A reflection on Camden Comic Convention and Compulsive Narratives

[Dre, a comics artist and enthusiast, spent the day at the first-ever Camden Comic Con at Rutgers University Camden–and popped into an adjacent show of work by indie comics artists. — the Artblog editors]

For Rutgers undergraduate English major Constantine Frangos, April 5, 2014 is one for the Camden history books. That was the date of the first-ever Camden Comic Con, a small show of comics and art by local and regional comics artists. Frangos, who visited the event, shared his enthusiasm with me, and believes the event will grow in the years to come.

A well-planned event

In the room that featured more indie artists, with Pretty in Punk Designs (Jess Grear) in the foreground.

Held at the Rutgers Camden campus, Camden Comic Con was created by a team of comics enthusiasts which included students Miranda Powell and Bill Hass. I learned about the event from a friend, Adam McGovern, who was invited (along with his collaborator, Ellen Stedfeld) to be a special guest. Over the past few months, there had been buzz coming out of Rutgers Camden about comic and cartoon art events and an exhibition, and I was eager to check things out. I ended up getting a table at the Comic Con and sharing it with one of my past tablemates at other events–Ken R. Amato. I also got to see the exhibit, Compulsive Narratives: Tales That Must Be Told, and I’ll tell you more about that later.

The author and Ken R. Amato at Camden Comic Con.

When Ken and I arrived at the show, Adam McGovern was the first person we saw as he was unloading comics into the show. We entered through the back door into a room that was set up more like a dealer’s room, which included Steve’s Comic Relief, The Comic Book Store, and Encounter Comics and Games. It looked pretty amazing, with many classic comics on display, like vintage Marvel and DC comics.

Bill and Gerry of CO2 Comics.

Ken and I were scheduled into the room that featured more indie artists. The tables already included black tablecloths, which impressed both of us, because it was student-organized and they did a great job. It was very surprising to hear that this was the first comic con they have put together. The one-day Comic Con included panels, workshops, discussions, and adult and children’s activities in addition to the show itself. There was even a photo booth where you could get your photo taken with costumed impersonators Robin or Superman.

Comics, cosplay, presentations, and panels

Robin impersonator with Ken R. Amato.

All walks of life strolled down the aisles: die-hard comics fans, young kids, college students, “superheroes,” and anime characters. There was a costume contest, and a lot of spirited people came dressed in different getups. Some of my favorite cosplayers were Alexis Marie Sutch and Sean Bridget Quinn, who dressed in homemade Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury gear. Another favorite cosplayer, Leah, was dressed as Gabrielle, the trusty sidekick of one of my all-time favorite heroines–Xena: Warrior Princess. There was only one category for the costume contest, and the guy dressed up as a Ghostbuster won the prize. But really, as all cosplayers know, when you cosplay you really win, because dressing up can make you and spectators happy. 

Sean Bridget Quinn and Alexis Marie Sutch as Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury.

In the middle of the day, a local, four-piece punk rock band called Knuckle Puck Time performed cartoon and geeky TV theme song covers from shows like Duck Tales, Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers. It was odd at first to see a band at a comic con, but it was a smash hit. Camden Comic Con had more than a few panels and workshops that went beyond the boundaries of traditional comics shows, and that was nice. For example, I managed to see the presentation on “Indie Game Development: The Good, The Bad & It’s Ugly” by Ryan Morrison of indie video game company Island Officials. Although I have been a gamer since the mid-’80s, I really don’t know that much about the field of creating video games. It was very interesting to find out the overall process of how modern games are created, such as what types of software would work for a beginner video game-maker.

Amazing Spider-people.

Compulsive Narratives

In the Stedman Gallery, adjacent to where Comic Con took place, I saw the group exhibition Compulsive Narratives: Stories That Must Be Told. As I entered, my jaw dropped: on display here is work by indie comics heroes like Justin Green, Derf Backderf, Julie Doucet, Lance Tooks, Ellen Forney, and many more. In addition, the exhibit introduced me to artists like the printmaker Marcus Benavides.

The exhibit is very well-planned, and includes a small library featuring graphic novels by the artists on exhibit. On display through April 26, Compulsive Narratives is well worth the trip. Be sure to grab the pamphlet guide to the show, which is printed as a hefty, full-colored zine that you will want to keep forever. The zine/pamphlet is filled with valuable information like artist biographies, images from the exhibit, and five essays, including “Why ‘Graphic’ Why ‘Novel’?” by comics educator and historian Andrei Molotiu.

Ellen Forney, “Psychiatrist’s Office” installation, 2013. Mixed media, found objects, variable dimensions. Photo courtesy of Rutgers University.

Even though we are starving artists, Ken and I did purchase a few things. He found a copy of a fifth-edition, first-issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles floppy comic book, and I picked up issue #84 of Captain Atom, penciled by comics hero and co-creator of Spiderman, Steve Ditko. Ken also picked up an 8-bit pixel painting of the Nintendo character “Bob-omb” by Lauren Elizabeth to decorate his home.

Camden Comic Con was really sweet, and the organizers were considerate of the artists and the audience. I’m looking forward to the next Camden Comic Con and the other comics-related events.

Camden Comic Con took place April 5, 2014 at the Rutgers Camden Campus Center.

Compulsive Narratives: Stories That Must Be Told ended April 26 at Stedman Gallery, Rutgers University. 

Dre Grigoropol is an artist, author, and musician in Philadelphia.  See her work at,, and