By Dave Paone
In 1986, pop music group Huey Lewis and the News had a hit song entitled, “Hip to Be Square.”
It was the furthest thing from the truth. Hip was hip, square was square, and the twain never met.
That’s all changed.
These days it is indeed hip to be square and the most popular place to accomplish this paradox is at a Comic-Con.
This past December, ACE Universe, which calls itself the “Voice of the Superhero Generation” (how square is that?), held a comic convention for three days at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. College students and graduates were in attendance, showing just how hip (or square) they really are.
Perhaps the hippest of these squares is Kat Calamia (pictured, left). The 23-year-old created and writes a comic book series which is financed through Brooklyn-based Kickstarter.com, a crowdfunding site.
“My dad actually got me into comics when I was very young,” she said, “which is interesting because my comic is called “Like Father, Like Daughter,” and is about a high school girl whose father left her to become a full-time superhero.”
In the story, “everyone in the world just loves him, except for her.” And then she discovers she’s inherited his superpowers.
“Everyone always asks me ‘Do you have a bad relationship with your dad?’ I’m like, ‘No, he’s the one who got me into comics. I love my dad!’”
Currently there are four books in the “Like Father, Like Daughter” series, published through Short Fuse Media.
Kat also created and writes a second comic book series, “They Call Her… Dancer,” however, both series are illustrated by different artists.
The Staten Island resident is currently enrolled in a graduate program at Long Island University, although classes are held at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. Kat attended Marymount Manhattan College for her undergraduate degree, which, incidentally, is where “Supergirl” actress Melissa Benoist attended college.
Another hip square is Jenny Frison (pictured, left). Jenny is a comic book cover artist and illustrator, meaning she draws comic book covers exclusively. She’s currently a variant cover artist for DC Comics’ “Wonder Woman,” which is published twice a month.
Although she’s freelance, Jenny works full time, with comic book cover art as her only source of income.
She’s been doing this for about 10 years, working remotely from her residence in Chicago. Her employers can be in New York, California or anywhere else, but since the final product is digital, she can submit it from home electronically.
“My very first cover that ever came out, my sister and I went to the store and bought it, and then drove around and I would show it to people at stop lights and point at it and say, ‘I made that!’ because I was so excited,” she said.
After attending Indiana State University for one semester, Jenny returned home and attended Illinois Central College, a community college in East Peoria. There she took the usual required classes, plus two in art.
It was in these art classes that she knew this was the field in which she wanted to work. However, her parents would only support this choice with one caveat: if she were to pursue a major in art, it had to be in a manner in which she could make a living.
This turned out to be a fortuitous course of action, as Jenny eventually earned a BFA from Northern Illinois University.
Hailey Skaza-Gagne, a first-year student at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, is the current spokesmodel for the Inkwell Awards, a nonprofit whose mission is “To promote and educate about the art of comic book inking.” They have an annual awards ceremony.
In the production process, a comic book artist may start with a pencil drawing, but with limited details. An inker will take those pencil drawings, apply black ink over them, add details and perhaps additional lines of his own.
“They make it nice and solid before the colorist goes over it,” she said.
Hailey represented the Inkwell Awards at about nine Comic-Cons nationwide over a six-month period, with the ACE Comic-Con being the final one for the season.
A required class at Bristol Community College is public speaking, which Hailey took “under protest,” which is ironic, because as a spokesmodel, that’s exactly what she does.
As one would expect, there were plenty of college students who attended in costume.
Also a Wonder Woman fan, Kelly M. Perez (pictured, right) of the Bronx generously allowed us to take a photo of her with Campus News).
Twenty-seven-year-old Alex Hyams of East Moriches, Long Island, cosplayed as DC Comics’ antihero John Constantine. Alex chose this character partly because he resembles him in real life.
“The only thing is I don’t have a British accent,” he said.
The comic book character also sports the unshaven, “Miami Vice”-style five o’clock shadow, which Alex did not.
“I had it but I shaved it off today because I’m meeting Gal Gadot,” he said. “I gotta look nice for that.”
Alex has been attending Suffolk County Community College on and off for the past six years. He’s not entirely sure of what he wants to for a living, so he’s taking a lot of business courses, which can be applied to almost any career.
Alex’s three-day attendance at the convention didn’t come cheaply. The price of a VIP ticket, plus the photo op with and the autograph from Gal Gadot, totaled almost $500.
This was Alex’s very first Comic-Con and he didn’t mind spending the money.
Cosplay is not just a boys’ club. Siobhan Hadipour, a 29-year-old student from Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Connecticut, cosplayed as Blind Justice Daredevil.
Siobhan created this composite character, calling it “a personification of Lady Justice and Matthew Murdoch together.”
“The blind justice concept has always fascinated me,” the first-year student said.
ACE was Siobhan’s fourth Comic-Con. She attends them because she meets writers, artists and “amazing people.”
“Comic-Cons are like escapism. That’s more of the reason why I go,” she said. “You look at the news — all this craziness in the world — it’s nice to just come somewhere and be away from all that for a day.”
Siobhan’s introduction to comics was similar to Kat’s. Her grandfather had a collection of vintage comic books and shared them with her.
Siobhan knows what she’s doing is incredibly square and that it’s not for everyone. “You have to have a desire to be amongst all this,” she said.
Alex, too, is well aware of just how square what he’s doing is.
“I own my geekiness,” he said. “I love comic books, I love computers, I’m not afraid to admit it.”
When Huey Lewis co-wrote that song, guys like Alex were in the closet. Alex thinks the change came fairly recently, perhaps the early 2000s.
“As time goes on, it’s changing more and more,” he said. “We’re taking over.”
At least at Comic-Cons they are.