A few weeks back, I attended my first major convention, the Florida Megacon. By "major", I meant it had panels, major publishers, and creators I had heard of. This was no ballroom at the Holiday Inn. This was an event of national note! This was big league! This was the largest gathering of collectors, dealers, publishers, dealers, and Anime fans I had ever seen!
I arrived early and headed into the main hall. The CrossGen area dominated the room. It was staked out by four rectangular columns decorated with cover art from recent and upcoming comics. The top portions rotated, as did the large company logo on a larger, center column. The sides of this fifth tower were twice as wide as the perimeter towers, and was covered with original art, twice as wide as the other pictures, like they were double-page spreads. They included a picture of Brath, the barbarian character who recently appeared in 'Sigil', and a Coke ad with the heroes of Sojourn'.
Chaos! Comics were located two rows over from CrossGen. At random points in the day, they'd yell out "CHAOS RULES!" I never had any interest in even reading their books. Now I had no interest in meeting them at all. I avoided the table for the whole weekend. So if any of you were hoping for news regarding Lady Death or Purgatori, I'm sorry to say your favorite comics are being published by assholes. Blame them for my lack of news.
Dark Horse had a small booth, but none of their creative people were there. Sergio Aragones, whose 'Groo' is published by Dark Horse Maverick, was signing in artist's alley. The Red Star team was there with copies of their comic, as were Hurricane Entertainment, Crusade, View Askew, Central Park Media, Dynamic Forces, Graffiti Designs, a dozen different Anime retailers, a dozen more independent publishers, and Troma Entertainment.
I walked around and familiarized myself with the exhibitors. I've never had the opportunity to buy bootleg tapes before, and was surprised by how many different TV series and movies they had for sale. If you're a fan of 80s cartoons, or the soon-to-be-cancelled "Family Guy" and "The Tick", bring a hundred bucks to the next big con. You'll get the whole series. I was tempted to buy a copy of the never-to-be-released "Gen 13" movie. But then I remembered I hate the comic. It's a shame, because someone was selling it on DVD.
I immediately set about the task of getting my comics autographed. While standing in line, I noticed many fans brought large stacks of comics for the creators to sign. I'm all for increasing the value of your collection, but I found this to only be rude, but terribly selfish. Those people weren't just wasting my time, but it probably made the creator sick of signing autographs very quickly. I think this is why David Mack developed a signature that he could sign without paying attention to it.
Brian Michael Bendis remembered visiting my college comic shop back in '97, though that's probably because he was with P. Craig Russell. I don't clearly remember how he looked, but I don't think he was as bald or heavy back then. Still, it was nice of him to remember that visit.
I went to Aragones' table, where he was selling his Groo trade books. If you've never seen a lot of consecutive volumes, you wouldn't have noticed how the titles of the books are in alphabetical order. Every Groo story arc/graphic novel starts with the next letter of the alphabet! Aragones says it was writer Mark Evanier's idea, to help keep track of the book's continuity. Nice idea. I bought his 12-issue run of Image-made 'Groo' comics on impulse, and he signed every one. (I don't think I was a hypocrite, since A., I bought the books there, and B., he insisted on signing them.)
When he signed my Millennium Edition reprint of 'Plop' #1, Aragones read the story of how the book was created. According to the comic's text, 'Plop' was Joe Orlando's idea, and Aragones assisted. Aragones says it was the other way around. He had pestered DC in the early 70s to start a humor book as a way of bringing some of the underground artists into the mainstream. He had told this to Orlando, among other people, but it was Orlando who got the credit. "Funny how the story changes over the years", Aragones remarked.
At the Red Star table, I overheard one member, (not the artist or writer I think), talk to an aspiring artist about submitting to Image. He said Jim Valentino was looking to expand the Image comics line with more kid friendly books. So, those of you with ideas for the next 'Calvin and Hobbes' or 'Boondoggle', send 'em to Jim!
I found Eddie Campbell and Alex Robinson sharing two tables. They were seated across from the Troma Entertainment table. Think of it: The writer/artist of 'Box Office Poison', and the artist/writer of 'Bacchus' and 'From Hell' spending three days across from the Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman, the Killer Condom, and a barely covered "Tromette" named Clymidia. There was a strange irony to that, which I will define later.
I introduced myself to Eddie Campbell and, trying to take my role as reporter seriously, asked him about his next project. He said he was working on the complete history of humor from ancient times to present day. Not a comedy series about history, but how the ideas and concepts about humor have changed over time. A high concept, and it's hilarious! Ah, the freedom of self-publishing! I told him I'd never read 'Bacchus', (a lie, I'd read the 'King Bacchus' trade, but didn't remember it then), and he recommended book 3, 'Doing the Islands with Bacchus'. He signed it, I paid for it, and moved on to Alex.
That was the beginning.
I had read some of 'Box Office Poison' when it was a comic book, but was hesitant to spend $30 on the 600+ page trade book. Alex's assistant finally persuaded me with she threw in a color 'BOP' comic not included in the trade. In light of how much I would later spend (nearly $700 dollars all told) my reluctance seems ridiculous. If Alex is reading this, I promise I'll read it when I have a free weekend. And I mean a WHOLE weekend. That's one thick mother of a book, boy!
Standing in line for John Romita's autograph, I met a 10-year-old boy and his mother. This kid had been collecting 'The Amazing Spider-Man' for the last two years. The thing is, it's been Silver Age Spider-Man. This boy had issues going back as far #9! And this kid was no fool. He knew about grading, first appearances, and haggling with dealers. He said his father introduced him to collecting, and his mother encouraged his habit of drawing; even defended it when other mothers would talk about their kids playing sports. What a nice mother.
By Sunday, I had finished reading Campbell's 'Doing the Islands with Bacchus', heard his presentation about the mainstream's perception of comics, and found him much nicer and more entertaining than Kevin Smith. So I'm thinking, "Eddie's a really great guy", and, given the chance, I'd buy him a drink in a bar and write down everything he said. He's just that smart and funny.
So I go to Campbell's table, which, if you remember, is set across the Troma Entertainment. I tell him how much I loved his monologue and that he was much more interesting to listen to than Kevin Smith. Then I asked what it was like sitting across from the Troma people. (In my mind, this was like putting famed myth expert Joseph Campbell in the same room as sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer). Campbell said, "They're much quieter today." (That was true. The costumed Troma characters were frequently seen walking around the con, posing for pictures, and fighting each other.)
That's when I noted the double standard regarding comics and movies by saying how the Australian censors banned 'From Hell', while Troma's movies wouldn't get a second look, even though they're much more violent and sexually explicit.
My observation went down like a lead balloon. Maybe it was trite, or maybe I didn't phrase it right. Or maybe he didn't like to be reminded of the trouble in with Australia. Anyway, I bought a copy of every 'Bacchus' book he had, (every volume except #7 and #8, which aren't really about Bacchus), and he was nice enough to autograph every one of them. He even gave me a second copy of 'Islands' when I told him the spine had come away from the pages.
What a nice guy. If you ever get a chance to see him at a con, do it. Until then, buy his comics, the weird and funny 'Bacchus', the weird and hardly funny 'From Hell', his adaptations of Alan Moore's spoken-word performances 'Birth Caul' and 'Snakes and Ladders', (the latter is the only record of the performance; there's no audio record with it), his 'Alec' books, and his upcoming 'Egomania' magazine. You can order the books through www.eddiecampbellcomics.com.
A lot of small press publishers come to cons to promote their new work and get some attention. I didn't give them much notice; nothing they had interested me. But in my role as a fan-based reporter, I thought I should give one of them a look. I picked Bitch Press.
Now with a name like "Bitch Press", you'd think they publish either hard-core bondage porn, or aggressive feminist work. (Funny, how the word "bitch" has gained both connotations.) In fact, they're publishing two super hero/sci-fi comics, with a third series on the way. The two books available now are 'Peace' and 'Creep'.
'Peace', written and drawn by Frankie B. Washington, takes place on an alternate timeline where humans defeated an alien invasion in the ancient past. This resulted in a great leap forward in technology. Now, in the 21st century, the secret to instant teleportation is about to be discovered. However, all of this is only explained on the Bitch Press website. In the comic, you see two super-guys save a deformed homeless man from a bionic girl gang, a turtle-like alien reflecting on the long history his people has had with humans, and introduction by an unknown, but all-knowing entity.
On the whole, 'Peace' isn't bad. The story is well paced, and the dialogue doesn't come off as corny. One hero worries about hurting his opponent too badly, and neither wants to kill. The homeless victim narrates the story as he's telling it to a TV reporter. But he changes the ending to prevent the reporter from learning where to find the heroes. It's a nice trick to keep the reader interested in the next issue. And the exposition delivered by the alien at the end sets up a larger conflict between Earth and his people.
Unfortunately, the visual storytelling becomes muddled in the middle of the issue. At two points in the book, we see panels running the length of both pages. But the eye is not easily guided across them. It's not until you reach the bottom of the page hat you realize you've been reading the wrong way. And, of course, there's the usual complaint about using shadows in a b&w comic. It's always difficult to pull off, but at least you can see and recognize the characters here. That's more than most b&w books can say.
'Creep', for my money, (and it was), is better and worse that 'Peace'. Drawn by Damon (Noble Causes) Hacker and written by Shirley Simms, 'Creep' is a refugee from another dimension. On her world, a natural substance called the Weave is used as fuel. But when Creep falls into a pool of Weave, it bonds to her, and she discovers that the Weave is alive. Creep tells her father, who consults his advisors in secret about finding a new fuel, but word leaks out to Creep's brother, Nyx. Nyx commands the armed forces and decides to "silence" his family. Creep escapes to Earth when the Weave creates an inter-dimensional portal. Nyx's soldiers follow, but and she fights them off with help of Robin, a sculptor who's apartment is trashed in the fight.
Well, for starters, it's a great first issue that sets up the premise, the ongoing conflict, and introduces our feature players perfectly. Robin's dialogue sounds natural, although she seems to be taking this weirdness a little too calmly. And while the art is technically good, (nice figures, good panel-to-panel flow), it seems lacking in some way. 'Creep' looks like it was done entirely in pencil, giving it a half-finished look. You never thought you'd hear this about a b&w book, but 'Creep' needs heavier inks!
On the whole, they're two not-bad-at-all books. Their artistic flaws are minor and should be resolved with time and practice. You can order the books, and learn more about them at www.bitchpress.com.
I also flipped through a humor book called 'Lovebunny and Mr. Hell'. Lovebunny is a Polyanna-sweet, yet smart and talented crime fighter. Sadly, she doesn't get any respect from other heroes, as she has neither superpowers nor a tough attitude. On a mission to save a family from demonic possession, she's aided by a cloaked and tentacled demon she names "Mr. Hell". Mr. Hell would rather stay on Earth than go back to Hell, (who wouldn't), and moves in with Lovebunny as a pet/roommate. Sorry I didn't get the publisher's name, but it's worth searching through Previews to see all those other comics you never buy.
Having finally worked out CrossGen's schedule of creator's signatures, I get in line for names. When I get Ron Marz's signature I tell him I liked Kyle Rayner, (which I did!). Ron seemed happy to hear that, saying he liked him too. I gave Rick Magyar my copy of 'The Question' #1 to sign. He seemed surprised to see it. Unfortunately, I did not get Mark Waid's autograph. He was scheduled to appear at 4:00, but went to judge the costume contest instead. He left shortly thereafter. I bet if he did come, some jerk would've made him sign every 'Flash' comic he ever wrote. Next year, man, next year.
I went to the CrossGen panel, and learned a few things about the company that helped explain why so many talented writers and artists were eager to join them. In brief, CrossGen operates more like a "real" company and not another publisher. The writers and artists are employees of a company, which means they are entitled to profit sharing and better job security. Barbara Kesel and Ron Marz mentioned the constant interaction among writers, resulting in more ideas for stories. "It's not the easiest way to write", said Marz, "But it's probably the best way."
Sounds to me like the old Marvel Bullpen in the 1960s. And those were some of the best comics ever made.
Anyway, everything I know about CrossGen:
Their new title will star Brath, the barbarian seen recently in 'Sigil', and will launch in Jan 2003.
The upcoming 'Way of the Rat' will be an action-driven book, with a talking monkey!
Chuck Dixon is moving down to Florida, while his upcoming stories in 'Sigil' will lead to another human/Saurian war.
The mad god emperor in 'Negation' will be presented as a negative counterpart to the sigil givers in the CrossGen universe.
A TV and/or movie treatment is currently being written for every comic book. Ian Feller said the idea was to use Hollywood projects to promote the books, rather than Hollywood taking the comics, and turning them into their own franchises.
Their "no crossover" rule extends to inter-company stories, such as a Sigil/Aliens book.
And finally, the Saurian woman in 'Negation' does not have name, and won't for some time. I suggested "Scalia", (pronounced "Scay-leeya"), and they immediately shot it down.
Now for a moral dilemma I faced at the con. George Tuska was there, selling art and signing books. Tuska was an old Silver Age artist who used to draw Marvel books in the 60s. He's most famous for his work on 'Iron Man'. I'd never heard of him, but I thought his autograph would be worth some money, especially after his impending death. No, Tuska wasn't sick, just very, very old. I wrestled with the issue of getting a man's autograph for the sole purpose of having something valuable after his death. Finally, I bought a beat-up copy of 'Iron Man' #7 by Tuska and Archie Goodwin. Tuska signed it then went back to his sketching. I don't think he noticed me.
Was it wrong for me to get his signature for the sole reason, "Well, he'll be dead soon"? I mean, I'd never even heard of the guy before then. Was I being disingenuous? Mercenary? Just plain morbid?
'Miracleman' has been in the news lately thanks to the lawsuit between Gaiman and McFarlane. So I decided it was high time I read the book for myself. I bought issue #1 for $10.00. And it's good. Really good. A man wakes up to remember he's the most powerful man in the world. And his former sidekick has grown up to be a twisted bastard. The story has atmosphere, subtlety, and that inversion of classic comic book techniques that Alan Moore has made his trademark. Definitely worth reading.
Needless to say, I'll be back next year.
Originally appeared at www.slushfactory.com as three separate reports, abridged here by CRL
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