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Monday, July 18, 2005 | Armed with a red Sharpie pen, Damion Scott furiously churns out sketches of Batman, Robin and Spiderman, while a small group of onlookers gathers around him. Standing patiently, they watch in awe as he brings their favorite comic book characters to life on 8-inch-by-10-inch sheets of white cardstock.

“I gotta stay warm,” said Scott, 28, who is currently drawing Robin and Batgirl comic books for DC Comics, one of the largest U.S. comic book companies.

The laid-back New York artist refers to his sketches done on the fly as “warm-ups,” creative exercises to keep him in top artistic shape. But for his fans, these quick, freestyle drawings are a highly coveted souvenir from the 36th annual Comic-Con International, the four-day, popular arts convention held every summer at the San Diego Convention Center.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, Comic-Con isn’t just for the light-saber wielding, superhero-costume-clad comic book geeks in search of mint issues of Superman and X-Men comics. From anime to graphic novels, short films to video gaming, the Con is for anyone who loves pop culture.

Strolling away from the hubbub of the major-studio and publisher booths is a welcome respite for those visitors in search of new superheroes – the small press area, where independent artists and illustrators hawk their self-published comic books, original artwork and other merchandise.

Here visitors can flip through a variety of small, hand-bound or stapled, mostly black-and-white comic books, featuring characters like Bob the Angry Flower, Bumperboy and Long Tail Kitty. Although not household names like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, the anonymous cast just may be one day.

Lark Pien quit her five-year career as an architect in 2002 to devote her time to more artistic endeavors, including her Long Tail Kitty comic books.

“I never thought I’d be an artist. I do love architecture, but it was totally time-consuming. I was sad to leave it … but it got to a certain point where I had to try art or miss the opportunity,” said Pien, 32, who lives in Oakland. “The irony is I sleep less now than I did as an architect.”

For years, Pien came to the Con as a fan. But this is her fourth year as an exhibitor in the small press area, where she stands behind her colorful table spread with various self-published adventures of Long Tail Kitty and other characters, small oil paintings of her own original cuddly critters, and custom stationary for sale.

“I say I’m an artist, mostly because I don’t want to have to explain comics. I got into [art] because I love comics,” she said.

Pien first drew her main character, Long Tail Kitty, in 1999. The pointy-eared, squat-shaped cat with big eyes and mischievous, toothy grin appears in several books, driving stories with different themes, including loss and companionship. Long Tail Kitty loves banana pancakes, milk and of course, comics.

When she was younger, Pien and some friends shared a table at Comic-Con to promote their personal punk ‘zines. Expressing sincere delight, she talks about friends who have since “blown up” and are now working for DC Comics and other prominent publishers.

“It’s great to see all of the people you know who love comics and are all doing it now professionally,” she said with a warm smile.

Across the way from Pien, sits Debbie Huey, whose character Bumperboy wears a white rubber suit, likes to eat gummy worms and enjoys cowboy movies.

The Bay Area resident enjoys Comic-Con the most for its supportive creative environment. “Everyone is out to help each other … not out to compete with each other, but rather inspire each other,” said the soft-spoken, friendly Huey.

Huey’s first three Bumperboy comic books have been compiled into an award-winning graphic novel, “Bumperboy Loses His Marbles,” and published by independent graphic novel press, AdHouse Books. The story unfolds as the title character searches for his lost marbles before the big marble tournament.

Like Pien, she also quit her previous job as a graphics producer last November to focus full attention on her comics, which she has been drawing off-and-on since 2000. Although Bumperboy isn’t paying all of her bills at the moment, Huey hopes that the success of her graphic novel and table exposure at Comic-Con will lead to bigger projects down the road.

Topher Davila, a 30-year-old freelance illustrator and graphic designer from Orange County, has eschewed the traditional comic book medium. He, along with his buddy Mike Lee, launched an online comic strip, Contoons.com, which is all about fandom and the people who read comic books.

“It’s by the geeks, for the geeks and of the geeks,” said Davila, with tongue firmly in cheek. A new strip is available on the Web site every Monday, with characters inspired by and loosely based on Davila and his convention-attending friends.

Davila, who has been to 18 consecutive Comic-Cons, has racked up plenty of stories involving himself, friends and the people they meet at the conventions, which he and co-writer Lee are now translating into digitally produced comic strips. This is Davila’s first time as an exhibitor in the small press area.

The entire strip takes place at a large convention, but “not necessarily Comic-Con. It’s not about the convention, it’s about the fans,” emphasized the highly talkative and affable artist.

Please contact Claire Caraska directly at

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