SALT LAKE CITY — For independent artists at comic conventions like FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, art is a passion and a purpose. But in order to make a name for oneself, well — “you’ve got to really hustle,” pop-surrealist artist Camilla d'Errico said.
“Cons are interesting because there are a lot of companies there,” d’Errico, one of the better-known artists coming to this spring's FanX told the Deseret News. “Disney is there, and Hasbro's there, and all these big companies that actually scout for artists."
“You don't get that just sitting at home and emailing people,” d’Errico added. “At a con, it's right there in your face. You get to show them what you're capable of.”
D’Errico, who fell into an unusual dual career path as a comic book illustrator and gallery artist, has gained international recognition for her colorful, imaginative works. In addition to selling canvas art, d’Errico illustrates comic books for popular comic book authors, including herself. While her career path has been a winding road involving personal and professional setbacks, d’Errico has ultimately achieved the goal that many of today’s independent artists dream of: A large enough following to pursue her passion full-time. Artists like d’Errico — and many others — will be presenting their creations at FanX on April 19-20 at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
For those unfamiliar with comic conventions, walking into one may seem like stepping into another universe. Cosplayers, or people dressed up as their favorite fictional characters, roam the aisles where artists and comic writers, big and small, display and sell their works. "Fandoms" dedicated to franchises such as "Doctor Who," the DC and Marvel Comic Universes and "Star Wars" gather for activities and events. Actors, artists and comic creators are among the guests in FanX's world.
But despite generally fitting well in the comic convention scene, d’Errico’s art is by no means conventional.
“I'm not selling things like a lot of artists do at cons,” d’Errico said, describing her take on her pop-surrealist style. “I'm actually selling a mirror to emotions. … My paintings have a lot of depth to them, and they have a lot of meaning. People come up to me and they tell me that this painting got them through their divorce. It's insane. Like how could I possibly have imagined that, right?”
Thanks to d’Errico’s hard work and emotionally moving paintings, she has built a unique style and loyal fan base over the years. But beyond creating a space for artists to sell their work, comic conventions offer an opportunity that's hard to have in an art studio — the chance to meet fans.
“I started out as a fan, and now that I have supporters, it's just the craziest thing in the world,” d'Errico said. “So I stay at my booth the entire time. I'm there from the beginning to the end, because I don't want to miss meeting one person, because those are the people who give me the ability to do what I do. … I am so grateful.”
But for smaller artists, comic conventions present another priceless opportunity: the chance to meet like-minded creatives who share similar passions and career goals.
“You meet so many crazy-amazing people there — so many other artists,” said Kristi Marie Criddle, a cartoon artist who creates artfully drawn fantasy figures on notebook covers. “I mean, that's the best way to connect with other brilliant minds, from cosplayers, to comic book artists, to actors to anybody that has a hand in any sort of entertainment when it comes to comics and stuff like that. It's fascinating to meet those people.”
Unlike d’Errico, Criddle is earlier in the process of building her brand and discovering fans. And rather than drawing inspiration from Japanese Manga and Italian portraits as does d'Errico, Criddle bases her art on fantasy, pop-culture franchises and, most of all, puns.
“I think wordplay is the funniest thing in the world,” said Criddle, who formerly taught high school English. “So, when I get to combine my love of art with my love of English, it's my favorite thing in the world. I've got this series of animals: I have Ruth 'Gator' Ginsburg, a 'gator dressed up like a judge. And then Al Gorilla, who is this planet-loving vice president gorilla and David Lee Sloth, who is a sloth that sings for Van Halen. I don't think anybody thinks it's as funny as I do, but I continue to draw it because it's my favorite thing.”
For artists like Criddle who are seeking appropriate outlets for their talent, comic conventions are an ideal way to reach new fans, artists and potential business contacts. Still, there are many others trying to do the same — it’s important to find ways to stand out.
“There are hundreds of people there that are trying to do the same thing you are. … You have to set up, you have to have a really professional-looking display and you have to act like a professional,” d’Errico advised. “If you want to work with bigger companies, if you want to step it up, you have to have a really professional look about you.
“Not everyone's going to like what you do, because that's just the way the world is," she added. "But the people who do respond to your art — you want to talk to them, and you want to give them that connection that only seeing you in person can do.”
If you go …
What: FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention Spring 2019
When: Friday, April 19, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday, April 20, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Where: Salt Lake Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple
How much: $40-$200