by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson
Comic con season is upon us. It’s time for lining up, hoping to get that autograph and waiting to get into that must see panel. If it’s a murder of crows and a gaggle of geese what do you call a plethora of comic cons—a cacophony? The big ones—San Diego in July and New York City in October are everyone’s mecca but there are other cons in many cities of various sizes and special emphasis. There have been numerous posts about the costs, velvet rope entry and distractions such as new media and the rise of cosplay at these conventions. Competition for sales at all venues large or small is keen and due to new technology and levels of promotion by the media the public’s taste and expectations change often. What was once easy for some of the older artists can be more challenging. And for some of the younger artists trying to be heard above the din it can be daunting.
Recently I attended two smaller shows and although each was different in focus both provided fans and artists the opportunity to interact with one another on a more intimate scale and that’s a good thing for everyone.
Wizard World has a number of conventions throughout the year in cities across the US. Danny Fingeroth is currently organizing the programming for Wizard World. He has the bona fides for this job as he spent his time in the ranks working for Marvel as a writer and editor. Danny’s an erudite comics historian and in great demand as a moderator in New York for all the many events that take place in the comics’ community. He has a number of books to his credit but my favorite is Disguised as Clark Kent. It’s a carefully researched well-written book about Jews in the comic book business and a must read for anyone serious about comic book history.
This was my second time attending Wizard World’s New Orleans convention earlier this year and it was even better than before. Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were in New Orleans. Besides the great food to be found you can also visit More Fun Comics, (!) a classic comic book store.
Wizard World is a condensed version of the larger cons with the ubiquitous stars, from classic films and popular TV series and the newest latest trends. Just like the bigger cons there are fans lining-up for autographs. Artists Alley is filled with local talent and well-known creators as well as all the paraphernalia, toys and yes, even comics that are available at the larger shows.
The programming and proximity to the creators is the real attraction. In New Orleans, Danny brought in two artists familiar to savvy New Yorkers but not easily accessible otherwise. What a treat to hear Ben Katchor, a Guggenheim and MacArthur recipient and Dean Haspiel, one of the cool guys at Hang Dai Studios show slides and talk about their work in depth. Ben’s work has been in the New Yorker and he has several books published including Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. He often portrays New York City as a character in its own right and his art is beautifully rendered in flowing lines and color washes. It is thoughtful work that is immediately grasped. If you get to New York do yourself a favor and attend Ben’s weekly New York Comics Symposium at Parsons New School.
Dean has worked more in the comic book genre but also has his own independent comics. I’m excited about his latest work with Mark Waid reviving The Fox originally drawn by Irwin Hasen. Dean’s graphic novels are full of action and street scenes and can be characterized as personal essays. Dean drew several issues of American Splendor and Harvey Pekar’s influence is apparent in Dean’s work.
Dean and Gabe Soria, who currently lives in New Orleans gave a panel on their work on Batman ’66, a series based on the TV show with comments by Travis Langley, a psychologist who wrote about the psychology of Batman—A Dark and Stormy Knight. Gabe and Dean’s comic, “Lights, Camera, Batman” is a smart, funny and nicely drawn work without being campy. They presented slides from their work and talked about creative decisions with lively interaction from the audience.
Marguerite Van Cook and James Romberger presented their latest work, a graphic novel, The Late Child and Other Animals, a powerful generational autobiography written by Marguerite and adapted and drawn by James. Marguerite and James are the kind of artists everyone dreams to be and it was a pleasure to meet them. That’s one of the perks of the smaller conventions for the creators—the chance to talk shop with colleagues in a more relaxed setting. It’s also great to meet some of the local creators, historians and teachers who are keeping the torch alive like Sherri Luepkes Craig.
Last weekend I attended Big WOW Comic Con in San Jose, which calls itself “The Original Artist Friendly Convention” and from everything I heard and saw Big Wow lived up to its billing. San Jose is an easy drive from the San Francisco Bay Area if you’re not in the middle of commuting time. Several other conventions will be coming there as well—Wizard World in early September and APE in early October. And if you haven’t heard the news Stan Lee and Steve Wozniak of Apple plan to present Silicon Valley Comic Con there in March 2016. It will be interesting to see if this surfeit of cons can be supported by the fans.
WOW although small in size had some prominent popular comics creators like Neal Adams, Frank Cho and the ever cool and dapper creator of Nick Fury—Jim Steranko. Stephen Bissette and his co-creators of Swamp Thing, John Totleban, Rick Veitch and Thomas Yeates were united once again and fans were lined up to meet them. It was classic California laid back and a lot of fun. All the veterans commented that it was like conventions of yore—relaxed, family friendly, and accessible.
Dan Herman, publisher of Hermes Press whose book, Walt Kelly’s Pogo: The Complete Dell Comics’ is nominated for a 2015 Eisner moderated a panel on Walt Kelly and his work. Thomas Andrae, author of a number of books on comics’ history and whose credentials include extensive interviews with Jerry Siegel and Bob Kane was one of the expert panelists. Scott Daley, step-son of Walt Kelly, Mark Burstein, a frequent contributor to comics history and I all spoke about Kelly’s work and especially the art of Pogo. This is a great time for Pogo fans with the Pogo comic strips published in beautiful formats by Fantagraphics as well as the Hermes Press books of the Dell Comics. Dan noted that it is an excellent way for true fans to see a full range of Kelly’s work with the publishing of the strips and the comic books.
Mike Pascale presented a star-studded panel on Story-Telling for Comics, Movies and Advertising with a packed house. Brent Anderson of Astro City, Stephen Bissette, Swamp Thing, Benton Jew, Anson Jew, both prolific storyboard artists for film and Bill Sienkiewicz of Marvel’s Elektra all spoke knowledgeably about their specific aspects of the industry and offered slides of work to illustrate points. Stephen Bissette showed a simple 4-page story that was chilling and brilliantly executed. This was one of the best panels I’ve attended about the nuts and bolts of practicing one’s art and craft in the industry.
Artists Alley had lots of excellent West Coast artists including Al Gordon, Steve Leialoha and Erik Larsen and it was great to meet Dean Yeagle, Playboy artist and all around good guy. Jim Steranko held forth to a long line of fans anxious to get his autograph and a moment with him. I snuck in a few moments of my own with the maestro as it’s always a pleasure to see him.
We all love the glamour and excitement of San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con but it’s also rewarding to attend smaller events and have the time and space to see the artists and if you’re on the creator side of the table, a chance to converse with colleagues. The most compelling aspect of these shows is that the general public has the opportunity to purchase art—affordable and original art. And isn’t that what it’s all about—encouraging the popularity of the creative spirit?