As an independent comics artist, D.J. Coffman has tried to live by two rules: put the work in and, if you want something, don’t be afraid to ask.
He’s been putting the work in since 1995, when he would hustle his mini-comic, Yirmumah!, to comic-book stores like Eide’s, Downtown, and New Dimension Comics, in the North Hills.
“I was making them just for fun, and at the time I worked in the city, and I spent my lunch hour taking them around to Eide’s and the other stores,” Coffman explains. “They didn’t really know what to do with them, but they eventually took them and they started to sell. I’d get a call to bring more. Now, I was spending more on gas then I was making on these comics, but I was getting my work out there and I got noticed.
“I think artists are very humble people, but if we don’t say, ‘Hey, we’re here,’ if we don’t ask, then we’ll never get a yes or a no, and you’ll just be in obscurity. A lot of people have said, ‘How did D.J. get those things?’ And the truth is, I put the work in and I just asked.”
Coffman put in more work between 1995 and 1998 by going to comic-book shows and meeting artists, writers and publishers. He got noticed and started working as an independent comics artist. He would later start publishing a comic book online (long before web comics were actually a thing) called Hero By Night, about a reluctant superhero and set in a fictionalized Pittsburgh called Steel City. He won the American Comic Book Challenge — “it was like the American Idol of comic books” — and a job with Platinum Studios before the company ceased publishing comics, in 2008.
So when he heard that Wizard World Comic Con was coming to Pittsburgh for the first time, he saw an opportunity. Wizard World, which put on its first convention in Chicago, in 1997, stages several shows a month across the country. It acquired the Pittsburgh Comic Con last year and this will be the first of its annual shows in the city. And it also marks the first time a comic con will be held within city limits, rather than in Monroeville.
Coffman says he was a bit concerned that if a national presenter came in, there wouldn’t be a chance for local artists to be featured, or that independent local artists might shy away. So he took the initiative to call convention organizers to pitch the idea of showcasing local artists.
“I reached out to them because a lot of indie folks were reluctant [to attend], because it’s a bigger show and the prices are more expensive,” Coffman says. “So, I just told [the organizers] that I’ve been doing this for quite a long time, and I’m pretty connected with a lot of the other independent folks, and I said, ‘I can get you some of the core guys in town.’
“Some people don’t know if they could trust a big corporate comic con. But, I’ve worked with Wizard before in some other cities, and I felt they needed some support to help get some local artists. We have some legends in this town, from Don Simpson and Ron Frenz, to indie guys like Mikey Wood. We have artists that range from mini-comics to Eisner Award winners. Pittsburgh has a neat comics scene going on.”
The Wizard World Pittsburgh Creator Spotlight will feature Coffman, Simpson, Wood, Jim Rugg, Scott Hedlund, Shawn Atkins, Byron Winton and Barry Linck. Frenz, who worked for years at Marvel on titles including Spider-Man and Thor, will also be in attendance.
Besides well-known comics artists, the show will feature several TV and pop-culture celebrities. Among them will be Star Trek’s William Shatner; David Duchovny, of The X-Files; Lou Ferrigno, of TV’s Incredible Hulk; Dean Cain, who played Superman on Lois and Clark; and Michael Cudlitz and Josh McDermitt (Abraham and Eugene, respectively) of The Walking Dead. (Check www.wizardworld.com for individual appearance schedules).
“I think having pop-culture celebrities at these events does help bring more people in,” Coffman says. “I think if you know how to work it, it’s a good thing. And Wizard World definitely brings the thunder with guys like Captain Kirk.”
Coffman will be selling his own works at the show, including his new Caliber Comics release, God Child — which he co-created with his girlfriend, Ally Monroe — about a pregnant lesbian who may either be carrying the Anti-Christ or the second coming of Jesus at the same time she’s dodging assassins sent by The Church. He’ll also be doing sketches for fans, of his work or other comic-book heroes, a practice he’s just recently started.
“There was a time I didn’t feel comfortable drawing other people’s characters,” Coffman says. “But in that climate, everybody’s drawing everything. It’s about giving the fans what they want. Even if you’ve never worked on Captain America, some kid might want to see your take on that superhero. It’s kind of a cool thing.”