Has it been 6 months already? I guess I better say something about being EIC at Bleeding Cool and leaving education

I am personally shocked to realize that I’ve already been acting as Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool for 6 months now, and also feel a fair amount of consternation that I never did a personal blog post about it. The biggest reason for this is that the job opportunity came somewhat out of the blue and initiated a frenzy of work which I knew would last exactly 6 months. Why? Because I made a difficult personal decision to accept the post as EIC even though it was full-time and I was still an English Professor, at least for 6 more months. This week in May, that particularly intense period of doing two jobs at once came to an end, and in some ways, the real work now begins. But at least I have the mental space and time to devote my attention to one major focus: making Bleeding Cool the best site it can be.

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I have a lot of friends who are professors, or pursuing Ph.D’s and it does raise some questions for them and for me about how to discuss my decision to leave academic employment. Though I may sound arrogant for saying so, I know that a number of people found my previous 2 years working as an English Professor, comics scholar, and journalist something that gave them a sense of satisfaction, an object lesson that the divide between academic and pop culture can be bridged and writers can wear multiple hats at once. I still firmly believe that to be true. If I had continued as the New York Correspondent at Bleeding Cool, the position I had held for 6 months before becoming EIC, and which was a part-time freelancing position, I would also have continued to be an English Professor indefinitely. So, the question is not so much why I have left academic employment, but why didn’t I stay?

There are many reasons, and I’m going to give some of them here quite honestly. I know that some of my reasons are things that educators struggle with every day and fight the good fight, but they are issues nonetheless. Some of my reasons are purely practical, as well, and aren’t based on issues in education right now, like the difficulties of doing too many things at once.

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Some of my reasons are:

-I realized that having pursued 4 degrees myself, and teaching all along (pre-school, middle school, high school, ESL, and finally as a professor), I had not actually been outside the educational system since I was 4 years old. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was an eye-opener for me. I had unique opportunities that took me all over the world, growing up in Germany, studying in England for 10 years, and teaching ESL in Japan, so I don’t mean to say that I lived a cloistered life. But it was a very specific education-driven life nonetheless. In all, I had been educated for 21 years, and taught in some form or other for 13. There were times, both in the past and more recently when it was very difficult to stay purely within the educational system because I also felt the drive to be a writer, something I’ve been for as long as I’ve been in education as well. That tension in time commitments has always been problematic for me and I’ve spent many years refusing to choose one or the other. Much of my writing was academic, but much was not and there was rarely enough time for it.

-I was very successful as an educator. Wait–why is that a reason? Because it was always problematic for me. I actually never thought I’d make a good teacher, but was inspired as a researcher. I delved into some of the most obscure texts in European literature as a medievalist for many years and translated texts that had never appeared in English before. I spent many hours in libraries, and for the most part, I loved it. When I had finished my degrees, I wondered if I ought to try to be a published writer instead of teaching. But those who knew me suggested I try one semester as a professor just to make sure. And then things got complicated. Contrary to my expectations, I walked into a classroom and was a “natural” at teaching. I shouldn’t be that surprised, since I come from a family of educators, but it was a conundrum. I was highly employable and I was good at it. And working with students in a real live environment changed my life. It made me a much more aware and communicative person, and I made a difference in the lives of my students, inspiring them with a love of literature and writing. How do you walk away from that? Maybe you shouldn’t. But then there are the problems with education that I mentioned above.

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-There were a lot of things about formal university education that were not amenable to me and, unable to completely conceal this, I was generally known as someone who had opinions. As I also mentioned before, plenty of people fight daily to improve education and consider these struggles par for the course, but that doesn’t mean that educators should have to live such an embattled life. Some of the issues were, to name a few: the excessive amount of paperwork and assessments that increasingly developed over the course of my time teaching. When I started teaching, I had to supply a copy of my grades, and for writing courses, a portfolio students had created of their work. Just doing that was difficult enough to make sure students completed all the requirements. By the end of a 10 year period, I found myself having to constantly report (at an average of two week increments) on students attendance, behavior, estimated grade, status of completed work, and the worst of it being the end of semester duties. End of semester duties included having to personally collect and label copies of every rubric from every student, digital copies of final papers, comparative assessments of student progress in technical aspects of writing, and lastly assessments of the courses as a whole in specific numbers cued to rubrics. The end of semester duties in my final semester took me about 20 hours alone and necessitated scanning and labeling hundreds of documents with a fifteen word labeling system.

And I can say quite clearly from my personal perspective: this is not why I pursued four degrees or decided to continue to teach after my initial foray into teaching. Assessment may be the way to a better future, and yes, education should be accountable, but expecting professors who are already over-worked and underpaid to complete these duties is unreasonable. They are highly skilled professionals in specific fields, and data entry is not usually their area of expertise. They know all kinds of things, knowledge that might be lost to the world otherwise, and those are the skills and talents that they should be able to use in their work rather than drowning them in a sea of paperwork.

-I could add quite a lengthy aside about the well-known problems in the educational system and the hot topics of debate right now, but I’ll just mention them briefly: students do now feel that they have “bought” their education, that their professors are there to entertain them, and that if they don’t get the grade they want, they have a right to throw temper tantrums until the administration caves and takes the right to grade students away from the professor. Up until my very last day of teaching, I would have quite confidently said to you, “Yes, those are issues, but I have been able to handle them, actually. Because I don’t put up with it”. And I don’t, and haven’t. Sometimes that means standing up to bullying tactics, refusing to be worn down, and, in the end, believing in education as an ideal until you get through the confrontation with students and parents. But actually, something very funny happened in my last final exam that had irony written all over it for me. Without much warning, I faced the mother of these situations, the worst I’ve ever faced, where a student, several faculty, and the entire administration attempted to levy my decision on something. I already knew it was my last day, which made it humorous for me. But it did seem like a final confirmation of just how much professors are up against in striving to actually educate students and be fair in their decision-making. So, yes, there are big problems in education right now and unfortunately, professors are also left bearing a gigantic burden from all sides.

So those are the reasons I didn’t stay in academic employment, though I might well have done, and somehow tried to cope with these tensions and pressures, had I not been offered the position of EIC at Bleeding Cool.

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It wasn’t so much that I had a better job offer, but that I had the right job offer for me. Having become increasingly immersed in comics scholarship, and then comics journalism, I found many of the same rewards that I had felt through teaching. If that seems unlikely, consider the satisfaction of demonstrating to the world at large how to critically evaluate a worthy artistic project, something meaningful with socially-challenging themes and the potential to change the perspective of everyone, especially young people. Consider mentoring young writers, many of whom are college students, in how to express their analytical skills and reactions to art and literature in a meaningful way. Consider giving creators an immediate response to their hard work, essentially saying, while projects they are working on are even still in process, that their work is significant and we appreciate it as a society.

I’m not saying that writing and editing are better than being an educator, but just that both can change the world. And, of course, they work better together than separately. So, it’s very cheeky of me to ask professors who are overworked and underpaid to do something that I’m no longer having to balance myself, but if you have it in you, consider writing as much as is possible in your situation. Your perspective and skills are invaluable and seeing the response you get to your writing may just give you the spark of energy you need to deal with all the pressures facing you in academic employment. Actually, I don’t just speak for myself in saying that since many of my friends have told me point blank that this is the case for them and that writing has enabled them to have the boldness necessary to push even harder for changes in the educational sphere. Sometimes in academia it’s surprising how little voice you can be allowed to have, but in writing, well, voice is everything.

If you’re interested in seeing what I have in mind for Bleeding Cool and what my initial reactions were to taking up my position as EIC, there are some pieces that ran on the site after my hire which I can only apologize for not posting here on my blog sooner:

The announcement of my hire: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/10/hannah-means-shannon-the-new-editor-in-chief-of-bleeding-cool/

My essay on my intentions at Bleeding Cool: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/13/what-does-having-an-editor-in-chief-at-bleeding-cool-mean/

All The World Really Is A Stage In The Show – On Set With Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ His Heavy Heart

On my recent trip to the UK, I had the amazing good fortune to be invited onto the set of Mitch Jenkins and Alan Moore’s His Heavy Heart while filming in Northampton. His Heavy Heart is the final installment of the short series of films that together make up the proposed feature film called The Show. You can read my personal account of the experience, with images from Lex Projects, here at Bleeding Cool:

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Rounding Up Baltimore Comic Con, Small Press Expo, Brooklyn Book Festival + A Birthday Surprise From Alan Moore

Comics people have been incredibly busy as autumn sets in, and that means I’ve been busy keeping up with them and reporting on the shows that have been going on along the East Coast this September. Last year, I managed to attend most of them, so it seemed like a challenge to myself to take them on again in rapid succession.

That was tougher than I expected, but yielded some amazing experiences and plenty of big comics news. Then there was the personal reward of getting to see many of my friends in action and become exposed to all kinds of new comics and up and coming creators whose personal vision for comics really inspired me in what I do–spreading the word and trying to look ahead to see where the industry is headed.

So, within a three week period, I found myself covering Baltimore Comic Con, Small Press Expo, and Brooklyn Book Fair for Bleeding Cool as Senior New York Correspondent.

BALTIMORE COMIC CON:

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To start off with, there was Baltimore Comic Con, which is always a show that focuses on the art of comics making with a massive artists alley and plenty of significant panels to attend. I helped out reporting for Bleeding Cool on some of the big DC news of the hour: controversies over JH Williams III leaving Batwoman due to editorial changes he wasn’t comfortable with.

This put Dan Didio in the spotlight, and he made a speech in a DC panel that explained some of his perspective on the matter. You can find it here.

There were also teasers in the DC panel from Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner about their upcoming Harley Quinn book. You can find that here.

I had the pleasure of reporting live on the Harvey Awards this year (big ups to Dean Haspiel for helping me get into the awards as a guest), and was delighted that Fiona Staples finally won a personal award for her work on Saga.

Plenty was going on in the Archie Comics/Red Circle panel, including announcements and teasers for Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid’s new series The Fox. You can find that and more here.

Brian Wood reflected on his life and career in indie comics and self-publishing versus working in the mainstream in this CBLDF panel.

Stellar writer Joe Hill busted out some anecdotes from his life, and also commented on the future of Locke & Key as it draws to a close, including upcoming projects with Gabriel Rodriguez in this spotlight panel.

IDW had one of the most intriguing panels of the con with a huge team of creators, many of them talking about working digitally with Monkeybrain and then moving into collected print editions with IDW. Highly recommended reading here if you’re a creator or follow creator-owned work.

But a big highlight of the con was working with award winning photographer Seth Kushner to do interviews with AMC’s Comic Book Men and with the legendary Joe Hill, complete with Seth’s photo portraits which turned even Joe Hill’s head.

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Baltimore Comic Con turned out to be even more epic than I had expected, but hanging out with Hang Dai studiomates Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, and Christa Cassano gave me an oasis from all the running around chasing stories. Thanks guys!

THE SMALL PRESS EXPO:

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The following weekend, it was onward to premier indie comics and small press show Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, where I was happy to be working with fellow Bleeding Cool reporter David Dissanayake to show the scope and impact of the Expo more fully at Bleeding Cool than had ever been done before in our “Glorious SPX” pieces.

I previewed some excellent SPX debuts in “Seven SPX Debuts That Are Like Crack” ahead of time here.

I worked with David to cover the Ignatz Awards here.

A panel with Dash Shaw and Frank Santoro on their new works Old School and Pompeii was a real window onto the creative process, from building up design to breaking comics down to their basics in quest of artistic voice.

Gary Panter reflected on works past and present, including literary adaptations he’s pursuing here.

Michael Kupperman and Sam Henderson painted a quixotic view of comedy in comics and kept us thoroughly entertained in their panel.

R. Sikoryak and a host of talented creators performed comics live in a carousel event during SPX too.

And I came away from Small Press Expo having met literally dozens of great creators and publishers and with a crate load of books to sort through. I’ve finally started my SPX reviews and you can find my first installment, looking at books from Uncivilized Books, Picture Box, and Nobrow, here.

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THE BROOKLYN BOOK FESTIVAL:

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I was a little broken down by the time I emerged from the subway into the dazzling weather of the Brooklyn Book Festival, but just like last year’s show, it was a glorious early autumn day to celebrate comics and hear from some top-notch professionals.

I made it to Ben Katchor’s panel with Miriam Katin, Ulli Lust, and Lisa Hanawalt to hear about their take on the autobiographical voice in comics and covered it here.

I also heard from Jeff Smith, Paul Pope, and Faith Erin Hicks on their ventures into sci-fi comics and the changing face of creator-owned projects in the comics industry here.

But the unexpected always stands out in your memory, and bumping into the amazing Argentinian artist Liniers and capturing an interview with him on his own rabid fandom turned out to be a winning experience, and one which his fans enjoyed. That’s located here on Bleeding Cool.

Reviews, Interviews, Magazine work and More:

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But there’s been a lot of other stuff going on, too, in my journalistic writing, aside from the shows I’ve been covering, actually, and though it’s hard to keep up with all of it myself, here are a few things that are my personal favorites over the past couple of months:

-Diving into the hit series Luther Strode from Image and considering Justin Jordan’s career, found here.

-Taking on Saga as a reader, finally, and writing about why it’s going to eventually be recognized as a classic. This has been, I believe, my most read article so far as a comics journalist, and was shared around on other sites, winding up at 5th place on Lying in the Gutters. I was proud of that. It’s here.

-Arguing for the stellar work being done on the Vertigo series The Wake, by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy, and why it’s tops in the new Vertigo line-up. Snyder loved it. You can find it here.

-Thinking about Nathan Fox’s psychedelic, artfully designed covers on the Vertigo series Collider, now Federal Bureau of Physics. You can find it here.

-Interviewing Tom Muller, designer on the Image series Zero, and on the logo for Trillium, about the role of designers changing the face of  comics, here.

-I’ve also been doing a column “Live From The Comic Shop” for Bleeding Cool for over two months now, taking 4-6 new titles that week and reviewing them in real-time from my local shop, Conquest Comics. I review whatever has interested me that week from a wide range of publishers, including Image, Vertigo, Marvel, Dark Horse, and others. Keep an eye out if weekly books are on your radar.

-Aside from work on the Bleeding Cool website, I’ve been working on magazine articles for Bleeding Cool Magazine and Jon Cooke’s Comic Book Creator. Look out for my articles in the next issues of both–it’s an exciting development for me.

A BIRTHDAY SURPRISE FROM ALAN MOORE:

But, to wrap things up, and for me the tour de force of my recent comics-related experiences, was reviewing Mitch Jenkins and  Alan Moore’s Jimmy’s End films after their successful Kickstarter, for Bleeding Cool alongside Rich Johnston, found here

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Alan Moore recently signed copies of his latest graphic novel Fashion Beast in London for Avatar Press, and I was told, to my deep gratitude, that they’d be getting a copy signed for me. When I received it in the post on October 5th, on the eve of my birthday, I was expecting to see the great man’s signature, but when I opened the book, I found a personalized message that blew me away, about my review of the films.

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No words for how that felt, really, to see a “thank you” from such an illustrious writer and a personal hero of mine. It pretty much makes all the hard work worth it.

My First Bleeding San Diego and Parallel Reporting

I’ve written so much as a reporter about San Diego Comic Con that it’s somewhat difficult to sit down and write more about it, but with all the articles up online, it’s time to compile them here so people can find them and even see what they might have missed in the rush of reportage. It was my first attendance of San Diego Con and my first visit was also my first professional coverage of the con. That was intense. Also, I had very recently moved to Bleeding Cool as my home site, and since it’s a big news site, I was aware that it might be a little overwhelming being part of such a big team and staying on target to make sure I helped them out as best I could. The con was a total immersion experience, so much larger and more sense-overwhelming than the other cons I’ve reported on, but also quite an amazing testament to the rise of pop culture in the past 20 years. We are in a major upsurge of pop culture, and comics culture right now, and though that can get chaotic, it’s something to celebrate. But my experience working for Bleeding Cool was stellar.

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The members of the team were each impressive in their knowledge and commitment to comics and pop culture, many of them educators with a strong desire to promote comics in main stream culture. Hanging out with them was a privilege and seeing the work they produced was dazzling. We fought the crowds, strategized, and brought back the stories for readers whether we ate or not, slept or not. It was an amazing thing. Thanks to all the great folks I met out there at our morning meetings and after-hours drinks- you made my San Diego so worthwhile. I’d like to particularly thank Rich Johnston, who was not only excellent at keeping us all on track, but full of encouragement and positive energy, and spent his free hours devoted to us, the writers, and enthused about all the great aspects of San Diego, even at its most crazy and bizarre.

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I also spent San Diego sending the occasional article back home to New York for Dan Greenfield at Parallel Worlds for the New York Post, and that was a great experience of whittling down what might be of greatest interest to New Yorkers and picking out the highlights of the show from my personal vantage. That was an honor, too, and with Parallel Worlds gaining strength as a home for indie comics and mainstream news, I want to congratulate the site for its hard work building a place for itself in comics news.

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Below, you’ll find, firstly, all my articles for Bleeding Cool from San Diego, and following that my articles for Parallel Worlds. San Diego isn’t for everyone, and it can be a madhouse, but its also an eye-opener about what part comics play in modern culture, so I would encourage people to go, at least once, and see what all the stories are about. It’s an experience you just can’t have on this level anywhere else.

For Bleeding Cool:

DC Comics

DC’s Meet the Co-Publishers Brings a Tide of Teasers from Lee and Didio at SDCC

The Best Kept Secret at San Diego: The DC Origins Panel with Lee, Capullo, Palmiotti, Simone, Snyder, Conner, and Chang

IDW Comics

Judge Dredd/2000AD Are Taking over the World by Autumn According to SDCC

Image Comics

Skybound Keeps Busy and Kirkman “Will Die” Working on Walking Dead at SDCC

Smaller Publisher Panels

Top Shelf’s Super Awesome Secret Announcements at SDCC

Toys

Diamond Select Toys Expand Star Trek, Domo, Universal Monsters and More

Issue Panels

Feuding Turns Into Commiseration At SDCC’s Comics Blogging Panel

Creators Spotlighted

Dave McKean Smites Us with Glorious Images at SDCC: Sandman Cover Collections, Neil Gaiman’s Smoke And Mirrors Illustrated, Pictures That Tick

Raw Sandman Art And How The Hell Are We Going To Read Promethea? JH Williams Is All That Rock And Roll At SDCC

George R. R. Martin Blames Comics for his Success in TV/Film at SDCC

Twenty-One Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Duane Swierczynski Revealed At San Diego Comic Con

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Swag! Domu ’66

One Hundred And Twenty-Six Things We Learned At San Diego Comic Con

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For Parallel Worlds at the New York Post:

SDCC: Preview Night is a Main Event

San Diego Comic Con is One-Stop Shopping for Awesome Stuff

Black Mask Studio Stakes Out a Place for Indie Comics at SDCC

Grant Morrison and 18 Days

Mike Mignola Celebrates Hellboy’s 20th Anniversary

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Until next year, that’s all from San Diego!

IRONMANIA: My New Essay in the NYRSF and IRON MAN 3 Reviewed on The Beat

When people ask if the Marvel superheroes movies really get people to read comics, and the resounding answer seems to be “no”, I am one of those people obliged to protest. As keen observers have occasionally noticed, the movies did manage to nab people who were at one time comic readers and get them back into the game, or in my case, back into reading, and writing, about superheroes. It worked particularly well on me because I was already writing about heroes in film as part of my academic explorations, and seeing IRON MAN when it came out in 2008 was a major turning point for me. Here I saw mythology running wild, new-born and full of energy, and I couldn’t help but want to write about what I saw in classic motifs popping up again with so much direct relevance to 21st century life.ironman

As luck would have it, when I wrote this paper on IRON MAN, and presented it, this was also the actual moment when I met a bunch of comic scholars and became one myself, but it would take more than a year before I had the confidence to actually start writing about comics. I felt I had a lot of catching up to do, so I took on reading the complete works of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and that set me on my path. But the paper I wrote fell by the wayside, until the second IRON MAN film came out, and I was intrigued by its developments on the first film’s mythology. I felt I could see a pattern there- a similar development that occurs in long-running hero myths, of a movement from a “social hero” who helps people to a “culture hero” who could potentially change the world. So I stepped out of comics for a short time and returned to writing about hero films just to see where the idea would take me.

Then I got caught up in comics again, and though I had presented my second paper on IRON MAN, I still hadn’t published either. What’s wrong with me? I was just doing a million things at once, and tackling other comicsy writing. Then the New York Review of Science Fiction got wind of the abstract I had sent them once, for an article combining those two original papers into one, and wrote to me. It really was like finding a 20 dollar bill in your pocket you had forgotten about. I jumped on it, updated the article, and they were kind enough to feature the new article in their “Special Mythology and Movies Issue”, #297, out in June 2013. The NYRSF, a venerable Sci-Fi journal, is digital these days, and remarkably affordable, so I’ll plug this issue for a download of only 2.99 which you can find here. The films ARGO and JOHN CARTER also feature in this issue.

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Here’s my abstract for the article, as originally submitted to the journal:

 “Deweaponizing Stark: Powering the Culture Hero in Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 1 and 2

This study investigates the manner in which Jon Favreau’s films Iron Man 1 and 2 encompass the development of the social hero and the culture hero. Criteria for the classification of social hero and culture hero are drawn from the theoretical framework of psychoanalysts Carl Jung and Erich Neumann. The arc of development present in Iron Man 1 and 2, and the presentation of the culture hero in the Irish Mythological Cycle, in the person of Lugh Lamfada, are compared to demonstrate consistency in the development of the western concept of culture hero and its modern relevance.

What you have here is, in updated form, essentially my earliest writings about superheroes, so I’ll remain sentimental about it. In that time, IRON MAN 3 has been released, a film I also enjoyed immensely and may some time write about, but I was thrilled to review it in real-time at The Beat as a comics journalist, too. You can find my review of IRON MAN 3 here, if you’re interested. My take on IRON MAN 3 is that we really get to meet “the Mechanic” Tony Stark, and that this has a particularly part to play in Iron Man mythology.

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IRON MAN will always be one of my favorite heroes because I think he really does encapsulate so much about our anxieties and aspirations in an immediate way. I’m glad my writings on him finally found a home and hope you enjoy my mythological perambulations on the subject.

And I Survived…WonderCon 2013(with bells on)

WonderCon this year was a unique experience for me for several reasons. Firstly, I’d never been to this con before, and though, truth be told, I would’ve enjoyed if it’d been held in San Francisco, since I’ve never been there either, the fact that it was held in Anaheim meant that I got to hang out with two of my best geek friends Michele Brittany (a pop culture scholar and photographer) and Nick Diak (another pop culture scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of film and strange music) who are local to Anaheim. That gave me a little more confidence in tackling the new. It had also been several years since I’d made it out to the West Coast, but the occasion that inspired me to get on a plane was being invited by my comics scholar friend Chris Angel, one of the founders of the Denver Comic Con (which I’ll also be checking out this year) to participated in a Comics Studies Conference panel on publishing comics scholarship these days. With Chris and I in the panel was another prominent and groundbreaking scholar Rob Weiner, editor of a vast array of scholarly books on comics, music, and film, and really a pioneer in publishing on those subjects in the world of academia (his most recent book is Web-Spinning Heroics, on Spider-Man).

IMG_47681-300x225That’s the comics scholarship side of things, and enough motivation to go to a con, since I don’t need that much of a push, but as for WonderCon, I also ended up being the only Comics Beat reporter to make it out, and that gave me pause. It meant that I had a lot of strange freedom- I could cover anything I wanted to cover- but also a kind of overwhelming choice in what to pick out for coverage. In the end, I tried to push myself to attend some events that I might not normally pick out to attend, but also follow my instincts and inclinations, because if you can’t have fun at a comic con, that kind of defeats the purpose, in my estimation. When I arrived on a Thursday evening, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my hotel room overlooked the con, and I got to watch the banner being hung, and preparations underway. When I picked up my pass, I was impressed by the space itself, on all points really appropriate for a con of this size, and able to accommodate the numbers and needs of the fans.

Things kicked off for me on Friday, when I presented with Chris and Rob, the very first panel of the con. We expected limited numbers in the audience for this reason, but it was alarmingly packed despite the gigantic room.mbrittany_hannah_panel Rob talked about sticking to your dreams when it comes to publishing books, and not just hanging around assuming in despair that someone else is going to beat you to it. He provided some insights into the book publishing process and working as an editor with lots of contributors, and ended on a high note about the wide open field right now in scholarly book publication, particularly in comics scholarship.

IMG_3899Chris gave a truly illuminating walk through of her experiences using comics in the classroom, providing different models for use depending on the types of texts you’re teaching (she’s a medieval/renaissance professor) and the students themselves. She’s a classic example of how experimenting, introducing comics as a side-line to test the waters, can achieve great results for students, and lead you to bring comics more fully into the curriculum of literary study. My talk was on comics scholarship and social media, in particular, the scholarly online sites and semi-scholarly sites available right now, from Sequart Research and Literacy Organization (who I write for), to the Culture Gutter and Comics Forum, all great venues. I also gave a bit of a pep talk on using social media and tried to guilt everyone into setting up their own scholarly blogs (which, alas, even I do not update enough, but I believe in blogging strongly). We got great responses from the panel, and it was a very affirmative experience. Comics scholarship really is on the rise, folks, in very big ways.

mbrittany_nocenti_slott_dematteis-300x117Then it was time to get my mind together for some reporting. Not before I’d run around the con floor a little, grabbing freebies from the really affable Dark Horse Booth and scoping out the good back issue vendors for future reference (I ended up with a large set of The Dreaming for my collection/research later on and plenty of Walking Dead for my husband Russ Shannon, a massive fan of the comics and the show). Panel-wise, I liked the thematic approach of the “Icons”, (“What Makes an Icon?”) panel so checked it out. If nothing else, it consisted of some all-star names in comics from Mark Waid (moderator), to Ann Nocenti, J. M. DeMatteis, Dan Slott, and Doug Mahnke. It was an excellent way to start off the con proper, hearing about comics history and comics future from these experienced creators talking from the heart about their views on handling long-lived character. You can find my round up here, with plenty of quotes. Photos for most of these panels from WonderCon were taken by the fabulous Michele Brittany. I spent the rest of the afternoon running around the con floor getting a general sense of layout and planning my next moves. I made a last-minute decision to what turned out to be a brain-download of great advice in an Indie Marketing panel with Dark Horse (Jeremy Atkins), Archaia (Mel Caylo), comiXology (Chip Mosher), IDW (Dirk Wood), and Valiant (Hunter Gorin). mbrittany_gorinson_mosher-300x160Their blunt and honest approach to what has worked for them, or not, in social media yielded some of the most practical information I heard at WonderCon and it says a lot about these guys and their companies that they were so willing to share their lessons learned. You can read about that great panel here. That night I also wrote up some general impressions of how the con was working at this Anaheim location, including the building, staff, and comfort of fans, with some images. You can read that here, my claim that WonderCon had not “lost its Mojo” despite the move in location.

IMG_4837-300x225Saturday I took on a little more, trying to cover at least a few panels as well as keeping up with a scheduled interview with Matt Kindt about his work with Dark Horse, including the extremely alluring psychic spy series MIND MGMT. In the morning, I indulged my fannish curiosity and went to the VIKINGS panel, featuring the stars from the new History Channel show set in the early medieval period (if you know me, you’ll know this is right up my scholarly alley and I spent the first couple of episodes critiquing historical accuracy before being won over by the spirit of the show). I expected a few curious people like myself, not a rabid sea of enthusiasm. What a way to start the day after a late night. I attempted not to spill my coffee while eating a pastry and taking pictures and notes. To my delight, they showed a preview of on a massive screen of an upcoming episode and it looked gorgeous. The landscapes alone in the show are enough to warrant a cinematic experience. But enough gushing- check out my photos and write up here for The Beat.

mbrittany_kindt_panel_1-300x154I made what ended up being a good, but challenging decision to attend a Spotlight panel on Matt Kindt just before interviewing him. This 90 minute juggernaut, where Matt was interviewed by comics scholar Travis Langley, was so wide-ranging that it blew any questions I had drafted already out of the water and I then had about 20 minutes to come up with some news ones. On the plus side, I heard all about Matt’s life and work in detail, and it was a very moving story of artistic vision and tenacity, and it helped me understand his work far better than any other research could have. Please read my lengthy write-up with photos of that panel here, since it’s a real circumnavigation of comics creating right now, and lets you in on Matt’s psychology.

mbrittany_kindt_interview_5-191x300 We held our interview shortly after, and it turned out to be so lengthy (thanks to his open attitude and kindness) that it turned into what I could only call a “Mega-interview” at the Beat once I’d finally written it up. In my scramble to think of new questions, I actually kicked off by asking him why we need stories (how impudent was that!) and his answers were amazing. Check out that interview when you get a chance.

I’m sure I would have liked to collapse at my hotel at that point, and though I was able to take all my con loot back to the room pretty easily, Michele and I marched ourselves to another Spotlight panel, this time on Ann Nocenti, who’s verve the previous day had so impressed me. I wanted to hear about her long Marvel history and her current work for DC.

mbrittany_nocenti_panel_1-300x151She and Jim Lee (bonus!) showed us sketches for upcoming works and she revealed a lot about her varied life in film and comics, always conversational and entertaining in style. My interest was piqued in her new series Katana, which I’ve since checked out and really like. Highly recommend this samurai/yakusa tale of revenge with a heroine at the helm. It was a mellow, engaging way to end my reporting for the day, and left a big impression on me concerning women in comics. You can read about the panel here, and it’s quite a fun recap.

I was getting a little broken down by Sunday, and expected a little quieter time at the con compared to the well-attended and high-energy days on Friday and Saturday, so I wandered along, again with the spilling coffee, for a little panel with Nerdist Industries. I should’ve realized by then that any time I expected a low key panel it would be massive and full of screaming. And it was. Joss Whedon’s panel on his new Shakespeare movie was just letting out of a totally full stadium-sized venue and I muddled through crowds and found a convenient seat with several thousand others (but thankfully near the front) to hear what Chris Hardwick and Nerdist had to say.

mbrittany_chris_hardwick_3-248x300 I’d heard Hardwick speak before about the future of Youtube and had been very impressed. Whether you’re a fan or not, the man is deeply intelligent if you pose complex questions about media and has plenty to say. This turned out to be one of the highlights of the con for me. As Nerdist rolled out previews of future channels and plans, the repartee was so funny I could hardly breathe. Again, not how I expected to spend my morning, but it was a great surprise. Michele was a newbie to Nerdist and loved it too, taking some fabulous photos. You can see the write up and her photos here. There was also a pretty inspiring message at work throughout the talk and Q and A about fan empowerment and creation- here here!

I had two other “assignments” for the day, attending a Spotlight panel on Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, and also interviewing DC Comics’ Dustin Nguyen about his new series Li’l Gotham. My other informal assignment was to buy a lot of comics, which I did. mbrittany_palmiotti_and_conner_1-300x126Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner presented an informal panel in their trademark conversational style that made fans feel like part of the conversation, fielding questions throughout, from Amanda’s driven workload on Silk Spectre to Jimmy’s upcoming work Captain Brooklyn. It was the sort of panel that mid-sized cons really specialize in, bringing in fans to get a sense of the personalities of inspiring creators, and giving them insights into future projects. You can read all about that panel here.

Interviewing Dustin Nguyen at the DC booth was initially a bit of a challenge due to the huge traffic the booth was getting, and security at first tried to turn me away until I insisted several times that I had an appointment. When DC realized what was going on, they were horrified and apologetic, and made every effort to get the interview underway. It ended up being a fantastic experience.mbrittany_dustin_nguyen_3-256x300 If you’re familiar with Dustin’s work, you know that he brings many fine art traits to his painterly style, and on top of that he’s passionate about the Batman mythology. He’s created a visual sense in Li’l Gotham that wows readers from the start, and presents an all-ages comic in a very inspiring way. Talking to Dustin was like talking to a fellow fan, and I couldn’t have asked for a more humble, enthusiastic artist to talk to about their work on such a major project. Find my interview with Dustin here, and check out Li’l Gotham- you won’t regret it.

In the last few hours of the con, I actually felt rather energized from all these positive experiences and wondered what else I should do with my time. I decided to check out several of the mid-sized publisher booths and chat, from Dark Horse, to Valiant, Archaia, and Top Cow. At each booth, the people I talked to were simply lovely and had a lot to say about what works they were most excited about. I picked up lots of great books to try to lug home on the plane, and it was another really positive note for me at the con. When the con wrapped up, I felt like it could have kept on going another few hours at least, or another day, even, a sign that a con is going strong, rather than fizzling out.

I wrote a wrap-up of my impressions of the con, comparing it to my opening article, and included with it is Michele’s excellent photo gallery of the cosplay and scenes from the con. I ended up staying another day to go to Disneyland, but that’s a whole other story of observing the strange phenomena behind pop culture.mbrittany_plaza-200x300 WonderCon itself was a kind of perception-changing experience for me, in all honesty, my first con alone as a reporter, though I was never really alone thanks to Michele and my other friends. It gave me insights into how cons work, what fans are looking for, and the place of con culture in society right now. Along with that, I had my first con-interview experiences and they were so remarkably illuminating and fun that it has set a high standard for future experiences. I’d like to say thanks to everyone who helped me out at the con and made it such an encouraging experience; you know who you are. Viva WonderCon. I think it’s a very important contribution to pop culture with plenty to offer fans, scholars, and creators alike.

Photo Credits: The photos in this article were taken by pop culture photographer Michele Brittany. You can learn more about her work here.