Students celebrate indie art through expo

VCUarts hosts the Richmond Indie Comic Expo at the University Student Commons. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Natalie Barr, Contributing Writer

A mix of bright colors, sketches, stickers, comics and illustrations inspired from fantasy and social issues filled the University Student Commons for the annual Richmond Indie Comic Expo, or RICE.

RICE is a student-led event to showcase and promote the comic scene in Richmond, according to Alexander Tyree, senior VCUarts communication arts student and RICE’s head coordinator. 

“Unlike Comic-Con that’s typically associated with Marvel, Cosplay and 500,000 Funko Pops, we’re focused on actual creators, actual artists and what they want to do,” Tyree said.

The expo began in 2019, returned for its third year, and had over 70 artists and an estimated 300 to 400 people in attendance on Nov. 13, according to a RICE representative.

Tyree worked at the first expo and helped with the day of preparation, but wanted to take on a role where he would be exposed to what is needed to put on a comic expo, he said. Tyree said he hopes the work will set RICE up for the future.

“I hope next year we can continue to grow. In future years, I hope we see multi-day events. I really see that as a possibility,” Tyree said. “My main thing is that we continue to get a new batch of passionate students who are independent enough to get this done.”

Viv Rathfon, senior VCUarts communication arts student and program coordinator for RICE, said they invited expo panelists several months in advance. Rathfon said they had the opportunity to reach out to a mix of artists that Rathfon follows on Instagram and local comic artists. 

“This allowed me the chance to network with artists I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to reach out to otherwise, and that’s really important to me, especially getting into the comic scene,” Rathfon said.

Rathfon said they enjoyed reading comics as a child, and from a young age they knew art would be in their future.

“I appreciate comics for its very wide-ranging ability to tell different stories,” Rathfon said.

Rathfon moderated the “Creator on Comics Roundtable: Self Care.” They are interested in learning professional self-care practices to prevent burnout when working on comics, Rathfon said.

 “I’m sure anyone who is a VCU student who wants to go into the comic field will be interested in learning that, too,” Rathfon said.

Bizhan Khodabandeh, assistant professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, was involved with getting RICE started three years ago. Khodabandeh wanted an expo to be held in Richmond, he said.  

Khodabandeh is one of the panelists for this year’s expo. He taught and demonstrated how comic designers can apply a comic grid system that allows them to work faster, Khodabandeh said. 

Khodabandeh is proud of the students who helped put on RICE this year and is happy the students made the expo “theirs,” he said. 

“Maybe we can get some funding to bring in some artists from outside the area or maybe even regionally. That’d be great,” Khodabandeh said. “But it’s not really up to me. It’s whatever the students want to do. It’s their thing, now.”

Morgan Sawyer, VCUarts communication art adjunct professor, participated in the first expo in 2019 as a local artist, Sawyer said. 

Sawyer said he is excited the expo moved to the University Student Commons because it allows more students to show their work off to professionals in the field.

“It’s a really fun event. I don’t think I’ve ever met a comic artist in Richmond who’s not excited for RICE,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer is another panelist for this year’s expo. His presentation is “The Devil’s in the Details” — a common misconception is that comic artists need to over stylize their artwork, but the art can be communicated with a lot less than people are aware of, Sawyer said.

Sawyer has seen comics evolve over the years with the influence of manga and anime comics have allowed for a wider variety of stories to be told, he said.

“It was really fun seeing indie comics step up and fill the gap and more comics start to get recognition that weren’t just superhero stories,” Sawyer said. 

Sawyer said he hopes RICE can continue to grow, build connections with the community, the entire VCU student body and the expo to be for everyone, not just design students. 

“Comic conventions really are a fan driven medium because it’s definitely one of those art forms that is really a labor of love and not necessarily made for making money,” Sawyer said. “We’re all storytellers and want to tell stories and hope there’s an audience out there that will pick up the story and it’ll connect with them in a greater way.”

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