Comic fans fill Briquette’s for artists’ show – The Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Dozens upon dozens celebrated comic culture Saturday at a small-town showing featuring popular artists from Ashtabula and the region.

Tony Capo, owner of Robot Zero Comics in Geneva, organized the persistently packed, one-room “Not at Comic Con” show at Briquette’s Smokehouse, along with eatery owner Nate Rockwell.

“Before we opened (Robot Zero), I talked to Nate about doing something up here. He loved the idea,” Capo said Saturday. “We needed a little bigger space than our store. … And a lot of our customers come from Ashtabula, so we wanted to do something in Ashtabula.”

Jeremy Freeman of Painesville, a 13-year comic inker — who’s lined panels for Marvel Comics’ “Fantastic Four,” “Thor” and “Deadpool” series — was first to book a seat at the signing table.

He’s worked for all the biggest names in the industry: DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Image Comics and more. But he said he started out, like many comic illustrators do, as a collector, at 7 or 8 years old. As a kid, his first reading of the Sumerian “Epic of Gilgamesh” was in comic form.

“I love the accessibility of comics and the way you pick it up as a kid or an adult and the images draw you into it,” he said. “If I read (‘Gilgamesh’) in school just as a text, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as interested, but when you see the action on the page, it draws you in.”

Through Freeman, Capo was able to book two other illustrators for the Saturday showing:

Matt Horak, of Akron — who’s currently pencilling Marvel’s “The Punisher” series and last year worked alongside comic icon Rob Liefeld on an original series — said he looked to make an Ashtabula appearance last year, but couldn’t make it. He said he was impressed by the area’s fandom Saturday.

“It’s great — everybody’s been really cool and enthusiastic about stuff,” he said. “I feel like I had a table at the Wizard World that’s going on right now (in Cleveland), I wouldn’t have had as many people enthused about what I’m doing — or comics, in general.”

Horak extended the Ashtabula invitation to friend P. Craig Russell, a 45-year veteran comic illustrator who has long collaborated with celebrated fantasy author Neil Gaiman.

Russell’s appearance Saturday coincided with the release of his first issue in a graphic novel adaptation of Gaiman’s best-selling novel “American Gods,” which has also become a Starz TV series, premiering next month. For more on that work, read this story online at

“P. Craig Russell is a huge influence of mine — when I was a kid, I was buying books of his,” Freeman said, pointing to a copy of Russell’s graphic novel version of Wagner’s opera “The Ring of the Nibelung.”

“I brought things for him to sign today. I’m a huge fan,” he said, grinning. “Hopefully, one day, somebody’ll come back to me — they’ll be doing comics that I inspired when they were a kid.”

Capo said he was “honored” to have Russell’s pedigree at the show. Russell, who lives in Kent and isn’t a regular on the public signing circuit, said he’d held an appearance in Ashtabula before — for his comic adaptation of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” — but that was many years ago.

“I have friends in Ashtabula, so I thought it’d be nice to come up and see the place,” Russell said.

Ashtabula artist Tessa LeBaron also manned a show booth featuring her ethereal, dreamy and vibrant watercolor portraits — most abstract but others in pop culture homage.

Though her work is featured at Painesville’s Odd World Gallery along North Ridge Road, she said there’s few avenues to share illustrative art in the area.

“I like when we have events like this because it gets local artists together,” LeBaron said. “It’s a good way to gather people. There’s not much going on in this small town. … It’s not like a big city, where (art is) thriving. It’s nice when we do have these things — it gives people a chance to get inspired and be creative.”

Chris Panzone, owner of In the Zone Cards and Games in Ashtabula — whose booth Saturday was filled with tabletop and card games — said he feels “geek” culture is largely “underground” in the area, but events like Capo’s show bring fanboys out of the woodwork.

“It was definitely a blast. The local community for anything like this is awesome,” he said. “(Capo and I have) stuff in the works to maybe step it up next year, make it a little bigger.

“It’s almost like an underground thing, where you don’t realize there’s this much drive and this much need for it,” he said. “We do awesome. It’s been a blessing.”


Follow Justin Dennis on Twitter @justindennis.


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