The Long Con

Emerald City Comicon hit early puberty with its tenth installment in Seattle last weekend, bursting its pants like a hormone-swelled middle-schooler. At its peak on Saturday, crowds were such that the con became unnavigable, any planned rendezvous unkeepable, and popular panels uncrashable. It’s not San Diego, with its populist rallies for artist-screwing corporate entertainments — thank Crom Cruach for that — but it is growing, and welcoming many more guests, while still seeming to retain a focus on comics and their creators.

I was at ECCC to report on panels for Comic Book Resources. I covered this one, and this one, and this one. (Regarding that last: fuck you, commenters. There was nothing to report about DC Comics’ New 52 panel because the New 52 is a long way from being news anymore, and every panel that promotes it at this point is just dutiful sarariman flag-waving. The only thing that will make it change or go away is you, not buying it. [And besides, they'd already had this other panel.]) Of the three, I liked the Image panel best, simply because it spotlighted new artists I was unaware of, new works being done in non-traditional formats, and adventurous storytelling of flavors DC and Marvel can’t afford to pursue for fear of alienating their provably reactionary buyer base.

The thing I most enjoyed, when not standing in line an hour early for panels (a press pass gets you free admission to the con as a whole, but beyond that: bupkis), was discovering new comics. This should be the focus of every con, but as Comics Should Be Good’s Greg Burgas observes in his really nice overview of ECCC (which I photobombed), the flagship in San Diego is listing toward the movie-and-TV nexus in a way that tends to shortchange ink-and-panel folks. At ECCC, Artists Alley is vast, and the hard part isn’t finding creative types but avoiding eye contact with them.

(All bookcover images link to distributor sites.)

I have little kids, and it’s nigh impossible to find them age-appropriate gear at a comicon. Superhero books these days are suspect. Becky Dreistadt and Frank Gibson of Tiny Kitten Teeth filled my needs with Tiggerbuttah, an homage to the Little Golden Books of yore that takes an imaginative young cub on a balloon trip around the world. The style is adorable, the story embraceable, and the project unassailably cool. Not only did Becky and Frank introduce me to their work, they graciously inscribed the book  for my youngest son.

Paige Braddock draws The Martian Confederacy, now in its second volume, written by Jason McNamara from Braddock’s original concept. San Francisco-based McNamara is a scripter with several titles behind him. One of these he handed me gratis at his ECCC booth: Short Hand, the affecting story of an elderly detective, drawn by Rahsan Ekedal. This one has it all — geriatric jokes, a compelling if everyday mystery, outstanding art, and a truly sympathetic antihero at its core. (If you talk to McNamara at some future con — and you should — ask him about the time he sighted a Squirrel Girl cosplayer while being chatted up by a high-level comics executive.)

I was glad to meet Jason, as well as his sometime collaborator artist Greg Hinkle, sharing the same booth. Hinkle’s multi-writer horror project Parasomnia was serialized by Robot 6 in 2010, and his solo project Angry is an admirable sketch-diary of daily humiliations that showcases his art really well. He seems like an artist who can do anything, from big-headed caricatures to boldly-drawn superheroes to scenes of quiet menace and despair. These two books went straight into my valise, and they were worthwhile purchases.

When I needed an escape from the crowds, which on Saturday approached fire-hazard capacity, I stopped by table G-09 to confab with friend Ron Evans and his fiancée Leah Fox. Ron wears too many creative hats to count — all of them stylish — but this weekend he was promoting his ongoing comics weirdyssey Edgar Rue, about a suicide who awakens in the World Beyond in the form of a floating skull and spinal column. (I’ve blurbed it.) Ron also hosts the paranormalist podcast Tales From the Spacepod (I’ve been on it), published the ’zine Spacemen and Robits (I wrote something for it), and creates super-detailed artwork rooted in a childhood of brimstone Christianity, robot sci-fi and B-horror matinees.

Suicide was also the prime mover of the comics art from Ron’s neighboring booth, where Portland writer Neal Bailey was promoting Cura Te Ipsum. His book, with artist Dexter Wee, focuses on a school guidance counselor who tries to eat a bullet but gets interrupted by alternate-world versions of himself, who are fighting a multiversal war to prevent their own extinction. It’s a compelling story idea that’s rooted in character and spirals outward into action, intrigue, metaphysics, and gore. I picked up a signed copy of Volume One, read it straight through the next evening, and I just have to say … What the fuck, Neal Bailey? You cannot end one edition of your comics series like that and not expect me to buy the next book! You are killing me, Neal Bailey! Seriously, what the fuck?

Comics maven-about-many-towns Sonia Harris is a Twitter friend whom I met in real life for the first time at the con — and without her I might not have encountered McNamara, Hinkle, or her fellow Comics Should Be Good writers Burgas and Greg Hatcher. Sonia is a gifted designer and photographer whose work augments Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston’s Butcher Baker. Her photos from ECCC live in her massive Flickr stream, and her own written memoir of the con is unspooling at CSBG. Wish I’d gotten to meet David Brothers, a comics essayist I admire, but it wasn’t to be. Among artists I wanted to see but missed: David “Shortpacked” Willis, Matthew “The Oatmeal” Inman, Jacen Burrows, Jason Baxter and Derek Charm of the great and up-and-coming webcomic “Trip Fantastic,” and Ben Templesmith. (Sonia Harris designed his site — what did I say about her being a maven?) Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter probably gave the best mile-high view of the convention, and threw up this linkpage; Jill Pantozzi of The Mary Sue issued her first-timer’s account; artist Yidi “Kiriska” Yu chronicled a visit in civilian garb; and photographer Daniel Berman collected his images of creative ECCCgoers on his blog.

I really love encountering people with particular affections for disposable culture — people who, as I’ve often put it, think about pop culture the way astrophysicists think about gravity. The things we throw up to entertain ourselves in the moment are markers to who we were, and who we’re in the process of becoming. Nobody has thought about this more than the people at a comics convention. The weekend was fun, and occasionally crazy, and once in a while frustrating, and sometimes just weird, but I walked around with a smile on my face the entire time.

Guided By Voices — Hot Freaks

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2 Responses to The Long Con

  1. Greg Hatcher says:

    Hey, you should get one of the DRAWN IN books if you’re looking for kid-friendly stuff. The girls are tabling again at SakuraCon this weekend, or you can shoot me an address and I’ll just drop one in the mail to you.

    And it was nice meeting you too!

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