"Why isn't there an indie-focused comic show in L.A.?"
This is the question that led to the birth of Comic Arts Los Angeles, a festival celebrating comics and graphic novels, and the community and art associated with them.
More than 100 artists will be assembled for the fourth incarnation of this yearly event — which launches Saturday — to show people that, despite what television and movies may encourage them to believe, super-powered vigilantes and costumed superheroes are not all there is to comic books.
There are, in fact, comics for all types of readers with all kinds of interests. Additionally, independent comics increasingly reflect the diversity present in Los Angeles, and CALA aims to show how the medium can not only capture nationwide escapism but also hyper-local issues.
"Most of the shows in the Southern California area are things like Comic-Con and Stan Lee's comic show — just really big shows where a lot of big companies and Hollywood are involved," explained cartoonist and CALA organizer Jen Wang. "There isn't a lot of space for younger, smaller artists who are self-publishing or don't have a big company behind them. There isn't really a place for them."
And "really big" is an understatement.
With an immense Hollywood presence, San Diego Comic-Con (known officially as Comic-Con International: San Diego) is a four-day pop culture extravaganza attracting more than 130,000 attendees annually. The three-day Stan Lee's Los Angeles Comic Con (formerly known as Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo) this year also broke the 100,000 attendees mark.
But in addition to the difficulties posed by the size and scale of these events, both shows have additional logistical barriers, such as prohibitive registration costs for attendees and exhibitors, which can price out independent artists, explained Wang.
Taking its cue more from events like the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, CALA is free to attend. The organizers, which in addition to Wang includes Angie Wang, Iris Jong and Jake Mumm, are committed to making sure the show is as accessible to as many as possible.
"We've tried different ways to expand on this idea," explained Jen Wang. "This year, for the first time, we also made Spanish postcards and posters."
"I've also been going around to local libraries to try to get the attention of students that might be interested in manga and comics to be aware of the event," she added.
CALA's formula is one that tends to attract a wide spectrum of readers and art aficionados, including younger fans, families, people who are new to the comics scene as well as women and people of color.
"We try to have a diverse group of artists come to the show and I think it just sort of reflects a younger generation and what they're interested in," said Wang.
CALA itself has been steadily growing since its debut. While the event has been held at Think Tank Gallery since 2014, this year CALA is moving to a larger space at the Homenetmen Ararat/Elevate Fitness Complex and will showcase more artists. The show will also feature programming including discussions and lectures and, for the first time, an open forum, designed to invite anyone in attendance to discuss ways to "to foster a better comics community."
Despite its expansion, Wang does not expect the intimacy of the event that allows for attendees to get to know the artists to be impacted.
CALA's community focus also extends to how the show was curated. The organizers thought about more than just the usual considerations regarding a diverse representation of the comics community.
"This year I wanted [CALA] to try to reflect the diversity within Los Angeles," said Wang. "So more creators who would be interesting to local Los Angeles attendees. More Latinx artists. [Artists] who are local and are expressing something about Los Angeles are always interesting to us."
According to Wang, CALA's renewed focus on community was partly motivated by current events.
"Since the election and everything, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to do a community event," explained Wang. "I feel like it's shifted a lot of how I think about the show and what I can do with it."
This meant rethinking CALA as more of a welcoming space for everyone to be able to enjoy art and have fun than a market-oriented event. And it's a trajectory Wang hopes to follow for future iterations of CALA.
"I don't know exactly what that looks like yet but that's definitely something I am wanting to work more towards," said Wang. "We all deserve to have fun and feel inspired."
Comic Arts LA will be held at Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter's North Campus, 3000 Dolores St., Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday. Doors open at 10 a.m.