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Annual comics fest takes on zombie theme 

click to enlarge The carnage of Lee Cheolis's "Zombie Track Day (detail)," part of an eclectic mix of undead-themed artwork at Comix Rock.
  • The carnage of Lee Cheolis's "Zombie Track Day (detail)," part of an eclectic mix of undead-themed artwork
    at Comix Rock.

Comic books! Zombies! Punk rock! Scantily clad models!

Comix Rock, an annual celebration of nerd culture hosted by Indy Webcomics Group, will pull all those elements together and more starting at 7 p.m., April 7 at Locals Only.


"This is a chance for us to get our stuff up on the wall and showcase our work on a platform outside of the web," says James Ratcliffe of Lafayette, who's heading up the mini-comic associated with this year's event.


"Comix Rock 3: The Rocking Dead" opens with an installment of Dr. Sketchy's Anti-Art School, featuring local burlesque performers posing as figure models in horror-themed getups, with prizes for the best drawings. The Independents, a horror-punk band comprised of protégés of the late, great Joey Ramone, will headline the musical portion, with Indiana-based acts Harley Poe and Soup Or Villainz rounding out the evening.


"It's pretty much a big party to celebrate the merging of art and music," says Charles Gratner, who organized the 2011 incarnation of the event. "It's a way to show off what we've been doing. As artists, we tend to hole up in our little art caves; we don't get much of a chance to see what other people are doing and get excited about it."


The event cycles through leadership and themes each year to get a fresh take, with NUVO's own Wayne Bertsch and Ratcliffe heading things up this time around. "The whole point is to see somebody else's take on things, and what we can all learn from each other," Gratner says. "That applies to both the group and the show."


Every year focuses on a different theme; the 2010 show centered on superheroes, with science fiction and Star Trek taking center stage in 2011. This year will be horror, appropriately enough for a pop culture currently engorged with zombie flesh. Organizers say the ever-changing theme creates new inspiration and challenges each year.


"You have to make a link, think to yourself, 'How do I make something I do fit this theme?'" Gratner says. "You don't want to just say, 'Oh, I'll draw Freddy or Jason.' You want to twist it and bend it a little and not just do the tropes, but incorporate it into the things you do."


"We may focus a lot on online comics, but we've got painters, watercolorists, writers and caricature artists," Indy Web Comics member Lee Cherolis says. "It's really anyone remotely interested in the art form, which results in a nice eclectic mix of artwork at the shows. With the themes, we end up stretching out our wings and doing things we might not have otherwise tried, so a lot of times you'll see something interesting from someone you wouldn't expect."


They've also picked up quite a bit of support from Locals Only since the beginning.

"They have art hanging from a different local artist every month, and we put up our art as a group for a month around the show," Cherolis says.


"We really pack those walls full of art," Gratner says.

click to enlarge The cover for this year's Comix Rock activity book.
  • The cover for this year's Comix Rock activity book.


Each year also includes a minicomic collaborated on by the group at large; the first year's featured the Dr. Sketchy's models in their superhero alter egos. This time around, Ratcliffe is heading up an alternative zombie/horror-themed coloring and activity book, complete with blank space to collect sketches from the artists.


Dr. Sketchy's has been part of the show since the beginning, and Ratcliffe says they work hard to play up the theme: "They tend to pull out all the stops," Ratcliffe says. "They really give us the gusto and go out of their way to make sure everybody has a great time."


The Indy Webcomics Group formed out of a local newspaper article in 2007 that demonstrated just how many artists were working in the city; several of them decided to meet on a regular basis after that. Since then they've held several workshops, published an anthology and frequently participated in 24-Hour Comics Day.

"You don't get into comics to make money; you do it because you love drawing," Ratcliffe says. "But it's also a lot of lonely work at your desk. Having a group of like-minded people to have a drink with every so often and inspire you is a great thing. It really does keep us all grounded."


Cherolis agrees: "We're kind of loners and get sequestered away, but the interaction can keep us motivated, improve our work, and perhaps keep us motivated in the form."


"It's open to all levels," Gratner adds. "We have everything from rookies to veterans who've been at this a long time to those of us just fumbling our way around to figure out what we're doing."


Incidentally, costumes are highly encouraged this weekend: "We had a lot of people in Trek uniforms last year, and I'll be disappointed if we don't see a bunch of people in zombie makeup, gore and blood!" Cherolis says. "It's like Halloween in the middle of April. Or Christmas in July, only scarier."


Organizers say the event exemplifies everything Indy Webcomics Group stands for and provides a chance to show off their best work: "It brings together a lot of different styles, with a lot of diversity but unifying it into one show," Gratner says. "It's a pure form of nerdiness; we're not just geeking out over the things other people are creating, but showing off the stuff we're creating."


"If this event does anything, I hope it gers more people into comics or art in the local scene," Cherolis says. "Yes, you see this sort of thing on TV, but it's also in your hometown. There's people all around you creating this stuff. You can find pretty neat things if you look for it."

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