NEW YORK COMIC CON ADVENTURES 2010
I've been to every New York Comic Con since they relaunched these suckers a handful of years ago, but this one may have been the most important yet. Both because it featured Television's Ryan Callahan in his first-ever east coast con appearance, and because it would culminate with the world premiere of a certain little documentary, "Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods," on the big screen.
I'll get to the genesis of that film a little later, but let's do this con report the old-fashioned way: through mockery and discussions of hamburgers. Oh, and with astute observations of the human condition.
DAY ONE: IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA AT THE TIME
Television's Ryan Callahan (who we'll just call The TVRC from now on, since that's his Twitter handle and you should all be following his rarely updated but life-changing world commentary) and I arrived a bit early to the show on Friday because even though I had my "Professional" badge mailed to me, The TVRC did not, and when it comes to conventions and waiting in lines, it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "where," "how long" and "really? We have to wait in THAT line to do this simple thing?"
Turns out that the line to get the badge was only two people long, so we were teased into thinking that we might be in for a, basically, line-free morning. But then we saw the mass of people milling around in some sort of gigantic pack, slowly being herded into a line to wait to get in through a single entrance once the doors to the convention floor opened up. Yeah, we'll wait outside until this stampede clears out. Once ten o'clock hits, we thought, all the entrances will open up, and this mass of "Professional" humanity (and since about 20% of the people in line for the Professionals Only hours were wearing full Predator costumes, we wondered what profession they were in, besides, I mean, intergalactic hunting) would dissipate.
No, while we waited outside to get some crisp New York air as we waited for the official start time -- and saw an even more popular costume, the bald-guy-with-glasses, which I was unwittingly cosplaying as, myself -- we learned that everyone would be funneled through a single entrance. We'd be forced to march single-file through a lone escalator, even as several other wide entrances remained guarded and blocked for no good reason. So, yes, there was extensive waiting in line to get in, possibly just to crush our early-morning spirits and remind us, remind ALL of us, even the sometimes-invisible killers from beyond the stars, that we were nothing special. Just grist for the comic book mill. Not even good grist, just the regular old kind, full of sadness.
The entrance we had to slowly march through, by the way, was labelled "VIP Entrance."
But inside? A world of wonder and enchantment, a mini-San Diego that replaced the Hollywood presence with two New York staples: book publishing and construction. The TVRC and I vowed to do a complete lap before buying anything. We didn't want to burden ourselves with our purchases and have to haul a load of comics goodness around all day. We made it around exactly one corner before we had our arms full of 20 pounds of hardcovers that we'd just bought. The guy was selling Masterworks and Absolute Editions at half price, and who were we to stick with our plan and avoid such temptation? Sure, one of the Professional Predators might have been able to resist, since their arms were full of human skulls and trophies of the kill already, but we needed those 50% off Steranko Nick Fury hardcovers and oversized "Watchmen" volumes. And the "Frank Miller Library: Sin City" volumes -- these things are out-of-print -- and yet they were going for half-off original retail? Madness, and we succumbed.
Even with the annoyance and discomfort of having to lug this stuff around all morning, it was still a better decision than the one I made later, where I joined artist Jason Horn and his wife to watch some purported comic book comedy performance.
But that's all part of the magic of any convention: you will inevitably regret some decisions, but it's fun to reflect of which ones you regret more. Puts all the good things in perspective, and lets you skip over the giant Intel booth that looked like a location from "WarGames" plopped into the entrance to the small press/artist's alley area.
Once you got past that oppressive display of towering screens and, well, I don't know what -- something to do with watching other people play point-and-click video games -- you could see the hallowed ground of the small press vendors. And the most important ten feet of real estate in New York all weekend, the Sequart booth, which featured stacks of books such as "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" (oh, look at that, I wrote that one!), and "Teenagers from the Future" (which, hey, I compiled and edited), and "Our Sentence is Up" (featuring my intro), or "Gotham City 14 Miles" (with my Sontagian chapter), or the hit of the convention, "Minutes to Midnight" (which sold out on day one, though certainly not JUST because of my lengthy essay inside). I assume most people have some sort of Tim Callahan shrine in their houses or apartments, but this one was on public display.
And right across from that booth? Traditional Comics, featuring the work of Benjamin Marra, whom The TVRC and I spoke with at length about the best hamburgers in the city, the post-NWA rap scene, and the work of one Eric Roberts.
That little corner of nirvana was also the place where I spoke with "Scalped" artist R. M. Guera about this first trip to America, and his passionate approach to drawing comics written by Jason Aaron. Shortly after that, as I walked the floor with Aaron and his collaborator, Guera spoke at length with Jason Latour about the art of making, well, comic book art, and I was right there to soak it all in. Guera, a comic book veteran, understands the grammar of graphic narrative as well as anyone I've ever heard speak on the subject, and his description of his own approach to "Scalped," how he tries to find the reality in the awkwardness of situations (like when Dash and Diesel got into a shooting fight, and the normal comic book temptation would be to make the scene overly heroic and dramatic, while Guera looked for the off-balance moments to emphasize). He also pontificated on the importance of looking toward the end point rather than the line you're actually drawing, which is not only strong artistic advice, but it's about as good of a metaphor for life as any I've ever heard.
DAY TWO: THINGS FELL INTO PLACE QUITE NICELY, DIDN'T THEY?
The TVRC and I got off to a late start on Saturday morning, because we knew we'd be in for a long day with a near-midnight screening (and World Premiere! of "Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods") to attend and parties to grace with our presence.
So we didn't even make it to the convention until after lunch, and then it was all a crush of humanity -- at one point, just after we'd begun our first Day Two lap, the crowd marching past the Japanese costume displays and superhero statue stands just stopped. Dead. No movement, except the push of new con-goers coming behind and bumping into us as we all stood there. It was like a slow-motion, human, version of one of the pile-ups from "CHiPs," but even Erik Estrada couldn't have saved us. Maybe he could have, but he was nowhere to be found. (He probably was at a Wizard World show somewhere else that day.)
But the congestion slowly fragmented, for a second, and The TVRC and I ducked down a side hallway to realize that we needed to get out of the retail area and head over to Artist's Alley, which was considerably more inhabitable. Plus, Cliff Chiang was there. And so were Jamie McKelvie, and Kieron Gillen. And Ben Marra of Traditional Comics, who is a beacon of narrative splendor in these days of homogenized corporate comics. Plus, he is hilarious.
The day part of Day Two was considerably less eventful than the night that was to come, but I had a great conversation with Scott Snyder, and though I can't tell anyone anything about what's coming up with "Detective Comics, " you can know this: Wow. It sounds like it's going to be pretty amazing. Particularly the Gordon back-up, which, even with the DC announcement of price drops and back-up cuts, looks like it will remain intact long enough for Snyder and Francesco Francavilla to tell their story.
And Day Two also featured one of the Greatest Panels Ever Seen on Earth, with the likes of Mark Waid, Bob Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg, and me talking about the Adam West "Batman" show, and the audience seemingly as enamored with Adam West as the panelists were. It wasn't my first experience on a panel, but it was my first NYCC panel gig, and it went by quickly, had plenty of laughs, and gave me a chance to talk about Liberace.
But the real action happened when The TVRC met up with journalist Zack Smith's self-proclaimed "Algonquin Round Table" of 2010, and we had dinner, and real, substantial conversations with Michael Easton and Peter Straub, Randy Lander and Paul Benjamin, Lev Grossman and Barry Lyga, and Junot Diaz and Chip Kidd. Talking to Peter Straub about our common teaching experiences and critical writing about comics, making D&D jokes with Lev Grossman, and hearing Junot Diaz talk about the structure of "Hellboy 2," well, it was pretty great as far as geek talk and good times and great company go. Even if Randy Lander did totally swipe that first piece of pizza from me.
That dinner party wound down just in time for us to head over to the premiere of the Morrison documentary, and though the theater wasn't enormous, it was a sizeable place, and it was packed with people, some of whom showed up just to see a movie that night and had never even heard of Grant Morrison (yes, those people exist). I sat in the mid-to-back with The TVRC, Ninjasaur's Jason Horn, and the sure-to-be-a-great-force-in-comics-relatively-soon Amedeo Turturro. The group behind us was uproarious with applause after the screening, and one guy said, "that was like a REAL movie," while another guy said, "I never read a Grant Morrison comic, but now I want to read them ALL." So, yeah, pretty good show. And my face on the screen was huge. Hope you're not frightened when you see it for yourself.
DAY THREE: COME OUT AND PLAY
The third and final day was much abbreviated as it was time to pack up and head home with only a short stop on the convention floor, but I did get to bring my wife and daughter with me so they could bask in the splendor of multiple Predators and a really big guy wearing a school girl uniform and bright pink wig. My daughter was more than game, though, being an experienced first grader with little fear, and she trotted around all day with a green Top Cow balloon in one hand and a to-scale Alien "face hugger on a stick" in the other.
I had a detour at the official panel for the Morrison documentary, where I joined the crew and spoke about how the project came to be, and what role my Morrison book played in the whole thing. Short version: I met the Sequart guys at the first year of the New York Comic Con, we had my book ready for the following year, and I met Patrick Meaney, the director, the year after that and he has continued to surprise me with his intelligence, dedication, and skill ever since. The guy's good and he's just getting started.
The panel attendees had some great questions, but I found one of them particularly interesting. Someone asked, after seeing some clips from the film shown to the audience that day, if the filmmakers had any independent sources verifying some of the stranger assertions made my Morrison throughout his career. Basically, the guy was asking, "Did you get anyone to corroborate Morrison's story of alien abduction in Katmandu?" Patrick Meaney responded clearly and articulately, basically mentioning how Morrison himself explains what happened in the documentary, but then Patrick ended with the notion that the audiences would have to judge for themselves how they interpret the event.
I thought about jumping in and saying something, but I felt Patrick's point stood on its own. If I did jump in, however, I would have taken the discussion in a slightly different direction. I would have asked, perhaps rhetorically, if it even mattered if the alien abduction experience were true if Morrison believed it to be true? In other words, does the power of a narrative diminish if it can not be independently verified as factual? In the case of Morrison's personal experience, all that matters, as far as I'm concerned, is that he believes what he experienced that day in Katmandu, and he filtered that experience through the pages of "The Invisibles" for the world to experience in their own way.
Maybe I should have mentioned that at the panel, and started a Socratic dialogue about the nature of belief vs. reality. Yeah, it's probably smart that I didn't, because that crowd -- out of any assembled all weekend -- would definitely have been up for such a discussion and the Will Eisner panel would have been delayed indefinitely.
Plus, I had to get out of there and meet the Savage Critics' own Jeff Lester, he of the "Wait, What?" podcast (aka, my favorite podcast, besides my own. Okay, I like it even better than my own), and of comic book knowledge in general. Guess what we talked about as we walked around? Mostly, Grant Morrison. Sad, I know.
The final adventure of the con was one I shared with my family, as we met up with the insanely talented Camilla d'Errico and my daughter received a special gift. You see, a year ago, I was reviewing "Sky Pirates of Neo-Terra" for CBR, and my daughter saw me reading it, and it looked pretty great to her, so she wanted to see what it was all about. I read the issue to her, and then I said, "Hey, I have to review this, and I think it's about a 4-star comic. What would you give it?" Without hesitation, she shouted "Twelve Stars!!!" And I mentioned her endorsement in my review that month.
The Image folks used her "Twelve Star" commendation as a blurb on the front cover of one of the issues, along with her name and age, and when we introduced ourselves to Camilla, she was excited to finally meet the tiny reviewer with such good taste. Camilla gave my daughter a gorgeous sketch of one of the Sky Pirate characters, and my daughter fell in love a little bit.
So to all of the CBR readers out there talking about bribes for good reviews, I guess it does happen after all. If you're six years old, and you cheat by giving out extra stars.
And with that, we said goodbye to The TVRC and New York, and headed back to our quiet little corner of the world, burdened with heavy hardcovers and memories of a wonderful weekend. There aren't any lines to wait in around here, and there aren't nearly as many Predators, but it's all a little too quiet. Too light on comic book overload. I think it's time for a Western Massachusetts Comic Con. We have plenty of room. Everyone can crash at my place (no, you can't).
In addition to writing WHEN WORDS COLLIDE for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.
Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan