Pipeline: Pipeline2, Issue #148

Fri, April 26th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PITTSBURGH COMICON 2002 - A PREVIEW

This weekend, I'll be attending the Pittsburgh Comicon. Heck, by the time you're reading this, I'm already there with frequent con traveling companion, Dani. You can read my con reports from last year right here. I've decided against doing the daily con updates, but will be back next week with a roundup of the happenings, populated with lots of those full-color pictures I know you all love so much.

This year represents a change for the better over last year. The con is bigger and more programmed this year. Sure, you still have far too many "media guests" (read: Ex Playboy Playmates and actors who know only how to act under costumes from George Lucas), but the con floor has expanded out into another space for a new Artist's Alley. There are actual panels and presentations this year, which is a nice bonus from last year. In 2001, I stayed on the con floor the entire day for the three days I was there. This year, there will be some more movement off the floor for some presentations that are going on. (Now there's a neat trick for WizardWorld to learn. Their problem is that they have too many panels in too crowded a space, but not enough to keep traffic diverted off the con floor to a sufficient degree.)

If you're planning on being there and haven't gotten out yet, consider this a preview of what you have to look forward to. If you're not going at all, then think of this as a teaser for all the things I might be talking about next week in this space.

The full panel schedule can be found on the official web site right about here.

The floor opens earlier this year on Friday. Instead of last year's 2:00 starting time, things begin at 10:00 a.m. Pre-registered people get in a few minutes earlier.

FARSCAPE groupies will be happy to see Virginia 'Zhaan' Hey doing a question and answer session at 3:00 p.m. I keep up with the series through the DVDs, so you won't see me there. Don't need the spoilers, thanks.

The traditional quick sketch starts at 5 p.m. and is scheduled for an hour. In truth, it'll probably spill over by a little bit.

All Ages Casino Night (benefiting Make A Wish) runs from 8 until 11. I missed it last year and it looks like I'll miss it again this year. At least I have a good excuse:

The Harvey Awards presentation starts at 8 p.m., an hour after the con floor closes. While last year's fireworks came from Frank Miller's WIZARD-ripping speech, this year's CrossGen showing ought to be the focus of many interesting acceptance speeches and gags. CrossGen doesn't have an official presence at this con, so it'll be interesting to see if anyone flies up from Florida for it. (George Perez is scheduled as a guest, but if he'll be there in any capacity as an official CrossGen spokesman is anyone's guess.) Evan Dorkin is the host and Tony Millionaire is the keynote speaker.

On Saturday, things start again at 10 a.m, but it's at 1 p.m. that possibly the most interesting panel of the weekend begins. Rich Henn has been working on a documentary about small press comics for more than a year. It was originally scheduled to finish shooting at last year's SPX, but due to its cancellation, the film has been delayed. Henn will be on hand to show a 20-minute snippet of the film, which features interview with the likes of Joe Quesada, Frank Miller, Carla Speed McNeil, Colleen Doran, and others.

At 2 p.m., Brian Bendis has a Q&A session set up, with the possibility of an actual news announcement dangling in the air. On his message board, he characterized the chance of news as being 50/50.

The Quick Sketch for Saturday starts at 3.

Top Cow has a panel at 5.

The giant charity auction to benefit Make A Wish runs from 7 till 10, but will likely also spill over, as con organizers Michael and Renee George nearly pass out from exhaustion in trying to get a room full of comic geeks to bid on artwork, comic book packages, and the ceremonial rolling destruction of Jar Jar Binks.

Sunday is the short day of the con, closing at 5 instead of 7. I'll be long gone by 5, as the 6 hour drive home beckons. (Driving out there is not a problem. It's going home, knowing that you'll have to go to work the next morning. That's the disappointment after a nice comic convention.) The costume and art contests are held in the afternoon, as well as another Quick Sketch at noon.

It's not the busiest of con panel schedules. Nobody could ever compare to the madness that San Diego offers up every year. But it is a welcomed step forward from last year, when there was just about nothing of interest off the con floor.

The guest list is pretty impressive again this year, with guests like Carmine Infantino, Brian Bendis, George Perez, Evan Dorkin, Michael Kaluta, Scott McDaniel, and more. You can check out the Pittsburgh Comicon home page for the entire guest list and lots more information.

Look for the con recap to begin on Tuesday.

FAREWELL TO GEN13

GEN13 still has an issue to go, but let's write the post-mortem now, shall we?

[Gen13 #0]GEN13 started off as a mini-series for burgeoning new talent, J. Scott Campbell. (It also started off as GEN X.) It kept him busy through an initial mini-series and a couple of years (about 20 issues) on the monthly series, interrupted only once for a Humberto Ramos fill-in. The book achieved massive fan appeal right away, as he hit on a number of hot buttons at the time, from trendy fashions to trendy art to T&A. Campbell's art, still overwhelmingly Art Adams influenced, was beginning to find its groove. The characters, with the help of Brandon Choi, were teenagers through and through, from Grunge's stubborn stupidity to Roxy's attitude and Bobby's rock and roll dreams.

When Campbell left the book, it left a huge gap in the title. And while some fill-in issues took up some space, the new team of John Arcudi and Gary Frank began to work. Their reign wouldn't last even as long as Choi and Campbell's (at about 16 issues), but it did start to sort out the characters as people and their relationships to each other. Most controversial for the series was the uprooting of the characters from their beachfront property in La Jolla (also the home of WildStorm Studios) to New York City and the Florida Keys.

Fans dropped the book because Campbell wasn't there. To me, this indicates two things. The first is that the Campbell attraction was the main strength of the title. (Sales on the perpetually delayed DANGER GIRL remained high, which only strengthens my argument that Campbell was the driving force on GEN13.) The second was that the characters weren't as strong and well loved as they should have been. The stories in those first two years were sometimes wacky, but rarely developed the characters past the flat two-dimensions that they were created with.

The book was so popular that other high profile creators took their shot at them, as well. Warren Ellis and Steve Dillon combined for a pair of memorable annuals, recently collected as a trade paperback. A sister series, GEN13 BOOTLEG, was created as a title to house the rotating creative teams with story ideas. Mike Wieringo, Walter and Louise Simonson, Alan Davis, and Mark Farmer had the best-remembered issues of that series. (I believe they're all collected in a different trade, as well.)

And a sense of fun was maintained with a GEN13 Yearbook, GEN13 ZINE, and more. These were books that embraced their fans (even included fan-submitted pictures) and kept up with the teenaged feel of the comic.

Arcudi and Frank tried to help develop the characters and move them along a bit, while maintaining a modicum of humor and a wild sense of villainy. As much as I love Frank's art, I have to say that his entire run on the series is mostly forgettable today. Aside from a rather large baby boy and an aborted attempt at giving Sarah Rainmaker a love interest, most of that run has escaped me. (There was the big revelation that Caitlin and Roxy were sisters, but that had been hinted at since very early on in the series. Hardly the shocker it was played out to be.)

Scott Lobdell leaped into the fray for a short forgettable stint, where the humor was the focus. (This is not surprising, given Lobdell's writing style.)

Finally, Adam Warren entered the fray, and the book at last became a critical favorite. At the same time, however, it shed fans badly. The art came from the pencil of Ed Benes, whose art style was very similar to Campbell's. (Prior penciller and original Campbell follower Al Rio could ape Campbell like nobody else.) I'm guessing this put off some people who didn't want Campbell Lite. Some fill-in artists helped out, including Kaare Andrews and Yannick Paquette. Both were wildly popular, but only came in for a pair of issues each.

It didn't really matter, anymore, as Warren's stories took over the show. They were infused with hip pop culture references and rapid-fire dialogue. It wasn't just a T&A art book with soap opera pretensions. The book tried to say things, whether about pop music or character dynamics or adolescent super powered activities. It was a book that should have appealed, at last, to today's teenagers in a way no other book in the market could. The stories were mostly self-contained, had attractive covers from Adam Warren's pen, and got rave reviews.

None of it mattered. Sales sunk so low that a more radical approach was needed, and so Chris Claremont and Ale Garza were tapped to relaunch the book. That comes later this year.

[Gen 13 #75]In the meantime, Warren ended the nearly ten year era of Gen13 by killing off the entire team. The most recent two issues, #75 and #76, occur over the span of the split second of the team dying and is the perfect coda to the series. Warren "got" the high concept of the book. All the little things about it that stood at the center of the title for 75 issues were taken care of in those last two issues, heart-breakingly and beautifully rendered by Rick Mays.

Warren built things up over his all-too-short term on the title. Stories stood individually, but had a tendency to snowball when you weren't looking, until everything finally comes together in issue #76.

It seems like a drastic choice to kill all the characters, though. They've been around for a fairly long time. With a relaunch coming, why not use those much-beloved characters to bring back the core group of fans?

I think it has to do with the fact that by the time the book finally clicked, it was over. The fans had left it. In lieu of pretty art carrying story after story as an excuse to rip off Caitlin Fairchild's clothes, the base left the title. Or, quite possibly, they grew up and moved to other things. Without a strong teenaged based to carry such a focused and trendy series, the book was over. Age had something else to do with it. When Grunge first appeared, everyone got the joke. Nowadays, the joke is over and Seattle rock is all but done or moved on, with an increasing number of their lot committing suicide or overdosing. The joke is done and over. Calling him by his real first name ("Percival"?) wouldn't do much good, either. Changing his name to "Hip Hop" or whatever musical style is the current rage would just look like a painful attempt to be trendy again.

The other problem is character confusion. With so many writing styles on the team in such a short time, there was never a truly consistent profile for the team. Some writers liked to emphasize certain characters or relationship over the others. Some redefined things completely. As a reader, I was confused sometimes by which versions of the characters I was reading. And the tone would change from issue to issue and from run to run. Sometimes, it was outright comedy. Other times it was sexual farce. Sometimes it was super-hero parody, and others it was straightforward superhero action/adventure. Which to believe? I'd like to think that characters that are strong enough could support all of those different viewpoints. Putting them all in the same book at once, though, is damaging.

I've always had a problem with the characters as they've stood from the beginning. I don't get how a gawky Princeton nerd gets transformed overnight into an Amazonian babe and automatically embraces the change and swaps in for a revealing new closet full of clothes. I would think that she'd still be covering up her body, if only in embarrassment over her new predicament. Instead, Caitlin Fairchild has never once expressed a note of discord over her new body and how well endowed she's become. There's more to it that just that, but I wrote a column about all of this a couple of years ago. Click here for my breakdown on how the Gen13 team should have worked from the start.

So, barring a massively successful release of the long-delayed GEN13 animated movie and subsequent attention, it looks like the time for Sarah, Bobby, Grunge, Roxy, and Caitlin has drawn to a close. It's something of an interesting train wreck when viewed from one angle. It's also an interesting decline of a series from start to finish. I'm not sure it deserves either, quite honestly. It was never meant to be anything more than a fun teenage romp.

Quick correction to Tuesday's column: The 9/11 logos still appear on the cover of all Marvel comic books. Sorry for the confusion. I messed that one up. My apologies to Marvel.

Off to Pittsburgh then. Have a great weekend and I'll see you back here on Tuesday and Friday next week, as usual, for the Pittsburgh wrap-up.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

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