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“No gatekeeping involved”: Norfolk Original Indie Comic Expo brings art to the mainstream

The Norfolk Original Indie Comic Expo is free at Smartmouth Brewing in Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Matt Harrison)
The Norfolk Original Indie Comic Expo is free at Smartmouth Brewing in Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Matt Harrison)


The Norfolk Original Indie Comic Expo is bringing comics to the mainstream for its sixth year.

“There’s no gatekeeping involved,” said cartoonist and event organizer Matt Harrison. “There are all different kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.”

“We’ve excluded all the jerks,” Harrison said. “You’re not going to be made to feel stupid if you don’t know much about comics. We want to get you interested, and there’s something there you’re going to appreciate.”

Returning again to Smartmouth Brewing in Norfolk, NOICE creates a fun and electric experience for even those without any prior interest in comics. The music, the decorations and Smartmouth’s annual NOICE-inspired brew contribute to the vibrant atmosphere.

“It’s more of a hangout than a stuffy, awkward shopping experience … most people like music and alcohol,” said co-organizer Greg Steele.

Harrison, Greg Steele and Juan Marable have revolutionized the comic expo scene in Hampton Roads (and beyond) due to their unique approach. For starters, there’s no admission price.

The show partners with Norfolk’s Local Heroes Comics to showcase amateur to semi-professional cartoonists and doesn’t charge artists or attendants. This means that artists can keep their prices low.

“The 50 bucks you would have spent on a ticket could get you 10 mini comics,” Steele said.

Since there’s minimal financial burden on the artist, NOICE is able to host the top talent from Norfolk, Richmond and all along the East Coast.

The event can be highly profitable for artists, but NOICE organizers – who are cartoonists themselves – agree they are in it for the love of comics as a unique art form.

“It’s not a money-making venture for us,” Harrison said.

Selling drink glasses and merch helps the organizers break even and, where possible, subsidize travel costs for non-local artists. When there’s no money for hotels, they offer up their couches.

“The show is coordinated and organized by artists who are sympathetic to how difficult it is for an artist to table at a show,” Steele said.

The event organizers put extensive effort into providing a diverse range of comics both in style and content. While there may be some superhero comics, they comprise a small minority at NOICE.

“There’s such a wide range,” Harrison said. “There’s something for your kids and there’s something for you.”

In fact, they encourage people to see comics as a medium, not a genre.

“It’s not just superheroes, that’s like saying movies and thinking rom-com. That’s just one way to do it,” Harrison said.

The first NOICE show was a huge success, with more than 500 attendees in the first few hours. The expo has continued to evolve over its six years.

“The first NOICE was just us texting people we knew, begging people,” Steel said. Now, there’s an application process that has hundreds of applicants for just 38 tables.

Past guests have included some large names in the original comic community, including Katie Skelly, Chuck Forsman and Dustin Harbin. Special guests this year include Matt Emmons, James “Barf” Callahan and Pete Faecke.

“It’s very low risk,” Steele said. “Just find parking.”

The Norfolk Original Indie Comic Expo comes to Smartmouth Brewing in Norfolk Feb. 24 from 12-6 p.m. The event is free to attend. For more information or updates, check NOICE on Instagram.

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