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This weekend, it’s Yaoi-Con—with Jo Chen

Yaoi-Con, subtitled “A Celebration of Male Beauty & Passion in Anime & Manga,” is an opportunity for yaoi enthusiasts to get together without distractions (unlike, say, New York Comic-Con, where you have to coexist with video games, movies, cars, and a bunch of comics you really don’t care about). This weekend, a couple thousand yaoi fans will crowd into the San Francisco Airport Marriott Hotel to enjoy panels, guest appearances, a scavenger hunt, and yaoi-specific events like Bishie Pictionary and a Bishounen Auction (one of the more controversial aspects of Yaoi-Con).

It says something about the importance of this event that Viz Media (the largest manga publisher in the U.S.) opted to launch its new yaoi manga imprint at Yaoi-Con rather than at NYCC. Digital Manga, which skipped NYCC altogether (as they have for the past few years) will also be there. Guests at this year’s con include Japanese manga creator Fusanosuke Inariya (Maiden Rose) and American artist Jo Chen, who draws yaoi doujinshi (fan comics) when she isn’t working on Buffy, Runaways, and Thor. Chen’s doujinshi In These Words has been picked up by the Japanese publisher Libre and will run in their magazine Be Boy Gold.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Yaoi-Con, and while it is much smaller than most anime cons (with attendance that stays in the four digits), it has become well established as one of the moveable feasts of the manga lover’s year. And while I have never been, I have a feeling that Yaoi-Con is the ideal con, the one place where everyone in the room has something in common—and it’s something the rest of the world knows nothing about.

Jo Chen covers kick ass

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #8 cover by Jo Chen

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #8 cover by Jo Chen

Jo Chen delivers some of the most gorgeous and striking comic book covers in the business. Her work first caught my eye on Runaways, and she’s continued her stellar track record on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight.

Chen’s flowing style, dynamic compositions and easy naturalism always comes through beautifully, even though she does most of her work digitally. (Broke my heart to learn that, only because it meant there were no original Jo Chens to own.) Best of all, she’s got a playful sensibility that keeps the covers from getting bogged down in overwrought gravitas, no matter the subject. For my money, she’s right up there with James Jean and J.G. Jones. (What’s with all the J names? OK, Paul Pope too.)

Luckily for me and the other Jo Chen fans out there, Dark Horse has assembled a glorious gallery of Chen’s Buffy work on its website. Trust me when I say it was a painful Sophie’s Choice to pick just one piece to post here — it is well worth your time to experience them all for yourself.

Scott Allie (Chen’s editor on Buffy and an expert on breathtaking covers) announced the gallery in his most recent column on Dread Central — don’t miss it for insight into Chen’s creative evolution at Dark Horse, and the connection between pomegranates and vampires.

Wonder Woman, by Jo Chen

Wonder Woman, by Jo Chen

Wonder Woman, by Jo Chen

On her blog and on her MySpace page, artist Jo Chen reveals a few pieces of beautiful Wonder Woman art she created for “an undisclosed project.” Chen mentions she was hired by “Sonia,” whom I presume is Sonia Choi, associate art director of DC’s licensing division.

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