Dan Stafford on Cowtown Comics Fest, Kilgore Books and His John Porcellino Movie

There's no shortage of fun for comics lovers in Denver, but local creators can get lost in the shuffle at some of the bigger cons. Not so at the Cowtown Comics Fest, hosted annually by Kilgore Books and happening Sunday, November 23 at Morey Middle School. Aside from John Porcellino, who no longer lives here but has deep roots in the Denver comics scene (including founding the Cowtown Comics Fest years ago), all of the talent at the fest will be people you might see scribbling away in your favorite coffee shop. That includes renowned artists such as Noah Van Sciver, Stan Yan and Karl Christian Krumpholz, as well as up-and-coming creators you haven't heard of yet. Plus, Stafford's own documentary film on Porcellino, Root Hog or Die, complete with a post-screening Q&A with Stafford and Porcellino, will close out the day's activities. Before the fest, we sat down with festival organizer Dan Stafford to find out what to expect from the fest, why it disappeared for a few years and what's so great about Denver's comics scene.

See also: Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Noah Van Sciver

Westword: Before we get to the good stuff, can you tell us who you are and what your connection is to the Denver comics scene?

Dan Stafford: I co-own Kilgore Books with Luke Janes. He and I started Kilgore about six years ago in Denver, and then a couple years ago my wife got a nice job offer in D.C., so we moved to D.C. So Luke runs the day-to-day bricks and mortar of the shop, and we do a lot of publishing of local cartoonists and books and that sort of stuff, and I take care of the non-brick and mortar part of the shop -- all the mail-order and website and that sort of thing.

So Cowtown Comics Fest started a few years back, then took a few years off, and now it's back. What was the reason for the hiatus?

It was originally started by John Porcellino, who was a Denver guy, lived in Denver for a long time. He was getting back into doing conventions and that sort of thing, and he felt that Denver should have something like that. So he organized the first Cowtown. The second year he was working with us on it a bit; he kind of roped us into it. Then he actually moved before it happened, so we took over for the second year. Then we did the third year, which was a bit of a disaster.

That coincided with Denver Comic Con coming down the road, so we thought, "Okay, we can step back and see what Denver Comic Con does." But Denver Comic Con and what we're doing are just such wildly different parts of the comic industry. [Denver Comic Con] is great for what it is, but it's not the thing we were doing, so we decided to revive what we were doing.

So what is Cowtown Comics Fest all about?

Well, the thing we're probably closest to is the old Denver Zine Fest. Cowtown focuses a lot more on self-publishing, DIY publishing or micropress publishing -- Kilgore, we publish comics, but we do like two a year, so it's just a small piece of what we do. What Cowtown hopes to do is showcase a lot of the really good DIY comics culture that exists in Denver. It's something that might get missed at something like Denver Comic Con. A lot of the same people will be at Cowtown that were at Denver Comic Con, but when the cast of Battlestar Galactica is there, it's easy to walk past the guy selling the $3 black-and-white comic he photocopied at Kinko's. We wanted to have a space that was specifically for this segment, focused on those sorts of creators.

You mentioned that John Porcellino had launched Cowtown a few years ago, and now he's your guest of honor, right?

Right. One of the things I did, through Kilgore, was I made a documentary about John P. called Root Hog or Die, which I've been working on for about five years. I finally finished it this fall, and it coincides nicely with John having his first original, full-length graphic novel that comes out this year, called The Hospital Suite, released by Drawn and Quarterly. He's been doing a big book tour in support of the book and the movie, and he was going to do a Denver event and it dovetailed nicely with when we were doing Cowtown. It symbiotically made sense, because we were putting on Cowtown and releasing this movie about John P. and he was coming through to support his book anyway, so we put it together. Plus he started Cowtown, so that made sense too.

As a general thing, our hope is to keep Cowtown a Rocky Mountain thing, at least for the next few years. We're a little less interested in it being a place for a lot of touring cartoonists. We love touring cartoonists and we love those types of festivals, but the thing that I love about Denver is that, because as a city it's somewhat secluded, there's a tremendous DIY culture here. Denver's always been one of my favorite cities for art, for music, for comics, for zines, for anything. We wanted to make sure we're really showcasing that, not just providing a venue for outside folks to come in and sell their comics. We want it to be uniquely Rocky Mountain cartoonists. John is the one guy who's coming from out of town, and he has such a strong connection to Denver that we felt like it was okay.

Your documentary is the closing event of the fest, right?

Yeah. The fest runs from 11 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Morey Middle School in Cap Hill, and Kilgore Books is right around the corner from Morey. We're actually going to show the movie in the space between Wax Trax and Kilgore, in this space that used to be called Across the Tracks that they now use for shows and stuff. We're going to screen the movie there. The festival ends at 6 p.m. and we're going to screen the movie at 6:30. Both events are totally free.

And you and John Porcellino will do a Q&A after the film, too?

Yeah, I think so. We'll see if there's interest in it. [Laughs.] We don't want to force people to be bored by us. We've done a few of the events together and it's great, and the response to the movie has been positive. It's fun because a lot of the people in the movie are in the movie, and they'll be at the movie -- Jason Heller and John Pinnow, who's the voice of Colorado Public Radio, for example. Lots of people.

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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