In a city that embraces comics, this annual convention is more art and less cosplay.

As the creator of the comic Bone, Columbus cartoonist Jeff Smith had been to plenty of comic book conventions—enough to begin imagining something different.

“You just see all these people walking by,” Smith says. “They’re dressed like Doctor Strange and Spider-Man and Batman.”

Smith wondered whether he could create a comics festival that was less about costumes and more about art. “Let’s also talk about all the different disciplines in cartooning, like animation and political cartoons, the comic strips and comic books and graphic novels,” says Smith, who founded Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC) in 2015.

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Smith was encouraged to launch CXC because local arts institutions already were showing support for comics. A game-changer came in 2010, Smith says, when the Columbus Museum of Art exhibited original artwork from Robert Crumb’s Genesis. “I was like, ‘This town is hip to comics.’”

This year’s festival will take place Sept. 26–29 at venues including the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Columbus College of Art & Design and Wexner Center for the Arts.

Guests include Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey as well as members of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, who will hold their annual meeting at the Billy Ireland during CXC. The eclectic lineup pleases Smith, who, despite his formidable comics background, says he still learns new things at the assorted talks and symposiums. “The field has grown huge,” he says.

Festival executive director Tom Spurgeon, who has lived in Seattle and New Mexico, says he has encountered few cities more appreciative of comics than Columbus. “It’s like one of those mysterious French cities, where an inexplicable amount of cartoonists are running for the hills,” Spurgeon says.

And the city—once home to such giants of comics as Billy Ireland and James Thurber—continues to foster creators. “We don’t have to fight to get noticed the way that you would in, say, a New York or a Chicago or an LA,” says Laurenn McCubbin, a professor at CCAD, which offers a comics-related major. “It’s just a great place right now to be a creative person.”

Besides, how many cities can boast an entire museum dedicated to displaying the work of pen-and-ink Picassos? “The Billy is a cathedral for comics,” Spurgeon says. cartooncrossroadscolumbus.com