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Paint & Pixel Festival celebrates comics, cartoons

  • Jack and William Ladley of South Hadley get some pointers from Colin Panetta at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop Thursday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Jack and William Ladley of South Hadley get some pointers from Colin Panetta at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop Thursday.
    JOSH KUCKENS

  • Paint & Pixels organizers Colin Panetta,f rom left, Peggy Twardowski and Mike Dow at Modern Myths Comics and Games on Bridge Street in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Paint & Pixels organizers Colin Panetta,f rom left, Peggy Twardowski and Mike Dow at Modern Myths Comics and Games on Bridge Street in Northampton.
    JOSH KUCKENS

  • Ethan Glant, 11, of Northampton, draws his own comic book characters at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop offered by the Paint & Pixels Festival.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Ethan Glant, 11, of Northampton, draws his own comic book characters at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop offered by the Paint & Pixels Festival.
    JOSH KUCKENS

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Gary Hallgren's "Baldy"

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL
    Gary Hallgren's "Baldy"

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>An example from Greg Ruth's 52-week project

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL
    An example from Greg Ruth's 52-week project

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Greg Ruth's illustration for the book "Red Kite, Blue Kite" by Ji-Li Jiang

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL
    Greg Ruth's illustration for the book "Red Kite, Blue Kite" by Ji-Li Jiang

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINTG & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Gary Hallgren's take on model Kate Moss

    PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINTG & PIXEL FESTIVAL
    Gary Hallgren's take on model Kate Moss

  • Jack and William Ladley of South Hadley get some pointers from Colin Panetta at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop Thursday.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Paint & Pixels organizers Colin Panetta,f rom left, Peggy Twardowski and Mike Dow at Modern Myths Comics and Games on Bridge Street in Northampton.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Ethan Glant, 11, of Northampton, draws his own comic book characters at Modern Myths during a weekly drawing workshop offered by the Paint & Pixels Festival.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Gary Hallgren's "Baldy"
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>An example from Greg Ruth's 52-week project
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINT & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Greg Ruth's illustration for the book "Red Kite, Blue Kite" by Ji-Li Jiang
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF PAINTG & PIXEL FESTIVAL<br/>Gary Hallgren's take on model Kate Moss

When it comes to comic book characters, Northampton landed on the national radar back in the 1980s with the advent of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The series by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird about a group of crime-fighing turtles morphed into an entertainment juggernaut, including a movie and an animated TV show.

But advocates of comic book art, cartoons and book illustration say there’s a new generation of talented regional artists worth recognizing. So this Saturday, 65 artists will gather in Northampton to show their stuff at the second annual Paint & Pixel Festival.

The festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Northampton Center for the Arts, will feature the work of regional artists as well as that of leading illustrators and cartoonists from around the country. The day-long event will also offer illustrating workshops for children, career advice for aspiring comic artists and other activities, according to executive director Peggy Twardowski.

“We know that there’s great talent in the Valley and western Massachusetts,” said Twardowski, whose husband, Sean Wang, is a comic book artist. “You shouldn’t have to go Boston or New York for something like this. ... We can showcase artists right here.”

The work that will be on display at Saturday’s festival ranges from indie comics to cartoon series, and from web-based comic strips to children’s books. Attendees will have a chance to meet with illustrators and buy signed books, prints and other artwork.

Twardowski notes that at least nine books will be debuted at the event. “We’ll be able to offer a first look at a lot of material,” she said.

Among the featured guests will be Laird, a western Massachusetts native who majored in printmaking at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and self-published some comic books before striking it big in the 1980s with the Ninja Turtles.

In addition to its western Massachusetts contingent, the festival will host artists from six states, Twardowski says, including several from the Boston area.

Bringing it home

Twardowski, who lives in Northampton, says she and her husband regularly attended big comic and illustration conventions in the early 2000s in places like San Diego and New York City. But after awhile, those events started to lose their focus, she notes, and “turned into big pop culture conventions.”

At the same time, through her husband, she kept meeting new artists and illustrators in western Massachusetts. She took a job in 2007 as the research director for Northampton-based Digital Development Management, a business and talent agency for video games and digital entertainment, which brought her in touch with additional artists. Her new boss, Joe Minton, had previously worked with her husband on a video game.

“I just decided we should have a convention here and started thinking about how we might do that,” Twardowski said.

To organize Saturday’s festival, she’s worked alongside Mike Dow, who works at Modern Myths Comic Books and Games in Northampton and has booked Paint & Pixel’s featured guest artists and created the event’s programming. Meanwhile, Colin Panetta, a Northampton comic book artist and web site designer, is handling education outreach efforts for the festival.

Twardowski says those efforts have included arranging student visits to the convention from four area schools: Fort River Elementary in Amherst, UMass, the Green River School in Greenfield and Smith Vocational High School in Northampton. Students will get a chance to meet artists and learn how to use lettering tools, ink with a brush and digital drawing.

Panetta, who previously did outreach work for the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida, is working to bring some of the visiting artists into area schools for additional workshops and career advice. Leading up to the festival, Modern Myths has sponsored free comics-making workshops for children this month on Thursday afternoons from 4 to 5 p.m.

“My husband and I have always talked about making this more than just a one-day event by building an education outreach effort into it,” Twardowski said. “Drawing is something a lot of kids are interested in and we’d like to help spur that interest.”

As Twardowski sees it, there’s a unique aspect to comics, cartoons and illustrations that you won’t find in other kinds of art.

“Visual storytelling requires a very different skills set” than something like fine painting, she said. “You have to know how to pace a story, how to show emotion and drama with a picture or a character’s expression ... there’s a lot involved.”

The featured artists at Paint & Pixel bring some serious credentials to the festival. Shawn McManus, for instance, has done work for “Swamp Thing,” “Heavy Metal Magazine” and Marvel Comics, while Jack Purcell is a longtime contributor to DC Comics, including work on “Batman,” “The Dark Knight” and other series.

Twardowski says many of the artists at Paint & Pixel handle all aspects of their work — story writing, drawing, coloring — whereas artists who work for large publishers will often take on only one aspect of a project.

Given that, attendees at Saturday’s festival, she said, “will have a chance to talk to and learn from a lot of creative people who do it all. We think this should be a great opportunity for everyone.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Admission to the Paint & Pixel Festival is $5 for adults; $2 for children 6-12; free for children 5 and under. For information, visit www.paintandpixelfestival.com.

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