The Basement Tapes: Issue #24

Tue, May 24th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Joe Casey & Matt Fraction, Columnist

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Sometimes, this is what happens when two writers e-mail each other:

An ongoing conversation behind closed doors, equal parts experience, opinion, critique, and outright rambling, THE BASEMENT TAPES are an attempt to present somewhat serious discussion about the somewhat serious business of comicbooks between two writers waist-deep in the perplexing and ever-evolving morass of their own careers.

The ugly American traveling abroad. Not the most romantic image. In this case, even less so. Lowly American cult comicbook ambassador flung across the Atlantic and set down in Bristol for two days of discussion and drinks (and discussion over drinks). Seeing our funky little culture through a slightly different lens. A minor education. Read on…

CASEY: Back from the UK. Comic Expo 2005. Bristol, baby. Hell of a trip, lemme tell you. I honestly don't know if my head has stopped spinning. I had to go to the videotape just to confirm I was even there.

Seriously, I had high hopes for my first UK convention experience and, I gotta' say, I wasn't disappointed. Compared to the monstrosity that is San Diego, this thing was comics all the way. No Marvel, no DC... no American publishers represented whatsoever. And yet, it was still the most comics-centric show I've ever been to.

FRACTION: I was gonna ask-- did it feel like there weren't any grownups? Without the watchful eyes of Mom and Dad, I kinda figured a show like Bristol would feel like the inmates were running the asylum.

So then, you've been to a big-ass convention that was about comics and not movie launches and video games. What's THAT like? What'd you do? I read about your FF book with Chris Weston-- nice one, yo-- and got the sorta boilerplate con report stuff, but, c'mon, what really went down?

CASEY: For me, it was really just hanging out with friends without the pressure of editors and publishers lording over the proceedings. Which was nice, for a change. And I was stunned by the sheer number of folks I knew or had worked with or talked to about working together. Besides Weston and my fellow American, Mike Oeming (prince of a guy), there was Sean Phillips, Rian Hughes, Doug Braithwaite, Steve Parkhouse, Gary Erskine, Ian Churchill, Mike Carey, Frazer Irving, Liam Sharp, David Hine, Duncan Fregrado, Dave Gibbons, Antony Johnston, Alex De Campi... basically, more people that I would know at a typical American con.

You know what it was? It was talking about comicbooks -- with fellow pros and fans alike -- without a hint of self-consciousness on any level. Not a goddamned molecule of it, as far as I could read. That was a big deal. We haven't quite evolved to that point over here. We may be getting there, slowly but surely, but we ain't there yet. And among the pros, there was no real hierarchy that I could see. Everybody that was there just made comics, period. There was mutual respect all around, but no false kings. Pretty refreshing, actually, and it allowed for more genuine conversations.

FRACTION: I don't remember if I told this story in a Tapes past or not, so forgive me if I have. Last year, I saw a guy last year who had turned his name-tag over and wrote JERRY BRUCKHEIMER PRODUCTIONS on it in a Sharpie. He was there with a video camera in one hand and a kid in the other, maybe 8 or 9 years old. The guy would come up to a publisher's booth and say something like, you know, what have you got?, (all while making sure you could read his hand-written nametag) and as books would be sorta presented to the guy, he'd just tape the kid reacting to each book he saw by saying COOL! or BORING! And that was it. They'd go along to the next booth.

Kinda sums up the absolute worst San Diego has to offer, and, while not indicative of the show as a whole... it's got that ugly undercurrent. Does the heart good to hear that ain't the Way It Is all over.

So what was the vibe of the room? If it wasn't like the media orgy of SD, and it wasn't like one of those skeletal American shows with nothing but remaindered SPAWN figures and EXXTREEME JUSTICE runs in the 2 for a quarter box... what was it like? And did you pick any books up?

CASEY: Snagged a copy of Mam Tor's EVENT HORIZON, which is pretty fucking great. Weston's story, "H.E.A.D. Trip" is by far the most mind blowing thing I've read in a while.

The vibe of the room was basically a typical comicbook convention. Dealers with long boxes. Indy publishers displaying their wares. Artists sketching their asses off. Honestly, I was rarely in there. Only for my hour long singings every day. Otherwise, I was in the Ramada. More than any con I've ever been to, the bar was the epicenter of the action, even during the day. It was just, y'know, a big hangout. The worst part was losing your voice after all that chatting...

And, yeah, I heard about the prick, his kid and his video camera. I'd heard he was a legitimate Hollywood guy, though. Are you saying he was a bona fide phony...?

FRACTION: No, I heard from a couple guys he was legit; just, you know, when you're working for The Bruck and you sleep on sacks of those fat bags of CSI ducats you apparently don't need the simple human kindnesses to which the rest of us cling so desperately to survive something like San Diego.

And yeah, I've always been a big fan of BarCon. Not so much for the drinking anymore, but just... shit, there's SEATS. If you're outside somewhere, even better. You can have actual conversations and not the Hihowareyas that so many of us exchange annually without being able to follow up. Drop that right into the middle of, like, Pub Culture and I'd imagine you'd have a blast.

So, pro-wise, what's going on over there? You named some big, talented, and kick-ass names you ran into; how's the American comics industry look on the other side of the pond?

CASEY: Well, that's a loaded fucking question, isn't it...?

I guess I want to say you can look at the US scene with "detached bemusement" from over there but I really don't want to speak for my UK peeps. Certainly the fans had a healthy interest in the books. I definitely enjoyed talking to the readers over there. They had a lot of insight into the material and even the business. And not in a bad way... it all led back to their interest in the comicbooks themselves.

I will say this, I visited a store in Glasgow, one of the famous Forbidden Planet chain of stores, and I was blown away. It was just a fantastic store, on par with a store like Meltdown here in L.A. It was definitely a comicbook store and proud of it, but it was quite high end and I was just really impressed. And, in relation to your question, it was really at this store that I realized that the idea of "American" comics can simply blend into the greater global picture. Unlike here, which will unfortunately always be US-centric (manga notwithstanding... but we are talking about the Direct Market here).

FRACTION: Well, it's gotta be pretty cool to go to a show that can thrive outside the other media spectacle and the Big Two circus tents, it's gotta be cooler still that the mood of the room was so up. I've never been anywhere in the UK, and always sort of... well, imagined it like you've described the FP over there, somewhere in-between the American and European traditions.

Here's the kicker, and the closer, then: would you do it again? And why?

CASEY: In theory, I wouldn't hesitate to do it again because the Expo itself was loads of fun, the people were great and the vibe was so good.

But I gotta' tell ya'... the traveling was rough. I'm terrible in planes... and here was the real kicker (if I can rant a bit off topic here): We basically flew American Airlines all the way (except for me going from Glasgow to Bristol and back, which was on British Airways). The transatlantic flights were as comfortable as we could've asked for... but coming back, the very last leg from Chicago to LA, was probably one of the worst flights I've ever been on. Granted, it was the last leg of a particularly grueling trip, but it honestly seemed like, once we were back on American soil (where the flights became completely domestic) the level of service went right down the fucking toilet. From the condition of the plane itself to the runway juggling at O'Hare to charging for headsets and snacks (!)... I mean, I guess I might've been expecting just the opposite, but the service abroad was absolutely outstanding on just about every level. I just kept thinking to myself... "No wonder the rest of the world hates us!"

I dunno... I guess that means I had a worthwhile experience. I was able to glean some new perspective on my homeland (heh). Kinda sobering, in this case. I mean, God bless fucking America, but come on! Why are we charging for headsets from Chicago to LAX?! So, hell yeah, I'm down with the UK, most definitely. Cheers to Mike Allwood for throwing a great party. From my POV, it was all optimism and alcohol… which is exactly what a good con should be.

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