Whoosh! HeroesCon just raced on by! We arrived late on Thursday, hit BarCon and the rest was just WHOOSH! So much fun, we barely had time to type about it at all. That isn’t to say there weren’t some snafus—all on our own part—but they came and went so quickly.
First off, hats off to Shelton Drum for running a show this long! It is, at this point, a beloved institution. Everyone knows Drum and the Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find staff treat the guests like family. From the shuttle that picks you up at the airport to the big art auction party on Saturday to the dead dog party at the store to the shuttle that takes you to the airport on Monday. It’s all so friendly and comics-loving. As mentioned in the previous post, this edition of the show was notable for there being NO EDITORS around. No one to buy drinks or dinner. Instead everyone bought their OWN drinks and dinner…and it seemed to work out just fine.
Although we never glimpsed Stan Lee he was definitely the main presence. As several con reports have alluded to, whenever Stan was doing something—signing, talking, facing front—crowds on the show floor seemed to sparsen. (Is that a word? It is now.) Sales slowed for some during the Stan-induced lulls, but it was still a great show for art purchases, and most everyone seemed to sell loads of stuff. The HeroesCon attendees appreciate art and like spending money on art—and luckily the local economy has some pep in it and they can still afford to do what they like.
I will admit one of the reasons the show whooshed on by was that I could barely spend any time on the show floor. Friday, I had a ton of work to catch up on so I got there late. Saturday, I had two panels, one of which lasted more than two hours…so again I got to the floor very late. Sunday, I had some personal business to attend to, and had to make an offsite…but I managed to cram as many meet-and-greets in as I could.
As for those panels, well this is where I managed to mess things up because I didn’t have as much time to prepare as I should have. One of the things I’ve learned about panels over the years is…the more you prepare the better they go. And when you DON’T prepare, it tends to show. This year I had to more or less wing it, because it was the best I could do, and all I can say is…the more you prepare the better things go!
The first one, Humor in Comics, was basically the same as last years, with Evan Dorkin and Roger Langridge from ’11 and Tim Rickard sitting in for Richard Thompson. I had prepared a slideshow but neglected to tell the show crew that I needed AV. We tried to set it up in the middle of the panel but…that is not a good idea. To avoid asking the same questions as last year I opened it to the floor, as it was a well-attended panel (not all were.) The talk veered to how hard it is to make a living doing humorous comics, which isn’t the world’s funniest topic. However, all the panelists were very smart and funny (especially Evan, but you all know that) so there were manny laughs. Still: LESSON: ALWAYS MAKE SURE THERE IS AV BEFOREHAND.
The next panel was the epic mega-panel “Echoes of 1982” which was organized by Craig Fischer. This was truly an epic with a video package intro of comics that debuted in 1982, a segment on Jack Kirby with more video, a presentation on Master of Kung Fu, a presentation on the influences of LOVE AND ROCKETS, a section on Warren Comics, and interviews with both Jaime Hernandez and Louise Simonson.To say that these two creators are as delightful as they are talented is an understatement. Ben Towle participated in the panel with a discussion on DESTROYER DUCK, the Steve Gerber/Jack Kirby benefit comic for Gerber’s lawsuit against Marvel. Over at his blog, Towle wrote:
I mentioned our “Mega Panel,” Echoes of ’82, in my pre-Heroes post, but the general idea was a look back at a few significant comics/events of ’82 (since it’s Heroes’ 30th anniversary). The panel went well overall, although it ran a bit long. Even cutting out my planned “Critic’s Favorites” talk on Pacific Presents #1, it went to a bit over two hours–which is probably a bit much. Next year, we’ll maybe trim things down a bit time-wise. That aside, the whole panel went really well and I’d have a hard time picking any particular favorite part of it. I was, though, really impressed with the thoughtful and impassioned talk that Heidi MacDonald gave on the Marvel/Kirby situation–especially since she said she put it together in her hotel room the previous night! I’d never heard Louise Simonson speak before (she was discussing Warren publishing, which closed up shop in ’82) and I was was really impressed with how well-spoken, smart, and charming she was. Heroes Con panel organizer Andy Mansell gave a pretty fired-up talk about Master of Kung Fu. In an alternate universe, Andy is a “hellfire and brimstone” tent revival preacher.
Towle is extremely kind to my “presentation,” as I had some notes and just riffed…but I think my point got across: Kirby was a fighter from day one, and he fought to get his imagination taken seriously his whole life.
As I think I mentioned in my remarks, if you date the history of American comic books from 1938, 1982 isn’t the midpoint between then and now, but it’s certainly right smack dab in the middle of the industry’s evolution from pulp pap to more personal visions and self expression. The night before my talk I was lucky enough to have dinner with Marv Wolfman and Paul Levitz, who were both doing things and making decision in 1982, so I asked them for some pointers on the year. Paul, who will be teaching a course on graphic novels at Columbia in the fall, immediately launched into a post grad-level dissertation on the economic forces shaping the industry—falling printing costs, more flexible coloring, newsstand distribution changes and such things as an X-Men/Teen Titans crossover that went to the direct market. But the thing that Paul mentioned which caught my notice the most was that in 1982 Marvel and DC introduced royalties for the first time. It was also the year that Epic, Marvel’s creator-owned line, debuted.
Marvel or DC launching a line that creator-friendly would be impossible today for so many reasons. Without going into the Wayback Machine to read zine interviews of the time (or scheduling another dinner with Paul) I’d only have to guess at the reasons: competition from the upstarts like Eclipse and Pacific, surely, but probably also some residual guilt over the Siegel and Shuster case.
A lot of things happened in the ’70s and ’80s in both comics and society at large that would be unthinkable today, at least on a corporate level. (Can you imagine trying to pass Title IX now?) Progress isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a ziggurat.
Anyway, I very much enjoyed the presentations on the various topics of 1982, and Louise Simonson is a pistol. But my LESSON: IF YOU’RE GOING TO DO A PRESENTATION YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY DO A PRESENTATION.
My final panel on Sunday confirmed the most basic lesson of all: CHECK YOUR PANEL TIME. Yes I whiffed this one completely because I had the time screwed up, and I apologize profusely to the folks who were on the panel. I do have something in mind to make up for it but it will have to wait until after Comic-Con. And in a more meta sense I learned a larger lesson. I did have a lot on my mind over the weekend—a couple of illnesses in the family—and it was kind of a wake-up call not to get overcomitted. It’s so easy to say yes to something cool but actually doing something cool takes a lot of time.
I also attended the CREATOR OWNED HEROES panel on Friday in which Steve Niles, Phil Noto, and Kevin Mellon talked about their anthology comic, which also includes stories by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Niles mentioned that he’d gotten more flak for this title than anything he’d ever done, mainly from other creators who didn’t like the actual title. There was also much talk of how important it is to be able to break away from the corporate characters for a while. Niles mentioned the Black Mask Comics thing briefly, but mentioned it is still being worked on.
The panel did serve as a sort of model for most of what I was hearing when I did hang out, however. It is a strange time. Since returning from the show, my chat line has been clogged with stories of people working at the Big Two who are unhappy with heavy-handed editorial direction. The Ed Brubaker interview certainly captured this feeling, as did the George Perez interview that surfaced:
“Unfortunately when you are writing major characters, you sometimes have to make a lot of compromises, and I was made certain promises,” Perez said in a recently released Q&A video from this year’s Superman Celebration, “and unfortunately not through any fault of Dan DiDio — he was no longer the last word, I mean a lot of people were now making decisions [..] they were constantly going against each other, contradicting, again in mid-story. The people who love my Superman arc, the first six issues, I thank you. What you read, I don’t know. Because the fact that, after I wrote it I was having such frustration that I told them, ‘Here, this is my script. If you change it, that’s your prerogative, don’t tell me. Don’t ask me to edit it, don’t ask me to correct it, because I don’t want to change something that you’re going to change again in case you disagree.” No no, Superman is a big character. I was flattered by the responsibility, but I thought this was getting a little tough.”
“I didn’t mind the changes in Superman, I just wish it was the same decision Issue 1 or Issue 2,” he continued. “And I had to kept rewriting things because another person changed their mind, and that was a lot tougher. It wasn’t the same as doing Wonder Woman. I was basically given a full year to get Wonder Woman established before she actually had to be enfolded into the DC Universe properly. And I had a wonderful editor Karen Berger who ran shotgun for me. They wanted me to recreate what I did from Wonder Woman, but it’s not the same age, not the same atmosphere, I couldn’t do it any more. And the writer who replaced me, Keith Giffen, was very, very nice. I’ve known Keith since we both started in the industry, he called me up when they asked him to do Superman to make sure I wasn’t being fired off Superman. And regrettably I did have to tell him no, I can’t wait to get off Superman. It was not the experience I wanted it to be.”
The days when editors ran interference for creators is long over, or at least in remission. At least one creator at HeroesCon mentioned how nice it was not to have a rigid schedule of publisher dinners and parties: “I can sit down with whoever I want.” The current editorial climate at the Big Two is a result of the times and deserves a blog post all its own, but…it is what it is.
So yeah HeroesCon, always fun, a great chance to hang out and talk about comics and life and all the rest. Special people I got to spend time with: Stephanie Buscema who is as nice as she is talented, and her partner, Rob Harrigan; the always entertaining Buzz; Justin Jordan; Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones, who turn out to have lived in the same small town in Maine that I once lived in; Kalmen Andrasofszky; Jose Marzan, Richard Case, Becky Cloonan…okay for sure I am forgetting dozens of people. It was that kind of show. As always.
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.