The 2018 Denver Zine Fest—proudly sponsored by Meow Wolf—is bustling—electricity fills the giant room on the second floor of the McNichols Civic Center Building in Denver, Colorado. I follow that electricity into a sea of booths: more than 90 artists from 15 states around the country.
I follow the electricity to the booth of artist Derek Knierim, who has lived in most of his life in Colorado and the Denver area. Knierim has participated in the Denver Zine Fest previously and, for the last six years, he’s shown his work at Denver Comic Con. His comic’s cover image pulls me in: a character fallen to their knees before a frozen wasteland with a sci-fi melancholy vibe. The slightly post-apocalyptic heavy fantasy world Knierim has conjured seems like a natural link to the Meow Wolf aesthetic.
The comic, “Manifest: Future,” follows a character named Aco, living in a world where the future “is a monster or beast.” In this world, one can’t progress on the timeline without finding and defeating the monster. “You don’t age, you don’t die, you’re just kind of stuck,” Knierim says. Aco is “on a quest to find his future,” a relatable theme; I feel as though I have stood before the giant monster that is my future, unsure of what the outcome would be.
Knierim has been working on the comic for five years; he writes, illustrates and does all his own color work.
For the first two comics in the series, he worked in pencil and paper on mylar, scanned the work and photoshopped the colors. The third in the series was made digitally as the subsequent comics will be. “My dream job is to work in the video game and movie industry,” Knierim says, “so because of that, I want to get a lot better at digital work, since that’s what a lot of that industry utilizes.” Nonetheless, Knierim remains grounded in his original process. “I still like drawing in my sketch book and busting out the paints every now and then. I try to keep it well rounded.”
The comic’s aesthetics complement the story and I’m surprised by the professionalism of the self-published work—the comic is both beautiful, thoughtful and badass.
Self publishing frequently requires a labor of love in which artists balance day jobs and personal lives. Without a team, projects such as “Manifest: Future” can be time consuming to produce. For Knierim, “it usually takes me around a year to come out with a single book.” The effort shows. Though self-published now, Knierim wants his book out in the world and is exploring publication options. Self-publishing has its limitations, but also freedom. “That is one of the major perks to it,” Knierim says, “I get to kind of dictate the whole book and because the content is very personal to me and related to me, it's good have control over that.”
The electricity I felt when I walked in remains, but now it feels more urgent. I must move on. I must let my own timeline progress. There is so much talent here at the Denver Zine Fest among the whirring voices and cracks of laughter. So much to see and experience.
I make a Haruki Murakami pin with help from the Denver Public Library. It reads “Haruki urakam”. I don’t mind. I love it. It’s pouring outside, but the rain is silent. I’m thankful for all of the creators around me, sharing their art and ideas and I think to myself, “Maybe the future will be OK.” I draw my sword and close my eyes and slip into the world of imagination and creation.