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.

The TRIP CITY Interviews : Origin Stories

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My origin story as a journalist is tied up in the history of TRIP CITY’s first year of digital life. I had done plenty of writing in my life, but there were two genres of writing I had completely avoided, pretty much on purpose: autobiography and journalism. I had learned to avoid autobiography laced into fiction or poetry mostly from watching friends get slapped across the face by angry partners at readings, or from writhing around thinking “TMI” if there were no altercations to break the tedium at the same readings. My antipathy toward journalism went back further to high school when I was forced into editing the school newspaper for a semester by pleading teachers and admin. It had started badly with a guilt trip because there was no one else willing to do the job, and it only got worse as I was forced to print retraction after retraction for being too candid in what I considered bare bones and dry as dust, yawningly boring accounts of school events. One rather imposing teacher even blocked the hallway and slammed her fist into a locker to make her point. I had gotten into the middle of some kind of teacher-world rivalry without realizing. Journalism was a bad word after that, and I’ll confess my attitude was snobbish. I didn’t see any room for creativity in that prison-like atmosphere.

There was a significant blip on the radar in my 20′s when I picked up a book by Hunter S. Thompson. It was actually a volume of his diaries and I started with that before reading whatever of his work I could get my hands on. I had never even heard of New Journalism. It was as if I had lived in a world without the concept. But I came to the conclusion, misguidedly, that it probably wasn’t possible to write like that anymore, since every piece of journalism I saw was as bland as I expected it to be. Thompson lurked somewhere in the dusty corners of my brain, just a minor doubt, for another decade.

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I heard about this event in Brooklyn in March 2012, a book launch with some readings, and decided to go since it involved my more recent love, comics. As soon as the thing started, I pulled out a notebook and started taking down notes, thinking I might do a book review, because I was becoming more and more astonished by what was playing out in front of me. The launch for LEAPING TALL BUILDINGS by Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner actually began with some live comics performances by TRIP CITY folks and friends, and by the time Seth Kushner started talking about the ground-breaking photo essay book, I was mezmerized and strangely uncomfortable. There was something about presenting all this as a live event that was getting to me. It’s strange when you can point to one moment in your life and identify a turning point that brought about a lot of personal change, even stranger when you can blame someone else for it. Dean Haspiel saw me taking notes and asked if I was a journalist. When I said, “no”, I was probably a little horrified. But he asked if I would write up the event for TRIP CITY. That I said yes to. Journalism was bland to me, but TRIP CITY, I could already see, was not. It was something remarkable I wanted to know more about.

Writing that article was pretty excruciating. I had no idea what I was doing since it didn’t fit any formal conventions I was used to. The challenge of capturing a live event in a way that made sense, and hopefully made people feel that they had been there made me feel like stopping before I even started. I came to the conclusion around 4 in the morning that the only way to do it was to include myself. Then I remembered Hunter Thompson and that old question in my mind. After that, the article wrote itself. That’s certainly not the end of the story, far from it, but that was the beginning of writing journalistically for me.

When TRIP CITY turned one year old, it was an honor to try to pry the literary arts salon’s own origin story out of the four founders and to look ahead toward the site’s future and goals. TRIP CITY breaks paradigms and brings the literary, visual, and aural arts together in new and unique combinations that you’d be very hard pressed to find anywhere else. That confluence brought me in, and changed my artistic direction pretty profoundly. I wanted to know how that happened, and for the most part, I got my answers.

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For my initial essay about what TRIP CITY is and does from my perspective, check out “The Shock of the New“, which I wrote in November 2012 for The Beat.

In my interview with co-curators Jeffrey Burandt and Chris Miskiewicz, you can read about their take on digital multi-media here.

For my interview with co-curator Dean Haspiel, you can hear him talk “Around the Digital Campfire“.

For my interview with co-curator Seth Kushner, you can hear all about his “Male Uterus“, here.

I owe these guys a profound debt of thanks for the ways they altered my trajectory in life, even if they had no idea they were doing so at the time. It’s been a phenomenal year for TRIP CITY and I couldn’t be prouder of this one year old prodigy and all its diverse and dynamic contributors. Congrats!

Heroes and Indies on TRIP CITY

It’s been a really busy autumn already in terms of cons, shows, expos, launches and the like. Since I haven’t been as acutely aware of it in previous years, I don’t know how this compares with other stats, but hearing things like “record sales”, “record numbers” etc suggests to me that 2012 has been a very big year for comics. I bit the bullet and tried to hit all the major events within driving range. It was a gaunlet that shuttled me between superhero cosplay and indie night-before stapling fests. I didn’t really have too much time to process what I was seeing, but I was trying to write about it on the fly. I just tried to stick to the facts and hold on for the ride.

But when my journalistic articles started coming out, I was making gaffs. Pretty embarassing ones. Sometimes I’d manage to get through one article without some mistake that showed how new I was to comics, and particularly to comics culture. Sometimes reading several collected volumes of your favorite author doesn’t exactly make you well rounded when it comes to mainstream issues and indie angst. I got a little despondent about it, even though these days you can fix mistakes with the stroke of a key and problem solved. I wondered if I just wasn’t ready to be writing about comics on a scale that really demands a degree of expertise. Maybe enthusiasm wasn’t enough.

I ended up talking to friends about it, of course, and pretty much assuming they’d agree with me, that I ought to back off for awhile. They knew a hell of a lot more than me and more often than not were providing the corrections when I needed them. But their answers were more or less even worse than telling me to call it a day. They suggested I tell everyone that I was new to comics and didn’t always know what I was looking at. In especially ungracious fashion, I got angry with them and told them off. Didn’t they know that would ruin my chances of ever being taken seriously by readers, much less by sites that might let me write for them? Suicide. A couple of days went by. It was one of those awful, good ideas that sticks in the back of your mind. It was like a dare, or maybe looking over a cliff and feeling that vertigo. I told myself I’d do it, but not publish these confessional articles. Well, you get how it turned out. I did it. I thanked them. They were right.

So, here for your perusal, check out the first article I did in this autobio vein pondering the superhero and cosplay aspects of Baltimore Comic Con that I took for granted until I looked more closely at a world I thought I knew:

“Looking for Heroes at Baltimore Comic Con”

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That one was scary enough to write, but honestly, the indie article was harder. That was the real plunge, because I hadn’t even seen an indie comic before spring of 2012 and here I was trying to write about MoCCA Fest and SPX as if I could process the wild world I was being introduced to. But it was maybe the most satisfying writing experience I’ve had yet because it was such an honest wrangling with my impressions. Here you can find:

“The Many Worlds of Indie Comics”

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A big thanks to Dean Haspiel and Seth Kushner at TRIP CITY who allowed me to air my laundry on these issues, proofread and gave suggestions about them, and particularly to Seth who arranged the images beautifully, as always. I also learned something about TRIP CITY doing this, by the way: they value earnestness. Add to that a serious respect for the hard work that goes into comics and all the arts. Just a few more reasons why I’m glad to be a part of a fantastic collective like this.

Asbury Park Comic Con: Groovy and Independent

Asbury Comic Con is the brain-child of independent comics guy Cliff Galbraith, who has been a long-time creator of RAT BASTARD, UNBEARABLE, and other comics, and has recently launched RAT BASTARD as an app for reading at NYCC 2012. He got tired of the big companies shouldering out smaller ones and indie creators at comic cons and had another plan in mind. He took over the Asbury Lanes bowling alley and music venue in Asbury Park, NJ, for the first time last spring with plenty of help from enthusiastic friends. The event was small, but had a remarkable vibe and attracted like-minded comics people. This second con, held September 29th built on that success and then some. With more tables, more comics artists and writers, and great food, it kicked ass.

Everyone involved had a great time, including TRIP CITY’s Dean Haspiel and Seth Kushner, who were there selling minis and books, and friends of TC George O’Connor of InkdTV and artist Reilly Brown. Add to that plenty of other comics stalwarts with a strong indie streak like Larry Hama and Evan Dorkin.

I was there for The Beat with several other Beat writers, and we had a blast. Part of the fun was digging around in long boxes and finding the most unlikely stuff. I ended up with some BEOWULF and Batman Annuals. Torsten Adair hit a goldmine of the bizarre and wrote it all up for The Beat as “Fool’s Gold” installments 1 and 2.

Attendees were into it and there were kids in costume this time, too. You never know what’s missing from an environment until you add kids having a good time with their parents, then you know a con has arrived. I also found some great old 8 Ball comics by Daniel Clowes, something I’d been hunting for, and Marvel graphic novels from the 1990′s. I have an obsessive collection of those- beautiful artwork! This time I got Daredevil by Bill Sienkiewicz and Frank Miller.

Some other indie friends enjoying the day and keeping tables busy were Dre Grigoropol and Sean Pryor. Sean’s a local and was looking forward the opening of an art show featuring his work. He also teaches art classes in the area.

After the con was just as much fun as the con itself. We headed down to the boardwalk after finding a restaurant too loud and uncongenial, led by Cliff Galbraith. We decided on hanging out in the warm weather under a dramatic moon/cloudscape and eating some really to die for Korean tacos. Here George O’Connor checks out the Batmobile.

Everyone broke out their cameras after nightfall to see if we could get any pictures of the moon, sea, and sand, and to our surprise, the pictures were excellent. It really set the tone for the whole con that lots of comics people got a chance to hang out and talk together about the history of comics and current work. Asbury Con was about similar goals and a desire to impact the community through comics. Big thanks to Cliff Galbraith for having this vision, and putting in all the energy to make it happen. Here’s to more years of Asbury Con. It’ll be moving to the convention hall next time due to its impressive successes, but for those of us who came to the Lanes, they’ll always have a special place in our experience of a new kind of con.

For my full coverage of the Asbury Park Comic Con for The Beat, please click here.

Leaping Tall Buildings at GreenLight Bookstore, Brooklyn, with Seth Kushner, Chris Irving, and PW’s Calvin Reid

The comics-focused photo-scholarly book Leaping Tall Buildings, by Seth Kushner and Christopher Irving, has been the source of many great panels around the bookstores and comicn shops of New York (and even in Canada) lately! This one was more low key, but brought in the expertise of Publishers Weekly’s Calvin Reid and also struck an interesting, mellow note talking about the recent passing of Joe Kubert. Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn is a lovely venue and it was a real comics event for comics fans where a meaningful conversation was had by all. Check out my coverage of the event, and some reflections on it and on our comics “family tree” at TRIP CITY, here.

And I Survived….Baltimore Comic Con 2012

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Baltimore Comic Con was a big eye-opener for me. I had only been to really large or really small cons before, and I didn’t realize there could be a convention of that size and stature that was tailored just to comics and had comic writers and artists in mind. Not only that but the fans and attendees all had a very upbeat attitude. There was tons of cosplay, no pushing or shoving in lines, and even white table cloths on the rest area tables (yes, they even had a rest area!!). I couldn’t recommend BCC highly enough if you are a serious comics fan who would like signatures or commissions. The panels were equally great, featuring top talent from both Marvel and DC, and what’s more- even Stan Lee! The man was in fine form for his adoring fans.

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I spent time between legging it to panels hanging out with some talented guys from TRIP CITY who kindly let me crash at their booth even when I was underfoot. I got to see firsthand reactions to the new works they were presented at the con. Dean Haspiel was debuting the gorgeous wide-screen print version of his monograph from his BILLY DOGMA series, “The Last Romantic Anti-hero” alongside copies of the first TRIP CITY VISITOR’S GUIDE which appeared at MoCCA Fest 2012 but is still for sale. Joe Infurnari (MUSH!, MARATHON) brought out the full-color, newly detailed print limited edition of his riotous TRIP CITY digital series TIME FUCKER, and Seth Kushner brought his debut of debuts- his first ever mini comic, a collection of three stories from his TRIP CITY series THE SCHMUCK DIARIES gorgeously drawn by contributing artists. Artist Reilly Brown made a quartet of the folks at the table, bringing out his new sketchbook and handling a tide of Deadpool commissions. “The Last Romantic Anti-hero” was a no-brainer for fans already standing in line for Haspiel signatures and commissions, but the TRIP CITY VISITOR’S GUIDE was a nice surprise for those who hadn’t heard of the all-original collections of comics, stories, and art out of Brooklyn. There was a fair amound of tittering and chat about TIME FUCKER and THE SCHMUCK DIARIES. You know- the sort of reaction when people look, start to draw back from a book, then look again, closer, in disbelief and end up turning the thing over a few times before yes, buying it. Brown hardly had a moment to notice one way or the other, he was so in demand.

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I took in several panels, the Harveys, and the general climate of the floor gathering coverage for The Comics Beat. I was overwhelmed by the sense of appreciation and commitment to comics I felt walking around the tables and listening in to the panels.

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Baltimore is a comics fan’s con first and foremost, and since comics creators are comics readers, it’s for them, too. See my detailed coverage in the following articles, too, on The Beat:

*The Harvey Awards 2012

*Baltimore Comic Con, Day One (featuring Marvel Now! DC’s New 52, and Stan Lee)

*Baltimore Comic Con, Day Two (featuring Tom Brevoort and the Marvel method of editing)

Leaping Tall Buildings @Jim Hanley’s Universe, July 25, 2012

I had the good fortune to attend one of the most entertaining panels I’ve yet seen, bringing together a range of comics professionals who were featured in the new photo-essay comics history book Leaping Tall Buildings by Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner. Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Dean Haspiel, Kevin Colden, Simon Fraser, Matt Madden, and Joe Infurnari turned this into a riveting event as they discussed their own comics origin stories, the mementos and memories they hold onto from comics past, and where they all are headed in the near future. Hosted by Chris Irving and Seth Kushner, the event “chronicle” I did can be found on TRIP CITY, here, with photos by India Kushner. Here are a couple of my own, too.