Chromacon 2015: Allan Xia Interview

Alongside over 100 cartoonists and artists, Pikitia Press will be tabling at New Zealand comic arts festival Chromacon next weekend in Auckland. This year Chromacon has expanded to a two day weekend event with four international guests in attendance. Jacky Ke Jiang (USA) , Wenna (CHINA), Benjamin (CHINA), and J.A.W. Cooper (USA). Chromacon are currently in the last few days of a Kickstarter campaign to help fund this years event.

Chromacon Kickstarter.

Chromacon founder Allan Xia

I waited until he was really busy and then asked Chromacon founder Allan Xia a few questions about organising and expanding Chromacon for this year's event.

Matt Emery: After a successful debut one day event in 2013, Chromacon was postponed in 2014, when did you start organising Chromacon 2015? Were there particular challenges in expanding to a two day event?

Allan Xia: Actually, we never truly stopped working on Chromacon.  As you said, the first Chromacon was so successful that we actually had to play catch up.  There were simply a lot of challenges that had to be resolved:

Firstly, we ran into a very serious issue with venue health and safety, because of the sheer number of creatives who exhibited and the number of visitors that came through - we simply had to scale up to meet the demand.

Secondly, as Chromacon started off as a passion project, there was no proper structure planned for it to continue as a recurring festival.  Myself and all the amazing people who helped make the first Chromacon happen all have our own creative practices and professional careers - which made it all the more difficult to immediately adapt to the success and good will for the festival to continue.

Eventually, we managed to put together a very strong core team and after spending the time to solve the main issue of the need for a bigger venue, the decision to expand to two days actually came quite naturally.  The biggest challenge was probably figuring out how to deal with the larger costs involved and how we can offset that as much as possible from the exhibitors so we can make sure that the festival remains accessible for all indie artists.


Emery: Can you tell me a bit about the people working behind the scenes of Chromacon?

Xia: Sure! The core Team currently consists of myself, as the festival director, Sums Selvarajan our festival producer, and Bea Lo, our festival co-ordinator. There's also Cornelius Blank and Des Young, two super talented designers who help create all the festival's promotional marketing material. Finally, we have a team of volunteers and interns who help out with all aspects of the festival, not to mention all our supporters from the wider community.

Emery: What was the process for selecting the four international guests for Chromacon 2015? I like that they represent different art disciplines.

Xia: That was indeed our goal! Creative and cultural diversity were definitely two key areas we took into account.  I was in China during December 2014, where I visited Benjamin (who's probably the most internationally prolific Manhua (Chinese comics) artist and author from China) and Wenna (who's a mural artist with a very strong personal style and illustrative voice).  Both had previous experience with international cultural and creative exchange, in Benjamin's case - he's huge in France and Europe with a massive following, and Wenna has created murals around Europe and Asia.  Neither possesses much experience or knowledge of New Zealand at all, yet China is one of our biggest trade partners.  What better way to build a bridge between our creative communities than by inviting them join us at Chromacon?

We invited Jacky Ke Jiang as he's an absolute juggernaut of creativity - from working on Transformers comics, to Disney on Tangled, to Senior artist on Thatgamecompany's Journey (an absolute landmark in indie games), back to Disney to work on films like Frozen/ Wreck it Ralph, to animating nearly a full episode of Adventure Time by himself, to currently back as the Art Director of Thatgamecompany.  The amazing thing is, his own creative voice and processes shine through on all those projects.  Jacky is the perfect representation of Chromacon's belief that more multidisciplinary cross-pollination and collaboration will lead to better original artistic content.

Finally, we were very fortunate to have J.A.W. Cooper join us via the support of Takapuna Arts Supplies, which is a local store run by artists for artists.  The co-owner Jim Auckland - a prolific illustrator and educator from US, was actually Cooper's teacher at one point during her art school days. It is with their support that we were able to make this happen! Cooper's a brilliant fine artist, who also has a very successful freelance illustration career.  Not to mention her age! She really has a lot to share with NZ illustrators.

Emery: Chromacon is billed as a 'New Zealand Indie Arts Festival', would you like Chromacon to become a destination comic art festival for international cartoonists/publishers much like TCAF/SPX/Thoughtbubble/Angoulême and others are in their respective countries?

Xia: Definitely! We did a lot of soul searching over 2014 on Chromacon's place in New Zealand's creative ecology and arts landscape.  Our conclusion was that we are a platform and pathway for independent creatives of all visual storytelling disciplines to grow and engage directly with the wider community and new audiences.  Due to the size of our local market, international exchange is an absolute necessity for Kiwi artists.  Chromacon would definitely like to be a catalyst and bridge for such opportunities to prosper.

Emery: How dependent is Chromacon on Sponsors and crowdfunding? Why doesn't the New Zealand Government or the Auckland City Council pay for everything? Surely it would be worth it keeping all these artists off the streets?

Xia: We are working towards developing a model of self-sustainability as an non-profit charitable trust via professional development initiatives such as Chroma Connect Creative Summit and the curation of new content.  However, at the moment, we are definitely very dependent on partners from all industries that share our vision/ core ethos, and of course support from our fans through crowdfunding.

Auckland City Council was actually a huge supporter of the inaugural Chromacon in 2013 through the Creative Communities programme. It shares the same pool of money as Creative New Zealand's Quick Response grant, which meant that we had to only choose one to apply for. Unfortunately, we've been rejected by Creative NZ for the third time, and since there isn't any official feedback, I'm still baffled to be honest.

The reality is that New Zealand (government , organisations & businesses) has very limited resources to allocate towards the creative sector, so the usual tendency would be to put the money on the "industry" part of "creative industry" as opposed to directly backing indie creatives still developing a body of work (unless it's say, the film industry).  As such it's very in hard in New Zealand at the moment to take that first step towards self-sustainability and creative independence.

We believe Chromacon can be a catalyst for change and incubator for growth.  Unfortunately, we're also very grassroots and indie ourselves, so we suffer from the same issues that our creatives face!

Emery: What have you personally been working on art wise recently?

Xia: That's a tough question ha! ha! To be honest for the past couple of years I've been doing more thinking, strategising, writing, and designing than just drawing/ painting like I used to.  I was very busy last year producing an NZ-China co-production feature film, while developing indie games & Virtual Reality experiences with the Oculus Rift.  So between all that and Chromacon, I haven't managed to sneak in much drawing!  Luckily, I still get projects offered from time to time, and I've basically committed to take on gigs that are really interesting or push myself artistically.  Two areas I've attempted over the past year are mural paintings and collaborating with other creatives such as writer Renee Liang on the poster illustration for her play - under the Same Moon. Really looking forward to painting some personal pieces and creating a new comic piece soon!

Chromacon site

Chromacon FB page