Comix Trip

Gerry Conway, writer: “We were just winging it, sort of like jazz riffing. And if you can think of the idiocy of trying to manage a jazz set, that’s kind of the idiocy, in my view, of trying to manage comics. Because comics, at their best, should be a jazz set.”

This was probably my favorite view of Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon 2013: Gerry Conway, who made the comics of my youth, in a concise and on-point interview with comics writer and journalist Blair Butler. The savvy interviewer and a series of esteemed creators carried on one-on-one talks (many archived for webstream) that got to the heart of their work and their business. Conway told his fair share of stories out of school, and critiqued the industry from his current outsider’s perspective. (“He’s got that Law & Order money,” one comics journalist told me in the hall, “so he can let fly.”)

I took in Conway’s panel, plus an earlier one in which Chris Claremont would not shut up, alongside friend Andrew Wahl, who has a natural zeal for the period as chief of Comics Bronze Age. The model at Marvel in the early 1970s was less concerned with damaging the brand — not everyone involved was convinced there would be a brand within a decade — than with creative storytelling, Conway says: “When you get these layers and layers of oversight, you get exactly what that will produce, which is stuff that’s kind of massaged to death and screened of all potential impurities.”

If comics are jazz, comicons these days are NASCAR. Bigger! Louder! More colorful! The ECCC main media hall, where the Star Trek captains and True Blood vampirettes and Walking Dead zombie-hunters receive the adoration of a coagulated crowd, is populist theater. The Walking Dead itself, the latest in a rich heritage of shows to rule television despite not being any good, was the subject of three panels featuring two co-stars spread across the three-day con. I don’t begrudge performers their moment with the fans, but nobody who went to Michael Rooker’s panel on Friday learned anything other than, yeah, Michael Rooker sure can do a good impression of Merle Dixon — a character idolized strictly for his ass-backward badassness.

Danai Gurira at rehearsals for her play “Eclipsed” / Craig Schwartz

On the other fringe, actor-playwright Danai Gurira has clearly thought more deeply about the implications of a societal collapse than the show itself ever will. Her presence on a Saturday joint panel with Rooker (of whom she’s obviously quite fond) helped tug her fellow castmember down from the swaggering, incommunicative heights of his solo panel the day prior. These events are empty calories: the actors know very little about the overall maps of their own projects, they’re sworn to secrecy about what they do know, and all that remains is to reinforce their shows’ cults, which sometimes means catching the spittle of the braying lunatics in the fanbase.

(One thing I need never see again is a fan bellowing at Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day in character as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.)

(Other things I probably don’t need to see again include Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day.)

Hey, white cosplayers blacking up to be Michonne and her pets from The Walking Dead! I didn’t see you Sunday at Danai Gurira’s thoughtful, intimate panel. Why not? The talk was well-attended but not SRO, so you certainly had a chance to walk up to the mike to present yourselves. You obviously admire the character tremendously, so wouldn’t you want to show off your costuming to the accomplished, intellectual African woman who plays that character? … If you can’t say yes to that, if you apply the categorical imperative to your performance and find the outcome undesirable, then your costume choice was probably a poor one, not to be repeated next year.

(Speaking of next year, this was the second year in a row for Blackface Geordi LaForge. I don’t think it was the same guy both years, but I definitely saw a dude doing this at ECCC 2012. Same question to those fellows, but I’m damn sure not gonna ask it of Bleeding Cool commenters.)

Brian Stelfreeze, artist: “A fan came up to me on Friday, with some copies of Shadow of the Bat for me to sign. And he said, ‘This is the first comic book convention I’ve ever been to. I was into comics in the early to mid-’90s. … I want to get back into it.’ And he’s just like, ‘I tried Batman, but I had no idea what’s going on, so I can’t read it.’ I was like, wow. So this guy wants to be a fan, but the project says ‘Nooooo.’

“And the guy says to me, ‘So I like Batman — what can I read?’ And I was like, ‘Uhhh … I don’t know.'”

Stelfreeze is also noteworthy for his lithe, muscular female figures, in an industry where bolt-on jugs are de rigeur. I give you now Stelfreeze’s Catwoman Defiant from 1992 vs. Guillem March’s Catwoman from the 2011 New 52 reboot. Which one of these renderings, viewed from some future vantage, will be considered off-model?

Garth Ennis, writer: “Don’t look back. Don’t repeat what’s already been done — which is a big problem that comics have.”

(Garth Ennis’ Crossed, by the way, eats The Walking Dead for lunch and then buggers it.)

Ennis expressed a corollary sentiment in the professional tales he shared with Butler during their interview, saying his own fanhood — very much a form of “looking back” — impeded his storytelling when he managed Judge Dredd for 2000 A.D. That twin burden of fannishness and nostalgia was touched on by a boatload of other creators on panels and talks throughout the con — including Marvel scripter Jeff Parker, who was efficiently tag-team interviewed Friday night by comics blogger David Brothers and a bottle of mid-shelf Irish whiskey.

Walking out of that panel, I flagged down the Comics Reporter himself, Tom Spurgeon, to thank him for his work. More, I wanted to praise his confessional interview at Gil Roth’s Virtual Memories podcast, where he talks at length about his near-fatal illness of 2011 and the dramatic weight loss that followed. Along the way, he explores the instincts that can make one a massive consumer of both comics and calories: “You’re a pleasure junkie, I think — a lot of geeks are — and I think that you kind of want to stay in that state of existence where you’re super-happy and content. And there’s a nostalgic pull in that …” Look back to the past, to the pleasures that you had, and try to recreate them at your peril.

(What do you mean you haven’t heard Tom Spurgeon’s interview? Jesus, man, click and correct that now, it’s heartfelt and outstanding.)

Brothers and a host of young industry bloggers surfaced Sunday on another panel, moderated by Rachel Ededin, called “Looking Past the Target Audience.” It was a valuable and pretty well-attended exploration of how comics, games and other entertainments can marginalize whole segments of fans (a/k/a potential consumers) by the way they involve — or decline to involve — women, ethnic minorities and LGBT characters. Given the vastness of the topic, the panel referred questions to Ededin’s Twitter address, and promised to assemble a Tumblr to respond and cultivate the conversation. A lot of ground got covered here without once mentioning that prick Orson Scott Card.

I learned at this same panel that Geoff Johns, whom I don’t read (and who doesn’t update his site much), last year did his bit to advance diversity by creating a Muslim Green Lantern. But Johns and Ryan Reynolds are the reasons my kindergartener now turns up his nose at his John Stewart action figure, and I wonder how many characters of color Johns needs to invent to atone for all the ones he’s sidelined, buried, or stripped of their powers.

(Looking backward, again. Being too much of a fan, again. Superman and Batman are magical because they can be used to tell any story you want, and the stories their handlers want to tell, apparently, are about having sex with Wonder Woman and Catwoman.)

I wound down the convention Sunday on the news (from Warren Ellis’ Twitter stream) that artist Jerry Ordway, a fixture of comics from the late Bronze Age onward, basically can’t get hired. Comics are Charlie Adlard’s post-apocalyptic world, apparently; we just live in them.

Blugh, that makes the whole con sound depressing, when it was really quite a good time — subtracting out the weird nerd privilege that makes people think racial drag is okay or they can jump a 3k queue just because their friends are inside holding a seat for the Misha Collins Slashfic Hour.

Here’s a positive note on which to end: My dear friend Amie Simon, whom I did not get to see AT ALL because she was busy squiring Jerry Dandridge/Prince Humperdinck all over the Washington Convention and Trade Center, scored the Tweet O’ the Con, it appears, with a true gem. She deserves all the Faves.

Truth in advertising.

Tom Waits — I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

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One Response to Comix Trip

  1. Pingback: Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 3/76/13: You will SUBMIT

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