Comic Relief

It's going to be a banner season for comic characters, and if the pun in that phrase eludes you, you have a lot of catching up to do. But those who are familiar with Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Incredible Hulk, might want to attend the first Phoenix Cactus Comicon on Sunday, June 9.

Even the least comic-literate person on the planet knows who Spider-Man is, though there may be a tribe somewhere in New Guinea that has never heard of Superman, Batman or hundreds of other costumed do-gooders. But due to the success of the Spider-Man movie, fans and novices soon will see more spandexed superheroes — including The Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider and the X-Men — leap, run and smash their way onto the silver screen. Films featuring Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner and others will not be far behind.

That means more fans, and more fans means conventions, which is where comic lovers and comic hucksters congregate. Generally one part social and two parts commercial, comic conventions were spawned in the late '60s, when hard-core science-fiction enthusiasts, with conventions of their own, began to grow tired of all the new kids who knew (and cared) less about Isaac Asimov than Ant Man.

As conventions, like the comic industry itself, grew throughout the '70s and '80s, collecting became a national obsession. What was yesterday's trash was being carefully preserved in Mylar and polyethylene bags with acid-free backing boards.

But in the '90s, the market took a nosedive — stores closed, prices dropped and conventions dried up. Phoenix hasn't hosted a convention of any size for eight or 10 long years, but Matt Solberg, a political campaign worker who came to the Valley from Minnesota, has organized the Cactus Comicon. He hopes it will make Phoenix safe for a mass of ravenous comiceers armed to the teeth with back issues, action figures, tee shirts, badly dubbed videos and hard cash.

Claims Solberg, "It is my goal to make this convention the best-organized, best-attended and most fun convention Phoenix has ever had." To that end, he's invited a number of local talents to participate, including Roy Young and Bryan Kinnaird of Young Kinnaird Publications, which publishes a comic called The Villikon Chronicles. Solberg describes it as "a mix of science fiction, myth and fantasy."

Also attending will be local artist Jim Mahfood, who has worked on titles by several independent publishers and Marvel Comics, including Spider-Man. Todd McFarlane and Chaos! Comics will provide giveaway goodies, while colorist Mark Nicholas, artist Jay Fotos and Todd Broeker, who has contributed art and color design to Star Wars Tales, Spawn and Angela, represent the Valley's contribution to this international phenomenon.