Liberty Station welcomes Comic Art Gallery to San Diego

Exhibit a must-see for fans of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

The world-famous Comic-Con, that showcases comic art and the artists who create it? It’s a natural.

“This is the town that put comic arts on the map,” said Alan Ziter, executive director of the NTC Foundation at Point Loma’s Liberty Station. An historic barracks building there is now home to the offices of comic works publisher IDW Publishing and the 17,000- square-foot San Diego Comic Art Gallery. The space, which opens June 5 and to which admission is free, will include a comic-art gallery, a retail area and two working studios where visitors can watch artists do their thing.

“What we’re trying to do is have a gallery that will share with the community all the success IDW has had,” said Harry Katz, curator of the San Diego Comic Art Gallery and former head curator in the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress. “Beyond that, we’re hoping to create a 24/7 Comic-Con feel.

“There’s a further agenda — to share with San Diego the innovative, influential artists of books or strips who have defined the art of the comic book and the graphic novel. We can show people how comic books are made and provide access not only to the art but to the artists themselves.”

One of them is Scripps Ranch resident Kevin Eastman, an exhibition of whose work will occupy the gallery space throughout this year and whose original studio has been re-created on site. Eastman, with co-creator Peter Laird, is best known for giving the world the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (A bit more on that later.)

Eastman, who now works for IDW, will make periodic working appearances in his studio at the SDCAG. “Every single item in that studio is from my personal studio, whether it’s reference books, art books, pens and pencils, the desk, the Turtle collectibles.” He said he’s excited about giving comic art enthusiasts the opportunity to observe his creative process.

“It’s important for me personally. Every time I would meet an artist I was curious as to what his studio was like. Having an exhibit like this, in which I will be working fairly regularly and doing signings once a month, fits the tone of a place where people can say ‘Whoa! This is where it all happened!’ It’ll resonate with a lot of fans, and even with people who’ve never read a comic book.”

The other studio at the gallery will be occupied by different comic artists on a rotating basis, according to curator Katz. “(CEO & Publisher) Ted Adams and (Executive Vice President) Robby Robbins at IDW have close ties to the top artists in the field. With that and with my background, there’s probably nobody we can’t ask. We can dream big.”

In case you’re wondering, the new gallery is planning some special events to be held during July’s San Diego Comic-Con International, and IDW, which is relocating to Liberty Station from its previous North Pacific Beach space, will, as always, have a presence at the Con.

For artist Eastman, this year’s Comic-Con will be his 31st. “It’s always been one of the highlights of both comic artists’ and fans’ yearly calendar, and it’s known for being just a wonderful environment that really supports us as a unique art medium.”

Now for that anecdote about the creation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: “I had this idea one night,” Eastman recounted. “I was just trying to make Peter (Laird) laugh. Being a big fan of Bruce Lee, I thought to myself, ‘If Bruce Lee was an animal, what would be the silliest animal Bruce Lee could be?’ ”

Laird added the “teenage mutant” to the title, the two at-the-time-struggling artists came up with a story about the characters, and then self-published their final product.

That was 30 years and millions of fans ago. “It’s mind-blowing to me,” said Eastman.

IF YOU GO: The San Diego Comic Art Gallery, 2765 Truxton Road, Liberty Station, Point Loma opens June 5 as part of NTC’s Friday Night Lights from 5 to 9 p.m. Free admission. The gallery does not yet have a contact phone or website.