NEW YORK COMIC CON 2012
I spent Sunday at the New York Comic Con. It would be easy enough to write 2000 words about overcrowding and costume freaks and poor hygiene choices. I'd rather talk about all the little things that delighted me, instead. There were a lot of those that added up to an enjoyable afternoon at the show, the kinds of things that give me hope for the current state of comics and the future of comics, as well.
After the convention, I checked Facebook to see all my non-comics friends excited for the season premiere of "The Walking Dead" that night. It turns out a couple of them have even picked up the first and second trade of the series, too. There's hope for this world. Fifteen million people joined them. And while I do like to tweak people around the office by saying random things like, "It's not about the zombies" or "They all become zombies and die," it's an exciting time for television when a show like "The Walking Dead" has replaced "The Sopranos" for Monday morning water cooler talk.
Anyway, on to the show:
The New York Comic Con has an incredibly large comic book convention hidden just to the right of it. Segregating Artist Alley to a separate part of the building may have been done out of construction necessity, but I think it was the best decision I've ever seen at a convention. In effect, it produced a second mini-con focused strictly on comic book creators. The roster of creators at the show, from a 'mainstream' fan's perspective, was enormous. It wasn't just artists, either, as writers, letterers, and colorists had booths, too. If I gave you the blow-by-blow of who was sitting next to who, it would blow your mind. I don't think the Alley in San Diego is as exciting as the one I saw in New York on Sunday. I overheard Jimmy Palmiotti calling it the largest Artist Alley ever in comics. I don't think he's wrong, at least in North America.
By being segregated and having generally wide aisles, there was breathing room in Artist Alley. There also weren't many long lines. I never saw a line stretch out past too many booths. I never saw a roped out section for the overflow of guests, save perhaps one small one that George Perez had. You had quick and easy access to the biggest names in comics over the weekend. I saw Steve McNiven without a line. I saw Mark Bagley sketching for a line that wrapped around his corner booth, but even that was only a half dozen people deep. Erik Larsen would have been crushed at the Image Booth, but got to spend a more "leisurely" convention at his table, with a much smaller but continuous group of fans. In general, the spread of big names in the Alley was enough to ensure that no one single creator got all the attention.
You know whose booth looked the busiest to me in the entirety of Artist Alley? Katie Cook's. She consistently had a line that never grew out of control or so long that you wouldn't get on it if you were interested, nor did it let up from what I saw. I found that positive and encouraging. The people at NYCC weren't just there for the superhero Big Two stuff.
I also saw the cutest moment of the day, from a comics professional point of view. Jim Steranko was walking across Artist Alley when a college-aged girl practically squeeled upon spotting him and ran up to him to ask for a hug. Steranko, being either modest or self-deprecating, said to her, "I don't think you know who I am."
She proved that she did, and a hug was had. I almost stopped dead in my tracks to say, "Awwww."
I don't know what the percentages were exactly, but I also think this show had the best male/female ratio I've ever seen. When I saw women walking around Artist Alley buying original art, it was almost like I had jumped into the future I never thought I'd see. It's been two or three years since I've been to a convention, so maybe this is the new norm that I'm now seeing. It should be noted that the women I saw buying original art did it from the artists directly and not by browsing through the bins of original art at dealer booths. Perhaps, if we're generalizing horrendously here, women art buyers prefer a more personal purchasing experience? My evidence is strictly anecdotal here, but I'd be curious is others saw the same thing.
The unexpected highlight of the show was seeing Juanjo Guardino behind a stack of copies of "Blacksad" and doing commissions during the day. He had restricted signing times on his books for the first and last hour of the day. Per European comics tradition, that also meant a sketch in every album he was signing. He spent the rest of his time on a drawing board on top of his table, working on commissions for all the world to see. He sold out of his copies of the second Dark Horse volume of "Blacksad," but I was able to pick up a copy of Volume 1 for him to sign and sketch in.
Amazingly, Guardino -- a Spanish artist who doesn't come to America frequently, I don't think -- never had a line at his table until those signing hours, and then the line was barely six people deep. I think I waited five minutes for him to do sketches for all of them. He's good and he's fast at those head shots. I didn't talk with him because, well, I didn't know how good his English was and didn't want to make a big deal of it. I did ask for a picture, though, and got this:
I'm thrilled to add the book to my collection, and it occupies a place of pride on my bookshelf.
I'm happy that Dark Horse picked this one up, and I hope they do more with European albums. I wish someone would pick up Boulet's art blog next, for example. That's ready to be published in English, and I know he'd entertain offers...
Saw a lot of old friends in the Alleys, as well as a couple of new ones. First, I present to you Mr. Erik Larsen, who managed to catch his con cold before the end of the con. There's a joke in there about an Image Founder being ahead of schedule, but I'll let you make it.
Sitting just a couple tables down from him was Joe Keatinge and his "Hell Yeah" artistic partner (and fellow New Jerseyan) Andre Szymanowicz, whose name will take a while to spell right naturally. (I figured out Straczynski quickly enough, though, so there's hope.) Both were excited for the next story to begin in the new year, and are busily working to keep ahead of schedule to keep the issues flowing out.
It was with them that I had the conversation for the first of many times about how easily we fall behind on our reading. I discovered this when I finally cleaned up the monthly issues that lay scattered across my 'home office.' I was able to piece together entire mini-series I hadn't read because I had lost an issue somewhere along the way, or because I had fallen behind and didn't realize how far ahead the series had gone. Right now, I'm sitting on multiple mini-series I could finally read end to end without skipping a beat. That's a nice luxury. Plus, I can't keep the details straight on multiple monthlies anymore, so reading books on a monthly basis is something I do sparingly.
This conversation carried through with Mike Norton, sitting a couple tables up. Between Norton, Larsen, and I, you're looking at 19 feet of height. But Norton has the manliest beard. He also has three issues of his series with Tim Seeley, "Revival" already on store shelves. I had to admit that I've only read the first issue there, but now that I had all three together, I'm more likely to go back and catch up. Even more likely, I'll read the trade when it hits in December.
Another recurring thread to my conversations was Twitter-centric. There are any number of creators I follow on Twitter. You get to know them pretty well there. And then when you want to meet them, you need to remember that it's not necessarily a two-way street. If you're not talking to them on Twitter a lot, you're another face in the crowd. So I had one or two moments of introducing myself as my Twitter handle and realizing I had probably never exchanged messages with them there. Awkward.
Met Joe Caramagna at the convention, who's a "Twitter Friend" (@JoeCaramagna) who knew who I was. We had a nice chat about politics, Northern New Jersey eateries, lettering for Marvel, and his plans to retire to write dime novels while overlooking the water. The man's a regular Mark Twain. He also has a mustache thing coming up next week. Everyone was posing with that postcard, including Caramagna:
Talked to Ben Caldwell, who's best known for "Wednesday Comics," I'd guess, though I first enjoyed his "Dare Detective" books. His Twitter feed (@BenCaldwellArt)is worth subscribing to. He posts lots of sketches up there, and they're beautiful. He told me his sketchbooks sell better than his comics at shows, and I can believe it. There's a vitality and a creativity in those loose pencil lines that stands out.
Caught up with Todd Nauck at the end of the day, who's still about the most cheerful and busy comics artist I've ever seen at a con. He's a sketching machine, and had a new sketchbook for sale. It was the end of the show, so we didn't have a chance to chat much, but I did get him to put down his favorite Copic pens for a minute to take a picture.
Finally, I wrapped up the show with Jim Calafiore and Mike McKone. After showing them the "Blacksad" hardcover I had picked up from Juanjo Guarnido across the hall, I had to run back to get the last two copies at the table for them. Those noir talking animals are an easy sell.
Overheard in Artists Alley: "Look! More tentacles."
ACTUAL POST-CON CONVERSATION WITH MY WIFE
WIFE: "I told one of the neighbors that you were at the convention. They said they had seen something on TV about My Little Pony fans."
ME: "Yeah, the Bronies?"
WIFE: "It scares me that you know even that much."
THE NEWS OF THE CON
Agent Coulson lives. Forgive me my one shameless fanboy moment of the convention, but that's the biggest news of the show. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of upcoming creator-owned books coming out in the months ahead that are exciting as well. There are also big new launches coming from DC and Marvel to capitalize on old favorites. But there are so many of them that I couldn't give you a single title and creator combination if my life depended on it right now. As they come out, I'll be reading them and the internet will buzz over them for a few days.
But Agent Coulson's return to the SHIELD television series is just plain old cool. Who doesn't love that guy?
The good news for the world of comics, though, is that the publishers were busy announcing comics-related things and not Hollwood things. Aside from the Coulson news, every new thing from Marvel and DC was talking about new series and creator shifts. (Paul Pelletier on "Aquaman" is very good news, indeed.) Maybe it's a quirk of timing or distance from Hollywood, but NYCC announcements about print projects overwhelmed the silver screen/TV stuff for a change.
I know there were Hollywood panels at the show. I just haven't heard a single thing about them. Not even the Firefly panel.
Rich Johnston finally gave me news to get me excited about the relaunched Valiant: There are two old-but-never-published "Quantum and Woody" issues coming to Comixology. That might be the most exciting publishing news of the convention for me and all of 1997's USENET.
UP ON THE MAIN FLOOR -- BUT MOSTLY THE COSPLAYERS
It was loud. Lots of people were dancing Gangnam Style. I saw at least three booths doing the same shtick. It got old fast. Pity the people near those booths who had to hear that looped all day long.
The booths seemed bigger and more elaborate this year than ever for the major players. DC's booth has its own zip code now and is bordering on its own gravitational force, given the energy of the people streaming in and out. Archaia had an interesting layout complete with TVs to announcing signing schedules and a wall of bookshelves to sell their goods. Marvel had a stage with a loud sound system and an area off to the side for video game players on the Kinect to flail about. The old set-ups of cute little mini-scaffolding and a few tables for autographs and posters is over. It's all multi-media and high tech today.
I saw Grant Morrison sitting at a table in the middle of the main showroom floor signing autographs with all of six people in line. I'm guessing that's because all of the people looking to meet comic professionals were in Artist Alley.
I didn't spend much time in the main floor area because of the overcrowding. There was a large section for comic book dealers, and lots of smaller publishers were present. But they were overshadowed by the video game companies and the biggest publishers and all of their sound systems.
You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen Doctor Who cosplayers. I guess it's the easiest thing to go as, though I still saw a Spider Jerusalem, a couple of Black Widows, a female Asian Nightwing with the most professional-looking costume of all, and a whole lot of Nintendo cosplayers, as well.
I saw lots of cameras draped around lots of necks. They're getting more professional, too. I was carrying my trusty Canon 60D with me. I saw another one of those, as well as a 5D Mark III. That guy held his camera high in the air to prevent accidental bumpage. Can't say as I blame him. It's a $3000 camera in high demand.
But as easy as it is to make fun of the costumes -- and there were lots of questionable ones -- there were others to melt your heart.
- A professional-looking Felix the Cat was wandering the con floor. When a little boy (age 7 or 8, maybe?) in a Doctor Who costume saw Felix, he turned around, screamed, and gave Felix a big hug. I literally heard people walking by saying "awwww" out loud.
- Saw a mother with her two kids. The girl was dressed as Princess Peach and the boy as Luigi. He was carrying a TMNT backpack.
- Saw one girl (10 years old, maybe) in a princess costume of some kind (Aurora? Peach?) taking a picture of two cosplayers dressed as Catwoman and Miss Marvel and then smiling back at her parents afterwards.
- When I first walked in, the teenage girls were shrieking over a three foot square walking Tardis. My ears almost bled when their screaming got higher-pitched because Doctor Who jumped out of the Tardis to say hello. That was nice.
- Saw a father dressed as Bane holding his daughter's hand. She was dressed as Batgirl. Odd pairing on many levels, but ridiculously cute.
- Saw one baby dressed up in what looked like a furry one piece pajamas outfit. I told myself he was dressed up for the con and smiled at it.
Just outside of Artist Alley, there was a carpeted area with a NYCC backdrop set-up to take pictures at. It wasn't being used that much, unfortunately. For most people, pictures of people in costume are random events that happen on the show floor. Moving fifteen minutes away to a proper staging area is asking a bit much. It's a shame, too, because there was nice diffuse light coming in from windows on both sides. There were some nice pictures to be had there. I also noticed a couple of photographers set up at the show with white backdrops to take your pictures at.
Professional video cameras were out in full force throughout the show, but they would quickly stop recording and turn away when there wasn't someone in a costume walking by. That's all the "mainstream" media wants, people. Marvel's "The Avengers" makes a billion friggin' dollars, "The Walking Dead" is the most successful cable television show of all time -- and they still don't get it.
Overheard from an attendee shuffling along in the crowd and getting nowhere fast: "We ARE the Walking Dead."
TO SUM HALF OF IT UP
There's more to talk about, more pictures to show, more artists to name drop. Thankfully, I have another column next week for that.
Things were so crazy that I even did an interview with CBR TV. I'll let you know when that goes up in the coming weeks. It was fun chatting with Jonah and I hope that shows.
I'm not sure I could have survived four full days of that convention, and I talked to a lot of people on Sunday who clearly were the worse for wear. But for a day trip, it was an awful lot of fun. I might pack a little bit lighter next time and I might focus more on creator photography, but otherwise I wouldn't change a thing.
Great job, NYCC Folks. Hopefully, I'll see you next year!