Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Babymouse, Bluffton, CBLDF, Colleen AF Venable, cosplay, Eric Wight, Frankie Pickle, Greg Rucka, Guinea Pig, Hit, Jacob Javitz Center, Jeff Stokely, Jennifer Holm, Larry Marder, Lazarus, Matt Kindt, Matt Phelan, Matthew Holm, Mel Brooks, Meryl Jaffe, Michael Lark, New York Comic Con, Peter Tomasi, Six-Gun Gorilla, Tales of the Beanworld, Vanesa Del Rey
It’s been just over a week since the New York Comic Con descended on our fair city in a whirlwind of, if not glitz and glamour, then body paint and wishful thinking. And while seven days seems hardly sufficient to digest this pop cultural smorgasbord, I nonetheless humbly offer the following highly personal, utterly non-comprehensive account of the weekend’s festivities.
First of all the size. I went to one of the earlier incarnations when NYCC was still sharing space with three or so other events. In the few scant intervening years it has metastasized to fill all eighteen miles of the Jacob Javits Center. It took us twenty minutes just to get our bearings.
And yet (like many of the costumes there) it was still bursting at the seams. Untold masses of pilgrims winding their way from one temporary chapel of plastic tubing and garish banners to the next. Caught in a sea of spandex and fishnets amidst a cacophony of miked-up segment hosts and video game sound effects. An iridescent fusion of Arab market and downtown Tokyo. Wonderland and TerrorDome at once.
The show was split into six major areas that I could discern. First, something called ‘The Block’. The name, suggestive of the title of HBO’s latest foray into the penal system, is perhaps not apt for anyone whose sensibilities have a volume setting under ’11’. Truly one’s senses were assaulted by an endless array of toys, gadgetry, accessories, statues, t-shirts and miscellanea, mostly of the mash/up or ironic kind (sidenote: if irony has spawned an entire industry, does it cease to be ironic?). In other words this was the place for high-octane (in your best Mel Brooks/Yogurt voice): ‘Merchandising! Merchandising! Merchandising!’ In keeping with my general skepticism, and appreciation for comics history, I referred to this place as ‘The Blech‘.
Not to be outdone, we next had the main exhibition space. This is where the publishers (and some major retailers) set up shop. This was nominally more interesting; at least this had something to do with comics, what with with editors, assistants and the occasional creator manning the booths. But what really seemed to be emphasized were the corporate bona-fides (‘synergy’ if you so choose) and the big events needed to prop them up (Look! It’s that car from “S.H.I.E.L.D”!) So, again the Aesthetic of the Exclamation Point reigned: bigger,better,faster,shinier. Sure there were islands of interest; an unknown publisher, a hard-to-find book. But ultimately we were fleas in a thousand-ring circus.
There was the autograph section, with all the personality of an airplane hanger, housing long undulating queues of people clutching Hulk Hogan dolls.
The Food Court offered a range of selections from grease-bomb heart attack to actually edible. Its central location made logistical sense I suppose. But it did throw into high relief the outlying relegation of what were, after all, the two most interesting areas: the Panels and Artist’s Alley.
Perhaps it was too much to expect of a four day event that the panels would be ensconced in more attractive surroundings. But given the hyperventilating visuals of the Main Floor, the Spartan look of the panel rooms and attendant waiting area stood in stark contrast. Imagine an unused hockey rink with giant, unfinished cubicles, and you start to get the idea. But no matter; this was where you could hear creative minds wax creatively, expounding on craft, influence, the politics of the day, etc. (OK, maybe the Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man panel don’t quite fit this bill)
Some personal highlights:
-Greg Rucka’s political rant during the Lazarus panel, in which he got visibly angry at, among other things, the surveillance state, the highjacking of Washington DC, the ever-increasing power of the oligarchy, and mass manipulation by the media. He seemed to be aware of the danger of putting too much of this stuff in the comic, thereby risking alienating his audience; but I say caution be damned! I wanna see more of that! Michael Lark, on the other hand, perfectly played the comic foil to Rucka’s histrionics with well-timed barbs puncturing any impending pomposity. Best moment: Rucka, bemoaning current security practices, explaining to his audience just how easy it would have been for him to kill everyone in the room. Lark, not missing a beat, slowly backed away.
–CBLDF: Raising a Reader – A panel on the educational value of reading comics that managed to be informative and entertaining, featuring current rising stars of comic kid-lit Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse), Colleen AF Venable (Guinea Pig), Matt Phelan (Bluffton), child literacy expert Meryl Jaffe, and indie comics icon Larry Marder (Tales of the Beanworld). The roundtable discussion covered the current boom in childrens’ comics (after a long dearth of such material), advocated for comics in the classroom to promote literacy, and defended against the charge that comics “dumb down” readers. Particularly insightful was Eric Wight (Frankie Pickle) recounting his experiences in using comics not just to get kids reading, but to help them write, focusing the type of visual storytelling skills that are becoming increasingly important in this day and age. The panel wrapped with some of the featured creators demonstrating a useful idea-generating exercise, while taking direction from a child in the audience.
Finally, there was Artist’s Alley, with all the ghettoization the name implies. Far off the main exhibition space, and sharing a floor with the coat check, this was nonetheless the place to be. Here, after all, were the very creators upon whose talents Comic Con, and much of the entertainment industry, is built upon. Those, in other words, who put the Comic in Comic Con. (Without them it’s just one Big Con.) And quite a who’s who of artists, writers and editors it was; everyone from Adam Hughes to Yanick Paquette available to converse, debate, and of course, promote. Our man Scott chatted up Peter Tomasi on the current state of the Bat-universe. We drooled over Matt Kindt’s original art. And we spent some time with table-mates Jeff Stokely (Six-Gun Gorilla) and Vanesa Del Rey (Hit). (Really enjoyed talking process with Stokely. Nice to see a relatively young artist who still gets ink under his fingernails. I’ve got nothing against digital art – how could I in the age of Fiona Staples? – but there’s something so beautifully tactile about pages with nib scratches and ink splatter.)
Of course, I can’t end an essay about Comic Con without mentioning what, for many, is its raison d’etre: the costumes. The make-up, the wigs, the giant wings, the giant-er artillery, the latex, the leotards – body type be damned! I viewed these hodge-podge concoctions with a mixture of admiration for the inventiveness (and in some cases, even artistry) that went into their creation, and a tugging sadness at the willful obliviousness involved in transforming oneself into a walking advertisement for something one doesn’t even own. The elaborate artifice employed to faithfully mimic a favorite characters held just a whiff of desperation. And yet, there was a disarming innocence about these folks. And they seemed, by and large, to be having fun; posing, taking pictures with fellow cos-players; in short, being seen. In fact, they’ve adopted the ethos of Comic Con so thoroughly – big, brash, ridiculous, corporate, with an undercurrent of genuine creativity – that they’ve become the perfect metaphor for it.
And so, New York Comic Con, you three-hundred pound gal in a Catwoman costume, I bid you adieu. You bewilder me, you repulse me, you intrigue me.
See you next year.
Yours in Comics,