Worlds Collide: Comic Books and Craft Beer at ECCC and Beyond

Among this year's Emerald City Comicon exclusives -- variant covers and limited edition vinyl toys and prints -- is a brand new item for con-goers to geek out over, and according to ECCC organizer Jim Demonakos, it's "a fantastic mix of earthy hops and caramel malts."

For the first time in its 13-year run, ECCC is debuting a craft beer: Big Bot Pale Ale, brewed in partnership with Oregon's Ninkasi. The convention and brewer have joined forces this year, with plans for another beer next year, Demonakos told CBR News. To accompany the launch of the new beer, ECCC will also have its first ever beer garden, serving a selection of Ninkasi's brews.

The collaboration between convention and brewer is the most recent example in the ongoing trend of the worlds of craft beer and comic books colliding. For Demonakos, it's just another type of fandom that can celebrate at the Seattle comic convention.

"There's no exclusion when it comes to this stuff. For myself, I'm a huge sports fan as well as a comics fan as well as a craft beer fan," explained Demonakos. "We can all nerd out about sports as much as we can about comics, but there's some kind of weird thing about not mixing these fandoms, and I don't believe in it. Let's embrace what we love, and I feel like this is a natural mix that people will be really excited about."

Emerald City isn't the first convention to enter the craft beer world. New York Comic-Con has partnered with Brooklyn Beer for the past three years for New York Defender, a beer created in spirit with the convention that has featured label art by Tony Millionaire, Cliff Chiang and Amy Reeder. For Hop-Con 2.0 last year, an off-site Comic-Con International event for "beer geekery," Dave Gibbons designed a label for San Diego's Stone Brewing, who donated $1,800 in proceeds to The Hero Initiative.

But the Emerald City convention's on-site beer garden brings the beer geeks directly to party with the "geek geeks." This weekend, the space will host two events that will directly cross over the worlds of comics and craft beer. There's a Drink and Draw, which is as self-explanatory as it sounds, as well as a meet-up for the Beer Geek Girls, a Seattle group formed in 2013 with over 350 members. Member Marnie Cannon told CBR News that its membership consists of a mix of women who are passionate about craft beer and home-brewing, as well as those that are into gaming, comics, "Doctor Who" and other "geeky" pursuits.

The passion the Wednesday-faithful have for their weekly fix of comics, she explained, isn't so different from craft beers fans looking for a new seasonal from their favorite brewery. "I think there is a real similarity in how fans of craft beer and comics interact. Within each world, you have a lot of people who are so excited to connect with others about the exact thing they're into," Cannon said. "The energy that people are bringing to both craft beer and comics communities constantly creates this amazing feedback loop where everybody gets pulled in deeper. So bringing those two worlds together is basically nirvana."

One of the more interesting and natural collaborations between craft beer and comics has also taken place in Seattle, between two trailblazers in their respected fields, indie comic publisher Fantagraphics and Elysian Brewing.

The two began with two series of inventive beers featuring wild labels that paired perfectly, courtesy of Fanta artists Charles Burns and Jim Woodring. Fanta and Elysian first teamed up in 2012, for "The Beers of the Apocalypse," twelve beers, one released each month, adorned with Burns' art from "Black Hole." The two collaborated once again in 2013 on "Oddland," a series of beers where "Frank's" Jim Woodring designed wild labels after tasting the adventurous brews that included peppercorns, spiced pears and berries.

On how the collaborations began between the publisher and brewer began, self-confessed craft beer fan and hophead Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds explained, "I've been a fan of Elysian's for as long as I've been enjoying good beer. It was not hard to sell me. Elysian is a Seattle staple. They're a good company. They take a lot of pride in what they do and have continually looked to push themselves."

Craft beer is committed to creativity in recipes, and ingrained in the craft beer movement is an anti-corporate stance exemplified by the belief that the brewery must be owned by the brewer. And while this philosophy is one that the indie comic book publisher and creator can relate to, but there also obvious differences between the two worlds.

"There are similarities. They exist partly in opposition to mass produced beer that lacks flavor, not unlike us and the bigger mainstream comics publishers," said Reynolds. "But the industries driving each are very different. I mean, I wish people liked comics as much as they like beer."

Earlier this year, Elysian was purchased by international beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev -- owner of Bud -- in a move that upset many craft beer purists. Reynolds said that there were no plans for collaboration before the deal was made, and while they haven't spoken to Elysian since, he won;t rule out the possibility of a future co-endeavor. "I very much like Dick [Cantwell, Elysian co-founder and head brewer] and his staff, and as such, so as long as he was involved, I would consider it." 

A recent comics/craft beer collaboration also took place in the Pacific Northwest. To celebrate the 21st year of Mike Mignola creating Hellboy -- with the iconic B.P.R.D. member reaching the legal drinking age -- Rogue Ales collaborated with Dark Horse Comics on "The Right Hand of Doom," a red ale with a sharp Mignola-illustrated label.

Brett Joyce, Rogue Ales President, said that working together with "fellow rogue" Dark Horse was a natural fit after meeting with them. The brewer has pushed the limits of beer collaborations, creating brews alongside Voodoo Donuts, Sriracha hot sauce and even one with Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch." Joyce explained that though each collaboration is different, the common thread is that if the two companies "don't vibe together... then we don't enter the partnership." Joyce added it's not about the money, but finding a fun collaboration.

The Hellboy beer was Joyce's personal entrance into the comic book world, a world he says was fun to learn about. "The response on Hellboy was really overwhelming... we didn't know it was this big," said Joyce. There are a lot of Hellboy fans out there." The limited edition beer sold out quickly, becoming a collectible of sorts.

Another collaboration between comics creator and brewery arrives May 1, when Bill Willingham teams with Boom Island Brewing Company to debut the Belgian strong "Gravity No. 9" at a fund raising event to benefit Hero Initiative. During the event, which will be held at the brewery's taproom in Minneapolis, Willingham will autograph bottles -- limited to less than 300 -- featuring the label he designed.

Chicago's Arcade Brewery has seemingly found the next level of bringing these two worlds together, launching "6 Pack Stories," a sequential, six-part comic book tale that unfolds across the labels of each bottle in the six-pack. The first story, debuting last year, was written by Jason Aaron with art by Tony Moore. The beer-comics collaboration actually began with the comic, the brewer crafting his recipe -- a dark wheat ale -- after reading the Aaron-written Western zombie tale, "Festus Rotgut: Zombie Cowboy."

The idea to pair comics and Arcade's beer came from Lance Curran, who previously spearheaded t-shirt company Threadless' "Comics-On-Tees" series, where comic artists and writers told sequential stories on t-shirts. The idea for Arcade Brewing and 6-Pack Stories resulted from traveling to conventions and noticing the lack of beer catering to the Comic-Con crowd.

"I spent a lot of time having conversations about beer with comic industry folk and fans, and found besides comics that beer was something they were very passionate about," said Curran. "Comics and beer are the perfect pairing."

Arcade Brewing has its eyes on producing a new 6-Pack story next year, as well as two upcoming comics-related beers, Battlepug Hoppy Brown Ale in collaboration with Mike Norton. Arcade also features labels by Jill Thompson and Alexis Ziritt design labels.

A Canadian brewery also looking to tell a story with a line of beers entered a recent an unknowing "collaboration" with "Powers" artist Michael Avon Oeming. But on the day of launching a line of noir-themed "character" beers, Central City Brewers realized their debut character, "Detective Saison," bore a striking resemblance to an illustration of "Powers'" Deena Pilgrim and immediately stopped production of the beer. Since the similarities in the two labels were pointed out on Twitter, the brewer has released a new label -- and continuing with the crime-themed storyline, the brewer has chalked it up to a case of "stolen identity" caused by an external creative agency that designed the first label.

Despite that admittedly sour note as far as comic book and craft beer collaborations are concerned, Curran stands strong in his belief that the two worlds will continue to collide.

"You see people lined up now and camping overnight to get that special new beer, which is similar to the line you see for certain comic creators or exclusive items at cons," Curran said. "Both attract a very passionate fan base who really believe in and support the product. They are great communities that I think overlap extremely well with each other."

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