“Mini” and “tiny” are words that Alaska Robotics uses to describe their annual comic convention, but the creators who travel to Juneau for it every year are anything but. The artists, musicians, and authors coming to Alaska Robotics Mini-Con 2018 have worked at Laika Studios, Marvel Comics, and Disney. They have published bestsellers, won awards, and traveled the world with their creations.
They are also excited to come to Juneau and get away from it all.
Pat Race, co-owner of Alaska Robotics with Aaron Suring and one of the brains behind Mini-con, knows how much the creators look forward to the tiny convention because he helped recruit them. Many of the artists cite Race as their “in” on the surprisingly vivacious event. He meets them at other conventions across the country and invites them up to Alaska.
Race cited Juneau’s small-town charm as the draw for a lot of the artists.
“It’s really fun being in a small artists community because everything is so much more connected,” he said. “Juneau is a pretty artistic town. It’s always exciting to bring in more artists that feed that. For people here, it helps to amplify what we already have.”
While there are plenty of locals involved in the convention, 80 percent of the creators on the roster are traveling from out of state. Race said that Alaska Robotics had received applications from artists in Australia, China, Pakistan, and the Canary Islands, although not all could make it to the convention. In three short years, the Mini-Con has attracted as many big-name artists as some of the more well-known conventions in the contiguous 48 states.
“I’m really excited about the artists who are coming,” Race said. “It’s a pretty impressive group of people coming to town.”
Part of the attraction is Comics Camp, the artists’ retreat Alaska Robotics hosts alongside Mini-Con. The creators get the chance to spend three days with their peers workshopping, sharing skills, and talking about their work. The attendees are not necessarily comic artists, Race said, but also poets, musicians, visual artists, and children’s book authors.
Mini-Con itself boasts the same range of creativity in its satellite events as well as its creators. The day before the convention, the artists, authors, and musicians will be touring Juneau’s schools with more than 50 appearances in auditoriums and classrooms. That night, Alaska Robotics will be hosting a musical variety show at the Mendenhall Public Library. The actual convention on Saturday will turn the Juneau Arts & Culture Center (JACC) into a maze of booths filled with books and artwork of all stripes.
Alaska Robotics will be using KTOO’s 360 studio in conjunction with the JACC to host workshops and presentations. They will cover everything from writing children’s books, to publishing, to the finer details of being an artist and the process of storytelling. Ryan North, writer for the television show “Adventure Time” and author of Marvel Comics’ “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” will give a talk about writing for visual storytelling. Vera Brosgol, former storyboard artist for Laika Studios and author of “Anya’s Ghost” among other graphic novels, will be talking about her books, as will Raina Telgemeier, creator of the New York Times Bestsellers “Smile,” “Drama,” and “Sisters.” Among the other workshops and presentations, there will also be ukulele jam sessions and a stop-motion animation station.
Lucy Bellwood, adventure cartoonist
Lucy Bellwood, author of the nonfiction graphic novel “Baggywrinkles: A Lubber’s Guide to Life at Sea” and upcoming book “100 Demon Dialogues,” is a thoroughly modern artist. She has run three successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund book printings, runs her own business as a professional artist, and calls herself an “adventure cartoonist.”
Bellwood’s work is primarily autobiographical and often educational. She gathered the real-life material for “Baggywrinkles” while working aboard square-rigged sailing vessels, and uses the pages of the graphic novel to teach her readers about the ins and outs of living on a tall ship. She has spent time adventure cartooning on boats, in the back of vans, and in out-of-the-way places where the extent of her technology is a travel watercolor set and a sketchbook.
Her target audience isn’t necessarily people who already know about her subject matter, she said, but people who are excited about life and learning in general.
“The subject matter that you choose doesn’t necessarily have to be popular as long as you are extremely enthusiastic about it,” Bellwood said. “There’s a lot to be said for taking a niche passion and expanding it into your media of choice, because it creates a new conversation.”
Bellwood’s latest endeavor is something a little different. “100 Demon Dialogues” is a series of 100 drawings detailing her relationship with her inner critic and with her imposter syndrome. She started the series as a part of The 100 Day Project, a popular creative movement intended to encourage the habit of making art daily. She had previously used the expressive demon featured in “100 Demon Dialogues” in some of her Inktober sketches (another creative time-oriented challenge), and decided to bring him back.
The author’s self-representation in the comics interacts with this demon in a host of relatable, funny, and sometimes heartwarming ways. The comics which were the most personal, she said, were the ones that her audience related to the most.
Bellwood launched a crowdfunding campaign to turn “100 Demon Dialogues” into a book and it was funded in six days. The book will be coming out commercially in June, although she said she will be bringing samples and plushies of her Demon to Mini-Con, as well as her other published works.
She is excited to come to Mini-Con for the third year in a row, and to be a part of the group of cartoonists coming to town.
“Pat’s been able to wrangle a really top-notch, elite team of cartoonists to show up,” she said. “The selection now, versus when I was a kid, is really staggering. There’s an undeniable comics for young readers renaissance happening right now.”
Molly Ostertag, strong female protagonist
It’s Molly Ostertag’s first time at Mini-Con, but she’s been in the art and writing game for a long time. The author of the award-winning graphic novels “The Witch Boy” and “Shattered Warrior,” Ostertag started at the School of Digital Arts in New York. There, one of her first projects was Strong Female Protagonists, a webcomic she has co-created with Brennan Lee Mulligan for the last seven years and which still updates bi-weekly.
“I grew up with a lot of really good young adult fantasy books, so that’s where I found a lot of inspiration,” Ostertag said. “Those are a lot of the stories that I want to tell, like fantasy, or science fiction, or (about) superhero powers, especially with younger characters and teens.”
Ostertag tries to put as many of her ideas to paper as possible, but is realistic about what she devotes her time to. Since it’s so much work to create a story from start to finish, she said, she only works on what her heart is really in.
“It’s a process of uncovering what I like enough to spend a year drawing.”
Ostertag previously worked on the Disney show “Star vs. the Forces of Evil” as a prop designer. The experience, she said, was distinctly different from making comics. While she was inspired by the talent of her coworkers, she felt limited in what she could do. A few months ago, she decided to quit her job at Disney to focus more on her writing.
She recently finished drawing “The Hidden Witch,” the sequel to “The Witch Boy.” It will be coming out later this year and she will be spending most of her time in the upcoming months touring and promoting. Now that the sequel is finished, she said, she is excited to have the time to do things like travel to conventions.
Ostertag will be bringing copies of her published works to her booth at Mini-Con, including her graphic novels and the short comic “How the Best Hunter in the Village Met Her Death.”
Lucas Elliott, merman enthusiast
Originally from North Pole and currently living in Anchorage, Lucas Elliott is one of the Alaskan artists attending Mini-Con. Pat Race and Aaron Suring have shown his artwork in the Alaska Robotics Gallery before and invited him to the first Mini-Con; he’s been to each one since. Elliott has illustrated the graphic novel and movie “MOOSE,” has worked on the comic “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Amazing Adventures,” and is a frequent illustrator of gruff-looking merman and doofy dogs.
“What can I say? I love dogs,” Elliott said about his choice of subject matter. “Honestly it’s tough trying to figure out what I want to draw just because I have so many ideas floating around in my head… for the most part, a lot of my work is just inspired from mine and my wife’s family heritage (Scottish), my life in Alaska, and whatever happens to pop in my head at that time.”
Elliott is another artist inspired by Disney. He didn’t start drawing seriously, he said, until he and his family took a trip to Disneyworld. He had the chance to see their designers working on a feature film and knew that he wanted to be an artist.
His inspirations range from Disney to 16th century painters to modern comic artists.
“But I also really draw influence by whomever I’m following or meeting currently. I’ve had the good fortune to get to know so many creators in both the comics and animation worlds that it’s not hard to be influenced by them.”
Elliott’s current project is a joint venture with his wife, Rhiannon. Updated every Wednesday, the webcomic “BATTLE STAR” follows “a warrior starfish on a quest to defend the seven seas.” Elliott does the majority of the artwork and helps with the story, he said, while his wife makes sure the story is coherent.
He will be bringing the graphic novel “MOOSE” and the first printed issue of “BATTLE STAR” to Mini-Con on Saturday. He will also have “dinosaurs, monsters, and mermen” featured on a variety of mediums for sale.
The Alaska Robotics Mini-Con will be Saturday, April 28, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the JACC. For the full list of guests, exhibitors, and schedule of events, visit https://minicon.alaskarobotics.com/.
• Jack Scholz is a freelance writer living in Juneau.