100 Creatives 2014: Ben Fritzsching, Comic Book Show Promoter and Character Actor

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All photos courtesy of Ben Fritzsching
Ben Fritzsching
Ben Fritzsching, a partner in the comic book show promotion group STX Shows, has a very simple explanation as to how he started collecting comic books: "My mom never made me get rid of anything. The next thing I knew, I was collecting." His parents took him to a couple of comic book shows and that moved him from the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics he had been reading to superheroes and GI Joe. By the time he was 17, he had so many comics he decided to set up his own booth at a show, and his career as a part-time comic book dealer was born.

After selling collectables at comic book shows for about ten years, Fritzsching took a break from the business. "Everything was getting so expensive. The prices for everything were skyrocketing." Both Fritzsching and his wife were laid off and weekend comic book shows took a backseat to paying bills.

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100 Creatives 2014: Will Ottinger, Novelist

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Chances are novelist Will Ottinger won't die on a golf course in the next five years. At least not according to his own estimate of life expectancy after retirement (which is based on a completely unscientific sampling, we're sure).

Ottinger, who had a long career in finance, tells us that once it he left the business world it wasn't time for him to do less with his time, but something different. "I quickly realized there was more to an active after-business life than playing golf, coming home, watching television and going to bed. [People who do that] typically die within five years of retiring."

Instead of practicing his putting, Ottinger started writing. His first book, A Season for Ravens, was released earlier this year. Ravens reflects Ottinger's life long interest in history and is set in 1918. It's the story of three fighter pilots, each with their own personal demons, as they take part in the first ever aerial war.

Along with the three pilots (two American and one German), Ottinger created a host of other characters - wives, commanding officers, soldiers, friends - and they all ended up living in his head for a while.

"If you want to create realistic [fleshed out] characters for the readers, you have to make them realistic for yourself first. They became very real for me. My wife asked me 'Do these people live in your head? If they do, can we get you back on your medicine?' There was some sadness that all of these people, these characters that I've lived with for so much time are going away when I finished the book but really after a while, I [was] just so damn glad to get rid of them!"

Ottinger is already working on his next novel, and "bringing some new [characters] to life."

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100 Creatives 2014: Greg Starbird, Theater Lighting Designer

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Courtesy of Greg Starbird
The set of Red Death at Mildred's Umbrella
As a theater lighting designer, Greg Starbird does a lot of planning. He analyzes the show's script. He meets with the show's director and other designers to determine a communal approach. He creates a light plot of his initial ideas and tweaks it as he goes along. "In smaller theaters, such as Mildred's Umbrella, I typically work alone to hang, cable, and focus the lights," he tells us. "This can be a long process depending on how involved the plot is, who was in the space last, and how much troubleshooting and repair work needs to be done to get the necessary lights operable."

Planning, he's found, decreases but doesn't eliminate problems in production. "No amount of preparation can ever make tech go perfectly, so I have to be ready to improvise quickly, effectively, and efficiently to satisfy the director and design team without compromising my own aesthetic."

And then there's the question of getting it "right," not just being glitch-free but enhancing the show's impact and deepening the audience's experience.

"Every play has at least one moment of near-crippling self-doubt and at least one moment of self-validation," he says, "and if I'm lucky, they come in that order and the latter outnumbers the former."

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100 Creatives 2014: Dominique Royem, Symphony Orchestra Conductor

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All photos courtesy of Dominique Royem
Dominique Royem and the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra
Dominique Royem, Music Director of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra as well as Music Director and Conductor of Bayou City Concert Musicals, was in college when she conducted her first orchestra. As part of a class, she conducted "How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place" from the Brahms Requiem. "I had fun," she tells us, "but didn't think anything about it. After the performance, Dr. Robert Linder, who happened to be in the audience, pulled me aside and told me that I had a spark that 'couldn't be taught' and [that I] should pursue conducting professionally. I said 'Uhhhh... sure?' and that was that."

Soon after that, Royem was appointed as assistant conductor for a production of The Marriage of Figaro. At the time she had only a small amount of training, but it was then that she first called herself a conductor. "The title of conductor or music director is a job description, but it's one you have to earn. [With that production of The Marriage of Figaro,] I jumped head first into something I didn't fully understand. Things move very quickly in the theater world, and there is no time for self-doubt. Through that experience I learned that I had to call myself a conductor if I wanted to be one; no one else could bestow the title on me."

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100 Creatives 2014: Marc Boone, Sneaker Gang Founder and Designer

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All photos courtesy of Marc Boone and Sneaker Gang
Marc Boone of Sneaker Gang
Marc Boone's a self-admitted sneaker-head. Boone grew up in what he calls "the hood," where he was "surrounded by thugs and drugs." He wasn't a member of a gang back then, but here recently he started one: the Sneaker Gang. The tag's a bit of a misnomer; Sneaker Gang is Boone's design firm specializing in street-wear fashion.

Given the culture that's grown up around sneakers, which can cost thousands of dollars and which have often been the target of thieves (including one cop recently busted for stealing sneakers), Boone often finds it necessary to say: "We're not condoning any gang related activities and we are not to be confused with one." He goes on to say, "we're affiliated" (a nice way of saying 'we got street cred but we aren't gangsters).

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100 Creatives 2014: Andy McWilliams, Sound Designer and Composer

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All photos courtesy of Andy McWilliams
Quick, name a sound designer that's won an Emmy Award. Can't? Actually, neither can we right off the top of our head. Unless there big bombs or huge explosions, an audience usually doesn't pay much attention to a show's sound design. Ambient sound and incidental music are crucial to a show, but usually go unnoticed -- sound designers don't take a bow at the end of the show. Here's one that should. Andy McWilliams, a composer, musician, producer, sound engineer, instrument craftsman and theatrical sound designer works with local companies such as Mildred's Umbrella where he just finished working on Red Death.

What he does: "I do many different things. Being a musician and engineer/producer, I play many different instruments, write and record, produce and mix different projects. As a sound designer in theater, I use my musician side to put together the right elements for the play I'm working on at that time."

Why he likes it: "I like all of the elements involved with making any artistic production come together. Making records and working in theater share a lot of similarities... [for both] you're working with people that you like and trust, and they like and trust you to add your ideas to what something. I love working with the people, and seeing the final product is always very rewarding. Sometimes the process takes so much out of you that you have to step back a bit before you can see what you've made, but it's always wonderful."

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100 Creatives 2014: Maria-Elisa Heg, Zine Queen

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What She Does: Maria-Elisa Heg has been drawing since she was a kid. As her talent progressed, her work became more and more derivative, and realizing that, she made it a point as a teenager to focus on creating a unique style that embodied her. Most recently she's embraced sketching because of its spontaneity and the easy flow of her ideas onto the page at a rapid speed.

Her work, most easily viewable on her tumblr, tends toward the cartoonish and the simplistic. However, what it tends to lack in nuance and depth, it makes up for in a kind of punk rock brutality. There's an unfiltered genius, as if each picture were a snapshot of a single disturbed thought transmitted directly to paper.

She's also one of the minds behind Zine Fest Houston, which gathers some of the brightest and the best of our comic writers and artists every year. It started as an informal gathering in 1993, but Heg and co-organizer Anastasia Kirages took over the fest in 2012 to begin a dedicated expansion. The two partnered with The Printing Museum last year and have been a growing concern ever since.

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100 Creatives 2014: Allan Rodewald, Artist

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All images courtesy of Allan Rodewald
The cowboy industry lost a great talent when then seven-year-old Allan Rodewald picked up a paintbrush. Rodewald grew up in Michigan and according to his mom, he always wanted to be a cowboy. Then he took an art lesson and suddenly he stopped playing cowboys and started drawing them instead.

"I took my first art lesson when I was seven years old. My parents saw that I got it, I understood [working] in two dimensions so they took me to more lessons. I was in second grade and I said, 'I'm going to be an artist.' In fifth grade, I sold an oil painting. That's when I started saying, 'I'm an artist.' [When God was handing out talent,] he gave me a big slice of art and not too much of anything else. From the beginning, it was like I had no other choice in life and I'm super happy with that."

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100 Creatives 2014: Anne-Joelle Galley, Artist

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All photos courtesy of the artist
Artist Anne-Joelle Galley likes working with vibrant colors. It's an affinity, she says, best explained by Matisse in his Notes of a Painter: "The chief aim of color should be to serve expression as well as possible. I put down my colors without a preconceived plan. (...) I discover the quality of colors in a purely instinctive way. (...)"

What she does: Galley calls herself a print-maker, painter and colorist. She'll be adding wearable art to her resume soon.

Why she likes it: The great-niece of famed European painter/composer/writer Pierre Alin, Galley says enjoys the process of building work, of making creative choices as she goes along rather than following some pre-determined plan. "I am very lucky to be artistic, yet, unlike my great uncle, I was not born with the [ability] to approach a canvas or plate and be done from the very beginning. I really have to work at my art and re-visit each project over and over again. That process is what creates the passion for me, as [I'm] 'working' a piece.

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100 Creatives 2014: Michelle Ellen Jones, Killing Them Loudly

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Michelle Ellen Jones (right) with Keefer Barlow in Conjoined
What She Does: Michelle Ellen Jones has been attracted to the spotlight since she was young, and broke for Los Angeles to try her hand at acting at the first opportunity. When stardom didn't emerge, she returned to Houston to re-evaluate her future.

There she discovered ballroom dancing and it became her whole life. She's now a certified instructor who competes professionally in the field, but her desire to be an actress has never left her.

In 2012 she stepped back in front of the camera for a small part in Henrik Bech Poulsen's Helen Alone. Since then she's picked up a dozen roles and is on her way to being one of the best scream queens in the potent Houston horror scene. She recently played the "good" Siamese twin in Joe Grisaffi's Conjoined, but her shining moment was in Jeremy Sumrall's Pick-Axe Murders III: The Final Chapter. In it, she plays a compelling beautiful and erotic character with a surprisingly primal and bloody secret. Her work in the opening of the film is one of the best horror intros ever done, and she owned every minute of it.

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