Matt Maxwell’s WonderCon Report: Day 1

[Since we couldn’t go to WonderCon, we charged writer/Elite Beat Operative Matt Maxwell with covering it for us. Maxwell is the author of MURDER MOON, and the webcomic STRANGEWAYS, and has a blog, Highway 62. He also likes to go to conventions.]


by Matt Maxwell

WonderCon is kind of an odd duck for me. I’ve been attending for five years now and I’ve gone from freshly-back-into-comics to jaded blogger to frustrated professional to small publisher in that time. Okay, it only seems like an overnight transformation in retrospect, but that’s where I’m writing this from, so you get retrospect.

The show has grown up significantly in the time since I started attending, and has probably ballooned since it was the Oakland Wondercon before it was exiled across the bay to downtown SF. Perhaps Jimmie Robinson could tell me more of the show’s history. I know that Rory Root could’ve. This was the first show in his absence, a fact I was reminded of every time I passed the Comic Relief booth and didn’t see him there with mug in hand and smile on face.

pixuiiThis year, the show was held in Moscone South, which is in the larger cluster of halls. To my memory, it was only held in Moscone West (a new add-on to the convention center) once, several years ago, and that felt too small. In fact, I recall the doors being closed for a short time more than once so that the fire marshals could regulate the population density. It hasn’t felt that crowded yet, but I can imagine it’s going to be a near thing.

Hell, they may have closed the doors while I was sitting at my booth and I’d have never noticed since #1240 is pretty far back from the main doors. Though, to the merchants’ advantage, 1200 is a bathroom aisle, so it’s guaranteed a lot of traffic. “I’d rather be on a bathroom aisle than an aisle connected to the snackbar that they never open,” quipped Brian Johnson of (a retailer, friend and con neighbor, kitty-corner across the intersection from me.) I couldn’t assail his unassailable logic. He also sold me a copy of PIXU II, the collectively-authored book from the likes of Cloonan, Bá, Moon and Lobos. Get the single issues while you can, folks. They won’t be around forever.

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Amazon offers e-books for iPhone

Bathroom reading ahoy! Now you can download a free iPhone app called Kindle and use it to buy read e-books from Amazon:

The move comes a week after Amazon started shipping the updated version of its Kindle reading device. It signals that the company may be more interested in becoming the pre-eminent retailer of e-books than in being the top manufacturer of reading devices.

But Amazon said that it sees its Kindle reader and devices like the iPhone as complementary, and that people will use their mobile phones to read books only for short periods, such as while waiting in grocery store lines.

“We think the iPhone can be a great companion device for customers who are caught without their Kindle,” said Ian Freed, Amazon’s vice president in charge of the Kindle.

Caught without a Kindle? Isn’t that what happened to Gimli and Legolas when they were in the caves of Aglarond? I forget…

Correction: you can’t actually BUY books directly for the iPhone. You have to buy them through your Amazon account, but then the books can be read on either iPhone or Kindle, picking up where you left off.

All remaining Virgin Megastores shutting down

Hello, Amazon! All six of the remaining Virgin Megastores in the US will be shutting down by summer:

After nearly two decades of rocking the music world with a mix of brash stunts and splashy CD releases, the remaining six Virgin Megastores in the United States will shut their doors this summer in another blow to recorded music.

The hipster shops received their branding from billionaire founder Sir Richard Branson and remained profitable, but the real estate firms that own the U.S. chain determined they could command higher rent from new tenants.

“I’ve been pushing back a little bit on the notion that this is just another casualty of the music industry,” said Simon Wright, the chief executive of Virgin Entertainment Group Inc.

The two stores in New York, at Times Square and Union Square, were both profitable, but not as profitable as the planned new tenants, a Forever 21 or –gah — a CVS? Yet another case of greedy real estate developers chipping away at the fabric of life as it was once lived.

We can’t speak for the other US Virgin locations — San Francisco, Denver, Orlando, and Hollywood — but this means that in Manhattan, the only remaining big places to buy a CD or DVD will be B&N and Borders — and we wouldn’t count on the last named being around much longer either. By our reckoning, the last freestanding music store in Manhattan is Other Music on 4th Street, which got its start as a small, quirky indie alternative to then-giant Tower across the street. Turns out the quirky place is the one where riffling through the racks is possible.

While online shopping, piracy, and Netflix made leaving your house to gather electronic entertainment unfashionable, we still find all of this horrifically sad. Don’t misunderstand — we only buy a few physical CDs a year, but it was always exciting to go to the Virgin store and see all of the physical world of pop culture laid out in front of you, from giant posters for the latest American Idol grad, to the new Home Improvement boxed sets, to comics and books and…stuff. The actual proximity of clashing visions and ideas was — and is — exciting and inspiring, far more so than displays of more skanky clothes to meet guys in.

Maybe we’re just overoptimistic, or nuts, or something, but we totally see the best comics shops — like Forbidden Planet, just a few steps down from Union Square Virgin — as the new record stores, the cool place where you went once a week to get your fix, look “cool” and check out trends. The audiences are far smaller, to be sure, but in the current retail environment, size doesn’t really matter.

It’s youth cultural shift of a seismic proportion from even 15 years ago. But perhaps it helps explain why comics shops sales aren’t sliding quite as quickly as the rest of the economy.

Recession Watch: The DFC shutting down

tehdfcThe DFC is a less-than-a-year-old British comics weekly for kids, recently launched in a market where new comics products have an uphill battle. Backed by Random House UK, the magazine had gotten a warm reception and contributions from heavy hitters like Phillip Pullman, but now, The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log reports the subscription-only publication will be canceled at the end of the month unless a buyer is found — not very likely, all involve glumly agree. Joe Gordon writes:

Obviously this is a big blow – we were all really excited at the launch of a major new British comic (such a rare event these days) and as regular readers will know its proved to be popular with adults and with kids (as Molly showed in her reviews with her dad Richard). And of course it offered a major new vehicle for British comics talent – that’s going to hurt, losing both that outlet where their work could be seen and enjoyed as well as the obvious loss of potential earnings (and the worry is that if a buyer isn’t found and the DFC does cease after issue 43 it will put off others from trying to launch a new British regular comic even when the economy picks up).

Contributor Sarah McIntyre has more at her LJ.

Kate Beaton’s Wonder Woman

See an entire array in the link.

Megan Fox is hot and likes JONAH HEX and FATHOM

Internet sweetheart Megan Fox proves she has no fear of the nerd demo, as she has TWO comic book projects on the horizon. First, she’s slated to join Josh Brolin and John Malkovich in the JONAH HEX movie as a “gun wielding beauty” and romantic interest. . She’s also attached to a FATHOM movie in the works at Fox Atomic. The late Michael Turner’s signature character, the underwater lass has had a lengthy development history:

The project was at one point set up at James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. When the option lapsed, producer Peter Safran scooped it up and began packaging it, eventually attracting Fox, a fan of the comic since its 1998 debut, when it became the top-selling comic of the year. Fox had been seeking Turner to investigate “Fathom’s” rights availability.

Fox is now helping develop and shape the adaptation, which is being written by Jordan Mechner, the creator of video game “Prince of Persia.” …
Turner will be credited as exec producer. Frank Mastromauro also is exec producing. Zak Kadison and Eric Lieb at Atomic will oversee.

Fox is one of the hottest young actresses in Hollywood, perhaps due to the fact that she has no problem getting her kit off for photos in men’s mags, as we discovered when we tried to find a picture of her to accompany this item. That lack of shyness should serve her well for underwater adventures!

Obligatory WATCHMEN links

WOW. The amount of press this movie is getting is kind of…overwhelming. Here are a few that aren’t interviews with the cast:

§ USA Today looks at the box office ramifications for Hollywood.

§ Obligatory Alan Moore link: Salon looks at his take on Swamp Thing

Nine pages in, Issue 20 also features an internal soliloquy by Alec Holland, aka the Swamp Thing, addressing his recently dead archenemy in a lyrical, regretful mode that may have puzzled some 1984 readers but rapidly became identified as a hallmark of Moore’s style: “It’s a… new world, Arcane. It’s full of… shopping malls and striplights and software. The dark corners are being pushed back… a little more every day. We’re things of the shadow, you and I… and there isn’t as much shadow… as there used to be. Perhaps there was once a world… we could have belonged to… Maybe somewhere in Europe… back in the fifteenth century, the world was… full of shadows then… full of monsters… Not any more.” (Those idiosyncratic ellipses are in the original.)

§ And an off the beaten path link: Nick Keppler writes a history of Charlton and the characters which formed the basis for the Watchmen:

The two founders of Charlton Comics met in a New Haven County jail cell 1934.

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Kibbles ‘n’ Bits, 3/4/09

§ Matt Groening — creator of what is slated to be the longest running television show in history, talks about the LA Weekly dropping his comic strip after 22 years:

CNN: Have you considered just doing it online?

Groening: Yes! Yes, I’m toying with that. But it’s very strange. I’ve been doing the weekly comic strip for 29 years, “The Simpsons” weekly for 20 years, the “Futurama” weekly for five years and then a little break and then the four movies, and then the “Simpsons” movie, … so I have a series of ongoing deadlines. So the idea of establishing a Web presence that I’ll have to feed on an ongoing basis doesn’t give me a lot of pep. (laughs) One more treadmill.

[Link via Kevin Melrose]

§ The tale of how an NBA shirt reading Krypto-Nate violated trademarks.

§ How many of Mashable’s 20 of the Best Web Comics do YOU read?

§ Steve Macone at BLAST Magazine analyzes the humor of the new LOLCats collection, and in doing so dissects a frog, but you know it’s really funny anyway:

So when Koford sketches pip chasing after a spool and saying “I Love Where Dis Thread Iz Going!” we groan at the pun, and then realize how unsettling it is to hear this almost hyper-timely speech applied to characters in hobo cloths. And because these characters are using this i-can-has way of talking the scenes become not merely pat, linear jokes about how things are different now from how they were back then. These are not Plugger cartoons.

§ CBR looks at the 25 Years of Usagi Yojimbo panel from WonderCon.

§ For people who aren’t hip enough to fake their way through STAPLE! The Austin Decider offers a handy cheat sheet for the upcoming indie comics show.

Yes, I saw it

I saw WATCHMEN and I really, really enjoyed it despite all the problems. A post-screening panel consisting of Kai-Ming Cha, Nisha Gopalan, Tim Leong, and Ben McCool had widely varying opinions of the film and would have made for a great episode of Sunday Morning Shootout.

A detailed review will come later.