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No Superheroes: Indie Comics Are the Heart and Soul of the New Colorado Comics Collective

The CoCoCo is a go-go-go, starting December 18 at Mutiny.
The CoCoCo is a go-go-go, starting December 18 at Mutiny. Karl Christian Krumpholz
Comics are a lot more than just superheroes. As with any art form, there’s a part of it that’s just for fun, and another side that reaches for something more. If all you know about comics is Spider-Man or Superman, that’s like saying you understand film but have only seen Die Hard. There’s so much more to the medium, and that's reflected in the work being done in Colorado by creatives who commit to it primarily out of pure passion. That deep end of the comic book pool is where local artist (and occasional Westword contributor) Karl Christian Krumpholz is inviting Coloradans to jump in.

“The independent and alternative comics scene is just much more honest,” says Krumpholz. “It’s talking about life experiences. When you’re talking about the big publishers — Marvel, DC, all them — you’re talking about disposable entertainment: 'This is the adventure Batman is on this month.' The alternative indie scene, because it’s telling smaller stories, might not be as broad, but it’s a lot more deep.”

In celebration of that depth, Krumpholz has teamed up with Eddie Raymond, of Strangers Fanzine & Publishing, and Jeff Alford, of the online indie retail outlet Wig Shop, to start what they’re calling CoCoCo: the Colorado Comics Collective.

“The name came about for two reasons,” Krumpholz says. “One, I’m pretty sure there’s already a CCC out there somewhere. And two, I think it was Jeff that pointed out that Coconino County out in Arizona is supposedly where Krazy Kat [a legendary comic strip by George Herriman] was set. It was a nice sort of nod to that, for those that get it.”

And so comes the first of what will hopefully be a long string of comics- and art-related events in Colorado. The collective's inaugural bash, the Colorado Comics Collective Christmas Cavalcade (or the CoCoCoChrisCav, one might say), will take place on Sunday, December 18, at where else but Mutiny Information Cafe, a longstanding (and recently saved by supporters) ally in independent writing, art and culture. The Cavalcade will assemble not only the three CoCoCo founders, but also a number of notable Colorado artists (a full list, with links to their work, is below). All will be there to meet fans and offer up their wares for revelers' shopping needs, whether for the holidays or for hobbies. The event is free and open to the public, of course — because accessibility to art, and the connection between artist and appreciation, is key to the philosophy of CoCoCo.

The idea stemmed from a conversation that Krumpholz had with Alford and Wig Shop in late 2021. Alford had moved to Denver from New York just before the pandemic, and brought his basement-business online indie comic retail store with him. They were lamenting the dearth of venues for indie creators; at the time, the popular DiNK was still on hiatus, and the Denver Zine Fest, which has since announced a 2023 return, was on hold.

The two were discussing some of their favorite events, such as CAKE (the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) and John Porcellino’s Cowtown Comic Fest. “The Cowtown Comic Fest wasn’t as big as DiNK, but it had so much heart,” recalls Krumpholz. The venue was smaller and more manageable. It was free to get in, so fans could spend their money on the art and the artists themselves. “Jeff and I were talking about how good it would be to do something like that again," he adds. "To get back to basics.”

That’s the honesty for which indie comics are known: artists at tables selling their stuff. Simple, straightforward, grassroots bootstrap art. “It’s what an indie show should be," emphasizes Krumpholz. "Like the CAKE event in Chicago — it’s held on a basketball court on the third floor of a neighborhood Union Hall. But they get great guests, and it’s free to get in, so anyone can come.”

With that inspiration in mind, Alford brought in a publisher he knew, Eddie Raymond of Strangers, a fanzine, publisher and distributor. Raymond had also just moved from the East Coast (Connecticut) to Colorado (Boulder). “The three of us sat down — a cartoonist, a vendor and a publisher — and started talking about doing a couple of small shows. Don’t shoot for the moon, just start off small and work our way up. We all three wanted to come together to start something new,” Krumpholz recalls, and CoCoCo was the result.

“We all come from this indie background,” he continues. “No superheroes. In America, all the love goes to superheroes, and the rest of us toiling in the comic book mines struggle to get our stuff out into the world.”

They approached Mutiny Information Cafe co-owner Jim Norris, whom Krumpholz describes as “always a big supporter of the comic book scene in Denver.” Norris quickly agreed, and the date for the Cavalcade was set. “The [idea] right now is to do a show quarterly, so the next will be in the spring. It might again be at Mutiny and it might not; we don’t know yet. But it’ll allow us to keep it fresh, and every show will have a new batch of creatives. Colorado has so many comics communities," Krumpholz notes, citing Boulder, Fort Collins and the satellite Mutiny down in Trinidad. "We envision moving around the state. This is very much a Colorado thing.”

But it’s not just the place that Krumpholz wants to capture with CoCoCo's spotlight on indie work; it’s also the era. Comics are, after all, very much a product of their time, no matter the genre. The original Superman of the late 1930s was a populist fighting slumlords. Captain America in the 1940s was essentially a monthly war-bonds advertisement. The 1950s Disney and Archie comics were working to convince parents that the medium wasn’t as terrible as the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham made it out to be with his twisted arguments in the book Seduction of the Innocent. And the underground movement in 1960s comics was a reflection of that decade's counterculture, as well as a rejection of the forced innocence that the ’50s comics had portrayed.

Krumpholz agrees that capturing a moment in time is a vital part of what comics can do — and something that indie comics do even more directly than their mainstream counterparts. “You can do almost anything with comics,” he says. “I just prefer to do the small slice-of-life stories because that’s what speaks to me. I like the idea that a reader might look at it now and get something out of it, but it’s also a document of this time and place. So in ten, twenty years, someone could read it and look back and recognize that this is what Denver was like in the early part of the 21st century. Indie comics can do that.”

Participating artists and exhibitors (in addition to Krumpholz, Alford and Raymond) in the Colorado Comics Collective Christmas Cavalcade include:

B. Erin Cole, who self-describes her work as "comics and illustration about being a person with a brain. Also: history, cats, and Denver."

The Denver Zine Library, a nonprofit organization that's been hosting astounding zines of all types since 2003, now with two locations in Denver.

Dylan "NDR" Edwards, a "slice of the internet devoted to the queer and trans comics," according to his website.

Dustin Holland, a writer and cartoonist who runs the Gorchverse website.

Chris Jones, a Fort Collins artist and publisher who runs Sweet Malarkey, a Risograph print studio specializing in small-run, independent art prints, zines, comics and more.

Cori Redford, who teams up with R. Alan Brooks to handle the art side of their regular comic in the Colorado Sun called "What'd I Miss?" Redford is also an independent artist in a number of mediums, and created the cover for the 2023 Denver Zine Library calendar.

Tinto Press, Denver's boutique publisher of graphic novels, staple-bound comics and mini-comics that focus on genres other than superheroes for people of all ages. Check out all it has to offer — including Krumpholz's comic love ballad to Denver, Queen City.

The Colorado Comics Collective Christmas Cavalcade, Sunday, December 18, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 South Broadway. Learn more at coloradocomics.org.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen

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