Body of work Now in its third year, SFAL is again set to attract artists worldwide to Kansas City – and it promises to be better than ever!
Back in 1993, Cathy and Arnie Fenner established the Spectrum Annual, offering creators of fantasy, sci-fi and horror art a regular showcasing platform. A phenomenal response to their first Call For Entries led to a full-colour book, Spectrum 1, the following year – and another has been released each year since.
Almost 20 years later, the first live event, Spectrum Fantastic Art Live (SFAL), quickly established itself as a must-attend fixture for creators and aficionados alike. A simple goal was at its core: to grow the market for, and appreciation of, fantastic art.
Gregory Manchess and Irene Gallo had curated Spectrum’s first exhibition at New York’s Museum of American Illustration back in 2005. But as Cathy and Arnie explain, it was Bob Self at Baby Tattoo Books who provided the impetus to take things to the next level.
“Bob had been doing Baby Tattooville, the first intimate convention for collectors to spend time with artists, and he believed something larger and more inclusive was possible with a Spectrum event,” says Cathy. “So we got together with Bob to make it happen, along with a group of friends and volunteers including Carl Anderson, Amanda Banion, Arlo Burnett, Jim Fallone, John Fleskes, Lazarus Potter, Jeff Smith and Shena Wolf.”
“We wanted to expand on the sense of community associated with the Spectrum Annual,” continues Arnie. “We felt the best way to do that was to provide a venue free of prejudice and elitism, where everyone was welcome, and which didn’t come with a high price tag. We’ve always believed that the health of the fantastic art field relies on attracting more people to talk about it in a positive atmosphere, to purchase art and ultimately to become patrons.”
As it enters its third year, Spectrum Fantastic Art Live boasts an impressive haul
of special guests from all corners of the fantasy art world. There’s Wayne Barlowe, whose creature design and concept art credits include Hellboy, Avatar, The Hobbit and Pacific Rim; designer and sculptor Tim Bruckner, who has created toys for the likes of DC Direct, Mattel and Hasbro; and comic artist Frank Cho, whose work for the Mighty Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man and Hulk needs little introduction.
Also paying Kansas City a visit in May is artist and graphic novelist Camilla d’Errico, best-known for her self-published comic Tanpopo. Justin Sweet will be there too; his clients include Walt Disney Studios, Wizards of the Coast and Dark Horse Comics, and he concepted for The Chronicles of Narnia, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Avengers and many more fantasy movies.
fine-tuning the event
There are a few improvements in store for the rest of the event: “We’re fine-tuning our programming to provide more focus and less overlap,” Cathy reveals. “It’ll have more of an educational approach, with various panels and workshops to help students and professionals advance their skills and find new job opportunities.”
Fascinating demos of both traditional and digital art are on the schedule, while Tor’s Irene Gallo and Orbit’s Lauren Panepinto are arranging some unmissable meet-up opportunities with art directors from the worlds of publishing, gaming and entertainment. If that’s not enough, you could visit one of The Art Department’s late-night life-drawing sessions and sketch models side-by-side with the likes of Mark English, Anita Kunz and Jon Foster.
The president of Flesk Publications and director of the Spectrum Annuals, John Fleskes, will also be taking a hands-on role at this year’s event, having played more of a background support role in the first two. “Our goal is to honour the artists and put on a fantasy art convention that anyone is
Our goal is to honour the artists and put on an event that anyone is welcome to attend and enjoy
welcome to attend and enjoy,” he explains. “Fortunately, the Fenners got the ball rolling and had 20 years to build the Spectrum name, so the momentum was already in place. Starting a show from scratch without a reputable name attached would be much more difficult.”
Of course, the biggest convention in the States to cater to fantastic artists is San Diego Comic-Con, which attracts a crowd of 120,000 each year. “But there are over 350 million people in this country, and only a
tiny percentage can ever — will ever — attend the Con,” Arnie points out. “What about everyone else? What about the people who want to come and talk and shop, but can’t?” Testament to their passion for both the craft and the community is the Fenner’s refusal to consider any other shows as rivals to SFAL. As far as they’re concerned, the more the merrier. “We think there should be more art events, not fewer,” confirms Arnie. “There are sci-fi and pop culture shows literally every week of the year. The artists deserve more than a couple of events in which they get to be the centre of attention.”
For the Fenners, the solution was to broaden the field and give artists a bigger platform from which to showcase and sell their work, bringing the fantastic art community to Kansas City for three days of inspiration, fun and incredible artwork each year. “We don’t believe the market for fantastic art is anywhere near its potential,” says Cathy. “If we do our job right, SFAL will be successful not only for us, but for the exhibitors and attendees. And that’s all that matters.”
John Fleskes is excited about the opportunities for emerging talent at the event’s artist tables, which are deliberately priced at an affordable level to provide the all-important showcasing platform that Spectrum has always stood for. “These are
At SFAL inspiration abounds, relationships are born, memories are made and art lives change
our future professionals,” he says, “and we love the idea of making them feel welcome.”
Best of all, every exhibitor booth at SFAL is reserved for artists: “Comic shows are the dominant events out there, and they often feature pop culture, TV and film personalities while pushing the artists into a corner,” laments John. “We keep our focus on the artists, and don’t judge people by their tools or their style. We’re looking for an eclectic and odd bunch.”
To understand the impact that SFAL has for the fantastic art community, you only need to speak to a devoted attendee. Having exhibited at both previous SFAL events, John Picacio has 9–11 May 2014 ringed in his calendar. “It’s the kind of event that artists dream about,” says the Texan, who has a World Fantasy Award, two Hugo Awards, a Locus Award, five Chesley Awards and two International Horror Guild Awards under his belt – not to mention cover art for Star Trek and X-Men, and a calendar for George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
“I see a lot of big tent events where stuff is bought and sold, but precious few where inspiration abounds, relationships are born, memories are made, and art lives change,” says John. “SFAL really is the right event at the right time for our field, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Learn more about this year’s SFAL at
American illustrator Gregory Manchess has been involved with Spectrum Live since the beginning.
Comics art legend Frank Cho (who drew the above) is one of several great artists confirmed for Spectrum Fantasy Art Live 3, held in Kansas this May.
Wayne Barlowe, who has numerous big-budget film credits to his name – as well as this witty painting – will also be at SFAL 3.
Does my bum look wondrous in this? Another Frank Cho classic. Artists can learn from him at SFAL 3.
Another (Justin) Sweet piece of work. The American is equally talented at digital and traditional art.
A striking composition by Gregory Manchess. The artist has labelled SFAL the “Sundance of illustration”.
Musician, co-author, designer, sculptor and former apprentice jeweller, Tim Bruckner is another top artist appearing at SFAL 3.
Walt Disney and Wizards of the Coast artist Justin Sweet is another on SFAL 3’s illustrious roster.