Con Artists

If you know Donato Giancola, you might find your likeness in the unlikeliest of places -- immortalized on bookshelves or idolized by millions of geeks the world over.

The renowned sci-fi and fantasy artist, a guest of honor at this weekend's LepreCon 30, taps both friends and family members as models for countless book covers, Magic: The Gathering cards, even the box art for the board game Stratego.

Do they get a piece of the action? "Nope," says Giancola, laughing. "I think they're usually just happy to be commemorated in some fashion. Otherwise, I tell them to get lost, and I'll use another friend who isn't so demanding."

In addition to drawing inspiration from (and shortchanging) his nearest and dearest, Giancola often finds his muse in Renaissance-era portraits. Like any good sci-fi pasticheur, he can rattle off influences such as Blade Runner and J.R.R. Tolkien, but he also drops names like Titian and Diego Velázquez.

"I usually avoid doing a lot of monsters or aliens, things like that, because I prefer playing with ideas of classical portraiture while focusing on the human figure," says Giancola. "It makes my work more approachable to viewers."

LepreCon is receptive to the paint-splattered set, emphasizing the role of artwork in the medium. More than 800 works will be displayed at the event, also featuring demos by local craftsmen.

Fanatics of the fantastic needn't worry, as there's plenty of the usual sci-fi shenanigans, including LAN parties, masquerade balls, author panels and a remote broadcast by KFYI's "Dragon Page Show" with hosts Michael R. Mennenga and Evo Terra.

Just don't ask them to pose for one of Giancola's paintings.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.