Three great Denver Comic Con artists with three distinct styles
It’s easy to forget that the comic con aesthetic originally found footing atop comic books and the artists and authors who brought the books to life. Now, the conventions are a melting pot of everything pop culture, with films and television often taking center stage. Fortunately, most comic cons still dedicate floor space and panel time to artists, authors, and the in-betweens, and Denver Comic Con 2017 had them all in spades. Artist Valley and Author Alley overflowed with local and non-local sketchers, scribblers, painters, printers, and aspiring/established professionals of all ilks, and I took a step away from the panel halls to talk to a few artists that caught my eye at DCC this year.
I won’t sugar coat the offerings and say there weren’t handfuls of copy-and-paste pop culture prints on display, booths full of iconic characters barely given enough glossy shine or a metallic finish to sell, but hidden between the metal prints and the 16×20 staples were a few gems. I was particularly drawn to the work of Mike Maydak, the Atomic Pixies, and Keith P. Rein (whose work is a bit NSFW, so consider yourself warned).
Read some back and forth and take a look at artwork from these three artists spotlighted by Midroad Movie Review at Denver Comic Con 2017 after the jump.
I’d circled the convention center upper level a few times (where all the vendors were set up) and still hadn’t really oriented myself before discovering Mike Maydak and his colorful prints. The style instantly had me, so we struck up a conversation and I promised to swing back by for more official words.
MrMR: What’s your name, what’s your business?
Maydak: My name is Mike Maydak, and I’m an artist. I travel to comic book conventions across the country and I sell paintings of pop culture figures.
MrMR: How long have you been doing this?
Maydak: Pop culture stuff, probably 2011, but I’ve been doing the cons since 2008. Been doing it a long time.
MrMR: Where are you based out of?
Maydak: Cincinnati. Living on the Kentucky side.
MrMR: Is this your first time in Denver?
Maydak: No, I’ve been doing the show every year. This is my sixth time.
MrMR: That’s great! I was here in 2012 and it was a little different, a little smaller.
Maydak: Yeah, it had a weird name. The Literary Conference. I had no idea what I was showing up for.
MrMR: Oh, yeah! What inspires your style? These guys are all kind of elongated and a little cartoonish, but it’s a very distinct style.
Maydak: I got really into Heavy Metal Magazine. They republished a lot of European artists, some of them have sort of a cartoony, sort of graffiti style–really hard edges–and I just fell in love with it. It just clicked.
MrMR: Are most of these recreations or are they on canvas, painted? What’s your method?
Maydak: What you see here *gesturing to his DCC booth* are reproductions, canvas prints. But I do paint the originals on a larger-scale canvas. Then they get reduced down for canvas prints, paper prints, etc.
MrMR: So, what size are these? I’m looking at these mid-sized guys right here. What size are these?
Maydak: I go with the standard 8×24. I find that they’re easy to pack and ship for shows that I travel for. Essentially I can make them any size, but that’s my standard.
MrMR: And the original canvas you paint on, what size is that guy?
Maydak: 45×15 is usually my standard size, but I like the 1:3 ratio, so it can sometimes be 20×60.
MrMR: Yeah, that 1:3 ratio really gets that whole body in there. It looks great, man.
Maydak: Thanks, thanks.
MrMR: I’m seeing a lot of Star Wars stuff. Are you a big Star Wars fan?
Maydak: It’s more like everyone has their drug of choice. I kind of go with nostalgia a bit. So, I really like Star Wars. Especially the obscure characters.
MrMR: Color schemes, I’m seeing this, I don’t know her name, this droid up here (full disclosure, I realized soon after this comment that I was looking at Leia in the outfit she wore trying to save Han Solo from Jabba, and I take full responsibility for my brain fart), you’ve got some vivid blues, vivid purples, vivid yellows. Do you have favorite colors you try to work into every piece?
Maydak: Yes and no. Sometimes I’ll work with the same colors for a couple paintings, and then it just slowly shifts. I know certain things work. I tried to do some differently, but then I go back to a way I used to do it. Not really, but yes and no.
MrMR: I just spotted these books down here (two nice-sized art books were leaning against a milk crate full of smaller prints on top of Maydak’s table, but they were almost hidden from view). I see all your prints and then you’ve got two published books here. Are these self-published? When did you put these out?
Maydak: Yeah, they’re hard cover collections of my artwork. They each contain about four years worth of work. About 100 paintings, about 300 sketches. One’s more toward fine art and one has more of a pop culture theme.
MrMR: That’s awesome. How do you split your time? You say you’re at cons a lot. Do you do the cons a lot more, or do you see yourself painting more? Do you have a studio back home?
Maydak: I travel for the shows, and then this I do full time. I’m actually working on something unrelated to what you see here. It’s sort of a concept book disguised as a travel book. I really want to get into some more original content, but I still have a certain fan base with these paintings, so I make sure I put out a painting or two a month.
MrMR: That was my next question. How many do you put out on a yearly basis?
Maydak: Right now, I’ve got a new baby. I’m taking on some side work teaching. So really it’s just about one painting a month while I work on other stuff.
MrMR: But that keeps you busy I’m sure.
Maydak: Yeah, I wake up to start working, and when the day’s over, the day’s over. Whatever I can get done.
MrMR: That’s great. Do you see yourself doing this until you die? Sounds like a you’re a new dad, so maybe this might phase out?
Maydak: I don’t want to do pop culture paintings for the rest of my life. There’s a sort of market for it. Like I said, I want to get into some more original content. It’s just sort of figuring out how to make products out of what you’re working on so you can make a living on it. That’s the hardest thing.
MrMR: Absolutely. I appreciate your time, man. I wanted to stop by again. I definitely want that print (I bought the classic Stormtrooper on the orange background pictured above and both of his books), but I’m going to circle around before I have to carry everything out.
Maydak: Yeah, I appreciate the time. Thanks for the opportunity for me to share.
MrMR: No problem.
Zig-zagging through Artist Valley, I found a bubbly gal named Sarah manning the booth for the Atomic Pixies (that’s her on the right up above). The Atomic Pixies are a three-woman operation based in the Denver area “charged with making art and raising hell,” and Sarah was happy to talk art and share some of their work.
MrMR: Tell me what you do.
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): My name is Sarah, and I also work with Terra, and we are part of the Atomic Pixies. I am the background artist, and Terra works on our figures, so we collaborate together.
MrMR: Excellent. How long have you been doing this?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): About seven years together.
MrMR: And are you based here in Denver?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): We are. Yep, we live right here in Aurora.
MrMR: Your process, is this hand drawn and then put into Illustrator or something like that?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): We hand draw the figures, scan them in, and then we work in Photoshop and SAI back and forth to complete the project.
MrMR: I’m just kind of spitballing today with vendors. I like both of these *flipping through the print portfolio on the table* do you have a whole stack of these?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): Yeah, this is the collection we have right now. I think our inventory is about fifty different prints.
MrMR: Do you have a gallery here in downtown Denver or do you just kind of do…
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): We just kind of do shows around town.
MrMR: And how long have you been doing the show thing?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): I’ve only been with the Atomic Pixies for about seven years, but Terra and Bev, who is our manager and also helps us with stuff, she and Terra have been doing this for about ten years or more.
MrMR: And before you were with the Atomic Pixies, were you doing this kind of thing by yourself?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): Not in a more serious sense. They’re the ones who kind of brought me on and convinced me to do it. But just for fun, and then they’re like “No, no, let’s do this.” and here I am.
MrMR: That’s great. I see a lot of pop culture reference but also not so much pop culture reference. What do you get your inspiration from?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): So, our kind of “look,” we call it Art Nerdveau.
MrMR: One more time, say that again.
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): Art Nerdveau. It’s like Art Nouveau-inspired pop culture prints, especially the work of Alphonse Mucha and just older 1920s art style, and we bring pop culture into it. Make pop culture look pretty.
MrMR: So something like this where you’ve got a foil print and the original. Do you print these yourself? Do you send out to get them printed?
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): We do send out to get them printed. We have a couple different companies. We use CatPrint for a lot of our things. They do our special foil edition, and they’re awesome. And we also have a friend here in Denver who does prints for us, his name is Nick. He loves to print stuff, so we give him work. He does our prints and our stickers.
MrMR: How’s the show been so far.
Atomic Pixies (Sarah): Pretty good.
MrMR: I see a couple in here I want.
My conversation with Sarah was cut short, but we spent a few more minutes talking about individual prints (I couldn’t resist the Fifth Element print below, two Cowboy Bebop prints, and a brand new Rick and Morty print that Sarah had finished just days before Denver Comic Con), and then it seemed like final-stretch jitters were taking over and a crowd of potential customers was gathering. I said goodbye and circled around Artist Valley one more time before calling it a day.
KEITH P. REIN
I spent some time hovering around Keith Rein’s booth partly for the nipples and partly for the unique watercolor/digital mediums Rein used to create his artwork. By the end of Day 3 at DCC 2017, Rein didn’t feel like chatting at length in a formal fashion, but he was more than happy to chime in and talk shop as artist to customer. I’d walked around Artist Valley once or twice that day, telling him I’d be around, and it wasn’t until a few hours before the convention closed its doors for good that I made my way back to make a few purchases and give Keith P. Rein, erotic art esquire, his quick spotlight. Before you dive deeper into the man’s work, know that many of his pieces are NSFW and don’t shy away from nudity, and Rein himself seemed to flaunt his love of the human body in a birthday suit more than he shied away from the on-display nudity. I snagged a couple prints (Alison Brie splattered in blood holding a bowling ball, Winona Ryder wrapped in Christmas lights, and a cute girl with a bowler hat), and Rein and I chatted for a few minutes about #FoodPorn and his 50 Babes Project.