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The Art & Soul of Comic-Con

The Art & Soul of Comic-Con
By Molly Hahn

This year’s annual Comic-Con was by far one of the most inspiring experiences that I have had as a young artist. As a staffer at the “Animation Show booth, I had the chance to hang out with world re-known animator Bill Plympton, shared some drinks and rockabilly music with Shannon Wheeler, and discovered the amazing Jason Felix. Below are the juicy details of my encounters with these standout artists.

As a world-renowned and award-winning animator that has been churning out highly successful short and feature films intended for adult audiences since the 1980’s, Bill Plympton continues to chart new territory in animation all while self-financing his projects.

His latest feature film, "HAIR HIGH," a gothic '50s high-school murder comedy about a love-triangle that goes terribly bad, employs the voice talent of the likes of Keith and David Carradine, Beverly D'Angelo, Sarah Silverman, Ed Begley Jr., Matt Groening, Craig Bierko, Don Hertzfeldt, and Martha Plimpton. The film, completed in January 2004, will just now be making its theatrical release around the world this fall.
Plympton grew up in Portland, Oregon where the moist surroundings helped keep him indoors to cultivate his drawing skills. It wasn’t until he was studying graphic design at Portland State University that he joined a film society and started experimenting with animation. After college, Plympton landed in the Big Apple where he formally launched career, getting his work published in The New York Times, Vogue, The Village Voice, and Vanity Fair among others.

Even though by 1981, his political comic strip “Plympton was syndicated in over twenty newspapers by the Universal Press, he really only thought of it as a temporary gig. “I always felt that I should be an animator. But when I got out of art school, which was in the early ‘70s, animation was really dead…so doing the cartoons and the characters and the illustrations was a stopgap. Sort of a way to make money until my animation was able to take off (Wild Violet Vol. III Issue 3, Spring/Summer 2004).

The independent filmmaking rebirth in the 1980's enabled Plympton to switch gears and dive straight into making animated films. He churned out several successful shorts that appeared on MTV,  and The Spike and Mike Animation Festival, including “25 Ways to Quit Smoking, “Plymptoons, and Oscar nominated “Your Face. Plympton’s shorts were so successful that he was able to fund his first feature length film, “The Tune, in which he personally drew and colored over 30,000 cels (a full year’s worth).

Bill's latest short, "GUIDE DOG," a sequel to "GUARD DOG," which brought Plympton his second Oscar nomination in 2005, has already made successful waves at this years festival circuit, winning several awards including First Place in Animation at the USA Film Festival and best animation at both the ASIFA-East and New Jersey Film Festivals.

In between film screenings, Plympton is hard at work on his next feature length film, “Idiots and Angels which he describes to be a darker film. He is also broadcasting the production on his “ani-cam at http://www.plymptoons.com where you can find all things Plympton.

SHANNON WHEELER’S COMIC STRIP “TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN has officially become part of my breakfast routine.

And I’m totally addicted.

Wheeler’s inventive storytelling is steaming with brechtian flare. The narration shifts from Too Much Coffee Man (TMCM), a neurotic and stoical anti-hero that wears a huge coffee mug on his head and a red cotton super-suit, to Espresso Guy, to the occasional omniscient observer. The inventive and dynamic comic touches on the increasingly complicated and absurd state of modern society and philosophical conundrums.

Wheeler started drawing comics while studying architecture at UC Berkeley. He “was one of the first cartoonists to put his stuff on the web (the net - as we used to call it). And I did it for free too - unheard of.

As a recipient of the esteemed Hatch and Eisner award, his work has appeared internationally in newspapers, magazines, and comic books. Additionally, Dark Horse Comics published four graphic novels showcasing his work, and now, he’s turned TMCM into an OPERA, believed to be the first opera inspired by a comic book. Cowritten with Damian Wilcox, an award-nominated independent comic creator (creator of the popular Dorkboy comic), the story is a tragic conflict that arises when Too Much Coffee Man and Espresso Guy go for the same Barista. The opera premiered September 22, 2006 at Portland’s Brunish Hall.

Wheeler has several other projects in store,  “I still feel like I've only just started with this whole comic thing. I'm still trying to decide what to do next. I have about 8 projects that I'd really like to get off the ground. The problem with life is that it's filled with so many details.

Think it over “TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN at http://www.tmcm.com

Jason Felix’s art is smashingly delicious.

Gifted with the curiosity of a child and the work ethic of a mighty beaver, the established and self-taught artist has dabbled in everything from traditional illustrations, concept art, animation, character design, creature design, and graphic design to comic book art, production art, publishing, film animation, and video game development - working on such titles as “StarCraft, “Prince of Persia, and “Hellgate.

Hailing from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Felix has been drawing incessantly since his youth – publishing his own comic book at age 17 through Diamond Distribution. He quickly received recognition and published his first official piece in Dragon
Magazine when he was 19.

The child inside Jason continues to resonate in his current project. While working as a concept artist at Flagship Studios (Hellgate) and freelancing for Lucas Films by day, night time gives way to “The Field Guide to Midwest Monsters. Page for page the reader is presented with zany and lovably disgusting beasts such as Melvin the Puss Head – Acneus Whiteheadus and The Supreme Udder – Grandus Mammilla Aureolas.  The short descriptions that accompany each monstrosity will take you even further into their delightfully playful and imaginative world.

If you peruse Felix’s website, you will find that his fine art greatly contrasts these cute beasts. The gallery collection entitled “Obsolete is a world where man and machine unite, but the repercussions are harmful. “Today’s new gadget is tomorrows forgot about landfill, he explains. The images are strikingly morbid - with nude subjects in anguished poses adorning wires, ventilators, and other types of hardware.

“My fascination has to do with how crazy technology is and how fast it’s advancing, Felix shares. “Seems like nobody questions each advancement. What's shocks me is how everything is disposable and nobody thinks twice of where it goes or what resources we are using in order to create.

I'm fearful of tomorrows world…I can only envision an eco-crisis where the earth will be toxic because of the waste we carelessly dispense…I will be the first to call myself a 'Modern Day Hippie' simply because I love nature & the world. I hate war, politics, vain people, and greed. I dislike alpha males, crime that is committed to another person, and mayhem. I love the idea of living peacefully, recycling and making use out of everything.

My work, in essence, is me taking pictures of discarded items and reusing them. Fusing items with the body we all know & love. Why the body? I do believe that we are one with everything. Very Zen, I know. But it's true.

Lastly, my work can be defined as an 'Environmental Statement'. What statement? Please, for the love of the earth and it's future... recycle and reuse. You may not see that in the work, but look.... it's there.

Say hello to Jason at www.jasonfelix.com

For more on Comic-Con, check www.comic-con.org

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