Student-run comic event creates a community, platform for artists

People gather inside the library at RICE. Photo by Kobi McCray.

Maeve Bauer, Contributing Writer

James Branch Cabell Library exploded with sound and color on Nov. 12, as people gathered to attend the fourth annual Richmond Indie Comic Expo, or RICE. 

This VCU student-run convention puts a spotlight on local artists, past alumni and current students and gives attendees an opportunity to view and purchase art that may be new to them, according to its website.

VCU professors Bizhan Khodabandeh and Kelly Alder started RICE in 2019 and helped facilitate its first year, but it has been student-run since then, according to Alder. 

RICE was something I wanted to start because there wasn’t a Richmond indie style comic con since I worked with James Moffitt at Sink Swim Press,” Khodabandeh said. “I reached out to folks at the library who were supportive of comic events.” 

Reese Cilley, a volunteer at RICE, thinks it’s very important that RICE is student-run, they said. 

“It’s giving every student at VCU an opportunity to learn these leadership skills, these event planning skills,” Cilley said.

Cilley has always enjoyed the event, but it’s their first year volunteering, they said. They have found that RICE has evolved over the years. 

“We’ve made a lot of connections over the years with RICE and we’re kind of known in the community, so a lot of local comic artists are willing and we get a lot of applications each year, which I feel like has very much evolved,” Cilley said. 

With each person that takes it over they have learned a lot, such as where they want RICE to go and what they should avoid, Cilley said. 

Rae Whitlock, a featured artist at RICE this year, participated in RICE for the first time and displayed a variety of her comics. 

Whitlock values conventions such as RICE because of the sense of community it brings to comics, she said.

 “Part of why I love coming so much is not selling things, but actually forming that community,” Whitlock said. “I make so many great connections every time I table and meet awesome artists.”

Whitlock takes faith in a resurgence of print, and feels conventions such as RICE help support its tangible presence, she said.

Rachel Parker, a first-time attendee at RICE, also found that sense of community, she said. Parker was accompanied by their partner who has been going to RICE since 2019.

“The biggest thing it does is establish a community for the artists, so it’s something they can come back to and form their own little community, and you know everyone can kind of build off of that and get the word out that way,” Parker said. 

Parker said she applauded RICE’s role in giving a platform to independent artists. 

“Marketing can be limited when it comes down to smaller artists,” Parker said. “Giving everyone a shot to get it out there, specifically to like students and stuff, who are probably their biggest market. It gets them a great opportunity.”

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