DINK's Charlie La Greca on Underground Comics, Cannabis and Green Cons

There’s a lot more to comics than men in tights, but you’d never know it at most comic cons. If you want to dig deeper into what comics can be, regardless of what kind of story they’re telling, then DINK: The Denver Independent Comic and Art Expo is your kind of con. DINK will encompass not just comics but tattoo and graffiti art, zines and even advertising — any expression of words and pictures for sequential storytelling is fair game. Before the inaugural installment of what they hope to put on as an annual event, we sat down with Charlie La Greca, one of DINK's founders, to find out what the event is all about.

Westword: For the uninitiated, give us a quick overview of what DINK is about.

Charlie La Greca: DINK is an exploration of words and pictures through the medium of comics, art, tattoo, graffiti, street art and even advertising, in some elements. Oh, and zines! I forgot to include zines. The comics are the main feature, but everything else has its own encapsulated experience. It’s five floors of goodness. We’re going to feature artists from all over the nation and internationally. One of our guests is a New York Times bestselling cartoonist who is from Perth, Australia:Simon Hanselmann. We have a few other award winners and New York Times bestsellers as well.

It’s done as a really fun expo event: five floors of art over two days. We have a bar that is part of the expo, which is a nice kind of add for people. For the Friday event it kind of turns it into a nighttime event in a way.  Plus, a few weeks ago we decided kids fifteen and under are free; they just have to be accompanied by an adult. That’s always been a mission of mine, to make it possible for kids to come, make [comics] accessible for kids.

Just to clarify, when you say comics, this is less Marvel and DC and superheroes and more underground comics, right? Not to say the superheroes are excluded, but they aren’t really the focus here, are they?

No, it’s the entire genre of comics. Our culture tends to focus on just the mainstream of comics, superheroes and sci fi, which is so funny. You don’t think of books that way, so why comics? Our focus is less on the pop culture and media aspects, and more on the artform and the art culture of comics in every genre. Historical comics, autobiographical, nonfiction, Western — just everything you can think of. Educational, even abstract! We have abstract comic artists coming, which is so cool. Sammy Harkham is a great example. Years ago, when he started, he was at the forefront of creating these weird, abstract comics as a form, abstract storytelling.

What kind of activities will DINK offer?

We’ve got an award show. People will get to vote for Best in Show. Over the course of the two days they can look at the artists and their work and, as long as it’s a piece that came out over the past twelve months, they can vote for it. It kind of integrates them into the show, lets Colorado say what they like best.

We’ve got Cannabis and Comics, which is almost sold out for the first tour. It’s really cool. We didn’t know how people would react. We wanted to do it and we wanted to do it right. We wanted it to have intention. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was illegal to create these underground comics; you could get arrested and put in jail for them. And it was illegal to smoke weed, and these comic artists were very much doing both. It was very much part of the culture. Dope Comix, which Denis Kitchen edited and created, he’s our guest for the Cannabis and Comics. He’s the perfect guest because he was there with R. Crumb and them at the time. We wanted to tie in the educational and historical aspects of underground comics and cannabis, and include a Colorado angle. I always try to make Colorado a feature of my shows. That’s a VIP tour, but it’s cheap, at $50. They get a VIP ticket to the show, plus a grow op tour and a dispensary and a private panel with Denis, with him showing original gallery art from underground comics of the ‘60s. It’s kind of a neat, different thing.

We have lots of programming! We have three programming spaces. The bar is one of them, that’s our 21+ programming space. We’re testing the waters with that and hope to add more cool, adult programming in the future. We have two other panel areas; one on the mezzanine will feature guests and various panels. The last one is a workshop design lab that’s way more intimate. We’ll have artists doing things like hands-on storyboarding workshops. It’s not a big room of people, it’s more of a how-to or a tutorial. There will be a zine-making station, maybe a screen-printing station if we can work it out.

We’ll have a painters pavilion with some painters doing live painting. We’ll have Colorado Crush doing live graffiti throughout the weekend. We can’t do real tattoos at this point, but tattoo artists will be on site and we’re happy to have people work out tattoos they want to do later. We’ll have adult coloring, including a cocktail and adult coloring hour Friday night.

On the flip side, you won’t necessarily have a focus on some of the things people expect from cons these days, like cosplay, right?

Exactly. That’s not part of our mission. Not that we don’t want to celebrate the creative aspect of that, because it’s a whole artform in and of itself. We’re not turning [cosplayers] away, though! I don’t mind at all if people show up in costume. I would love it if people were showing up in unknown cosplay. That’d be great!

I know you’re trying to make this a “green” con. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Something I learned from throwing big shows is the amount of impact you have on the environment. We’re really looking to learn from that and adjust to that. We're planting a tree for every ten tickets sold and we want to plant enough trees to offset the 12,000 pounds of paper and waste we estimate we’ll go through. We discovered that with a nonprofit called Trees, Water & People out of Fort Collins, which helps organizations figure out what they can do [to go green].

There’s no plastic water bottles sold on site, but El Dorado has donated water dispensers and we’re asking people to bring their own bottles. We’ll have a few paper ones on site, but we’re trying to make a focus on coming to the show with intention.

You have an extensive guest list and obviously we can’t talk about everyone who’s coming, but are there any standouts you want to mention?

Nate Powell is someone who really started in zines and small, independent publishing and he is just blowing up and becoming a force in the comic world. He came out with March, which covers the civil rights movement, just a really well-done book of historical significance done in an innovative way with solid storytelling.

Simon Hanselmann, the guy I was telling you about, just [makes] irreverent and funny stoner comics, beautiful but cutting. He really has a new viewpoint. He dresses in drag and he’s really cool because he loves comics so much he married them, at a smaller comic arts festival a year or two ago. He’s someone I really want people to meet, because he has a new, fresh voice.

Julia Wertz is just a hoot. She’s a really fun cartoonist doing stuff for the New Yorker and she’s someone I think people will really dig. Her comics are somewhat in-your-face and irreverent but really funny and truthful.

Denis Kitchen, I’m really excited about him, to have someone like him who’s been so kind to us and having him come out and try something that hasn’t been done before. Plus, bringing back the Colorado people like Noah Van Sciver, who is really blowing up and finding his voice now and garnering respect; Robert Crumb just wrote an amazing letter to him that really shows how he’s starting to have an impact on this industry. Amy Reeder, who is really cool, and did a mainstream superhero [book] that blew up really big and now is going back to indie. So we're also letting people know it not just art comics. If you do a really cool superhero comic, we want to cover that, too! And Fake Stan Lee, of course. He'll be there signing autographs, which will be fun.

DINK runs from 4 p.m. Friday, March 25, through midnight Saturday, March 26, at the Sherman Street Event Center. Tickets are $20 in advance, slightly higher at the door, with single-day passes also available. Kids fifteen and under are free with an adult. For tickets and more info, visit the DINK website.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato