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.

And I Survived…New York Comic Con 2012

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.