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Making comics in Miami

We have some strong creative roots in Miami, with footholds in the film, art, and literary scenes. The comic book scene is no different. We caught up with five locals making comics in South Florida to chat about their lives, their latest projects, and their inspirations.

Jeff Dekal

Born and raised in South Florida, Jeff Dekal has spent most of his life creating illustrations he calls “urban and uncanny,” Like many local artists, his earliest artistic influences were the colorful graffiti on Miami’s walls. After earning a degree in Art History, he went on to focus on more traditional art. A main inspiration behind this is his fascination with the themes of timelessness and otherworldliness that can transport you to another time and place.

He’s produced album art for musicians both locally and across the country, including ¡Mayday!, Joe Budden, and Wrekonize, but he specializes in comic book covers. His work includes Marvel’s Journey into Mystery, Avengers World, Inhumanity: Superior Spider-Man, and Valiant’s Shadowman and Rai. In terms of working with major comic book publishers, Dekal says, “It’s a very fulfilling experience and something that has boosted my career more than anything else. The national exposure has been unparalleled and the opportunity to draw characters I’ve loved since I was a kid is just super cool.”

He’s also partnering with a local brewer in celebration of Supercon. Wynwood’s J Wakefield is creating a special brew called Power Up Peach for this weekend’s festivities, and Dekal created a label honoring the beloved princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. Supercon’s official beer, Power Up Peach is an IPA that packs a big peach flavor.

Catch him at Supercon at booth 606.

Vanesa R. Del Rey

Cuban-born artist Vanesa R. Del Rey has only been making comics for a couple of years, but she’s already made a big impact. Del Rey believes if she can do it, anybody can. “Put your work out there and just do it. I didn’t really know exactly what it was to make comics until I did it. I think if you want to do it, you’re going to have to start small. Do a 4-pager, bring it out there, online, at the cons. Just do the the work.”

She moved from Havana to Miami when she was 19, studying at Miami-Dade College before moving on to Ringling College of Art and Design, where she graduated in 2011. While working as a concept artist and graphic designer for an animation studio in Louisiana, she had the urge to move back to Miami. “I wanted to try freelancing, and my family is here,” she says. “And I missed the ocean. I got tired of working at a studio, working for somebody else. I wanted my own vision to be out there. It was kind of hard, but I just did the work. I learned as I went.”

Taking the plunge into working as a freelance illustrator was nerve-wracking, but worth it, as she’s worked on a wide range of projects, from the noir comic Hit from Boom! Studios, to Marvel’s Once Upon a Time anthology. She’s also worked with Image and Darkhorse. Up next for her is a real coup, working for DC as the lead artist for a three-issue run of the critically acclaimed reboot of Constantine: The Hellblazer.

See her art in person at Supercon at booth 717.

Kevin Joseph

A writer by trade, Kevin Joseph started out creating screenplays before moving on to comics, where his projects have been successful with a large cult following. “The beauty of the comic medium is working alone to create a script for an artists that is as good as you possibly can,” he explains. “And if you do, all you’ve done is inspired that artist to make the work one thousand times better than you’d ever imagined.”

His publishing company is Kechal Comics, a title he chose because his portfolio covers so many topics that you are bound to like something. He’s most famous as the writer of Tart, an action adventure comic about a time traveling demon hunter. On the other end of the spectrum is UnderWars, a comedic comic about self-aware animals wearing tighty whiteys.

Next up, he’s expanding his repertoire with two books set come out  to include a Western/horror mash up and an adventure story for younger readers. They are both set to come out next year. “There’s something special about the books that opened my eyes to fantasy and imagination as a child. Books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Hero and the Crown, Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing,” says Joseph. “When done right, these stories stay with you throughout life and I can’t wait to be able to provide that inspiration to the next generation.”

Emily Joynton

A self-described doodler from an early age, Emily Joynton specializes in personalized cards and illustrations for any occasion. She’s an up and comer to the comic book scene, illustrating an ongoing bio comic and recently contributing to The New Tropic’s Sketchecitos series.

Joynton completed a double major in Studio Art and Art History at St. Olaf College in Minnesota before moving to Miami in 2011.

And while she dabbles in comics, she wants to help break the mold in thinking when it comes to illustration. “Unlike a lot of other art forms, I don’t feel that illustration has made its mark on Miami yet,” says Joynton. “I think this is partly because a lot of people view illustration like I did not too long ago – they see it as something limited to children’s books and print, not a sector of visual arts that is ground-breaking or interesting. With the right leadership and events that bring awareness to what illustration can be, I think there is great potential for illustration to lead its own movement in the community.” She works with Doodlers Anonymous, a local website that promotes analog art through contests, artist features, and blog posts about new discoveries in illustration.

She’s also heading up the Miami branch of the New York-based Taco Bell Drawing Club, which meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Taco Bell on 36th street and Biscayne Boulevard.

Juan Navarro

Born and raised in Hialeah, Navarro is probably best known as the creator of the Zombie Years, a digital comic taking place in a post apocalyptic Miami of the near future. A true local and a graduate of the New World School of the Arts, he co-founded indie comic book publisher and multimedia studio Creature Entertainment. He also served as the very first illustrator of Steampunk Magazine and has worked as an illustrator and writer for a long list of clients that includes Café Bustelo, Oliva Cigar, and Gaming Frontier Magazine. In May, he rededicated himself to his hometown of Hialeah, opening a local comic book shop. “We hope to be that central place in Hialeah for folks to come and enjoy this culture. To not only buy, but share and find others with the same interests, just like them,” says Navarro. “This is why my business is not only selling comics, but serving as an entry point to those getting started in comic books.”

There’s plenty of others making comics in South Florida, and the future for the local community looks promising. “Now you have guys like Michel Fiffe, who does work for Marvel’s Ultimates series and is also working on his own independent book COPRA, and Jayro Lantigua, who is growing as an underground comic artist and making more insane work than ever,” says Navarro. “It’s a welcoming and close-knit community that is excited to be creating and pushing the movement forward. Everyone is supportive and proud of each other.”

Visit Creature Entertainment at booth #707 during Florida Supercon.

 

By Mandy Baca
Mandy Baca is a Miami native and freelance writer, who is obsessed with her city. She is also the author of The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs and Empanadas, Discovering Vintage Miami, and the upcoming Cuban Cuisine from South Florida.