Local comic collective battles artistic ennui.

Our smallish town hosts more than its fair share of world-class art markets every year and, each fall, as the throngs of tourists wash away clutching their cow skull paintings

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and clay pots, only locals are left. Those of us in cultural fields buckle down for a long winter, and face back up to our most important task: to root out and nourish new local art.

How about an art form that can translate to almost

any other artistic medium? How about the finest elements of film and literature and visual art snapped up and molded to the intent of the creator,

rules and standards be damned? A medium as flirtatious with profound ideas as with pulp entertainment? It might be a tall order for the lingering tradition of 19th century ledger art, but innocence and innovation are the trademarks of comics.

Sweet 7000's Baaadassss Comics (7000 b.c. for those of a more delicate temperament) want you to stop picturing capes and tights and superhuman feats of strength when you think of comics. "It's a

pretty wide-open medium," says Jett Boy, the unofficial leader of the disparate collective of comic-obsessed artists that make up 7000 b.c. "It's not as co-opted as TV or film, and it's incredibly diverse in terms of style,

statement and medium." Jett manages True Believers (435 S. Guadalupe St., 992-8783), a comic-book-store-turned-gallery that opened in 2003. And the comic art on its walls runs a huge stylistic gamut.

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Work on the walls from their recent, very spontaneous show-Jett Boy describes it thusly: "Well, we were sitting around talking about putting some of Robert's art on the walls, and then Laura [Benziker] walked in and said she'd been working on some portraits in the Sumi ink style, and Tyrrell just finished this video so we kind of threw it up there at the last minute"-features ducks and renderings of solemn young men in striped shirts, a manic, flickering video on a 13-inch

screen

and, naturally, the traditional black-and-white comic renderings in segmented panels.

"At first we wanted to bring some high-profile comic book artists here, but our focus kind of shifted." Last year's 24-hour comic day, which drew artists to the shop for the creation of a 24-page comic in as many hours, helped shift the store's focus toward a quietly thriving regional art scene. Jett stepped up and initiated an informal gathering on the last

Sunday of each month: comic-focused, beer-optional. The unpublicized, low-fi group attracted a handful of store regulars and curious newcomers and has grown, in a few short months, to approximately 30 members. At the end of the first 24-hour comic day, artists had questions. Namely, now that the vision has been realized, sequenced, pencilled and inked-how to produce?

"The future of comics is in what we call 'micro-press'-like, self publishing through Kinko's as opposed to trying

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to get

published through TopShelf or Dark Horse or wherever," Jett says. "We're actually working on a book right now. It's kind of a first foray into a larger print run." The book, an anthology of hospital stories, features 12 original comics by local artists. A book, however, is not easy-or cheap-to produce.

Which is where the Xeric Foundation comes into play. Founded by Peter Laird, co-creator of those lovable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Xeric foundation awards grants to comic artists twice a year based on the integrity of their work and the solidity of their business plan.

7000 b.c. rose brilliantly to Laird's challenge: The group is in the process of establishing non-profit status and has sent a business proposal and a copy of

Hospital Stories

off to Xeric. They expect to find out if they've been awarded by mid-September. In the meantime, the book's production is still a very solid reality. "We sent in our proposal but we're also saving our nickels and dimes," Jett trills. At an estimated three grand for the book's production, 7000 b.c.'s members are looking at a pretty hefty per-page contribution rate.

Therefore, don't feign surprise should a sudden

blossom of exhibitions and fundraisers manifest at

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True Believers in the months leading up to the book's January publication.

7000 b.c. is a little diffuse about actual fundraising plans. Jett promises a horror movie-themed show at True Believers through the month of October. "That's what I dig," he grins, a touch wickedly. "Those are the kind of comics I make, the kinds of movies I see. The genre really

speaks to me. And the comic world is going through a real horror renaissance right now, so it feels timely." But he's not fretting about details. "I think this, like, young, grubby art culture that works on cardboard and can't find a venue has long been overlooked and is starting to really build momentum. It's just that trying to do anything with this crowd is a little like herding cats." It's the proverbial superhuman feat of comic cliché, but in a region starving for a little innovation, Sweet 7000's Baaadassss Comics already seems imbued with some otherworldly powers.