Hey there, my lovelinesses. I had a couple little things go up on the ol' internets this past month. First, there's this dandy little interview with yours truly over at Eric Beetner's on-line home, part of his series about writers with day-jobs called Writers with Day-Jobs. I manage to come off like an asshole. Then there's my latest piece over at my favorite comedy-enthusiast site, Splitsider, this one about my grudging ability to relate to Robert De Niro's character in The King of Comedy. I manage to come off as a pathetic turd. Seriously, though, folks, I think this piece got me more direct feedback than anything else I've written lately, mostly from younger dudes who told me that this piece resonated with them pretty well, and they seemed glad they weren't the only ones to feel this way. And that's nice, y'know, it's good to hear that I'm not just hollering at the void. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.
And now the main event.
So last year, I received a press pass to the San Diego Comic-Con through the Boomtron corporation. At that time, Criminal Complex was still in its development stages, but I was still writing irregularly for the site and its Gestalt Mash extension. My purpose was to cover all four and a half days of the Con, but upon receiving my 30-odd page diatribe, Boomtron passed on publishing such a huge piece. But now, as this year's Con approaches, I now present to you, dear AC reader, that bloated and inflated piece of comics journalism.
It’s Jimmy vs. Comic-Con in a Fight to the Dearth!
by Jimmy Callaway
This past summer I attended my 17th San Diego Comic-Con since 1992. I’d really not had a very good time at the last few, but this year I was determined to do so by focusing only on comics (not movies or toys or other bullshit) and by taking notes. Think I did an all right job, if I do say so, of taking notes, focusing only on comics, and having a very good time.
Wednesday, July 20th, 2011 A.D.
Arrive at 11th and Market and park my car across from the homeless camp. The gentrification of downtown San Diego and the ridiculous parking rates are rarely any match for our collective ability to be total bums.
Get in line at Hall D with the rest of the press for my badge. Smug superiority over the proles who have to walk all the way down to Hall E to get their badges exudes off me in waves. Better luck next time, suckers.
Take my program and event booklet from the nice lady but pass on the obscenely oversized Warner Brothers-sponsored tote bag. Like I’m not enough of a walking billboard in my everyday life. Motörhead T-shirt remains the only promotional gear on my person.
You feel that, San Diego Comical Book Convention Internationále? I am inside you.
Man, Preview Night is crowded. I remember back when I was a young buck twenty years ago, seeing the ad for San Diego Comic Expo (drawn by San Diego’s own Rick Geary) and being jealous that retailers got to basically go to Con for an extra two or three days. Then about ten years ago, my roommate going to the first Preview Night and telling me how few crowds there were, how you could actually breathe. These days, I dunno why they even bother calling it Preview Night. On second thought, it makes perfect sense: here’s all the lack of elbow room and hordes of useless fliers that you’ll be experiencing for the next four days. Welcome to San Diego.
Witness my first of many awkward pick-up lines. When the cutie working one retailer’s booth thanks a guy for buying some trade and hopes he enjoys it, he says, “Well, you’re the main reason I came over here, so I’ve already enjoyed it.” Ugh. C’mon, man. Up your fuckin’ game, eh?
Jeez, Peter Mayhew is so tall, he has to use a wheelchair to get around these days. Apparently, this happens to a lot of really tall guys as they approach middle age, their knees start to go out or their backs. It’s a bummer, but it does make me feel a bit better about being as close to the ground as I am.
Walking past the Mile High booth, I hear one of the workers and another guy bartering, and the guy working the booth says, “Look, we’ve had such a nice conversation, I’m knocking $30 off the price, no matter what you want.” And I think, man, I love it here. A buncha yahoos who are all into the same stuff, they meet, they greet, they do business, and they generally love comics and each other by way of their love of comics.
Lovely a thought as it is, this doesn’t change the fact that Mile High has none of the Paradox Big Books or EC Archives I need. Kind of a bummer on top of that Kodak moment, but it is still nice.
Inexplicably get “I Want Candy” stuck in my head.
Actually stop and watch a scene from Return of the Jedi at the Star Wars booth. Even though I never need to watch this movie again, whenever I hear the speeder bike sound effects, I drop whatever it is I’m doing. I resist the urge to lean over to one of the nice folks working the booth and go, “Hey, what movie is this?” They would thank me for sparing them that, I’m sure. “I Want Candy” replaced with the Imperial March theme.
Stop by the Coffee Table Comics booth in the Small Press area and talk with Jason Brubaker, recent winner of the Xeric grant for his book reMIND. I pledge to be back to buy it the next day when I’ve been paid, and that is exactly what you all should do right now by going to remindblog.com. Keep your eyes peeled for a more in-depth discussion with Mr. Brubaker (no relation to Ed) from me in the not-too-distant future (I have the notes from an interview with Jason, but I dunno if it'll ever see the light now. But just buy the book already, huh?)
Walk past the Image booth where Ted McKeever is talking to the one guy who showed up to see him, yet meanwhile Robert Kirkman has a line around the block. It shouldn’t be any reflection on the work, I know, but my interest in The Walking Dead drops even further.
At the Boom! Studios booth, Mark Waid is also inexplicably lonely. I go up and show him my best Chris Farley impression: “‘Member, um, ‘member when you wrote Irredeemable? That was awesome.” I leave before he is completely coated in my drool and shame.
Plunge myself deep into the 3000 rows, trying to muscle my way through to Artists’ Alley. Cartoon Network, G4, and the other networks have crazy two-story booths that loom like real fire hazards, especially when I’m around with a freshly-filled Zippo. By the time I make my way to the end of the hall, most of the artists are either packing up or are kinda boring.
Thursday, July 21st, 2011 A.D.
Drive to the Spring Street trolley station in beautiful La Mesa, California. The Massachusetts Avenue station is technically closer to my house, but I don’t trust leaving my car there for an extended period of time. I buy my three-day pass and wait for the train near a be-camouflaged lesbian couple. Feel safer already.
Board the train, only to find the dapper Alexander Kraft, my dear friend and writing partner. Good thing I hadn’t bothered to go through the hassle of contacting him ahead of time and making plans to meet. He has a pro pass, because he is a professional bullshitter.
Attend the Joyce Brabner panel. It’s only been a year since the death of her husband, Harvey Pekar, creator of American Splendor and impetus of Paul Giamatti’s finest cinematic role, and as such, she is still pretty emotional. The panel begins to kinda bum me out almost immediately, as I had feared. But Ms. Brabner, being a major creative force in her husband’s life (and therefore, indirectly in mine as well), sallies forth and gives a gripping and hilarious hour talk. I learn plenty: Harvey is buried next to Eliot Ness; a posthumous book, Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, is soon to be released (in March, according to the latest news I’ve heard) (and it is available now, and well worth your time and money), along with a few others; the publishers of the Pekar-edited The Beats tried to fuck Brabner out of her rightful pay for her piece in that book. Also, Brabner once co-founded a theatre group called “The Rondo Hatton Society for the Deforming Arts,” which I have since deemed the greatest name for anything anywhere.
In the same room, the next panel is a spotlight on Mad’s maddest writer, Dick DeBartolo. Though it’s been about a decade since I’ve read Mad with any kind of regularity, there is no denying its role in the history of parody and satire, and DeBartolo, as the staffer with the most consecutive appearances in that magazine, is therefore a major part of that national treasure. Also, turns out DeBartolo was instrumental in keeping Match Game, another national treasure, on the air. It would seem Mark Goodson brought him on board not long before the newly created show was about to get the axe. So DeBartolo figured he’d start writing questions filled with double entendre—the hell with it, right, show’s getting cancelled anyways. As we all know, that soon became the show’s trademark and DeBartolo wrote for that show for the next 18(!) years.
And somewhere, Charles Nelson Reilly smiles down on us all.
Stop by the Axe Cop booth for a brief chat with the brothers Nicolle. I’m gonna guess that most of you out there in Internet-land are at least passing familiar with this comic, written by 7-year-old Malachi and drawn by his 31-year-old brother, Ethan. Its instant popularity was and is thoroughly well-deserved. Not only is it simply hilarious, but its unvarnished simplicity and deep love for the form (as well as for dinosaurs and secret poison attacks) make it one of the freshest and most refreshing comics today.
I ask Ethan a couple of quick questions, wanting to know what to expect from this team in the future. He assures me that he and Malachi have had another solid month of “playtime,” wherein they figured out where Axe Cop’s next adventures will take him. Near as I can tell, this is Axe Cop Volume 3, which was solicited in Previews not too long ago, with a release date for March 28th of next year. Ethan also has a new webcomic slated for August called Bearmageddon (which means it’s well underway by now, so get to Googling), and though I’m probably gonna wait until it’s been collected in a print edition, I am quite interested to see what that’s all about, given Ethan’s fine drawing style and the fact that I will read anything by a guy who loves Mystery Science Theater 3000 (not that this comic has to do with that)(though I wouldn’t complain if that were the case). And as mentioned, Ethan also says that Bearmageddon will eventually be a print book. Not that there is anything wrong with webcomics, but Ethan seems to be as much a traditionalist as I, telling me that he’s a print guy who uses webcomics. Sounds good to me.
I’m certain anyone who’s met these two has a story about Malachi that can only be described as “cute,” and I’m certainly no different. As the fellows are signing books, Ethan asks a young lady if he should make it out to anyone. She says, “Yes, please, to Jordan.” Malachi says, “Oh, so it’s not for you?” She says, “No, that’s me. I have a boy’s name.” Across Malachi’s face flashes that embarrassment that only young boys can have for the opposite sex, like it’s such a bummer that they have to wear dresses and not get to play guns and stuff, that you don’t even wanna remind them of that sorry state of affairs. Malachi quickly recovers, assuring her that “No, it’s a both name. It’s a both name. That’s okay, it’s a both name.”
Kid’s a genius, I tell you.
Me and Kraft get in line for the first of four daily DC Comics panels dedicated to “the New 52,” DC’s company-wide relaunch of all their titles. About an hour before the panel starts, but the chances of us getting in are already looking kinda grim. I strike up a conversation with a couple of dudes ahead of us, Moe from Seattle and Jeremy from Pittsburgh. Nice kids. We go on at length about the various ups and downs (a lotta the former, even more of the latter) of this move on DC’s part. As it turns out, the New 52 has been going better than anybody expected, I think, especially yours truly. Still and all, I could give a poop about DC. So even though we don’t get into the panel, that’s pretty much what I came for: DC-bashing. Make mine Marvel.
We take the long walk across the hall for the “Spotlight on Charlie Huston” panel. I’ve been enjoying his work on Wolverine: The Best There Is (which turns out to not be quite the best there is in terms of sales. As Huston himself put it to me, he will go down in history as writing the only non-salable Wolverine title. I did try the other day to find any official word on cancellation of this book, but nothing doing. Maybe it’s doing better than any of us thought) (It’s not), and after this panel, I am sure to enjoy all the rest of this guy’s work, as is Kraft (guy just thanked me again the other day for dragging him to this panel).
After bringing his special surprise guests, writers Daniel Way and Duane Swierczynski and Hollywood insider Kemper Donovan, to the stage, Huston proceeds to host what’s sure to be the latest hit game show, What the Fuck? With your host, Charlie Huston. The rules are (kinda) simple: Huston picks a member of the crowd, poses a question aloud to the panel (mine was: “Name three Asian characters in the Marvel Universe”), then instructs the audience volunteer to direct the question to the panel member of his or her choice, utilizing the phrase, “What the fuck?” So Huston gives me my question, and I said, “What the fuck, Duane Swierczynski?” The whole game is designed to put the panelists on the spot, and the best ol’ Duane-o can come up with is “The last three Iron Fists” (I’m assuming he meant before Orson Randall). A few kinks are still in the format, but I’m sure they can work those out before the show airs (projected air date: never). Plus, everybody in the room gets a prize, and I walk away with two of Huston’s novels, one in Korean.
I finally get around to reading Sleepless a couple months later, the English-language Huston novel I was given, and fuck me if it ain’t one of the best books I’ve read all year. I have yet to track down the rest of his stuff, but you can bet I will.
After a smoke, I attempt to get into that afternoon’s Marvel panel, but the line is already more ridiculous than the earlier DC one. So I decide to go meet Garth Ennis instead.
Way back in 1993, one of my favorite books was DC’s The Demon, scripted by Alan Grant, who took a kinda goofy spin on all the demonics and black magic therein. When he left after issue #39, I was sad to see him go, but I bought the next issue from the new creative team, artist John McRea and Hellblazer writer Garth Ennis. I wasn’t into Hellblazer at the time, so I didn’t even know who this guy was. But man, was I glad I found out. That first issue pitted Etrigan against some stupid-ass bikers and some stupid-ass biker demons. With a hefty amount of Wild One references and bleak, dark humor wonderfully complemented by McRea’s bleak, dark linework, this issue introduced me to the writer who would remain my favorite to this day.
At SDCC ’94, I brought my copy of The Demon #40 for Garth Ennis to sign, and he gladly did, even chatting with me a bit (though I, at the age of 16, had never heard an Irish accent before, so I mostly just nodded and smiled). Since 2011 is the first year he’s been at Con since (that I knew of in advance, anyways), and also since I own just about every book he’s ever written at this point, I decided to bring The Demon #40 down there again to have him sign once more. I mean, why mark up more than one of my books, right?
So the guy is as kind as I remember (even if he seemed a bit tired, and the dingbats in front of me probably didn’t help matters), and I manage not to drool all over him. Of course, I also manage to forget to show him the “Fuck Communism” Zippo that my friend Mikey gave me for my 29th birthday. My reputation for idiocy remains well intact.
Passing the Fox Studios booth, I find myself five feet away from Elijah Wood. Sadly, I don’t get to tell him how much I enjoyed The Faculty.
Go upstairs to try to find the press room, but not only had I been given the wrong room number, the correct room is locked up tight. Have to wait until the next day to renew my quest for free donuts (spoiler alert: no donuts for me).
Out for another smoke, I see a young lady in a Power Girl costume so convincing, she is surrounded by photographers. Sure, just about every photographer is down there every year to take pictures of the wacky, kooky nuts in their Stormtrooper outfits, but those aren’t nearly as titillating. This one guy also interviews Karen for a bit and actually uses the word “sexy,” reminding me to get a hold of the OED people to get that creepy word finally stricken from the language altogether.
I also make it known to the crowd of Jimmy Olsens that I, too, am available for pictures. Sadly, no takers. Their loss.
Back upstairs for another panel, this one entitled, “LGBTX: The X-Men’s Queer Characters, Themes, and Fans.” Or as I rename it, the gay X-Men panel. It’s set to start at 6, and there’s already a pretty hefty line. Not wanting to be caught out (ha), I ask the nice lesbian couple in front of me if I can pick their brains a minute on the topic, on the off-chance that I can’t get into the panel itself. They are extremely co-operative, and Amanda Phillips, who is taking her PhD in queer studies in video games, shares with me her expertise. Although she told me she doesn’t know as much about current comics continuity as regards the topic, we talk about how both video games and comics engage people as media of choice, as artforms in which the viewer/reader/player can more fully immerse him or herself. In relation to the growing trend of queer characters in mainstream comics, Amanda tells me how gamers she has spoken to feel less invested in games featuring characters that do not at least somewhat match their own lifestyles or what-have-you. It is a very interesting conversation, especially for a big ol’ hunk of vanilla whitebread like myself.
All are safely ensconced in Room 32AB and the gay X-Men panel is underway. Moderator Chance Whitmire, of Fanboys of the Universe, poses excellent, thought-provoking questions to our panel, including Marjorie Liu (who is as gorgeous as the day is long), Chuck Kim, and Scott Lobdell. You’d have to be something of a dolt to not see the correlation between the early ‘60s X-Men stories and the civil rights movement of that same time, but you’d have to be an even bigger, Callaway-level dolt to not see that metaphor has been more or less transferred to the gay community at this point. In the film adaptations is where a lot of this sub-text also ends up, which came as something of a surprise to me as well (of course, I didn’t even realize Bryan Singer was gay until just a couple of years ago. Next, you’ll be telling me Jm J. Bullock is gay too!)(Wait, what?)
The connection becomes even more obvious, as artist Phil Jimenez pointed out, during Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men (of which Jimenez also drew a good chunk). The X-Men during the Morrison days went from being tragic outsiders to tragically hip insiders; to quote Emma Frost, “We must be nothing less than fabulous.” Whereas in this mundane reality, the queer community has come out of the closets and into the streets and pretty much openly leads our vibrant popular culture in many a respect. A lotta boring straight white males like me might feel threatened by such a thing, but frankly, I’d trust the Queer Eye guys in this regard much more so than the No Fear marketing fucks who tarnished my own adolescent years.
Peter David talks a bit about his decision to write Shatterstar and Rictor as a gay couple in the pages of X-Factor. He says that the decision just came about naturally, given the two characters’ pasts, and that he certainly did not write this to be exploitative. I think the material proves this, but I also think it a bit of a stretch when he claims to be surprised by the backlash from fans over the decision. I dunno, I mean, I can certainly say I’m disappointed by the lingering homophobia in our great state of comics fandom. But surprised? I’m about as surprised by that as I actually was when I found out Jm J. Bullock was gay. He did say that a lot of fans’ reactions were positive, somewhere along the lines of “Finally!” And again I buy that, but again, perhaps a lot of that “Finally!” was just relief that Shatterstar was back in regular continuity.
No, you’re right, it’s the gay thing.
On the way out of the men’s room, I spot Peter David walking by himself. I figure he can use some company, so I take the opportunity to follow up on something he said in the panel. While discussing the whole Shatterstar/Rictor thing, he said his editors did not bat an eyelash at writing these two as gay, but they had a real problem with his bringing Layla Miller back from the future and all growns up. So I ask him what it was they specifically had a problem with as regards that. I assumed it would be something along the lines of Jamie Madrox hooking up with a girl who was well underage last time we saw her, y’know, kinda like Heinlein’s The Door into Summer. But as it turns out, Marvel was breaking his balls because Layla Miller got stranded in the future during a major cross-over event, Messiah Complex, and they felt she should be re-introduced in a similar manner, instead of just being plopped back into the readers’ laps of a sudden.
David’s argument against this was excellent in that it cited a Steven Bochco production. He tells me about a Hill Street Blues episode where two of the principle characters decide to get married, pretty much out of nowhere. Instead of building forever to a change like that, like some sorta dumb Luke & Laura thing, the writers and producers decided instead to send a sort of message to the viewer, in David’s words: “Keep watching or you’ll miss something.” It’s no wonder the guy’s been at this for so long.
Back upstairs to get in line for the world premiere of Garth Ennis’s first short film, Stitched. I strike up a conversation with the guy ahead of me in line, Dave, and we can’t help but notice there were a lot of giggly teenage girls queuing up behind us. Turns out some goofy Torchwood panel is going on in the self-same Room 6DE, which has achieved mythic Overlook-Hotel-ballroom status by this point at the Con. Dave and I are worried that we’ll get shut out by gigglies camping out for this Torchwood stuff, but they are all a buncha sweethearts who gladly give us leave to pass them in line. Sadly, I will not be witnessing this sorta line solidarity later in the week.
Watch Stitched and, jeez. I’m pretty non-plussed by the whole thing. I’d already purchased my DVD copy downstairs at the Avatar booth, so I know going in that the film itself is only 17 minutes long. That’s cool, y’know, there’s about 90 minutes worth of extras on the disc. The writing is very typically great Ennis military dialogue and his direction is just fine, especially for a first-timer. But A) the acting is just plain old bad. Not chew-the-scenery bad, which is a relief. It’s just kinda amateur hour, is all. But B) the thing ends with a “To Be Continued...” The hell is that about? I’m on board if this goes to series, but I’m already sick of zombies (oh yeah, the plot revolves around three American soldiers stranded in the Afghan desert during the most recent war and then attacked by Middle Eastern undead), and this kinda cliffhanger stuff just doesn’t sit well. It kills me to say this, given how much I love the guy’s work. Hopefully, the follow-up will even things out a bit.
As of this writing, the comic-book version of this short film is available, and I’m enjoy it much more than the short. I have yet to even crack open my DVD copy of Stitched to watch the extras and stuff. I dunno, man. Not my favorite Ennis thing, it would seem.
Oh, Orange Line. Take me away only if you promise to return me on the morrow.
Friday, July 22nd, 2011 A.D.
Ah, the smell of Con in the morning. This is also the time to really enjoy the A/C on the floor here, since within the next 45 minutes, you won’t be able to feel it around the B.O. and flop sweat.
Upstairs again for the Tony DeZuniga (rest his soul) panel, moderated by fellow Filipino and viral video celebrity, Gerry Alanguilan, writer and artist of the superb Elmer. DeZuniga, as one of the original artists on the original Jonah Hex stories, apparently was instrumental in the wave of Filipino comics artists in the 1970s. Seems Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando, his then-bosses at DC, were looking to expand their line but couldn’t afford to pay American rates. So DeZuniga hooked them up with guys like Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, and the rest is history. A good part of me kinda recoils at the NAFTA implications in that story, y’know, when business looms its ugly head and American artists get downsized. And that does suck, but in the grander scheme of things, it works out, I’d say. Yes, some talented Americans probably got passed up for gigs, but if equally talented or even better artists are afforded an opportunity at a time and in a place otherwise shut to them, then the art form wins and wins big.
Meet up with Kraft downstairs. Turns out some dink who was unsuccessfully trying to bum a smoke off me is a guy that Kraft has been meaning to stab. He doesn’t get to, but still. Small world.
Hit up the NEC booth, and find that apparently Ben Edlund himself, the creator of The Tick, will be signing there tomorrow. I am very excited by this news, and my enthusiasm is apparently infectious as I am able to talk Kraft into buying the big trade, The Tick: the Complete Edlund, featuring the original and best run with that character. It’s an even newer edition than the one I bought when it was released a couple years ago and has even more pages. Sucks for me, but whatever.
Wandering up and down the aisles, Kraft and I come across an enterprising young lad who has snagged an empty table and is hawking some of his Naruto cards for a dime a piece. Neither of us even know (or ever will know, it seems) what the hell a Naruto card is supposed to be, but we reward his business sense by purchasing two cards each. Sally forth, young capitalist, and buy the future.
Back to the NEC booth to meet writer Clay Griffith and his lovely wife, Susan. Clay Griffith is kinda unsung, but his work on Tick spin-off books like Man-Eating Cow and especially Paul the Samurai made huge leaps in creating the Tick Universe, even if few (if any) of his works made it into the more well-known TV projects. The Griffiths tell me about their current project, a series of vampire/steampunk novels called The Vampire Empire. Personally, I find vampires to be snooze-inducing at best, and this steampunk craze is starting to put me to sleep as well, but if these two are on the case, it’ll be worth the gamble.
Upstairs again for a big crime panel, featuring way too many people. While it is great to hear writers like Max Allan Collins and Gary Phillips speak (especially Phillips, with that booming, to-the-back-row voice of his), there are no fewer than thirty-nine people on this panel and thus, for each writer to answer a question posed takes nine or ten hours per question. My buddy Frank joins us midway through the panel and immediately writes me a note like we’re in study hall, pointing out how much Collins looks like Elton John. Like in study hall, I have to struggle to keep from laughing out loud.
Make our way across the street to check out Tr!ckster. The notion behind Tr!ckster is a sound one: not only does it assert the rights of punctuation to appear in the middles of words, it also presents an alternative to the overpowering, senses-deadening three-to-five-ring circus that is Comic-Con. Not unlike Slamdance, the indie film community’s answer to the Sundance Film Festival, Tr!ckster seeks to appeal to those with a more refined palate, offering no sensationalistic booth displays or pandering via various “freebies,” but merely good comics by good creators. Founded by Pixar artists Ted Mathot and Scott Morse (if you haven’t read Morse’s Strange Science Fantasy on IDW, do yourself a very large favor), Tr!ckster is held in the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center, located directly across the street from the San Diego Convention Center, and featuring such fine artists as Josh Cooley, Mike Allred and Matt Wagner.
If you say this all sounds a bit pretentious, well, y’know. From your mouth to God’s ears. I am all for a sensible alternative to the vastly overblown Con, and I certainly don’t need nor want to be pandered to. But anything they have of interest at Tr!ckster is stuff I already have. The symposia they’re holding over the course of the week sounded interesting, but not to the tune of thirty-five dollars per symposium, separate from the main free-of-admission floor of Tr!ckster itself. The more low-key atmosphere is certainly a welcome salve, and me and Kraft do get a Brian Posehn sighting, so that’s fun. But over all, it’s a big so-what. I really do hope they make a go of it, in all seriousness.
After much general meandering, I make my way over to Artist’s Alley again and talk to Benton Jew. Benton pays his bills by working as an animator and storyboard artist, but he’s also done excellent work on books like the much missed Agents of Atlas and his own self-published works like The Art of Crime (check it out at bentonjewart.blogspot.com). But the one piece of his work with which I am most familiar, and the one thing I chew his ear off about, is the cover to Screeching Weasel’s second comeback album, 1996’s Bark like a Dog. I’m not as big a fan of Screeching Weasel as some of the guys I know, but this remains one of my favorite records and one of my favorite record covers.
Apparently, Benton was at the time pretty heavily involved in the neo-garage scene going on in San Francisco, and the lucky bastard got to see a lot of my favorite bands play live during their hey-day, bands like the Mummies, the Phantom Surfers, and the Trashwomen. The latter band commissioned him to draw a poster for them, and he did it in a distinctively EC Comics style. Ben Weasel, leader of that infamous pop-punk outfit from Chi-town, saw this piece and drafted Benton to draw Screeching Weasel’s next album cover.
Though he happily answers my questions about all this, Benton has to really dig in his memory for details, as this was all fifteen years ago. He does say that it was Weasel’s idea to do another EC tribute, and the Caddyshack reference was his idea as well. Also, it would seem that the title itself was something of a jab at another popular punk band’s then-recent album, but he can’t remember whose, and my subsequent attempts to suss that out remain for naught. What’s clear is that not only does the band consider this one of their finer records, it was also their only record to place on the Billboard charts (for what that’s worth). How much of that has to do with Benton’s cover? I dunno, but if I’d never heard of them before, I’d have bought it for the artwork alone, I can tell you that much.
Since the day before, I’d been planning to go over to Ted McKeever’s table and buy from him his three-volume library, beautiful hardcover collections of his early works Transit, Eddy Current, and Metrōpol. I certainly don’t mind ponying up the hundred bucks, but I strategically wait until this day has waned so I’m not hauling a good ten pounds of extra luggage around. McKeever’s a swell guy and, I can say with no threat to my own sexuality, a damn handsome man. He quickly but caringly does a sketch for me in each book as Kraft and I look on, both of us struck dumb. Lauren, Kraft’s lovely fiancée (and now wife, in a ceremony performed by yours truly) and another good friend of mine, is a bit grumpy that we are late meeting her out front by a couple of minutes, but when we show her the sketches that made us tardy, she says, “Oh. Okay, then.”
Look, I don’t wanna go off on a rant here, but this is exactly why I keep Con for comics. Lauren, Kraft and I go upstairs an hour before to get in line for the Rifftrax panel, which is to be the one non-comics related event I am to allow myself, seeing as Mystery Science Theater 3000 is not only my favorite television program but also my favorite thing that exists in the world. But painfully incompetent security as well as the general weaseliness of the fuckfaces in line ahead of us conspires to keep us from getting in. Thanks a lot, assholes.
Saturday, July 23rd, 2011 A.D.
I’ll spend the vast majority of this day upstairs. Saturday is notoriously the most crowded day of the Con, but really, once it reaches a certain capacity point, how do you even tell the difference? I mean, crowded is crowded. All the same, I play it safe up here.
Here in the ever-popular Room 6DE is the Green Lantern panel. It’s fairly ho-hum. Not to abandon my journalistic objectivity (or at least, not to abandon it further), but the regular DC Universe has been nothing but boring to me since I dropped Countdown about three issues in. But I definitely seem to be in the minority, as just about everybody in this very large room is hanging on Geoff Johns’s every word. And that’s great, despite my own personal apathy. I really am glad these goofy superhero comics are bringing such joy into people’s lives, but here’s a thing: a young man approaches the mic at one point and tells Mr. Johns that he suffered a brain aneurysm a while back and he wanted to thank Johns for his work as it was instrumental for this young man’s mental well-being as he recovered from this traumatic experience. And seriously, dude, I cannot be happier for you. But c’mon, show a little consideration for the guy in line behind you, waiting to ask his question. How’s he supposed to follow that?
All right, DC New 52 panel, here we go. Just about every DC panel I’ve been to in my time has had a lotta very vocal critics of whatever editorial choices Detective Comics Comics was making at the time. Given that and given DC’s decision to start the whole damn thing over again, I am really looking forward to some angry DC Bullets up in this mug. And alas, I am disappointed. Just about every other audience member who takes the mic assures Dan Didio and his panel of writers and artists that he or she is on board for all fifty-two new titles and keep up the great work and blah blah. I mean, that’s good, people are staying on the positive tip. But it makes for a pretty dull panel. On top of that, it’s a like a meat locker in here and I have to throw a whiz. DC is like NPR these days: you still bore me, but seriously, all the luck in the world.
There I am, just shy of my 34th birthday, and mostly able to look back and safely say that when I was snot-nosed teenager, I was actually pretty cool. Sure, I was as insufferable as any adolescent, but I like to think that I succeeded back then in broadening my cultural and artistic horizons beyond the easy-to-digest suburban culture I had at my disposal. And the publishing company of Fantagraphics Books has a lot to do with that.
Suffice it to say, to be at the panel focusing on the 35th anniversary of that lofty publisher feels quite like a homecoming. The Comics Journal not only gave focus to my reading materials when I was a lad, but also to my budding interest in writing for and about comical books. Fantagraphics was also instrumental in bringing to the world at large Los Bros. Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, and Peter Bagge, all of whom have made an almost immeasurable impact not only on comics, but on popular culture at large.
I just wish they’d quit taking so much of my money.
Not only do founders and publishers Kim Thompson and Gary Groth, in the course of their retrospective slideshow, remind me of a ton of books I’ve been wanting to get for some time—Spain’s My True Story, Skip Williamson’s The Scum Also Rises, that big-ass Steve Ditko book—they also make a big announcement of two books forthcoming from Fantagraphics.
First off, after the reprint rights had been lingering in limbo for some time now, Fantagraphics will now be reprinting their own volumes of those classic EC comics of the 1950s, beginning next summer. The EC Archives published by Gladstone are still worth your trouble, but these new Fantagraphics editions will be published according to artist. So you’ll have a complete volume of Jack Davis’s horror stuff, Wally Wood’s suspense stuff and so on. I dunno about you, but despite however many reprints of these books I already have, just the thought of a complete book of only Johnny Craig’s work is enough to make me giddy. Plus there will be new supplemental material in each, as well as some extras. For instance, the volume of Harvey Kurtzman’s war stories will also contain the “orphans” or the one-off stories by non-regulars like Russ Heath and Joe Kubert.
As if that isn’t enough, they will also be releasing a two-volume, slipcase hardcover set collecting every issue of the seminal underground ZAP Comix. The jumping-off point for many (if not all) the heavy-hitters of the underground, like Robert Crumb, Victor Moscosco and Gilbert Shelton, ZAP was the heir apparent to the famed EC books, and again, though I own a good chunk of this material in other formats, this will also contain a sort of oral history of the book as told by its contributors, and simply promises to be a damn handsome volume.
Fantagraphics has yet to disappoint with their reprint collections over the past decade or so. These two promise to be no different in that regard. Nor will they be any easier on my wallet, I’d wager to guess. But who needs money when you’ve got comics?
I run into Ray Kamb, whom I haven’t seen in years and also was the first guy to ever buy me a beer. Please direct all compliments/complaints re this directly to him from now on.
I really want to get in line for the impending “Cup O’ Joe” panel, wherein Marvel’s editor-in-chief Joe Quesada will be taking questions. The line has already reached Leviathan proportions here with an hour and a half to go, however. I suppose I should have rendezvoused with their PR people earlier, but then again, how much more press does the biggest publisher of superhero comics need? Fuck it.
Back down to the NEC booth where I meet Tick creator Ben Edlund and have him sign my big ol’ trade. Also, apparently Kraft looks like a guy he knows. Again, small world.
Over at the Fantagraphics booth to show Kraft some of the stuff I saw at this morning’s panel, we come across comedy writer and sharp dresser, Martin Olson, who is hawking his book, The Encyclopaedia of Hell. Being devout Satanists, Kraft and I both stop to have a gander, and it’s so full of hilarious evil, that I break my self-imposed rule against buying anything today. Not only has Mr. Olson churned out this lovely looking and soul-damaging book, including illustrations by Mr. Tony Millionaire, as a writer, he has worked with such comedic giants as Steven Wright and Bobcat Goldthwait. Later in the day, he bums a smoke off me and tells me a few war stories from the comedy trenches. Pretty good gig I’ve got here, this.
Rowdy Roddy Piper sighting. No kilt, but he still exudes all that is great about professional wrestling. Minor childhood goal achieved for your humble narrator, just being in the same room with the guy.
Make my way back upstairs and catch the tail end of the Jim Lee panel. Image co-founder and now half of DC’s dream team with Geoff Johns, Jim Lee has a reputation for being a swell guy, and I certainly have never seen or heard any reason to argue that. Though I suppose I’ve largely outgrown my pre-teen fascination for Lee’s art as well as that of his co-conspirators at the time—guys like McFarlane, Liefeld, Larsen; y’know, the usual suspects—objectively, I think I can say that Lee is easily the best artist of those guys. You’ll never mistake a Lee drawing for another, but he was never so highly stylized as to lose perspective of anatomy or simple aesthetics. Also, he always struck me as the most sensible of those artists, making the WildStorm deal with DC as the ‘90s market started to bottom out, but still able to do it on his terms (although I guess that hasn’t worked out so swell lately, WildStorm now a bittersweet memory). My point is Jim Lee may no longer be one of my favorite creators, but neither am I embarrassed that he once was and my respect for him as an artist remains firm.
When Jonathan Hickman’s first book on Image came out, The Nightly News, it didn’t seem to take the world by storm, but it did create enough of a stir that I was curious enough to pick up the trade. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that it was unlike any comic I had read in at least a decade, if ever. What the guy was doing with the form alone was staggering, marrying as he was concepts from his background in graphic design to comics storytelling. But then he was also telling a relevant, engrossing story that was right up my punk-rock, anti-authoritarian alley. Part of me hoped this guy would go on to do great things, but the rest of me didn’t bother. It seemed obvious this guy was destined to make his mark on this art form.
Once he killed the Human Torch, I think it was safe to say I had been correct.
The guy really hit the ground running over there at Marvel, and as if it weren’t obvious in his work, it’s confirmed by just about everything he says at this panel that the man is simply dedicated to his craft. Once upon a time, he had a solid job as an art director at an ad agency and also hated every moment of it. So he rolled the dice and produced his own comic, the aforementioned Nightly News, and things more or less coalesced from there.
This all sounds too simple to be true, but it only sounds that way. Writing is a hard fucking job and no one knows as well as I how much easier it would be to half-ass it and hope to succeed materially by writing about sparkly vampires, say. But as Hickman says, “I don’t understand missed opportunities.” Hickman takes on each project as though it’s to be his last, and thus never fails to cram as much story into it as possible. Even a passing glance at his Marvel books like SHIELD or Fantastic Four gives one a sense of this, and the fact that FF is in the top ten of Marvel’s bestsellers for the first time in a long time seems to be a direct result of that.
Hickman stresses to aspiring writers out there that, if they want to eventually land work at Marvel or DC, they need to produce. If one can show the big boys that not only does one know how to tell a story, but also that one can get it together enough to get that story out there and into people’s hands, then the big boys will simply not be able to ignore that. Again, it seems too simple to be true, but anything complicating that further is just a complication.
Writing can be a frustrating, unkind and elusive mistress. What Hickman seems hell-bent on conveying to his audience at this panel is that it truly all can be worth it. Of all the writers I’ve heard speak at this Con or, indeed, any other, Jonathan Hickman is the most conscious of the fact that he’s just a guy who writes. Anybody can do the same just so long as he or she never loses sight of the importance of the craft itself above ancillary concerns. Open and engaging, Hickman not only answers questions from the audience, but insists on doing that more than just talking about himself and his work.
I leave this panel, and the Con today, duly encouraged and excited.
Sunday, July 24th, 2011 A.D.
All right, at this point, I’ve been mucking about with this note-taking and intrepid reporting business long enough. Time to get Daddy some comics (that’s me; I’m Daddy). The two titles I’m looking for this year are the EC Archives and Paradox Big Books I mentioned way back on Preview Night. But, not unlike yours truly, it is not looking good. The only ones I am able to find are ones I already have. I get a bit of a nibble on a couple Weird Science volumes here early in the day, but the guy tells me I should come back and haggle with the owner later. Oh, consider that done, sir.
Even though he’s been in New Mexico for a few years now, I still like to refer to Rick Geary as “San Diego’s own Rick Geary” (being a San Diegan, I suffer from that city’s very real low self-esteem and thus must remind anybody within earshot whenever my town can lay claim to someone of note). For some time, Geary wrote and drew a series of true-crime comics called A Treasury of Victorian Murder. Having successfully mined that vein, he’s now moved on to the twentieth century, and I purchase from him his latest, focusing on those anarchic Italians, Sacco and Vanzetti. Geary’s deceptively cartoonish style creates quite the stunning contrast with his chosen material, just as his material seems to conflict with his unbelievably sweet disposition. Get your mitts on these.
After four days now, I am gonna get me a Marvel panel. And boy, is it kind of a disappointment. I guess Matt Fraction isn’t even here this year, so that would explain why he can’t make this Fear Itself panel, though he is the great architect of it all. And this is nothing against Chris Yost, Nick Spencer, and C.B. Cebulski, who did make an appearance and whose work I generally enjoy. But man, Cullen Bunn can’t even roll his ass down here by lunchtime? Lousy Sunday panels.
Two big announcements here get my Marvel Zombie blood flowing. Firstly, Scalped’s Jason Aaron is gonna be taking over The Incredible Hulk this fall. When Greg Pak first started on the book, I was a bit wary, but I was soon on board as “Planet Hulk” got itself well underway. He had a good run, but I knew it had to end sometime, though I hadn’t even thought about who’d replace him. This news therefore came as a pleasant surprise. Jason Aaron quickly impressed me with his Vertigo stuff (the aforementioned Scalped as well as The Other Side), but it seems obvious to me after his Wolverine and Punisher stories, the guy is truly in his element in the Marvel Universe. Also, he’s teamed up with Marc Silvestri, who has really only gotten better in his art. We’re in good hands is what I’m getting at. I guess Silvestri is only doing a few issues, but I’m looking forward to Whilce Portacio’s work on this book as well. It’s like a late ‘80s/early ‘90s homecoming.
Also announced is the return of a book I’ve been rekindling my own feelings for: The Defenders. I recently got my hands on a fat stack of issues of this from the ‘70s, and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the adventures of Marvel’s non-team. That goofy Keith Giffen mini a few years ago was okay, I guess, but this new title by Matt Fraction and his Uncanny X-Men artist, Terry Dodson, promises to be a book with more depth. Fraction seems to me to take himself a bit too seriously, but then again, that’s just what I’m in the market for a lot of the time, generally more so than Giffen-esque piss-takes (though that’s not always the case, obviously). Anyways, it appears Fraction’s been itching to get to something a little off the beaten path, especially after scripting the mega-crossover of this year, Fear Itself. And so I say, shine on, you crazy diamond. As I write this, the first issue has only just come out, so I haven’t had a chance to crack it open. But that little prologue in the recent Marvel Point One definitely wet my whistle (you may interpret that sexually, if you must).
Kraft has opted out for today, but I do meet up with my buddy Joe, who bought a loose pass off some shady character on Craigslist. We tool around, seeing the sights, and I just generally enjoy the Con as it winds to a close. Then Joe goes out to use an ATM and gets his lanyard-less pass confiscated. Oh, well, at least he got a few hours in.
Meet with Doug TenNapel over at the Smith Micro booth. Doug’s 2010 book, Ghostopolis, is one of the finest books I read that year, so be sure to check that out, along with his latest book, Bad Island, as well as his own current webcomic, Ratfist.
Succeed in talking the owner of Motor City Comics into taking thirty-two bucks for Weird Science, volume one. Another short-term goal accomplished. Thanks, Motor City!
Well, here we are. It’s over. And now, the long walk back to 11th and Market, another Con under my belt. It feels good.
When I was in high school, Con was the focus of my whole year. Four days at nerd mecca, where I was truly among my own kind. As such, I remained very territorial about my beloved Con, exhibiting little to no patience for those I deemed as outsiders, whose numbers continue to grow every year. This is an understandable attitude, I think; when one considers a cow sacred, it certainly won’t do to have people shoving it out of the way to get a glimpse a Tobey Maguire. Only problem is it just makes the cow itself a very big headache, until one begins to think a nice steak dinner would be a sensible solution.
And so I began to resent the Con and actually dread its arrival, like it was some sort of self-sentenced purgatory. This year, I thought, the hell with all of that. Armed with my press credentials, I was going to rediscover the Con, I was going to talk to artists and writers and fans who were here because of their love for comics. I was not going to harp on the negative (well, maybe a bit), but instead strive to remember why I fell in love with this goofy and beautiful medium.
Fuckin’ mission accomplished, then.
See you next year.