New Zealand is hosting a new illustration and comic art convention this weekend with the inaugural Chromacon on May 12th at the Aotea Centre in Auckland. In recent years the Australasian convention circuit has primarily been made up of large scale conventions with a depleting focus on comics and artists so the establishment of a new convention catering specifically to illustrators and comic art has been welcomed by the sixty plus artists from New Zealand and Australia scheduled to attend. Auckland based illustrator Allan Xia, the primary organiser of Chromacon, shared some of the behind the scenes development of Chromacon.
Jigsaw by Allan Xia
What was the impetus for organising Chromacon?
I've been going with a few art friends of mine to different conventions around New Zealand for quite a few years now. I guess with Chromacon It really started off as a joke because I've always found with any of the conventions in New Zealand as artists I really felt we needed an event that was purely about the art and not entertainment or pop culture focused or a specific style or subject matter. I said to a friend of mine after we had a booth at a convention I said, “It didn't really go that well this year, so what if we started our own illustration and comic arts festival?" I guess in my naivety I just decided to jump in the deep end and just decided to do it. Initially I planned it and found a venue space, I sort of just asked around. The good thing about this was I knew quite a lot of people who I thought would be interested. Pretty much everyone has been on the same wavelength, fortunately enough; the response has been really awesome.
What is your background as an artist?
Illustration is pretty much what I try to keep as my main career, how I feed myself. Comics are a great passion of mine and it's also for me personally quite tied in with events like this. It gives me motivation to get create something, get it printed, having something physical in hand that people can flip through. The past few years the comics I’ve made were for events like this which is good it gives me a deadline to work towards.
Who's involved behind the scenes of Chromacon?
We've got quite a few people who have been really helpful. A designer friend Des Young has been helping me out with a lot of design; he designed our awesome logo and a lot of the promotion material everyone will be seeing around Auckland. We're going to be having a conference, artist discussions at the event. Bec Wheeler from Watermark, she's been really great help with organising that. She used to be part of Illustrators Australia. Bec has run discussion panels like these at festivals before and her expertise has been a really great help. Also Renee Lang who's a great poet and playwright, she's got way more experience than me when it came to organising things like this, she's giving me a lot of great advice so far. Mostly I've just been doing a lot of it solo which is good, because I'm freelancing rather than have a studio job otherwise it would have been quite a big problem because I didn't realise quite how much work it would be.
When I saw the Chromacon site go up I was really impressed that someone was organising an event like this in New Zealand as you mention the main conventions have become more pop-culture oriented and the comics have really taken a backseat.
That sort of thing is reflected around the world. It's also sort of a good thing it gives opportunities for things like Chromacon to carve out our own niche. A few of the inspirations for Chromacon were things like Spectrum Art Live and IlluXCon and quite a few conventions that have popped up around the states. It's similar to what you just said, you know Comic-Con became really really big and eventually artists became less of the focus which gave opportunities for events like the ones I mentioned to start happening. I guess it's similar to Chromacon really.
In my naivety I sort of just jumped into the deep end. I think initially my plan was to have it at a community centre. This was after I had already spoken to a few people that had been really excited by the idea, I was looking at the places available and I decided a community hall wasn't big enough. Like I say I think a lot of it had to with naivety, I knew the Aotea Centre would be a really good space because I wanted it to be a public event not just completely about the creative industry talking to each other but also engaging the wider community. The Aotea Centre is a very central venue in Auckland. Having it at the Aotea Centre will just have the benefit of being able to have more people to attend and having it a free entry event we want as many people to attend as possible.
Why did you make Chromacon a free entry event?
One of the biggest motivations for me was to create a platform where artists can leave the comfort zone of their studios and promote their art to the rest of the community and similarly the community can get an understanding of what it is we do. People ask me all the time what I do for a living and I say I’m an illustrator and seven out of ten times the response would be, “what is that?” Another exhibitor at Chromacon told me almost the same story. That’s a big motivation for me, basically illustration, visual storytelling and arts surround every aspect of our lives these days but the artists and what we do gets pushed to the background so people don’t really notice or understand anymore.
We have a lot of really awesome creatives in New Zealand especially since we have Weta, there’s a lot of great concept artists and designers from there who do great work on the films that everyone really appreciates it but outside of ‘art of books’ they don’t really have a platform to showcase their own artwork at least not to the local audience. Which is very surprising because we’ve got all this talent in New Zealand but I doubt the public really knows about the great artists we have here. That was the first thing when I decided to create this event was I definitely wanted it to be free admission.
Greed by Allan Xia
How is Chromacon funded?
It’s quite a hard process. Step one I wanted to make it free admission. As soon as I announced the event we had retail stores asking for retail booths, I never announced we’d have retail booths, people just took it for granted. I really wanted the event to be about the artists and I think having retail and merchandising booths would clash with that mentality, that core philosophy, because I want it to be about the artists showing their original artwork and their self published works. That being said it has added problems for us with financial budgeting. Basically how we are funding, is mostly through sponsorship booths. I’ve taken great care to make sure they fit in with the culture of the event. Quite a few educational providers, art schools from Auckland, they see that we’re engaging with kids and students locally who are interested in art. This is another thing we want to foster as well, so we sort of happen to meet the same demographic. Also we have Takapuna Art Supplies which is run by Jim Auckland who is a great old school illustrator who has a history in education as well. He’ll be doing demos at the event as well. We have some other sponsors coming onboard but mostly we’re trying to budget the best we can at the moment. We didn’t manage to get government funding but I already budgeted for that so even though we don’t have it, it’ll be okay. Obviously I would have liked to have had it because then we could have more money for marketing.
Do you think Chromacon could become an annual event?
I definitely hope so. Hopefully my budgeting is all good and we don’t end up being in the red this year. I’m pretty confident that it will be successful. The response from the artists has been really good so hopefully we can get the same sort of response form the community.
Interview conducted by phone Early April 2013