Fort Collins, famous for beer, bikes…and comic books?

Northern Colorado is famous for its breweries and its bicycle enthusiasts, but comic books? Who knew that a thriving and productive community of comic book writers and illustrators exists in the area, a treasure not nearly as well known?

One good place to find the people who make up this community is at Jason’s Deli on Saturday mornings at East Harmony Road in Fort Collins. As many as 15 “comic bookers” gather at 10 a.m. each week to share ideas, critique each other’s work and offer support and encouragement, especially to those who are newer at the game. They call themselves The Fort Collins Comics Clutch Crew.

Ron Fortier, 67, backbone of the group, has been a comic-book writer for 35 years and is strongly motivated to help his fellow writers and illustrators.
Fortier is known nationally for writing the Green Hornet series for Now Comics and for writing Alex Ross’ first comic project, “Terminator: Burning Earth.” Airship 27 Productions, a company he co-founded four years ago produces new novels and anthologies featuring classic pulp heroes from the 1930s including his revival of Captain Hazzard.

Fortier and his wife, Valerie, retired from jobs with General Electric in New Hampshire 10 years ago and spent lots of their time traveling to visit their five children and six grandchildren. When Valerie said “enough” to New England weather, they packed up and moved to Fort Collins, home to one of their sons. Fortier found a connection with other “creatives” in the area through Griffin’s Games and Comics store in Fort Collins and before long the mutually supportive group formed.

The creation of a comic book is an act of collaboration between the writer, the illustrator, and a letterer who designs and places the balloons that contain the text of the stories. Todd Jones, a writer, explains how the process works for him. He begins by creating the story line and finds that when he shares it with the illustrator, it takes on a life of its own. His “panel descriptions” give the artist enough information to begin drawing and they work together, bouncing ideas off each other to flesh out details.
Jones, a native of Virginia with a degree in psychology, who has been in town for three years said, “My closest friends are part of this group. Ron is my mentor. He’s like a dad to me.”

A writer and comic lover for as long as he can remember, Jones has a full-length book underway but hasn’t been able to finish it because he’s so busy with stories for comic books. He usually has three or four projects underway at the same time and is the author of three of the four stories in “Wicked Awesome Tales,” published by Wicked Wolf Comics, a Fort Collins publisher, in September 2013. Jones says he’s making progress in the industry every year and attributes much of his success to membership in the comics group.

James Gaubatz, who trained as an animator at Colorado Arts Institute in Denver, has done graphic design and created designs for games but found his niche as a letterer. For 10 years he’s had a contract with Viz Media, a Japanese firm, which has kept him busy full-time lettering for their comic books. He sees himself as the person who brings the stories to life.
Illustrator Lee Oaks, originally from Torrington and Jackson, Wyo., has been drawing since he was a child. His interest in art drew him to study at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. After pursuing comic book art in Brussels for several years, he settled in Fort Collins. He published his first comic book, “Thunder Monkey,” in 2006 followed by “Tales of Tralodren” in 2008. Oaks, a long-time member of the comic book group, says that for someone who loves comics, there’s no better gig than drawing them. Thunder Monkey in “Wicked Awesome Tales” is written, illustrated and lettered by Oaks.

These comic book creators, plus as many as a dozen more, are looking forward to participating in the First Annual FoCo Comic and Gaming Festival to be held 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 at the Drake Center, Drake and Shields Streets, in Fort Collins.

Ben Mueller, a senior studying business management and organizer for the event, said, “The local comic book writers and illustrators are a major attraction for the festival.” Members will display their work and be available to visit with comic book aficionados.

The festival will also feature local comic book stores, and almost certainly a full-scale replica of the Landspeeder vehicle from Star Wars. A karaoke stage and a video gaming section are also planned.

Todd Jones, who has attended several comic book conventions said, “they are the closest thing to being on another planet.”

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