Steve McGarry has had two simple passions in his life: playing football and drawing football players.
In the past four decades, the British cartoonist has managed to avoid a 9-to-5 office job and fuse both of his passions into a successful career as an artist.
His sports features are syndicated worldwide, he’s created art for movies such as “Despicable Me 2” and “The Secret Life of Pets,” and he designed a record sleeve for the band Joy Division that was later displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
“Is it part of the grand plan? Or is it just me trying to avoid real work? I mean, I could be out there lifting heavy things somewhere — I’m kidding,” the Costa Mesa resident said. “I’m fortunate. I’m one of the people who got to be what he wanted to be.”
McGarry — president of the National Cartoonists Society Foundation, the charitable element of the National Cartoonists Society — will accomplish another dream next week when more than 100 artists from around the world congregate in downtown Huntington Beach for the inaugural NCSFest.
The event, from Thursday to May 19, will offer seminars, exhibitions, workshops, panel discussions, signing sessions and more with artists such as Charlie Adlard, cartoonist for “The Walking Dead” and “The X-Files,” and Daniel Clowes of “Ghost World.” The majority of the events are free; day and weekend passes are available for purchase for premium events.
With help from volunteers and Julie Tait, founder and director of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in the United Kingdom, NCSFest will be the first European-style comic arts festival in the United States, McGarry said. Downtown Huntington Beach presented the ideal footprint for his vision, he said.
“Comic-Con in San Diego sells out in minutes, but if anyone has been to a convention, they could be selling anything in there from plumbing to electrical components,” he said. “In Europe, the tradition of the festival is to involve the community and stage it in the community.”
For McGarry’s festival, comic art will be nearly everywhere downtown. Original work will be displayed at select businesses along Main Street and at 5th and PCH, popular artwork will be on display for free under the Big Tent at Pier Plaza, and more than 100 stalls featuring hundreds of artists, publishers and comic art organizations will be lined up along Main Street as it becomes an outdoor market.
Students from the Orange County School of the Arts will create and illustrate a giant, original comic strip where luminaries can join in and add their style.
Further up Main Street at Acacia Avenue, the Huntington Beach Art Center will feature three free exhibitions showcasing “90 Years of Popeye,” McGarry’s soccer comics, and a twist on classic comic characters re-imagined as females.
Fans of “The Walking Dead” will be in for a treat at a zombie walk and concert planned for May 19 at the pier and Pier Plaza, where French composer Julien Limonne will join Adlard’s live drawing session. Students from the Orange County School of the Arts will be on hand for those interested in getting zombie-inspired makeup.
McGarry said he hopes the festival will encourage aspiring artists to pursue their dreams.
“We work in isolation, a lot of cartoonists — we rarely get the opportunity to interact with fans,” he said. “We’d like to share our knowledge and wisdom with young professionals coming in. We exist to use our talents to promote the art form. You can write a thousand-page article, but I might be able to tell the story in six strokes of the pen.”
IF YOU GO
When: Thursday through May 19
Where: Various locations in downtown Huntington Beach
Cost: Day passes are $15 to $20; a weekend pass is $50. Many events are free.
Information and tickets: ncsfest.com