Like many other ideas throughout history, the Philadelphia Alternative Comic Con was born in a bar.
That bar, the now-closed Skinner’s Tavern in Old City, served as a hangout for a group of local artists calling themselves the Philly Comix Jam. They meet, they drink, they draw. And they were the friends who helped convention founder Pat Aulisio nurture and raise his brainchild.
But if Aulisio is the father of the Philadelphia Alternative Comic Convention (PACC), then its true beginning can be traced back to the moment Aulisio first picked up a comic book. He remembers it well: In a church basement flea market, there was a book featuring Archie Andrews and his pal, Jughead.
From there, it was not a huge leap to standard superhero fare such as Spiderman—the kind of mainstream comics today’s Aulisio would not even consider reading. “I guess I was just a victim of pop culture,” he says.
To many people, the very idea of distinguishing between “mainstream” and “alternative” comics may seem foreign. But the division exists, much like similar divisions in the film industry. There are the big studios, like DC or Marvel, that regularly pump out huge blockbusters and have easy access to the public. And then there are smaller companies and self-published books with smaller budgets and a more limited distribution.
Aulisio discovered this world of “underground comix” as a 14-year-old movie buff who picked up an alternative comic based on the Kevin Smith film “Clerks.” It was unlike any comic he had read before. Its black-and-white art and crude language stood in stark contrast to the flashy colors and gimmicky dialogue he had come to expect.
It was, in a word, cool. That’s how Aulisio describes things. Take a look at some of the comics he has produced, and you might imagine the man responsible for these abstract images would speak in similarly abstract language. But he doesn’t, really. He doesn’t describe one of his favorite comics, “Stray Bullets,” as speaking to some deep part of his psyche – he just, you know, thinks it’s cool. And that’s what he hopes people take from his work, as well. “I just want people to think it’s cool, honestly,” he says.
And by cool he means thumbing your nose at the strictures of tradition; it’s drawing a comic that ignores any artificially imposed limits defining acceptable storytelling.
And if name recognition indicates how cool someone is, then Aulisio is much cooler today than before he started PACC, scheduled this year for Aug. 14 at the Rotunda in West Philly. That’s something Aulisio thinks PACC provides not only for himself, but also for all the local artists involved in the convention. It helps them get their work and names out there. “There’s all these scenes that are really well known. And now we’re here saying ‘oh, we’re here too,’” Aulisio said.
But greater exposure is only one of PACC’s benefits. Brian “Box” Brown, a West Philadelphia comic artist, says the convention stimulates the local comic scene. “It gives a lot of local and young artists something to shoot for.” He also notes that setting a firm deadline forces creators to produce something new each convention. PACC is not the biggest convention Brown attends, but he says it’s the best for him. Other conventions are more expensive, involve travel costs, motel stays, dinner expenses and so on. For PACC, Brown gets together some books and walks the two blocks to the Rotunda at 4014 Walnut St., where it’s held.
And for comic readers like Tony Glassman, who attended the 2009 PACC, it provides “a really great opportunity to see what was out there in Philadelphia.”
Of course, PACC isn’t the only Philadelphia-area comic convention. Wizard World is its mainstream companion, hosted at the Convention Center each June. But for those involved with the alternative convention, there’s no comparison.
Cyn Why, one of the first artists to sign up for a table at PACC, says that the two conventions have different focuses. Wizard World features comics, but also caters to people interested in getting celebrity autographs and buying collectibles. Why thinks the alternative convention is more focused. “At PACC, people are there because they give a shit about comics as a storytelling medium,” she says.
And then there’s the atmosphere. “It’s just like a party where we happen to be signing comics,” Aulisio says. In that way, PACC seems to be a lot like Aulisio’s life. He does what he likes, and he likes what he does. Which is not to say Aulisio doesn’t work. When he’s not organizing local comic conventions or drawing at his South Philadelphia studio, he’s either working at Whole Foods or teaching children about comics through the Fleischer Art Memorial.
It just happens to be that he’s perfectly satisfied with where he is now. And he wouldn’t give up any of it. “I’m pretty much doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was 15,” Aulisio said.
Sun., Aug. 14. 12-7pm. The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. phillyaltcon.blogspot.com
Calendar: Aug. 26-Sept. 2