Burns -- a 'big kahuna' in world of comics -- in Olympia for Comics Festival

Contributing writerJune 6, 2014 

Unlike traditional comics conventions, the Olympia Comics Festival puts comics artists in the foreground.

And among the guests of honor for the 14th annual festival is Charles Burns, one of The Evergreen State College’s triumvirate of top comics artists. Burns attended Evergreen along with “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening and cartoonist and author Lynda Barry.

Though not as well-known as Groening and Barry, Burns is definitely a “big kahuna,” as festival organizer Frank Hussey put it.

“He’s the one that everyone is saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, how did you get him?’” said Hussey, who co-owns Danger Room Comics. “There’s a certain homeboy-makes-good-and-comes-back feel to it as well.”

The expo this year will offer fans the opportunity to meet at least 80 artists, hear a panel discussion on graphic design, and learn more about Burns and the festival’s other guests of honor, Jesse Reklaw and Simon Roy, who’ll speak at the expo and stage show and sign books at Danger Room.

Burns has won 10 Harvey Awards for his comics art. He did illustrations for Iggy Pop’s “Brick by Brick” and designed the visual concept for Mark Morris’ “The Hard Nut,” a twist on “The Nutcracker.” Illustrations from his graphic novel “Black Hole” decorate the glass walls of conference rooms in a new Skype facility on the Microsoft campus in Kirkland.

His comics are typically classified as horror, but he said he’s not trying to work in that specific genre. “There are horrific elements in my stories,” he said, “and some of my stories really do fall into that category. The stories that come out of me are just kind of dark.”

Groening was the editor of the Cooper Point Journal, the Evergreen student newspaper, when Burns worked there.

“I fairly regularly did comics in that weekly paper,” said Burns, who graduated from Evergreen in 1977. “Matt was writing and occasionally doing some little doodle here and there, but I never had a sense that he actually did comics.”

“He wrote a lot of reviews about Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention bootleg albums,” Burns said. “That’s what comes to mind.”

Burns worked with Groening on a parody of The Olympian. Burns remembers drawing comic strips for the project. “I pull it out occasionally and still manage to laugh,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign.”

“He had a tremendous sense of humor way back when,” Burns added. “It was already in place.”

Although he doesn’t have quite the name recognition of his former schoolmates, Burns could be said to have a household name, thanks to Groening: Homer Simpson’s unpleasant boss is named Charles Burns.

Is the yellow capitalist the cartoonist’s namesake?

“I’ve been asked that question before, as you might imagine,” Burns said. “For a while, I was saying, ‘Yes, he’s definitely named after me,’ but the truth is, I don’t think there’s any connection.

“One time, years ago, Matt was in Olympia, and I happened to be there, and there was some talk. Someone in the audience asked that question, and his reply was, ‘You’ll have to talk to my lawyers.’” EXPO SCHEDULE

2-3 p.m. Panel discussion on graphic design with Justin Crawford, Ben Hawkes, Jami Heinricher, Nikki McClure and Reuben Storey.

3-4 p.m. Spotlight on Reklaw, creator of “Couch Tag,” “Slow Wave” and “Applicant.”

3:30-4:30 p.m. Comics art workshop.

4-5 p.m. Spotlight on Roy, artist behind “Prophet, “ “The Field” and “Jan’s Atomic Heart.”

5-6 p.m. Spotlight on Burns, creator of “Black Hole,” “El Borbah,” “The Hive” and “Skin Deep.” Olympia Comics Festival

What: The 14th annual festival celebrates alternative comic artists with a stage show, an expo, panel discussions and more. Guests of honor are Charles Burns, Jesse Reklaw and Simon Roy.

When: Show from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, expo and panels from 1:30-6:30 p.m., book signing from 6-8 p.m.

Where: Show at Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia; expo and panels at The Olympia Center, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia; book signing at Danger Room Comics, 201 Fourth Ave. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: $6 for the show (at the door or olympiafilmsociety.org), free for other events.

More information: olympiacomicsfestival.org or olympiacomicsfestival@gmail.com. ‘THIS COMIC LIFE’

What: In cooperation with the festival, the Tumwater Timberland Regional Library will hold a panel discussion, demonstration and book signing with Reklaw and Roy.

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Friday.

Where: Tumwater Library, 7023 New Market St. SW, Tumwater.

Tickets: Free.

More information: 360-943-7790 or trl.org.

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