The Portland Creative Conference turns the focus on innovation in the minds of artists.

COURTESY: MARVEL COMICS - A classic Jack Kirby fight scene. Writer David Walker will request one and the artist usually knows exactly what to draw.

The annual Portland Creative Conference has always focused on creative professionals talking about their process. The audience comes for inspiration. Speakers genuinely share their work habits and ways around the blahs, but they also speak with the passion that underlies their inspirations and their aesthetic choices.

This year's lineup is spread between movie makers and writers, with a dash of Portland design thrown in.

In an age where Americans are told they have to be innovative to compete in a global marketplace against cheap labor, software and robots, it has become valuable to take a close look at what creative people do for a living.

Steve Gehlen, the Chairman of the Conference and the curator of the program, including Speaker selection, said "the goal is to deliver a program that professionals from any creative industry will find valuable, inspirational, and motivational, while also giving them an opportunity to grow their professional network."

He gives his speakers a set of guidelines and 30 minutes of coaching by phone.

"I ask that they focus on the creative process that we all have in common, and give some tips and tricks. It's a little bit longer than some of the TEDx talks, so they feel they can go talk about something they care deeply about. That makes for a more authentic experience for the listeners."

He likes them to talk about their challenges.

COURTESY: PORTLAND CREATIVE CONFERENCE - Shawn Levy, movie and pop culture author, speaks at the Portland Conference Friday Sept 29.

"If they show they had struggles too, how they adapted, I think the audience identifies with that. We can look at a successful person and think it all went well, that they're in charge of their career, but it turns out they all struggled."

One of Gehlen's top picks was Portland author Shawn Levy (no, not the movie director of the same name). Levy was the Oregonian's film critic for two decades. He has published eight books about film and pop culture, including "Ready, Steady, Go" about swinging Sixties London and "Dolce Vita Confidential" about 1950's Rome.

He will be talking about the intersection between research and imagination and how it plays into his nonfiction.

"Half the talk will deal with the moment in popular culture when more than one art is at a high tenor, and what it is that I believe fuels those scenes. How a sleepy place becomes a hot place in more than one way, all of a sudden."

Something like that is happening in Portland now.

"Portland has had more than one thing going on in the last 20 years, which makes it magnetic and fertile," he said.

The Portland Creative Conference was a bigger affair in the 1990s under the auspices of Will Vinton, lasting a whole weekend. Levy liked that it attracted big names like Gary Larson, Spike Lee and Steve Buscemi.

"And it brought people together from fields unknown, from dance and advertising and multimedia. It always felt very Portland in that it brought a lot of circles together. In Portland everyone (creative) does three or four things. Unlike L.A .and New York where one discipline dominates, we have a level playing field. We include cuisine and comics, which might seem more commercial."

COURTESY: PORTLAND CREATIVE CONFERENCE - David Walker, comic book writer, speaks at the Portland Conference Friday Sept 29.

Comic book writer David Walker was also known locally as a film reviewer, in his case, for the Willamette Week. He says Levy was one of the people who encouraged him to branch out and so he entered the comics industry late in life, in his early 40s. (He's now nearly 49.)

Walker's comic books include Shaft, Luke Cage and Occupy Avengers. Walker has also published "Shaft's Revenge," a novel starring the iconic black detective.

He will focus his talk on how writing comic books requires great communication between the writer and the artist who draws them. Walker says he typically writes for artists who are working out of Brazil or Spain.

Comics to him are all about communication and collaboration. "It's a visual medium like film and TV, and it all starts with the story: how I describe for the artist what to draw."

He writes the dialog and also what he wants the pictures to show: for example, Superman and Batman standing on a roof overlooking the metropolis.

"It depends on how much information the reader needs to have. If Batman has a bat-device that he uses on page 3, I need the artist to show it in his belt on page 1."

Walker likens the process to translation. He "doesn't speak a lick of Portuguese" or much Spanish. Often his artists don't speak much English and rely on Google Translate.

"It's like you're writing a letter to your artist. With a movie script you're writing to everyone, the director, the actors, the producer."

Only 35 percent of words he writes appear on the page. He submits links to images of the kind of look he wants, whether it's 1930s New York City cabs, or..." I'll say 'Remember that scene from The Matrix?' or 'Give me the Jack Kirby action sequence or fight sequence.'"

In an upcoming issue of "Luke Cage" he had to figure out how he wanted it to look as the character was having his memory erased. He took a break of a few days while he thought it through. Mainly though he can write a 24-page story in four days while it takes his artist a month to draw it.

"You never want to ask the artist to draw something that's so difficult they hate your guts for it." Trust is important.

When the finished panels arrive by email or by courier, it's a rush.

"There's no greater feeling than the first time you see script turned into a book. That's when the story comes alive."

As for Portland's creative scene, "From my point of view, there's never been a better time to be creative here, except it's not very affordable. There's a ton of people in the comics industry here, and the other people, in TV and film, are doing fairly well compared to the 1990s when the work dried up. You just have to be innovative and willing to hustle. I do 10 comic book conventions a year, and the industry is small enough that you can meet some of the most successful and celebrated creators in the industry. In movies, where could you go and meet Martin Scorsese and bend his ear for 20 or 30 minutes?"

COURTESY: PORTLAND CREATIVE CONFERENCE - Lidia Yuknavich, author, speaks at the Portland Conference Friday Sept 29.

The other speakers are:

Lidia Yuknavitch, author of the new novel The Book of Joan, as well as The Small Backs of Children, winner of the 2016 Oregon Book Award's Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and the Reader's Choice Award, and Dora: A Headcase. Her TED Talk, The Beauty of Being a Misfit, is approaching 2 million views and she has a forthcoming book on the topic, The Misfit Manifesto, fall 2017.

Marcelino J. Alvarez, the founder and CEO of Uncorked Studios, a product design firm located in Portland, and Incúbate, the first design-thinking workshop and incubator in Cuba.

Peter Kuran, visual effects artist whose first movie was Star Wars. (see Business Tribune cover story Sept 17, 2017.)

Angela Medlin, the Founder of the Functional Apparel and Accessories Studio (FAAS), recent global Apparel Design Director at Nike WHQ for the Jordan Brand, and designer of the pet product brand, House Dogge. In partnership with Pensole and the Pacific Northwest College of Art, FAAS students will be directed and coached to work in "true to life" dynamic product creation teams and industrydevelopment processes.

Kim Adams, Virtual Reality Producer (Oculus Story Studio, Google Spotlight Stories), Animation Producer (Pixar). Her first job in the industry was as an intern at George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic.

Wes Studi, internationally acclaimed actor and musician, who credits his passion and multi-faceted background for his powerful character portrayals that forever changed a Hollywood stereotype of native Americans in "Dances with Wolves," "The Last of the Mohicans," "Geronimo: An American Legend," and "Heat," as well as James Cameron's "Avatar" and Paul Weitz's "Being Flynn."

COURTESY: PORTLAND CREATIVE CONFERENCE - Wes Studi, internationally acclaimed actor, speaks at the Portland Conference Friday Sept 29.

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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