top of page
  • Writer's pictureCBCCPodcast

"It's Paradise!" The Lake Como Comic Art Festival 2024

Festival founders Steve Morger and Arno Lapeyre share their passion for comics with us, and it's damn inspiring.


Lake Como Comic Art Festival:

Welcome to our Creator Corner, our reoccurring interview series, where we chat with the coolest and most thought-provoking creators in the industry. In this entry, we're conversing with Steve Morger and Arno Lapeyre about the Lake Como Comic Art Festival.

 

Whatever the comic convention, if we're not attending, we're suffering FOMO. Like The Little Mermaid, we want to be where the people are, the artists are, and the comics are. And no comic convention has stirred as intense a sensation of FOMO as the Lake Como Comic Art Festival.


In the few years that founders Steve Morger and Arno Lapeyre have been putting it on, they've built an incredible reputation. The photos we've seen, we've drooled over, and they suggest a heavenly retreat where the art and the artists are the attraction, not the Funko Pops. The crowd appears less like a crowd and more like a community. We're ready to partake, but Lake Como seems so far out of reach.


Morger and Lapeyre are here to say, think again. This year's Lake Como Comic Art Festival is less than two months away (May 17 - 19). So far, they've announced an unbeatable guest lineup, including Alex Maleev, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Quitely, Sara Pichelli, Stan Sakai, and Tula Lotay.


They have a three-tiered ticket system.


The 2-Day Pass

● 2-Day Ticket: May 18-19, 2024

● 2024 Lake Como Fine Art Portfolio

● 2024 Festival Swag Bag

● Automatic Entry to All Giveaways


The All-Access Pass

● Opening Night Ticket: May 17, 2024

● Everything in the 2-Day Festival Pass

● Entry to All Workshops & Panels

● Early Access to Show Exclusives


The VIP Experience

● 1 Signed Original Art Sketch

● Everything in the All-Access Pass

● Opening Night VIP Ticket: May 17, 2024

● 2-Day VIP Ticket: May 18-19, 2024

● Only 75 VIP Tickets Available


Oh, and that signed original art sketch offered in the VIP Experience? It will be from either Bill Sienkiewicz or Alex Ross. Those pieces come courtesy of Sal Abbinanti, the art dealer for Ross and Sienkiewicz and a festival sponsor. Hence, this year's incredible banner art, which was also illustrated by Sienkiewicz.


But again, just how accessible is the Lake Como Comic Art Festival? We spoke with Steve Morger and Arno Lapeyre about the event, exploring their origin and why, after years of running other comic conventions, they couldn't turn away from Lake Como. We discuss what separates the Lake Como Comic Art Festival from larger shows like San Diego International Comic-Con and New York Comic-Con, and we dig into the fears that may keep some away.


This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

 

Lake Como Comic Art Festival: What's the Big Deal?


Lake Como Comic Art Festival Jim Lee

Brad: Lisa and myself, we've ever attended the Lake Como Comic Art Festival, but we have studied it from afar, and we've been envious of it from afar. Can you give us a rundown of what makes this con special? What separates this con from other convention experiences?


Steven Morger: I think a couple of things. Number one, there are not many shows that are focused just on art and artists. I think, from our perspective, that's my passion. The biggest thing that separates our show, knowing the niche market that we have, is a combination of both the location, which is to die for, as well as the fact that you're actually going to get face time with the artists. Because most shows, you think of San Diego, New York, the attendance is in the hundreds of thousands of people, whereas our show, it's going to be less than a thousand, because we cap our ticket sales at a thousand.


I think this year, we're going to have 70 to 80 artists in attendance. The ratio of artists to fans is very strong. You're actually going to get time to spend and have a conversation with the different artists, if you're so inclined, as opposed to some of the big shows. I remember when I got my autograph from Stan Lee, it was you got seven seconds of face time with Stan.


Brad: Yeah, sure.


Steven Morger: With Stan, he made you feel like a million bucks. He was incredible, but it was still seven seconds, whereas, at our show, you can sit down and actually chat with somebody and not have to be looking at your watch every two seconds.


Brad: Yeah, we've had that experience with Stan Lee. It was lovely. It was a dream come true, but it was seven seconds.


Steven Morger: Yep.


Arno Lapeyre: Just imagine the best you could have from a convention, a comic book art convention, that you could ever think about. You have it in Como. You've got the best artists, you've got the best location to spend some time. It is just astounding and crazy beautiful for anybody. I really think it is the best interaction you can ever think to have with the artists, just because the attendance is very limited.


If you're used to any regular show, New York Comic Con, San Diego, all these shows taking place in the U.S., you know that every time you're going to want to meet an artist, you're going to see a huge line. You are going to wait for I don't know how long. You're going to be able to just have maybe a couple of books signed, and then that's it. Get out because there's a huge line behind you.


The chance for you to actually have a slightly longer interaction is going to be very difficult to find, or maybe sometimes they offer some package to be able to spend a little bit more time, but it's just complicated and very limited. In our show, people are coming just because the love of it.


To give you an example of the different atmosphere that we have. In front of each table of the artist, there are also a couple of chairs for attendees to actually sit down in front of the artist. When you have your book signed or when you talk about the commission, you can actually just sit, be on the same level of the artist, and spend some time with him, working with him and just have some time that you would never have in any other location, at any other show.


Brad: I can't even imagine that. It must be a relief also for the artists, right? It has to be a completely different experience than what they get at other shows.


Steven Morger: I won't use names because I don't want to embarrass them, but I know one really big name showed up at Como and just went out and got lost intentionally. He went wandering because the area was so beautiful. He brought his watercolors and his paper and just went to the shores of the lake and started doing it. It's essentially therapy. Artists seem to like it. The fans seem to like it.


The other thing that I would add, we focus on the show itself, but the location, the town where the venue is located, is very small, with quite a few really nice restaurants, because it is Italy after all. You have the chance to go out to dinner, and then boom, who's sitting next to you? All of these great artists.


The social aspects of it can start at the show where you get to meet the artists, but they tend to continue on afterwards, because you see the people, both the fans and the guests, at the various locations within walking distance of the venue. It really is a special, special location and a special event.


Lake Como Comic Art Festival: The Secret Origin


Lake Como Comic Art Festival Villa Erba

Brad: By capping the tickets at a thousand, that allows you to thrive and maintain this convention year after year?


Steven Morger: Not so far. We still haven't made money. A couple things: both Arno and his partners, and myself, are very passionate about this. This really is a special event, but it's gone critically well every year. We've had times where we thought, "Is it worth the time and the money to do this?" Then you go to the event, and yeah, it is. It just is. There's nothing like it.


I've done San Diego. I haven't missed a day of San Diego since 1993, but 200,000 people gets old as you get older. It's great. It's still one of my favorite shows, but I can't see myself doing San Diego in 10 years when I'm 75. I can see doing Como forever, just because it's convenient, it's something that you've got the access, you're not fighting crowds. It's just that everything's in one place.


Arno Lapeyre: Yeah. It's true that, like Steve mentioned, every year, especially when we saw that we were not breaking even or the first year of losing a lot of money, every year, we thought, "Is it really worth it?" Because that's quite a lot of money and time we spend. We both have a lot of ideas and projects we want to do. But every time when we have the convention, we see the potential, and we see how it is. If you love comic books, if you love comic book art, that's an ideal show. It's paradise. It's really paradise, so there's no way we can give it up because that's so beautiful. We absolutely are confident of it.


One thing I just wanted to mention is that when you talked about the artists loving to be there, it is true. Not naming anyone, but I know that some artists who sometimes in big shows when it's really busy, they can have quite a character in line and it's not the easiest interaction. But I've seen them all have the time of their life in Como, and that changes everything.


I've seen how some can be in big shows like, again, San Diego or New York, or I can see how they are in Como. I can swear that's a totally different interaction, completely different, just because everybody's so happy to be there, everybody's just enjoying it. It just makes a totally different atmosphere.


Brad: Yeah, I can imagine that. So, give me the origin story. How did you two come together?


Steven Morger: I have done a number of shows. It was originally called Super Con and then morphed into Big Wow! Comic Fest in San Jose. One of my best friends, Steve Wyatt, I put on the shows, asked me to come on. We started it in Oakland, it went down to San Jose, and then you do the buildup to get to break even. Then we got there, and then some guys came in who were billionaires and decided they wanted to take the show.


It was just basically, you either sell to us or we're going to put you out of business. They dictated the price, which basically meant after doing eight years of the show, we broke even, through all the time we spent, but rode off into the sunset there. Through the years of doing my show, I got to know Arno, who was doing a show in Paris.


Arno Lapeyre: It's really funny because we had a very similar approach in what show we wanted to do back then, because I was also doing a more family-orientated bigger show, like a Comic Con kind of festival in Paris, focused on comic book art and comic books, American comic books. We had TV celebrities, actors, and cosplayers. This was in the early 2010s, so the last edition was taking place in 2016.


When we compared growth, it was very funny because it paralleled the evolution in terms of attendees. We finished at about 17,000 people, but it was nothing compared to Como, because it was a much bigger event with a lot of different aspects, and a lot of aspects that made sense for a more family-orientated show, like the cosplayers and the TV celebrities. That makes sense in these kind of festivals, but personally, that's not too much my kind of thing and not really the aspect I wanted to focus on.


Unlike Steve, I haven't been able to sell the show. He was more lucky than me. I also had competition in-coming from Reed exhibition, who started Comic Con in Paris. One year, we had to move. It was a bit complicated, but just at the end, we decided with my partners to just stop and move on to other things. It was just way too time-consuming compared to all the things we also wanted to do, so we stopped.


At that time, after the last edition, I swore I would never ever do live events again. I said, "No, I'm done. That's it. Never again. Never, never again. I just want to focus on all the stores, the distribution, the activities, the publishing. All these kind of things related to comic books, but shows, never. That's it. Bye bye," and then that's when Steve come back.


Steven Morger: Yeah. It's like the curse. Arno and his partners own a chain of shops in Paris and in Bordeaux called Pulp. Highly recommend going if you're there. Arno and I got to be really good friends through our sharing of war stories about the conventions. We both had a big bad that helped facilitate our exit.


I've been going to Lake Como now for about 30 years. It's one of those places when you go - maybe not everybody, but for me it kind of got a spot in your heart, so I just kept coming back and coming back and coming back. Right around 2015, 2016, I decided I wanted to buy a small apartment over there, so I did. It's a little 800-square-foot apartment on the lake, which is a great place to visit.


One of the times that I was over there I saw that the Sheraton Hotel advertised it had convention space. I've always been mulling over this art/artist-only show, so I went and checked out the convention center just by myself. It was not optimal. Very tiny, very bad layout, so I was talking to the people at the Sheraton and said, "Sorry, it just doesn't work for what I want to do." They said, "Have you ever checked out the Villa Erba?" I'm like, "What the hell is the Villa Erba? I've never heard of it before."


Como is known for its grandiose villas. Villa del Balbianello, which was in Star Wars and James Bond. There's the Villa Melzi. Normally, they have great gardens. I said, "Never heard of it. Where is it?" They go, "Right across the street." I wandered over. Luckily, I was able to go in and was just blown away. I got on the phone and called Arno and said, "You need to get your butt down here." He's like, "For what?" I told him what I found. He flew down.


It was kind of a rainy, overcast morning. He got there, I walked him through the old villa. Next door to it is this new modern convention center with a funky layout, a lot of small rooms instead of one huge flea market-type room. He came walking in, and I think he was impressed. Then the clincher, the sun came out. I'm biased, but there are very few places in the world prettier than Como when the sun is out.


Arno Lapeyre: Organizing something focused only on art, comic book art and comic book artists, that quickly changed my first idea of never again doing something like this, because that's a passion, so that changes things. When he said, "Yeah, come down and check this place I found." When I arrived, first I entered into the garden. Again, it was gray, no sun. I got near the lake, and then the sun came out. As I say all the time, even for the blase Parisian I am, like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I've seen it all. It's nice, but it's not Paris. When I came and I was there, I was like, "Oh, so beautiful. That's crazy."


Then you see the villa, the antique villa, you feel like you're in a movie. There's no word to describe how beautiful it is. Then, attached, you've got a convention center, modern, better than any place I've organized a convention before, because you can move it, you can organize what you want, it's nice, it's clean, it's light, and there's light everywhere.


It's a perfect combination of everything. You've got the modern place to organize your event, you've got the gorgeous antique villa next to it, too. For the Friday reception opening, the lake it's blowing your mind. Yeah, no question. I was convinced in a second.


Lake Como Comic Art Festival: The Hurdle


Lake Como Comic Art Festival Night

Brad: What more is there to say?


Steven Morger: Well, it's not that difficult to get to.


Brad: All right. Yeah, I need to hear this. The distance is intimidating.


Steven Morger: You fly into Milan Malpensa, it's a major airport. The festival is about 45 minutes away. You can either take a cab or hire a car. There are ways to get there by train. It's a little convoluted but easy once you know it. Then, one of the things that I always come back to, because I've mentioned that I bought my apartment there, all my Italian friends were like, "You don't want to buy a place in Lake Como." I'm like, "Why?" They go, "Because that's where all the rich Americans go." I'm not a rich American, but there's no language problem.


Brad: Gotcha.


Steven Morger: There's a major airport nearby, easy to get from the airport to the venue. Once you get to Lake Como, no matter whether you speak English, French, German, you're not going to have a problem getting around.


Arno Lapeyre: Yeah, absolutely. I know that for some people who are not used to travel, sometimes they're a bit scared or they're thinking, "Oh, yeah, but I have to worry about all this." Actually, it's like Steve said, it's really simple because Milan is very easy to move around and Como is very close. There are a lot of hotels in the area or Airbnbs to find.


Once you're over there, you feel like you're in a little village, where honestly when you get out of the villa, the festival, and you go to eat in a restaurant, there are so many good places to choose from. Again, you're going to feel like you're in a smaller village, meeting all these artists, sitting and eating in the restaurant next to you.


Maybe the first time you might think, "Oh, I've got a lot of things to think about," but actually no. When you arrive in the airport, you take a cab and you're there. There's nothing too complicated. It's exactly the same as going into another state, another city that you've never been before, honestly.

Comments


bottom of page