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Jimmy Gownley was 15, an aspiring comic book artist, when his friends suggested he should create a comic book about them.
Gownley grew up reading comics about Spider-Man, Superman and the like, so to him a comic book about teens in a small Pennsylvania town seemed lame.
“I thought it was the dumbest idea ever,” said Gownley, 42. “But I did it and sold it out of my locker.”
The comic book, “Shades of Gray,” was getting national distribution a few years later and issues were eventually collected into paperback books. Gownley later launched another comic book series, about a 9-year-old girl, called “Amelia Rules,” which has become a huge hit.
To find out more about Gownley’s life in comics, you could read his recent memoir, “The Dumbest Idea Ever,” or you could go see him Sunday and have a chat.
Gownley is one of the 100 or so comic artists and writers who will gather at the Portland Company Marine Complex on Fore Street for the Maine Comics Arts Festival on Sunday.
The show differs from other comics shows because there are no comic book vendors, no ancillary pop-culture media. Just people who create comics, talking to fans, explaining and demonstrating what they do.
“There are (comics festivals) like this one, but it’s still unusual, and it has a great reputation,” said Gownley, from his home in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. “If you think about music, you think about musicians. But when you think about comics, you think about fanboys and geek culture, which I think is to the detriment of comics. The best comics should have something for everyone.”
Some of the better known guests at this year’s event besides Gownley include Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the “Amulet” comic series, and the artist for the covers of the “Harry Potter” books; Sean Murphy, DC Comics artist for “The Wake” and “Joe the Barbarian”; and “Big Nate” creator Lincoln Peirce, who lives in Portland.
All of the attendees, plus small bios, are listed on the festival’s website, Mainecomicsfestival.com. The list includes writers and artists from New England and from all over the country.
The festival was started in 2009 by Rick Lowell and Laura O’Meara of Casablanca Comics, with stores in Portland and Windham. Their comic book store has been in business for 27 years.
The festival has been growing every year, Lowell said. Last year, there were about 70 creative folks at the festival, held at the Ocean Gateway marine terminal in Portland. This year the festival moved to the larger Portland Company space, just a short walk up Fore Street and the guest list was expanded to 100.
“We just wanted something where the focus would be on the creator,” said Lowell. “Comics have become more mainstream, and they’re huge. That’s great, but there’s more to comics than the movies and TV shows. Our event focuses more on the creative side.”
While all the attendees will be available to chat, there will be some scheduled programming during the day. Peirce, for instance, will be signing his books from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
At 11:30 a.m., comic book artist Jay Piscopo will invite students to try their hand at cartoon art, with demonstrations and help.
At 1:30 p.m. there’ll be an Iron Cartoonist competition among three yet-to-be-named cartoonists, drawing against each other and the clocks. Guest judges will determine the winner.
At 2:30 p.m. the audience can listen in on a conversation with Gownley and Kibuishi, as they discuss all things comics.
Listening to Gownley may help aspiring creative types in the audience find their own “dumbest idea ever.”