Another C2E2 has come and gone, so it’s time to take stock of everything excellent… and less so.
Making Comics The Marvel Way
It’s always a treat to get a sneak peak at what’s coming next in comics, and Marvel delivered in spades by bringing Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman up for the Next Big Thing panel. Unfortunately, NDAs and publishing timelines being what they are, neither author could really divulge much information. Meaning they both spent most of their time vamping for the crowd and ragging on one another over old sports rivalries. This is pretty standard, both for these kinds of panels in general and for these two guys in particular.
Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X (a two title X-book event) sound tantalizing, but it’s still too early to give anything like a report beyond that CB reminded us it’s “Powers of Ten” and Hickman said that everything in this image — flowers included — is important, so we should obsess over it.
That’s why the really interesting panel for me was Making Comics the Marvel Way, which happened the day before. It didn’t get as much attention as NBT, but watching Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson break down a script was fascinating. Dauterman’s color coding of his rough sketch “layout phase” is brilliant, making characters easier to track and address. Meanwhile, seeing the side-by-sides as Dauterman’s inks come alive with Wilson’s colors was deeply impressive (especially when seeing how much juggling Wilson has to do to maintain contrast and enforce separations between busy, overlapping panels).
What I was most surprised by, however, was how both artists spoke so plainly about the need for an even wider artistic influence. There were frequent citations to their use of graphic design, fashion design, and even collage techniques for delivering pages and covers. Each of these points logically makes sense, but it feels like a rare treat for an artist to talk about something more than perspective, line-weight, and color theory.
Pérez & Wolfman Panel
Artist George Pérez and author Marv Wolfman are one of the most important collaborations in the history of comics. From Crisis on Infinite Earths to their legendary run on Teen Titans, these two saved comics from obscurity and infused their books with so much life and character. In doing so, they set the foundations on which authors like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, and other 80s wunderkinds would build upon.
But these are just the facts of things. You can read about how influential “The Judas Contract” was on Wikipedia (or, better yet, read the book and find out for yourself). You can find no limit of interviews from modern artists who reference these two giants of the industry as crucial influences on modern comics. You can see the outpouring of love and grief on social media after Pérez announced his permanent retirement earlier this month.
There is evidence of this.
Instead, I want to share just how much it meant to me to spend a little time with these two old friends. To hear them so proud of their work and of one another after all of these years. Hearing the genuine affection in Perez’s voice as he called Wolfman “the gold standard in creative collaboration.” To hear Wolfman tell stories of how far he went to buy his friend’s early illustrations so he could show them to young artists and say “if George can work this hard, so can you.”
Both men were also fantastically self effacing, which both makes for great storytelling and great storytellers, with my favorite bon mot from the panel being Wolfman’s remark that the greatest kindness DC ever did for him was not publishing his first, paid script.
As these gold, silver, and even bronze age creators are getting on in years, these panels are becoming an increasingly rare and precious gift. I urge you to catch every moment you can with these folks.
Peter Tomasi’s Batman Musical
One of my favorite exercises in comics is “the stupid question taken seriously.” Metal, Cosmic Ghost Rider, and Gwenpool are all fantastic examples of how fun (and lucrative) these experiments can be.
But hearing Tomasi (“Bat Group” editor at DC) talk about the traditional editorial process… and how it can be applied to ridiculous concepts with great effect… is a real treat. This kind of free association spit-balling is what convention panels are all about, and watching Tomasi play around with the concept is great fun.
Watch the whole SyFy video, but jump to about 11:30 to hear Pete’s… uh… singing debut.
The very best part of any show are the fans. They’re the people I’ll spend the most time with, and they’re the people who put in the most effort and creativity for these three days. From the full metal Voltron cosplay I saw to the plethora of kids who were elated to see real live superheroes, fans make for good shows. I want to give a very special thanks to the young guy who helped my time in the Batman 80th Anniversary line move faster by answering questions about the prints he had bought. Your excitement about your purchases (and patience with my questions) was incredible. Thank you.
Giving interviews and delivering panel discussions is amazingly hard work. Think about any time you’ve gone to a party and a stranger has asked you about your job or course load and how brutally awkward it is to convey something both intimate and mundane in terms a group might find entertaining. Now imagine that your continued employment or enrollment depended on you being charming, cogent, and not spilling your drink on yourself.
I’d say that’s the struggle of most panels, on balance. The majority of authors are not Jonathan Hickman, you’ll find, in the same way that most artists aren’t Marc Silvestri. The majority of creatives don’t give live, spoken interviews very often and it falls on their publisher to provide them practice and coaching. Or rather, it should. But rumor around the food court was that there were substantial cutbacks this year with many publishers and it showed.
With the exception of the three flagship panels I attended for DC and Marvel, every other artist panel had creatives forget to mention ship dates, price points, or coherent descriptions of their books. In terms of polish, this was the worst C2E2 I’ve been to in 10 years.
I want to stress, that I don’t blame them for these difficulties; this was the failing of editorial or marketing being unable to provide event support in a way that would help everyone (creator, publisher, and audience).
Every single photo-op
Photos are a problem for conventions. The problem being that photos require things to come to a dead stop. There are pre-photo conversations, setup, the first shot, the review, the follow-up shot because the first one was bad, the post-photo conversation, and the walking-away-while-looking-at-a-screen shuffle.
This is a problem, both with amateurs on the floor and — as it turns out — for fan photo-ops with celebrities. This is especially troubling with celebrities, where fans pay good money for a personal moment with their hero, but agents, handlers, and the event itself lean towards a brutal, impersonal efficiency.
I understand that impulse; signing and photo lines can run 100-300 fans deep, and saving a paltry 30 seconds per fan means cutting up to 2.5 hours off the engagement (or stuffing extra fans in for more profit).
Facebook is full of complaints this year with people feeling the effects of that “efficiency,” fans who weren’t happy to have the security checkpoint lines become snarled by cosplay photo shoots, and other problems.
This is a problem of logistics, and not an easy problem at that. But this was a problem at the first C2E2 way back in 2010 and it wasn’t new then; and I have yet to see a substantive solution attempted.
The @#$%&! Rolling Luggage
As I have made previously clear, you should never bring a roller bag on the show floor. They mess up traffic, they run amok and hit people, and they do nothing to protect your valuables. And yet I swear by my long boxes that there were more this year than last.
This is high treason and if there were anything like a just and loving force that guided the universe, these people would be tied to stakes at the edge of the Chicago River and left to drown. Their ghosts would mingle with those of the animals and floor workers and sausages of Sinclair’s Jungle, their bags dragged to ribbons by the ceaseless current and sunless deep. I will not stand for the tyranny of these luggage people, and I will not stop until they are forgotten even by the sky.
The unavoidable jerks
As I’ve said, I love the fans at conventions in general and most of all in C2E2, but no show is without its detractors. Not even my hometown.
C2E2 saw a thief stealing rare comics, a handful of terribly behaved fans, and one or two people so awful that they should never, ever have been allowed near a microphone.
Worse still, I witnessed a small handful of instances where jerks went out of their way to harass cosplayers. Jerks who seemingly came to the show only to make someone else feel unsafe.
Talking about this kind of thing is difficult. On the one hand, this should never happen, not even once. On the other, ensuring zero incidence of bad human behavior seems impossible. I would very much like to use a stronger word than “jerks” here, but we have publishing standards. It is tempting to throw ones hands up in defeat.
Except that in one case I saw, which was entirely preventable. One person dressed in fake body armor, shield, and weapon bothered a number of girls in dress. This idiot’s outfit bore the insignia of an online hate group who clearly and explicitly state their hatred for women and people of color and their desire to do real, physical violence to these groups. This person came in stating his desire to cause trouble, literally wearing it on his sleeve, and should have had his pass removed and his money refunded before he even got through security the first time.
C2E2 remains one of my favorite shows and it’s been deeply gratifying to see it grow in size, in fandom, and in importance. Getting to see an announcement as big as Hickman’s happening feels especially auspicious for the future of the show.
But there’s still room for improvement, so here’s hoping that next year we see some fixes for the photos and a little more prep work from some publishers.