Studio YOLO poses a challenge each month to adapt a short script into comics form. This month the text is called “Forgiven” by Jess Ruliffson and this is my submission:
Studio YOLO poses a challenge each month to adapt a short script into comics form. This month the text is called “Forgiven” by Jess Ruliffson and this is my submission:
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).
That’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. 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.
Chris 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.
Then 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). Their 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.
Saturday 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.
I 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.
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.
She 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.
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. Jimmy 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. 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. 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.
Studio YOLO was founded after 8 artists and their mentor completed the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency in October of 2012, and worked together for 3 weeks on individual and communal comics projects. One of their projects with mentor Dean Haspiel, Eisner-nominated and Emmy Award winning artist, was A LETTER LASTS LONGER where Dean provided the text and each artist had to complete their comics interpretation of the story. YOLO took this idea and ran with it, posing a challenge a month after the residency, and the challenge is open to all and sundry who wish to participate. Each month, text is posted on their website with the rest of the month to submit a comic based upon it. In March, “Aporia” by artist Christa Cassano, was posted and in April, the results were published.
I had a great idea for the comic, but am newly returned to drawing, trying to take classes on and off this year. Still, they kept insisting I shouldn’t chicken out, so I was able to make their extended deadline. The result is below. I hope to keep up with YOLO’s challenge regardless of my drawing skill level in future because it was a difficult but majorly empowering experience for me to “just do it”.
You can find a massive interview with all 8 members of Studio YOLO about their residency experience here and a review of the new Atlantic Center for the Arts Anthology BREAKERS, to which they contributed, here.
Studio YOLO are:
The Southwest Texas Pop Culture/American Culture Association hosts a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico every year, and three years ago, it’s where I presented my first foray into comics scholarship. I was pretty terrified to do so, having only returned to reading comics less than a year before, but I was talking about (still) one of my favorite comics, Alan Moore and JH Williams III’s PROMETHEA, which I consider a game-changer in the presentation not only of female heroes in comics, but in the comics presentation of esoteric concepts. My first paper went much better than expected, despite the fact that my panel was at 8AM, and the altitude was making me feel high. It led to my first publication in a comics studies journal (the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics), but in retrospect, I think it was more significant because I met one of the greats of current comics scholarship, Rob Weiner.
He’s the area chair for Graphic Novels and Comics at the SWTX PCA, and aside from his varied pop culture scholarship and media involvement, he’s produced quite a few excellent books and collections of essays on comics scholarship and comics in libraries that have paved the way for younger scholars to feel grounded in this new field (most recently WEB SPINNING HEROICS, a collection of essays on Spider-Man) . Not only is he an invaluable resource, but he represents the inclusive attitude so vital in comics scholarship right now, seeing the potential in new ideas and giving comics primacy in study, rather than letting theory (so prevalent in “the academy”) dominate. He’ll be embarrassed by all my praise, but let’s be clear: I wouldn’t even be writing about comics without Rob, and writing about comics has changed my life, so I’m very grateful.
I’ve been back every year to the SWTX PCA, and followed them to the national conference occasionally (all lovely people there too). I’ve been very impressed by the way a substantial number of panels on comics scholarship have been run every year, and every year several of the panels have speakers claim to be “brand new” to talking about comics in a scholarly way. This year talks ranged from cultural understanding in TINTIN (bucking the trend in criticism of colonial ideas), to discussions of autobio comics I’d never even encountered (always good), as well as plenty of talks on X-Men, WATCHMEN, and more mainstream titles. The talks were all earnest, carefully researched and presented, and gave a little preview of where comics scholarship is headed, which is into increasing acceptance in academia as a “serious” subject.
When critiquing the current state of affairs with other scholars, we all agreed that we hope in the future scholars, regardless of their subject area backgrounds (from English Lit, to Film, Law, and Sociology) will really spread their wings and resist the ossification that adhering too strictly to theory-dominance creates. To explain that a little more, what we meant is that there’s a lot of pressure in all things academic to spend a lot of energy establishing theoretical framework, which becomes a form of peer pressure that can take away from an enthusiastic discussion of the subject being studied. It feels like putting the cart before the horse, and often takes the spotlight off the great art form that we love. There’s a place for theory, and it needs to be there for a detailed critique of what comics have accomplished as a “serious” art form, but it’s a fine line between using theory and theory using scholars. So much for our soap-box.
My own presentation this year was particularly exciting for me, creating the first ever academic discussion of Emmy-Award winning artist Dean Haspiel’s BILLY DOGMA comics. BILLY, featuring a bruiser hero with poetic prose and his fists of fury girlfriend Jane Legit, has been running for 15 years in various formats, and has increasingly challenged the way that relationships are presented in hero comics. My talk focused on the way that relationships can be handled seriously as part of the psychology of hero stories, rather than simply presenting miserable, failed relationships (typical in superhero comics focusing on a secret identity) or as a “happy ending” (like many folk tales involving heroes). There’s a strong middle ground where relationships can act as part of the heroic development of well-rounded individuals struggling with their own internal demons, but it doesn’t often find its way into hero comics. Long live BILLY!
I had plenty of great slides to use to illustrate my points, and this led to discussions with other scholars later about the increasing importance of using slides so the audience really experiences the comics being talked about. As surprising as it may sound, using visual slides in academic talks is a relatively recent thing. When I presented my first American academic paper on film studies back in 2007, there was no way to use Power Point in my conference room and using the DVD player to try to show clips of a film was a complete disaster. Things are slowly catching up- thankfully since comics scholarship needs these resources.
The feedback I hear every year at the SWTX PCA is that it’s a place to reconnect with like-minded people, who often become close friends over time (and I have made several there), and the “new” scholars in the panels I chaired also spoke about how the people they met made a big difference in inspiring them to continue in comics scholarship. It’s not the easiest road in the world, often facing scrutiny or stubborn lack of desire to understand from academic circles, but that’s changing, and the only way it’s going to really change is to keep on doing what we love.
One of the highlights of the conference, by the way, was a packed screening of the 1926 film THE BAT, a silent film whose talkie sequel was a big influence on the genesis of Batman as a character and a comic. Taking into account the various trends in pop culture that impact comics is very important, and keeping comics scholarship too narrow a field is a big way to miss out on gems like this.
I spent the last day and a half in New Mexico exploring some familiar haunts in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, basking in the intense sunshine (through my dark sunglasses- intense!) ,and taking in some museums where I got the appreciate the tumultuous history and amazing Native cultures of the Southwest. Talking with Pueblo culture craftsmen, eating some of my favorite Southwest foods and just reminding myself what a big world it is always adds to my experience of the conference when I go. It was another great year at the SWTX PCA and, yeah, I hope I’m there for many years to come. I hope next year there will be even more comics panels, even more unique and original ideas I haven’t heard before, and an increasing flow of newbies who pave the way for future appreciation of comics.
In the last days of Hurricane Sandy recovery on the East Coast, I set off from my motel room in exile for a celebratory night at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art/Society of Illustrators in NYC. The subject was the life and work of the comics phenomenon Will Eisner, complete with a screening of the excellent documentary Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist, directed by Andrew B. Cooke, including a delicious fall-flavored catered dinner.
It was a lovely evening, despite the howling Nor’easter setting in. In fact, the weather gave the city a feel reminiscent of the noir atmosphere of THE SPIRIT comics for which Eisner is best known. Hearing from comics veterans and educators Danny Fingeroth and Paul Levitz about one of their own personal heroes was also very enlightening, particularly since Levitz was responsible for bringing Eisner’s SPIRIT into DC collected editions for the first time. I reviewed both the documentary, and the evening’s event here for The Beat.
By the time the weekend rolled around, I was finally back into my house following 13 days of evacuation and power outages from the hurricane, and the 8 inches of snow dumped on New Jersey had melted too. I didn’t want to miss the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, since I hadn’t yet attended, but took a more circumspect attitude as a face in the crowd that day, just trying to get a feel for the event’s goals and aims compared to other indie comics events I’d witnessed and enjoyed in 2012. There was, however, one big draw that got me out of bed early: hearing Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, and Richard McGuire talk about “The Architecture of Comics” in a panel moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos.
I waited in a crowd of fans and enthusiasts to see all these comics greats in conversation, and it was well worth the effort. Spiegelman was in top form, dealing out off-beat wit and wisdom, and praising the self-effacing Chris Ware about his new work BUILDING STORIES while talking about his own development as a sequential narrative storyteller. You can find my extensive coverage of the panel for The Beat, here.
The Festival itself was energetic, powerful, crowded, and ,to me, brought out a unique vein of comics production for the public to sift through. More than Small Press Expo, there was a distinct feeling of locality and underground production in the work. It was more edgy, more punk, if you will, and had its own unique vibe. I caught up with Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch at the Toons table, and had some nice chats with Jim Salicrup of Papercutz who was there as a fan himself.
That evening, I had a welcome comixy focused meal with Dean Haspiel, Heidi MacDonald of PW and The Beat, Jim Salicrup, and a hearty group of Dean Haspiel’s students from his recent teaching gig at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Not only were they a lot of fun to get to know, but I was treated to insights into the character and comic SHIFTYGOTH, a new multi-contributor project taking wings online, and particularly through Facebook.
[Shiftygoth being Shiftygoth]
My venture to Brooklyn provided yet another piece of the indie comics puzzle, helping me create my first year’s impressions of where creator owned work in comics has come from and what’s on the way given the veritable explosion of indie shows in recent years. I’d highly recommend attending BCGF if you want to see diversity in comics, hand-made work, and just want to hang out with comics people devoted to their craft.
Yes, it’s been awhile since NYCC 2012. It actually feels like far longer than it actually has been due to the massive disruptions to life as usual created by Hurricane Sandy. NYCC 2012 marked the end of a frenetic block of con-going before the more leisurely exploration of BCGF 2012. But time for reflection is not all bad. Looking back at NYCC 2012 I can see more clearly just how unusual an event it was, and how different the con became for me once I attended not just as a speaker, as in previous years, but as a reporter. A big thanks to Heidi MacDonald at the Comics Beat for giving me the opportunity to be part of a writing team at such a massive and exciting event. You’ll find no fewer than 8 links below to articles about NYCC 2012, a challenge that really tested my writing moxie.
I picked what I considered to be a reasonable schedule of panels to attend, but as those who attended NYCC 2012 know, numbers were astonishingly high and the new layout created some interesting challenges. Big thanks to friend Anica Archip who gave me safe harbor in Brooklyn to make all my coverage a little easier rather than commuting a distance. During the con, I had high and low moments, and the low moments were mostly due to sense that there was SO MUCH to do and so little time. The high moments were seeing some of the legends of the industry speak for the first time and continuously bumping into friends who made me feel part of the comics community at large.
On the day before NYCC officially opened, I attended the ICv2 conference on Digital Media held at the Javitz center. This was a very new experience for me. It started with the state of the publishing industry, and moved through various astonishing sneak-peeks and up and coming digital comics projects in various genres. There was plenty that went over my head, but what I did grasp opened up whole new worlds of thought for me. I didn’t try to cover those panels, but I did try to capture the hilarious and energetic “Fireside Chat” that concluded the event, featuring Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick and seasoned Producer Fred Siebert. Who knew YouTube ruled the world? Find that article here for the Beat.
On the first day of NYCC 2012, I had the pleasure of chairing a panel with the creators of the photo-visual comics history and profile book Leaping Tall Buildings: Seth Kushner, Christopher Irving, and Eric Skillman, but then I put my reporter hat on and literally ran to some other panels to cover them. The first was the logistically triumphant appearance of legendary Irwin Hasen with a panel of friends including Al Jaffee, hosted by Danny Fingeroth. Hasen’s hilarious antics and the remarkable “Irwin Stories” from his friends made this a really celebratory event about the enduring charm of cartooning and storytelling. Following this panel, I managed to catch part of the launch of Sequart documentary The Image Revolution, directed by Patrick Meaney. An impressive array of Image personalities paneled the screening of segments from the upcoming film, and plenty of surprises came out even in those clips, including Robert Kirkman’s admission that he tricked Image into accepting his pitch for WALKING DEAD. Find both panels covered here for the Beat.
I spent the evening meeting some more Sequart people, including fellow Beat contributor Henry Barajas, Sequart editor Mike Phillips, documentary director Patrick Meaney and filmmaker Jordan Rennert. A few others too! It was a great time to actually meet people who I’d been conversant with online as a contributor blogging for Sequart myself and working on books for the comics scholarship press.
The morning arrived too early, but I was right back into the thick of it as the larger crowds started arriving. My first “crowded” day I wouldn’t say that I did a very good job of navigating the strange topography of the packed Javitz Center, with Artist Alley given its own brightly-lit wing. I met up with friends and attempted to actually storm the already crowded floor on one of my brief ventures into the retail zone. Then it was off to an Editing Panel featuring Dark Horse’s Scott Allie. Reading Dark Horse letter columns for several years had made me curious to hear him speak in person and it was a phenomenal, energy-charged panel with plenty of humor. Perhaps most surprising was the reaction from the audience to the generous Q and A opportunities. The majority of the audience raised their hands when asked if they were interested in editing comics personally or professionally. This really indicated a shift toward interest in professional comics careers and also the growth of indie-produced comics. Find that panel covered here for the Beat.
In the afternoon I waited in an enthusiastic crowd to hear Batman producer Michael Uslan talk about his life work making Batman dark again, tying into his recent book The Boy Who Loved Batman. Uslan was tremendously inspiring, and many a costumed groupie packing the room sat rapt with attention. It’s easy for a generation who grew up with Batman cartoons to take for granted the changes Uslan’s Batman film, directed by Tim Burton, brought to comics culture and its relationship to mainstream society. Uslan’s story was a reality check and he received a well deserved standing ovation for his work. This kind of panel made me very grateful for the NYCC despite its crowds and logistical problems. Find Uslan’s talk covered here for the Beat.
I was three days in and losing steam, but I knew that there was still a long way to go to capture the great moments of the con through articles and pictures. Saturday promised to be the most crowded and challenging day, and my expectations were close to reality. I had two goals that day, which I wasn’t entirely sure I’d meet, to hear Grant Morrison talk in some capacity and hopefully, just hopefully, to finally get a glimpse of Mike Mignola. Part of the reason that I’ve never heard either of them speak before is because I’ve only been attending NYCC for two years previously, and also because I have a general antipathy to joining long lines and thereby wasting time I could be taking in other aspects of the con. But this was a serious mission and I was prepared to adapt. In the end, neither line was unbearably long, and both panels were a high-point of my experience of the comics industry thus far. In fact, the large meeting rooms used this year at NYCC rarely found it necessary to turn fans away, though those desiring front row seats were well advised to arrive very early. I’ll add that standing in lines for panels enriched my con experience in unexpected ways: I got to talk to cosplayers. I got to discuss comics we all loved. I got to hear from con-goers why exactly they were there. Without that, would I have experienced the “real” con or just been too goal-oriented to take in the full scope of the cultural impact NYCC already has on fans?
Grant Morrison, Brian K. Vaughn, and Jonathan Hickman had some pretty deep and honest wisdom to spread to aspiring comics writers in their “Writer’s Room” panel. These were all pros for whom comics were still their passion and their greatest struggle, and that may have informed their sympathy for those starting out. Despite their vast successes, their advice featured elements of characterization, project management, and self-promotion that everyone could identify with. Again, almost all hands went up when the audience was asked who attending actually currently attempted to write comics. This makes me wonder what percentage of fans at cons are simply passive, enjoying the con, and how many are there with a dual purpose of genuinely pursuing professional opportunities. It was a very informative and worth-while panel with the extra bonus of seeing and hearing directly from nearly mythological comics creators in the flesh. Find that panel covered here for the Beat.
At this point I should say that many of the staff members at the NYCC were very helpful to me, particularly about panels, and this came in handy when running to the Mike Mignola Hellboy in Hell panel. They scooted me in at the last minute and I decided to stand up at the back, which afforded good views and pictures, and I also came away with plenty of notes. Maybe I’ll go for this more mobile position in the future. This was personally enthralling for me as a longtime Hellboy reader, since Mignola promised to give some preview information about the late 2012 return of Hellboy’s adventures in Hell. The atmosphere was electric as Mignola talked about his enthusiasm for tales that take place in the netherworld and explained that this is all part of Hellboy’s story, not an afterword following his “death” in a previous arc. You can find what he had to say here.
In the evening, I got a chance to catch up with some of the great people who run the Comics Studies Conference portion of NYCC, associated with the Institute for Comics Studies (ICS) who bring great panel presentations every year for the more informed enthusiast, paving the way for comics scholarship in the popular sphere.
Sunday was bound to be a wind-down for me, limping toward a fifth day at the Javitz center, but the energy was just as high for crowds and participants once I arrived. I made a second venture onto the show floor and discovered, as always, aisles I had never explored, picking up a con exclusive of MARS ATTACKS THE HOLIDAYS from the Topps booth, featuring the work of Dean Haspiel, and chatting with Jim Salicrup at his all-ages comics Papercutz booth before trying to get my act together. I decided to attend Spider-Man’s 50th Birthday Party, a multi-media event in the bowels of Javitz. The cast, director, and choreographer of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark put on a mezmerizing show which had hordes of costumed tots dancing up on stage to the Spidey-moves from the musical. Reeve Carney performed an energetic rendition of “Boy Falls from the Sky” from the show, written by Bono and the Edge of U2 fame. It was a suitably celebratory atmosphere, and a fun family event to mark the big 5-0 for Spider-Man, recorded for the Beat here.
I let myself off the hook for panel going at that point and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out in Artist Alley pursuing a lead on all the indie talent who had decided to set up shop that year. I chatted with Jamal Igle about MOLLY DANGER, Neil Dvorak about EASY PIECES, Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham about the upcoming 5 GHOSTS, Matt Rosenberg about various projects including MENU, and artist and colorist Tim Yates about various upcoming projects. Spending some time at former Marvel editor, writer, and educator Danny Fingeroth’s table led to some of the most lively fannish conversations of the con, particularly about Spider-Man, with the constant flow of friends and colleagues stopping by. I wrote up my exploration of the “indie invasion” of Artist Alley here for the Beat.
I stayed right until the end of the con as the atmosphere finally wound down into the Artist Alley break-down of booths and the loading of trucks in mellow evening light. I had definitely seen things in “close up” compared to previous cons I’d attended, as well as getting a sense of the breadth and height of the 110, 000 people reported to have attended the con over several days. There were frustrations- particularly getting around, getting food, and trying to arrange meet-ups in such massive crowds, but with a flexible attitude it was navigable and more than that, essentially the biggest comics celebration of the year for the NY area. Sure, it was as much about Pop Culture, too, with its video-games, cosplay, and retail, but comics held their ground and made their mark even in such a throng of mass media elements clamoring for attention. Looking back, I realize that not only surviving the con, but engaging directly with some of the giants of the industry right now as well as having the opportunity to see friends who operate professionally in the world of comics worked to change my perspective yet again. It was a tremendous thing to be part of NYCC 2012. And to live to write about it.
It seemed like an absurd idea. After 7 days without power either at my house or the evacuation station where I was hanging out 90 miles inland from my New Jersey coastal town, how on earth would it improve my life to go into Manhattan, itself hard-hit by hurricane Sandy for the day? But I checked the trains and subway anyway, and they were running on a fairly reliable schedule. I was desperate enough to get out of my confined situation that I took my chances. I heard about a dramatic reading of a new play to be held in northern Manhattan and unbeknownst to me at the time, the subject matter would turn out to be appropriate: it was about a soul stuck in Limbo….
On Sunday the 4th of November, The Red Harlem Readers got together at their home base for performance, the Indian Café on Broadway between 107th and 108th, to bring to life the unusual career and personality of one Lord Richard Buckley (self-declared). I knew very little of Buckley, except that his influence and underground popularity has persisted since his death in 1960 to the present day. He invented what he called “hipsemantics”, a radical reconfiguring of language that bridged the gap between spoken and musical performance. Lord Buckley used his “hipsemantics” to transform some iconic works of literature into jangly, electrified spoken word that challenged the boundaries between high culture and popular speech. The Red Harlem Readers who presented the play are a phenomenon all their own, bringing free performance that nourishes the mind and soul to the Indian Café on Sunday afternoons, and promoting the arts and the artists who perform there alike.
The play, Dig Infinity!, is the work of pop culture biographer Oliver Trager, whose book, Dig Infinity: the Life and Art of Lord Buckley inspired him to dig deeper and present Buckley’s life in spoken word and song. The play took the form of an orphic myth, an exploration of the relationship between the living and the dead as Lord Buckley faces his advocate and psychopomp Orpheus on the Day of the Dead, poised before election day on November 2nd in 1960. The drama was arranged, as Trager explained beforehand, in three alternating parts: a real-time jazz performance in an after-hours club with Buckley in attendance, a radio interview with Orpheus broadcasting to the realms spiritual, and historical incidents from Buckley’s life that helped establish the rise and fall of his career as well as his revelations in developing a personal art form. This “long night’s journey into day”, as Orpheus called it, really consisted of the weighing of Buckley’s soul. Was he really full of “big high concepts” that could change the world, or just a hack “clown” singing for his supper? Author Trager himself played the role of Buckley with great virtuosity for a self-proclaimed amateur actor, delivering the non-stop linguistic somersaults necessary, as well as singing parts, with unrelenting energy and pathos. Russell Jordan, reading for the part of Orpheus threatened to steal the show with his carefully measured and subtly timed dialogue, bringing a weighty substance to the role of Orpheus that captured the feel of Hadean realms and a cosmic perspective on human frailties. Trager and Jordan were joined by Katie Baker, David Lamberton, Ian Finkel, Ridley Parson, and Michael Fiorillo, who all contributed multiple voices and personalities to the wide-ranging narrative with remarkable skill, and I would add, a sense of fun and enthusiasm that kept the audience amused and engaged.
Buckley’s life, hobnobbing with many of the influential artistic and pop-culture personalities of the twentieth century, as well as stumbling in the gutters of his own highs and lows, made for excellent dramatic material. It is to Trager’s credit that he delivered the darker aspects of Buckley’s life with great honesty and sympathy rather than simply presenting the brighter side of Buckley’s naturally ebullient personality. The play’s narrative was interspersed with passages from Buckley’s own notable performance routines, such as “The Nazz”, bringing the Nazarene Jesus Christ’s miracles to life (joined by a crowd of cool cat disciples who questioned their charismatic leader), the saga of Jonah and the Whale from the old testament (wherein the whale had plenty to say on the matter), and Willy “the Shake’s”(William Shakespeare) Julius Caesar (who was surrounded by a gang of “worthy studs”). The historical portions of the play were interlaced with significant themes such as the long road to racial equality. Buckley’s own adaptation of African-American slang into his speech performances, drawn from his time as an on-the-road performer, and later with many of the Jazz greats, often got him into hot water in rural America.
The more literary aspects of the play also called on the high themes that Buckley discussed autobiographically, such as a love-based conception of the universe in which we ought to “worship people” as little parts of God’s nature, his questioning of religious concepts that could easily be interpreted as heretical by orthodox establishments, and overall, whether an imperfect life can nevertheless make an impact on the world. Buckley’s argument with Orpheus was really, in many ways, an argument with himself, challenging his idealism in the face of achievable goals. Buckley’s alcoholism, his inveterate use of marijuana, and the seemingly more positive impact of LSD on his life, all took their toll on Buckley’s self-defense in the play.
With Orpheus as guide, Buckley witnesses both the full tragedy of violence and hatred in human history, but also the “other side” of the world with transformational storytelling, and the creation of beauty through art in a “twin bill”. Orpheus, and Buckley, in turn, make their case to a rather unsympathetic and harried God, and their ending is as ambivalent as Buckley’s own sudden death in 1960, having been barred from a stage performance comeback (possibly due to marijuana charges). But Trager’s orphic myth presented an orphic solution of sorts: like Orpheus and Eurydice, united after a sojourn in Hades, Lord Buckley is reunited with his inspiration: Lady Buckley. Maybe, for Buckley, that would have been reward enough for his labors on behalf of culture and society.
Trager commented, following the reading, that Buckley’s work has become a “secret talismanic thing for hipsters” and that he “doesn’t see the bad side of that”. While Buckley has accomplished plenty in the underground of artistic tradition, it’s also time, as Trager said, for a “reclamation and preservation of his work”. The impact of that work may be seen more and more clear as time passes and scholars and fans untangle the webs of influence in twentieth century popular culture. Trager goes a long way toward reminding us of Buckley’s legacy by following Buckley’s passion for “retelling myths” in an enduring way.
As you can see, this exceeded my expectations of heading into the city for a break from enforced exile, but it also had an impact on my thinking when I returned to a life of flashlights and reading up on the North-East’s recovery from the harrowing effects of Hurricane Sandy. Looking at images on the internet, and contemplating millions still without power days later, it seemed like I could see the first part of Orpheus’s “twin bill”, the more tragic side of human life. Dig Infinity! made me wonder how the artists and the thinkers of our generation are going to interpret, transform, and inspire humanity based upon these very same events. What kind of myths might they eventually tell?
Once the initial “I survived” phase of Hurricane Sandy is past, the real work sets in. Watching the posts of friends and family as they announce power restoration is like watching the bulbs on a string of Christmas lights finally wink on one at a time when you’re outside in the cold with dusk setting in. But then there are the bulbs that don’t come on and you tweak and you fiddle, but things aren’t going to be quite right until enough of them come on to make a satisfying glow. Otherwise you feel like you ought to go back to the drawing board.
If you’ve been following New Jersey’s progress in the news or on the radio, you’ve heard some disturbing things that aren’t going away very quickly. Hand guns wielded at gas stations, hours of car stop and go waiting for gas that terminates in the announcement “we’re out”. I heard a CNN report yesterday from a vehicle that waited two hours in the falling dark to fill up, and spoke to others waiting in line who had spent hours in various gas stations trying to get even half a tank to no avail. While we feel a surge of relief to hear about friends getting their power back on, there’s the danger that people assume life has returned to normal.
For 1.5 million people in New Jersey alone, this is not the case. Driving around the area where I’m staying since my coastal evacuation on Sunday night, there’s the illusory sense that things are back to normal. Shops are open, restaurants are packed, and some gas stations, at least, seem to have supplies. But it is an illusion for many. There are plenty of people who have returned to life as normal, and even to work as usual, but scratch the surface, and you find the immense difficulty of keeping up this facade. Clerks and waiting staff in shops and restaurants are more than willing to confess that they don’t have power or clean clothes, but are expected to turn up, bright and cheerful, to serve the consumers filing in. I can understand the need for this, but I also think it’s an immense stress to put on people who may be sleeping on cots and barely getting phone signal to check on their loved ones.
Why is there this dichotomy that we can’t admit that things aren’t better yet? It’s an American thing to put on a brave face and celebrate our victories, but if it’s at the cost of honesty, I can’t jump on board. Walking through a deserted mall yesterday, just trying to stay away from where I’ve been living to combat intense cabin fever, the high end shops were selling their wares to no one. Meanwhile, the more general public were scrambling at Walmart and Target to get sheets, towels, and groceries. And all of them, without fail, were expected to be back at work very soon as if nothing had happened, or was still happening. I’m aware that for some people, this helps keeps spirits up. It gives them something to do, maybe even a place to go that has heat and power versus where they’re spending their nights, but I’m not seeing a lot of outreach where I am to help them deal with this transition.
Then there’s the recent announcement in New Jersey that gas will be rationed, starting today. This will cut back on the disheartening lines, the let downs of waiting and then being denied, but it also raises huge logistical problems for people trying to meet their responsibilities to be at work on time. If you haven’t heard, the rationing involves even and odd number plates being allowed to fill up their vehicles on alternate days. What if your tank is nearly empty, you’re over an hour from your home due to evacuation, and you’re expected to be at work at 8 AM on the day you’re not allowed to fill up? Perhaps employers will be understanding, but I’m not getting that sense from the people I talk to. After a week off work, employers are expecting a prompt return to life as usual, and the slack has to be taken up by people already pressured to look after their families and their properties. I may be beating a dead horse here, but to clarify, there’s a vast difference between areas that had power a couple of days ago and those that still don’t.
I passed out of the illusion zone last night, having to take some country roads to smaller towns to get to my erstwhile home where generators and chainsaws are a constant litany. I went from the well-lit strips where stores and restaurants were open into a sudden deadzone where for 12 miles, not a light could be seen. It was eerie and dangerous, especially at large intersections where the occasional ghostly car paused hesitantly. In those areas, where giant tree carcasses are still littering the roads or hauled partially off of them, people are having to drive miles for food and maybe water (many of the homes here have wells that need electricity to function). I wonder how they’ll do during gas rationing? This post’s a bummer, but I’ll lay one more straw on the camel’s back: the expense to individuals of the hurricane’s impact. Daily costs are high and way out of the budget of the normal middle class family. Eating out and getting take out because you can’t cook at home is racking up the dough. Two people eating out at Panera, for instance, if it’s open, is at least 25 bucks. Spread that over two meals (to be conservative) a day and times that by six or more, and things are going to be a real burden on couples or families in the days to come.
I could talk about all the team work and positive energy I’ve seen, the ways that people are helping each other, and maybe I should. Seeing and hearing about those things helped me get through the initial shock and fear of the mega-storm and blunted the edge of the terrifying photographs I saw of devastation. You know those stories are out there, and heartwarming, but what we’re going to need in the days ahead is ongoing compassion and understanding. People want to move on quickly because it’s all been very upsetting. That’s human nature. But if the community is asking people to cover up the ongoing burden these events have caused, that’s dishonest and unhelpful. Keep looking out for your neighbors, please. Keep asking how they are doing. Speak up when unrealistic goals are being set and grant people the time to deal with things they may never have expected to deal with. There are going to be insurance deductibles people don’t know how to finance, homes that get power but no cable, internet, or phone, and plenty of people with bed-head (no hairdryers) and rumpled clothes (no laundry). A few days ago, that wouldn’t have mattered since food and heat were the main priority, but as we move onward, expecting those people to shift from refugee status into the mainstream is going to be all too easy and all too unfair.
Rant over. I hope you aren’t dealing with these issues from the refugee side of things, but even if you aren’t, your understanding is going to go a long, long way for those who are.
This year I attended my first Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, in what seemed like only a couple of days after the phenomenal Boston Comic Con. I drove down a little ahead of the Expo in order to attend Dean Haspiel’s talk at the Library of Congress, celebrating the donation of over 600 minicomics from his personal collection to the Library, but also the ongoing collection that will house Ignatz Award nominated comics and other worthies drawn from SPX each year. It was a proud day for comics, and plenty of other comics folks turned up for a tour of the impressive comics holdings the Library already had on offer. If you’d like to see my coverage of that event for The Beat, you can find it here.
After returning to the hotel for a spell, some of us headed back into DC for the Literary Death Match event featuring Dean Haspiel and the Beat’s Heidi MacDonald as judges. It was a hilarious event hosted in pro fashion with a whole cast of talented cartoonists competing through wits and art.
When SPX finally opened the next morning, the crowds were impressive and I realized right away how special the Expo was. I’m new to indie comics, and this was a premier festival for creators and fans of the self-published, off-the-beaten path and even hand-made in comics. I was overwhelmed by the well of creativity I saw there, and tried to pick up a wide selection of minis produced in different ways. I talked to lots of creators, hearing their stories and motivations in the creative process, but I also saw the way in which everyone enjoyed seeing and talking to each other in an environment in which their efforts were understood. Add to that the all-star cast of famous names attending SPX this year from Daniel Clowes to the Hernandez Brothers and Chris Ware. It made for an ebullient atmosphere. It wouldn’t be far fetched to call the event one big comics party, but a party where people made record sales from interested attendees. This really signals a rise in popularity and recognition for indie comics.
I spent a lot of my time attending fabulous panels, hearing straight from veteran comics people about their careers and the future of the form, and covered lots of them for The Beat. You can see my day one coverage and day two coverage with pictures if you’re interested.
I also covered the entertaining Ignatz Awards which was one of the most up-beat ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed, not to mention the sprawling late into the night parties that followed. It left me broken down by Sunday morning, but ready for more knowledge. A full day of panels (reinforced by a great cooked breakfast) kept me on the move.
[These fine fellows are Jim Dougan, Dean Haspiel, and Joe Infurnari, all of whom create comics]
Driving back, my mind was literally still spinning with all the wit and wisdom I’d been a party too. As Warren Bernard said to me, it would be very very hard to top SPX this year, and as people started responding to the event online, it was clear that everyone had just as good a time as me. It was a crowded, lively, welcoming Expo, bringing in new readership and talent. I’d highly recommend people interested in comics attend in future years, whatever genre you’re into. It’s increasingly evident to me that comics is actually a fairly small world and if you want to hang out with like minded people, SPX is a premier place to do just that. Two thumbs up!
Jeffrey Burandt took two hours out of a sultry evening at the end of August to talk shop with me in Bryant Park, and while we roughly pursued the chronology of his life and artistic endeavors, themes kept popping up that were difficult to put down. They were the zombie concepts that drive Burandt forward, challenging him to push the boundaries of standard artistic output. Yes, I said “standard”. On a day when you’re feeling generous, you admit that everything that artists produce is original and unique because no one could ever do the same thing the same way twice, but in a cynical mode you do realize, maybe when reaching for a CD on a shelf in a shop, that things can get a little samey even among the talented. The only way to assure yourself that you can avoid that form of stultification in music, or in comics, is to keep redefining those boundaries and surprising yourself as well as your audience.
To start off with, Burandt acknowledges that his alter ego and stage name Jef UK is a “fictional character” who does not savor the “careful thoughtful things” that Burandt, as a writer, comes up with. Jef UK is all about the internet and the ways in which it renders the whole world “Beta”. In a world with “no such thing as a final iteration”, Jef UK can splash his R-rated comics onto screens, then later choose to revise, and reframe them as sequential narratives that may eventually see a more formal print format. I ask Burandt for some examples of changes he’s been persuaded to make and he whispers a few that I recognize from the Americans UK comics up on TRIP CITY, a multi-media digital arts salon. We consider a particular ending and whether he should change it before the print version (names have been concealed for the protection of innocent comix). Burandt’s comics for TRIP CITY share a common feature in their short-story format, one which Burandt feels is capable of “suggesting a really big world” while avoiding tying down the narrative to a single chronological thread.
The “Beta” aspects of digital comics for Burandt tie into his appreciation for both the unique qualities of demo recordings and the hammered down and polished features of albums when the songs have been been played “hundreds of times”. Demo recordings have haunting qualities and unique surprises that create a more visceral experience for the reader the way a freshly pressed digital comic might. Burandt’s a fan of Beck, Bjork, and Radiohead, and I can see a consistency linking his philosophy and tastes. These are all bands who privilege the texture of live playing and performance, even in their recorded albums, and make a point of creating new avenues for their compositions in concert gigs.
[photo by Walker Esner]
From Burandt’s descriptions of more mainstream print comics projects he’s worked on, it is clear that he, like most comics creators working today, finds the industry more than a little maddening. A particular frustration is the time-frame involved. A graphic novel, he explained, may be picked up, and a certain amount of advance money paid, but it could be years before the book sees print, if ever. In a climate where you have to “get published to get published”, this elaborate waiting game isn’t helpful. Self-publication and digital media, just like live performance and demos, are a way to put art into the community in a more immediate way.
[Portrait of Jef UK by Seth Kushner]
But, in the case of music, if you are going to build a band’s reputation largely on performances rather than big record label albums, how do you do that? Burandt’s solution is to recognize what he calls the “irony of performance”. The “blending of fiction and reality” that he previously discussed with me in terms of founding his fiction-based real band Americans UK becomes even more significant when you acknowledge Burandt’s premise, that “at the heart of all art performance is irony”. Burandt defines artistic irony as something “projecting itself as something it is not”, a form of duplication. For instance, a song about heartbreak being performed, is not necessarily the experience of heartbreak in itself. It may recall, recreate, or suggest that state, but forgetting the artificiality of the performance is part of the irony.
This all plays into Burandt’s use of stage “uniforms” as Jef UK, from black domino mask to capes and other comic-linked trappings. His dream band costume, he muses, would be for his band to turn up as 5 Spider-Men on stage. “How is that less gimmicky”, he asks, than the stuff hipsters wear to emulate each other?
If you assume the costume, and take on the gimmick, you’re only one step away from bringing comics to the stage, it seems. Maybe that’s the real crossroads of music and comics for Burandt: performance. Americans UK perform “Sons of Ba’al” to the stark black and white clear-line style of an accompanying comic projection. The images the comic contains draws on layouts that veer between traditional comics panels, the large panels typical of digital comics, and the experimental distribution of text you often see in CD lyric pamphlets or covers.
The fantastic images of demon-human characters ties in with plenty of comic traditions while the black and white palette carries an indie comics association. The comic was posted on TRIP CITY to be accompanied by the musical track, but also includes meta material such as sketches from the artist, Ham Gravy, aka Michael Lapinski , and commentary about the comics art from Burandt.
Check it out and see what you experience. Maybe making the transition into total sensory overload is just a matter of taking the plunge.
Burandt and Americans UK may be making bigger waves than they think, since I’ve heard a couple of other young musician/artists lately discussing the possibility of comics performance projection combined with a musical set. It’s not that it’s never been done before, since images in live performance have been around, pretty much since time immemorial, but the quality and originality of the art and music make a seismic difference to the audience’s experience. Jeffrey Burandt, aka Jef UK is a man with a seemingly endless well of ideas about the overlap and crossing points between the arts in their various forms. Thanks for the chat, Jeffrey. I hope everyone gets a chance to see and hear Americans UK push the aural/visual envelope again soon.