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Drawn to Comics

Stand-up comics on display at last year's Denver Comic Arts Festival.

Every kid's a comic artist. John Murphy, owner of northwest Denver's Highlander Comics and Games, can vouch for that: "When my comic store had been open a few months," he recalls, "some kids started bringing their drawings in. Soon, I had a wall full of them. After a while, I started running out of room." That unusual and spontaneous response, he adds, sprouted the seedling that's become the Denver Comic Arts Festival, a contest, exhibition and daylong event co-hosted by Murphy and Micki McDonald of the nearby Heart Studio and Gallery and now entering its third year. The festival accepts entries in four age categories; this year's forty to fifty entrants -- the fest's biggest turnout yet -- range from elementary school kids to middle-aged adults, drawing everything from little stories preferred by young artists to single-panel cartoons sometimes favored by the grown-ups.

"Words alone are called literature, and paintings alone are called fine art," Murphy notes. "But when they're done together, they're called crap for kids." Hence, a day when comics -- a medium already on the cultural rise, thanks to such kudos as the Pulitzer Prize handed to cartoonist Art Spiegelman for his lauded Maus series -- get their due, at least on a small scale. "One thing we're trying to promote is a better understanding of what the medium has to offer," Murphy says. "And also, we just want to encourage the kids." To that end, there are no entry fees and no entrants go home without a T-shirt, regardless of whether or not they bag a top prize.

And, Murphy notes, he and McDonald will continue to fight the good fight as long as they're both in the neighborhood: "Someday, maybe we'll bring in someone like Art Spiegelman, someone who's already championed the cause. Maybe someday we'll be nationally recognized for what we're doing. But right now we're taking baby steps, growing every year."


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