Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Emerald City ComiCon

I woke up around 8:00AM on Saturday morning after a late night out and it was only because of the beginning of Emerald City ComiCon that I was motivated enough to get out of bed. I knew I should arrive a bit early and thankfully the Washington State Convention Center is about a 5 minute walk downhill from my apartment. I figured there'd be a line, but I had no idea I'd be standing in it for nearly half an hour. This quickly proved itself to be a benefit in disguise.

Standing in the neat, zig-zagging line, I was able to assess a great many of my counterparts. I would certainly consider myself a fan, but I am not one to layer X-Men track jacket upon Spiderman button-up upon Watchmen-smiley-face-T-shirt or dress up in Jedi robes-(that said, I do own a double-bladed lightsaber). Emerald City ComiCon was, by the way, my first explicitly "fan" convention. As I looked around at the people around me, I realized the great diversity of fandom, in age, appearance, build, behavior and manner of dress-everyone from the sprite young Batmans and Robins, to the sultry Poison Ivys, Scarlet Witches and Princess Leias in her slave outfit(some of which should not have been wearing the latter costume), to one sweet older woman in a wheelchair dressed as a Jedi Knight. Families were present too and one family dressed their daughter up as the gold-plated robot from Doctor Who, and the result was adorable.

I had arrived at about 9:45 and as the clock ticked closer to 10:00 when they would officially open the doors-though I would end up waiting another 20 minutes or so to get in-the elevators directly to my left opened. Do you ever look around in a room where you don't expect to see anyone you know and then suddenly your eyes lock on a familiar face and a rush of relief comes over you? Well, that happened to me, except that I really didn't know who I saw, but the faces were unmistakable. Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett and Michael Hogan standing a few feet away. They walked right by into the convention hall and that was when I got really excited.

When I walked into the grandiose space, I had no idea where to start. Booths stretched ahead, to the left and right for hundreds of yards. I meandered for a bit and I stopped suddenly at the booth of artist John Tyler Christopher. I eventually purchased this print that had caught my eye, one of The White Queen aka Emma Frost from X-Men. It was also the catalyst for a weekend-long creative dialogue as I ended up bringing every friend I encountered at the convention to look at Christopher's artwork. I told him how much I liked the print and how Frost lends herself so well the use of negative space and that led into a conversation about how I still wasn't convinced I felt "like I should be there" as it was so different from any conference I had been to previously. He said that, like the attendees of the ComiCon, artists too are split between those that create and show popular art because it is simply "cool" and those that are more passionate and have a vested interested in the subject matter and artistic influences of their work. Christopher, for example, is heavily influenced by Alphonse Mucha and various mythological sources. Much of his work has an Art Nouveau flair, but he also has images that are viscerally striking like his prints he did as a personal project on the seven deadly sins-grotesque, yes, but with an underlying understanding of spirituality and the human condition. When I mentioned my most recent presentation at the Southwest Texas American and Popular Culture Association, he asked if he could read the paper so I was delighted to send a copy a few days later. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Right next to Christopher's table was that of Georges Jeanty, artist on the Buffy Season 8 comics. He pencils and creates an alternate cover for almost every issue. Since it was still early in the day, there were not too many people around his table, so I was able to engage him on a number of points about the production of a comic book. I didn't realize, for one, that for mainstream comics, artists produce their layouts on an 11x17 scale. Georges had a sizable stack of original penciled and inked pages from the comics that were available for purchase at $100 each-a little steep for me, but they were stunning, despite not being colored. I did however, get Georges to sign a copy of an issue of Buffy and include an original head sketch on one of his sketchbooks for me. I asked for Willow. He was very nice and touched on the work that goes on between the writer and artist and it sounds like a very organic process. I brought up the fact that I mentioned in my Columbia interview how much I would love to work with Jane Espenson one day and he then talked to me extensively about his work with her, specifically regarding her upcoming 5-issue story arc surrounding the character of Oz. He exchanges emails with PDFs and JPEGs of his work and phone calls with her on a daily basis. The script he receives for the comic book is very similar to a television script and the creation of an issue is extremely collaborative with ideas being constantly exchanged. He'll draw little thumbnails in the margins of the script, map out some layouts and scan them so Jane can make comments. According to Georges, Jane is incredibly warm and unassuming. He explained how Joss is much like that too and because he surrounds himself with such talented and caring individuals, every team he creates is solid creatively and socially.

From Georges' table it was just a few steps away to Jewel "Kaylee" Staite's signing table, so I coughed up the fee and had her sign a copy of my Firefly Visual Companion: Volume 1, which I spent a great deal of time with when working on my Firefly paper. "For Ian: Stay Shiny! Jewel Staite." I admit I was a little giddy, so I kind of awkwardly scampered off after she signed my book-and I didn't want to hold up the people behind me. She was absolutely gorgeous and most friendly.

Later that day, I attended the following panels:

A look at the movies of 2009-2012 with a special segment on the latest news on the status of many Super Hero movies. Plus a Q&A with host Gareth Von Kallenbach, syndicated film reviewer & radio personality

At this panel, I may have scored a free Watchmen t-shirt, thus clenching my rightful status as a fan at the Con.

Director of publicity Jeremy Atkins, along with Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie, present an exclusive preview of all that Dark Horse has to offer in the coming year. With breaking news on all of your favorite Dark Horse titles, and exciting new projects to be announced, be the first to know about everything from heroes to horror.

During the Q&A, I asked Scott Allie what the future of the Buffy comics held as far as the number of issues for Season 8 as well as the potential for Season 9. He said Season 8 has been locked in at a full 40 issues-we are currently on #24 as I write this-and Season 9 is definitely a go after a hiatus when 8 wraps up. Later I got Scott Allie's autograph on the first trade paperback of Season 8, "The Long Way Home."

Upon walking into the conference hall the next day, the first people I see are Tahmoh Penikett and Michael Hogan. In the flesh, talking to 2 or 3 people beside the front door. My peripheral vision blurred for about 10 seconds as I beelined my way to shake their hands. They said hello and were on their way to their autograph tables.

Sunday afternoon's panels were fantastic:

The show is over, but questions still remain. Join three of the most popular BSG cast members, Tahmoh Penikett ("Helo"), Aaron Douglas ("Chief Tyrol") and Michael Hogan ("Colonel Tigh") for this great Q&A session!

There was a massive line even a half hour before the scheduled start time, so Mecque, Randy, Blake and I were not sure we'd make it in to get a seat. We did by about 20+ people. Aaron Douglas, Tahmoh Penikett and Michael Hogan were all present. Michael said little overall, though he did give us a classic "Fraaaaakk!" on cue. Tahmoh is just as collected, admirable and strong as his two characters, Helo on BSG and Paul Ballard on Dollhouse. He carried himself very well. And who knew Aaron was such a joker? Aaron was making cracks at every turn-reminding me that this was a "fan" convention, deviating from the more serious, analytical and creative tone I wish the panel had taken. Still, it was great to see these actors and hear them discuss the merits of each other-especially Michael's acting chops in addition to praising other actors in the show, notably Edward "Eddie" James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, who sounds like one of the most beautiful, talented women on the planet.

Join Mike Mignola as we discusses his career, his famous creation Hellboy and much more. Moderated by Hellboy editor Scott Allie.

This was actually one of the most informative panels of the weekend. One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion concerned Mike Mignola's diverse influences and research sources. I paraphrase Mike here, "I would say that about 80% of my books remained unopened, that is to say, opened past the Table of Contents. I look at that page and say, 'Oh, wow, that's like 32 Hellboy stories!'" As a dramaturg and research enthusiast, I'm fascinated by that sort of approach to intertextual storytelling. He and Scott also gave a few pointers to those individuals pursuing university programs in the creative arts. The rundown: a) you can't depend on your teachers to provide you with all the tools and guidance you need b) be specific about what you want to do creatively c) get to know people d) be dedicated and driven.

Wil Wheaton (Author, Actor, Gamer, Geek, Blogger, Raconteur) invites you to get your geek on during this hour-long Q&A. There may or may not be punch and pie (most likely not).

Perhaps the most enjoyable hour and a half of the Con. Wil Wheaton is so much more than a figurehead for geek culture though that is a role at which he excells with humor and humility. "I don't use 'nerds' pejoratively. I use it awesomeatively." -Wil Wheaton. My friend Mecque had the opportunity to ask Wheaton the very last question of the panel-one that stemmed from a tweet wilw had sent a couple days before wherein he wished he had answered a question differently in an interview. Mecque asked that very same question again and this time Wheaton was ready. "What do you do with a twenty-sided die?" Wheaton beamed, pausing while the audience erupted in applause. "Everything."

I would say other than the two great conversations I had with John Christopher and Georges Jeanty and the encounters with celebrities, one of the best things about the whole show was the amazing artistry that was represented by all the exhibitors. The entire show room was full of talented individuals who illustrate in a wide stylistic range using an array of creative tools from digital Wacom tablets, colored pencil, collage techniques to 3 or or 4 different types of ink pens. By the end of the show on Sunday, I had acquired three striking 11x17 colored prints, each featuring-entirely by chance-a woman in some stylized representation, the first being the Emma Frost print, the second a dark sunset above a silhouette of a woman whose hair twists up into the black clouds by an artist from Vancouver, and the third, seen here, by writer and artist, Stuart Sayger, who told me that he couldn't decide between penning a horror comic or a romance. From this Shiver in the Dark was born, an evocative, sensual gothic horror with a beautiful woman at its center.

This weekend was my first and probably my last Emerald City ComiCon as I move to the other side of the country later this summer, but it will certainly not be my last ComiCon. Yesterday, I started putting a few future events of the same genre in my calendar. Boston ComiCon October 24th-25th, 2009 and New York ComiCon October 8-19, 2010 are a couple of them I hope to attend as an art enthuiast, dramaturg, writer, creative thinker, collaborator, academic and of course, a fan.


Sagacious T said...

A great read, especially since I missed it this year. Kudos to your friend for re-asking the 20d question @wilw had mentioned in his tweet...what a great way to end the Q&A!

If you have never heard it, go listen to the @wilw opening address from PAX's a little long, but soooo worth it.

Kj said...

Ian- I really enjoy hearing you interact with visual art

Kj said...

also- thanks for introducing me (for realsies) to comic books