerful as a burning orphanage. Seriously, read the hilarious "Funkywatch" columns that analyze the strange, existential despair of Batiuk's universe. Sadly, many area comic fans might have to miss this event, as it takes place the same weekend as an NC comics mainstay, Heroes Con in Charlotte.

And if you want to keep things smaller, there's always the Raleigh Comics Show at the Crabtree Valley Holiday Inn on May 12. Though it's a tiny event (seriously, no matter how small your living room is, it's bigger than this show), it's one of the best-kept secrets in the Triangle, as its 20-year history has attracted a number of comic book dealers from across five states, who offer back issues dating back to the 1940s; if you've ever wanted to find the likes of X-Men No. 1, they've actually been through this show many times, and much cheaper than on places such as eBay.

This writer has encountered a number of bargains there over the past few years (although he sadly saw a signed Ray Bradbury first edition slip through his fingers). It's a wonderful place to find oddities ranging from the 1970s tabloid-sized comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali to such brazen 1980s black-and-white books as the political satire Daffy Qadaffi. It's the sort of place made for those used to the endless browsing opportunities found in such places as the Raleigh Flea Market, with items as strange as anything you'll find there.

Of course, the most exciting comic book activity in the Triangle comes from local creators. The Durham County Public Library has hosted a series of comic book events that bring in creators to both sign books and show kids how to create comics of their own; the most recent event featured among is creators Paperhand Puppet Intervention's Jan Burger selling the various minicomics he's created between giant puppet shows. They've just announced the Durham Comics Project, a series of events designed to show Triangle residents how to capture their daily life in comics, that starts with a "Drink and Draw" event at Fishmongers on May 15, and has a kids comics workshop on July 2.

So while you might be squinting throughout Iron Man 3 to see if you recognize the exterior of Cary's Epic Games, or the backdrop of Wilmington, take heed—years from now, the next award-winning graphic novel, or even some giant film based on it, might have sprung from the mind of a Triangle resident. It might not be a billionaire in a suit of high-tech armor, but with the comics community in this area, there's no telling what might be coming.

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