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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Adam Wallenta - Life as a Con Man
Thursday, August 01, 2013

Adam Wallenta is a Con man. No, he’s not scamming old ladies out of their social security checks, he’s a veteran comic book artist who has taken part in an incredible number of Comic-Cons.

Through American Mule Entertainment, which he and fellow artist Bryon Turner co-launched in 1997, Wallenta, who has working at Marvel on his resume, has released everything from comics starring the legendary rap group Public Enemy, to his own music (going by the name Illus). As a unique treat for fans, he sometimes uses the covers of his vinyl pressings as canvases for illustrations. Wallenta has also illustrated a number of books, including The Super Villain Handbook, and the just released follow up, The Super Villain Field Manual.

With Connecticut’s fourth annual ComiCONN coming up on August 24th, I caught up with CT native Wallenta to get to the heart of his art.

Adam Bernard: Let’s lead things off by talking about our home state. How many years have you done ComiCONN, and what kind of growth have you seen in the event?
Adam Wallenta: I’ve done them all. This will be the fourth one coming up, and every year it’s gotten bigger. The amount of people from the first year to last year, in my eyes, has definitely doubled.

Adam Bernard: Have you picked anything up at these events, or are you pretty much chained to your table?
Adam Wallenta: I’m pretty much chained to my table. I always have different neighbors, though. Usually I try to pick up their books, and get to know them. I’m also meeting with the fans, and making new fans, and friends, hopefully, and working. It’s a pretty long day, but it’s fun.

Adam Bernard: Have you witnessed anyone hook up at a ComiCONN?
Adam Wallenta: {laughs} No, I haven’t. I’m married now, but I did meet a girlfriend once at a Comic-Con, but I have never actually witnessed a comic connection before my eyes. I saw some cosplay girls eyeing you when you were there, though.

Adam Bernard: {laughs} I wish.
Adam Wallenta: What I find interesting, and I’m happy for, is that from when I first started doing conventions (in 1995) there have been a growing number of women, not just in costumes, but as fans, and readers, and supporters, as well. I think that has to do with the industry itself diversifying, and more artists who are women, and writers who are women, which is awesome.

Adam Bernard: Are there also more female heroes that are relatable, and are not just the sexy kind for guys to look at?
Adam Wallenta: I think that’s a problem that still needs to be addressed. I like women, so seeing scantily clad women is always pleasing. It’s tough to talk about, because on the one hand you’re a guy, and visually it’s appealing, but at the same time, as you mature and become an adult, and especially if you become a parent, even though I have a son, you start to think, “That's somebody's daughter.” You don’t want to objectify them in that way, and it goes right down to the character. You’re like OK, this character, does she really need to have that body? Can't she just be beautiful without having fake breasts that are larger than her head. To me that’s a little extreme, because I find that women are beautiful naturally. There doesn’t have to be this huge fantasy element to it. It becomes silly when the breasts are bigger than the heads in the comic books, and the waist is like the size of a wrist. To me that’s just bad art. A great artist can draw a women, and she can look natural and beautiful.

Adam Bernard: I know she didn’t start as a comic book character, but I take a look at Buffy, and she was a normal high school girl.
Adam Wallenta: Absolutely. Buffy is a great character, and she wasn’t wearing bikinis, like Wonder Woman, or even Xena, who was, I guess, technically scantily clad. Buffy was great. I think there are still a lot more of those types of heroes on television than in comics. I grew up, as I’m sure you did, on some really strong women characters who weren’t sexually objectified, for example, Ripley in Aliens, and Sarah Conner in Terminator. Now when they want to cast a female character as an action hero she’s always kind of... you couldn’t picture her kicking ass.

Adam Bernard: Moving to your art, did grade school, and high school, art classes encourage you, or did you find yourself having to do most of this on your own?
Adam Wallenta: I actually just found a bunch of awards I got in art from grade school. I remember a specific moment when I was taken down to the principal’s office, I was thinking, “Am I gonna get in trouble?” The teacher showed the principal my artwork and they were amazed by it. That felt really good. When I got to middle school it was still encouraged, but by the time I got to high school, it wasn’t that it wasn’t encouraging, there just wasn’t much there to inspire, so I found that I really had to seek stuff out on my own, and I slipped a little bit. You become infatuated with girls, and I was really getting involved in making music, so the art did take a backseat. I was still a diehard comic book fan. When I wasn’t thinking about girls and music it was comic books, so I was drawing and creating, but as far as having a connection with a teacher as a mentor, that wasn’t there. Later on in high school, especially junior and senior year, I was kind of discouraged when my art teacher was like, “You're never gonna get into that school.” I remember her saying when I applied to Pratt, “Don't be disappointed, because you’re probably not gonna get in.” I don’t think she even wanted me to try, but I did anyways, and I got in.

Adam Bernard: Fast-forwarding from then, what do you consider to be the most exciting moment you’ve had as a comic book artist?
Adam Wallenta: Working at Marvel was exiting. I loved it. At the same time, though, it became discouraging, because Marvel began going through a bankruptcy back in those days and a lot of the people that I became really good friends with got laid off, so at the same time that it was exciting, it was also a downer in regards to an inside look at the industry. Sometimes you can start out as a fan (of something), and then you become involved in it, and you see the inner workings of it, and you’re like ugh, I wish I was just a fan again. I even had to take a break from (the business of) comics for a while, because I just wanted to be a fan again, and just enjoy it, and not deal with the business aspect of it.

Adam Bernard: From a fan’s standpoint, what’s the most effort you’ve put into getting a comic book, or action figure?
Adam Wallenta: When I was a kid the death of Gwen Stacy, which is a famous Spiderman comic, that was the comic I wanted. I actually found in at a flea market for nothing, and it was worth hundreds of dollars. I found it for a few bucks in great condition. That was pretty amazing. When the Ninja Turtles first came out I missed the first issue, and I had to find the first printing of the first issue. I eventually found it. Those are definitely enjoyable memories. There’s something about the thrill of the hunt.

Adam Bernard: When was the last time you felt that thrill?
Adam Wallenta: Actually I’d gone a long period without collecting comics until recently. I was going through my collection, my Spiderman collection in particular, because my son loves Spiderman, and I realized that I’ve gone almost as many years not collecting Spiderman as I had collecting it, so I’m filling in ten years of missing comics.

Adam Bernard: Is any one in particular going to be tough to find?
Adam Wallenta: Yeah, the one that came out the month, or two months, after 9/11. It actually dealt with the attack, and the buildings coming down. It was kind of an introspective piece with all the heroes in shock about how mankind could do this. I remember going to the comic store at the time, and looking at this comic like I don’t know if I feel comfortable supporting this, because it seemed kind of exploitative, but at the same time I feel the need for artists to have to deal with the moment, and express themselves. At the time I wasn’t collecting, and I missed out on buying it. Now it’s, I forget how much money it costs, but I look back like aww!

Adam Bernard: You probably won’t find that one at a flea market.
Adam Wallenta: Right, and nowadays, with everyone using ebay, I think flea marketers are probably way too savvy to have a box full of comics for a buck. Now everybody can just go online and see what something’s worth. Another thing that I was frantically hunting for at the flea market was a full Voltron. At the time they had a metal Voltron, all the lions came apart. It was really heavy, die cast metal. They were solid. They don’t make toys like that anymore. I hunted for that thing forever. I remember finding one lion, or two lions, but I wanted to get them all. Eventually I found them, and got it, and I had it in my collection. I think my sister took it from me and gave it to my nephew when he was a kid and he destroyed it, but my wife, a few years ago, bought me an anniversary collector’s edition of the same figure.

Adam Bernard: Finally, when someone comes to your table at this year’s ComiCONN, what can they pick up from you?
Adam Wallenta: I’m going to have a new book that I illustrated called The Super Villain Field Manual, which I worked on with Matt D. Wilson, who is a great writer. The first book in the series was The Super Villain Handbook, and it was all about how to be the best super villain you can be. I will have the Public Enemy comics, as well as my CDs and music. I’m working on a new Retributor book, which is a superhero team I worked on years ago. Myself and my collaborator Peov are working on a brand new ongoing series featuring those characters, and hopefully I will either have a teaser, or at least pages, of it. I will have some t-shirts, and maybe some other merch. If there’s any vinyl left at that point I’ll still have vinyl albums. I’m planning on doing a whole comic sketch series (with them), so they’re all gonna be hand illustrated with comic book characters. I’m doing a bunch of those now. I’ll also have original artwork and prints and sketches available for everybody, and free copies for kids of an educational comic I recently produced with my wife that was funded by the National Science Foundation. It’s an educational science comic book starring a character we created who goes on adventures. It was funded as an outreach project to the kids of New Haven for middle school kids to get them to read and into science. The son of Jack Kirby is a science teacher in California, and he contacted us after seeing an article on it, and he asked for copies of it. That was one of the most recent thrills of my life, to actually have a connection to the king of comics himself, and have him contact us.

For more on Adam Wallenta, including his art and music, check out AdamWallenta.com and AmericanMule.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:00 AM  
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