We’re off to HeroesCon in Charlotte later today and one of the many pleasures of that show is its relaxing and expansive Barcon; as opposed to other conventions where people scatter to their various drinking holes, pretty much everyone at HeroesCon stays in the same bar, and it’s a great place to catch up with folks and maybe lay the foundation for future work.
OR IS IT???
Recently writer/PhD A. David Lewis posed the question if “comic book conventions [are] tied to drinking? Is drunkenness an inherent part of comics culture?” This led to a wide ranging Twitter discussion that included myself, Andy Schmidt, Janelle Asselin, Brian Wood and many more. There were many opinions and viewpoints. Lewis went to all the trouble of storifying it, and so you can read the whole thing, Comic Cons & Booze (with images, tweets):
In case you didn’t get through all that, Lewis finds the whole Barcon culture off-putting and suggested it made him uncomfortable. Schmidt didn’t drink as much as cons as he used to but it didn’t bother him if others did. Wood felt it was part of a fratty, juvenile culture. Asselin enjoyed hanging out with friends but felt comics have harassment issues where other events have a party atmosphere. I suggested that drinking and getting drunk are two different things. Here’s a nut embed if you will:
— A. David Lewis (@adlewis) June 12, 2014
I’m probably not the best person to comment on this since I’ve been going to Barcon since I was legal to do so. I inherited the family alcohol tolerance, and don’t have a history of doing dumb shit when I’m drunk. For me it’s a tool for socializing. Most people like to get together over a drink, whether it be Kamikazes, cappuccinos, Earl Grey or Moxie.
Comics people like to hang out with other comics people, and bars, where food, alcohol and other beverages are served, are a universal gathering place in most societies. I suppose you could have comics tea time and you would still have a good turn out, but most people prefer alcohol for its relaxing qualities. And yeah some people drink too much and behave like jerks. One of the elements in all of the current examination of gender relations and harassment in the comics industry is how much of it happens in social settings and where alcohol is involved. I don’t think creepy bar behavior is endemic to comics or even particularly predominant, but as you can see from the above, pointing out that some behavior in the comics world is actually universal human weakness doesn’t get you far.
I would definitely agree that comics have weird problems that are singular to comics, but getting drunk and being a jerk in the bar isn’t one of them. It happens, but it happens everywhere, every Friday night and every Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and even Thursday. As I tweeted, I don’t think trying to say a universal problem is a “comics problem” does any good towards solving it.
That said, Barcon is definitely a thing. Comics folk, being creative types tend to work at home or in situations with limited social interaction. And most comics people like to meet other comics people! This IS one of the weird things about comics…a mini comics maker and someone who draws Spider-Man locked in a cellar would eventually find more in common than, say, a reggae musician and a guy who sings on a cruise ship. (This is actually a phenomenon that I’ve been informally studying for years.) “Comics” is a social subset that hangs together way more than most others, unless it’s Grateful Dead fans. And there is an egalitarian quality to the good Barcons that’s inspiring…you’ll see that mini comics guy talking to the Spider-Man woman, you’ll see some of the greatest cartoonists hanging out and drinking their Budweiser just like a mortal.
I don’t think the positive social aspect of mingling is what Lewis et al were frowning on, but rather the idea that to break into comics you need to hang out at the bar and drink with people you want to work with. (Again, drinking does not always equal getting drunk.) And this is undoubtedly true. For people who don’t like bars or drinking it can be a handicap. Editors tend to work with people they like to be around (editing monthly comics can create a lot of forced intimacy) and hanging out in the bar creates a kind of “rat pack” image. (Back in the day, there was one editor who hired a superstar, and insisted on going drinking with him so much that the superstar had to hide from his editor when he was in town.)
It is always what’s on the page—and reliability—that keeps someone working, but being able to hang is definitely a short cut. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know, but it is a human thing.
All that said, drinking can be fun, but KNOW WHEN TO STOP. Being the sloppy drunk guy at Barcon can also stop a career dead in its track.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.