Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fifth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Love the Nightlife

While many comic convention attendees think the show ends when the sales floor closes, savvy fans know that this is when the best part of the convention just begins! 

Along with the masquerade balls, film screenings, and awards shows that make up the official evening programming at many conventions, great fun can be had outside of the convention center every night.  Rather than fleeing to your car and heading back home right away, consider remaining in the vicinity of the convention center or the official convention hotel.  Here you'll see some of your favorite creators and celebrities in a more social setting, and see some unexpected events.  You may end up seeing pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon out getting an ice cream; find yourself sitting down to dinner with a group of Legion of Super Heroes fans you've never met before, just because you had open chairs at your table; or even happen upon a famous film writer/producer/director assisting a young woman in distress as paramedics arrive.*  The types of interactions you can't have during the show, and couldn't make up if you tried, occur at night. 

Of course, this is to say nothing of the bar scene.  On a typical evening, the bars of local hotels teem with creators networking, visiting with friends they only see at cons, or blowing off steam from a challenging convention day.  This makes for tremendous people-watching, to say the least.  Even better, if you use your very best social skills, and if someone is open to it, you may even be able to buy your favorite creator a drink and have a short chat with them.  As of today, at Comic-Con International in San Diego, this opportunity for outside-of-the-con entertainment has been extended to all hours of the day with the creation of Tr!ckster, a space across from the convention providing food service, creator signings and events, an art gallery, and more.

Whether spending time with creators or just your pals, taking advantage of these opportunities enhances the con experiece.  Hanging out with old friends, making new ones, sharing a meal or tipping back a beverage or two, and catching up on convention goings-on and life in general can be the most rewarding experiences of any con.  For me, those convention memories have become some of my most cherished.  So hang out after the closing bell, and make some memories of your own.

* All actual events that have occurred to me or in my presence after-hours.

This is the fifth of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Fourth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Not Shit on Other Fans

I've tried to be generic with these Conmandments, but I imagine this one applies more to the San Diego Comic Con than most other shows.

While working at the Atomic Tiki Studio booth in San Diego last year, I noticed a young woman walk by with a sign sticking up overhead from the top of her backpack.  It read, "Real vampires don't sparkle."  As she walked down the aisle, she garnered a few laughs, some comments, and even one high-five.  Well, I have a message for this woman.

Fuck you.  And fuck those of you that laughed, encouraged, and high-fived her. 

This sort of statement, one designed not to bolster something you enjoy, but to denigrate something that others care about, brings everyone down.  "Real vampires don't sparkle."  Guess what else real vampires don't do?  EXIST.  Don't pretend that preferring one fictional universe over another somehow makes you cooler than anyone else.  In a year in which we've seen the harm done both to Katie because she dared to enjoy Star Wars and to Boo for committing the crime of dressing as Scooby Doo's Daphne on Halloween, can we finally admit that flying an anti-Twilight (or anything else) flag is a rotten thing to do?  It's been going on for years now, and it needs to end.  If you love Buffy and find that Twilight isn't for you, that's fine, but maybe you should consider embracing the Twilight fans, and showing them this other awesome universe they might also like, rather than belittling them.

This applies not just to Twilight, but to any area of fandom that comes under attack.  Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Marvel vs. DC, US comics vs. manga, fourth Doctor vs. tenth Doctor, etc., can all make for fun debates.  Discussing tastes and distastes among friends is one thing, but carrying a sign that openly mocks a group of fans serves no purpose than to ruin their good time.  You become the Fred Phelps of geekdom. 

By the way, to those who hoisted the "Twilight ruined Comic-Con" signs a couple years ago, consider this:  according to Bookscan numbers as reported by Brian Hibbs in his Tilting at Windmills column, the Twilight graphic novel volume 1 was the second-highest selling graphic novel of 2011, moving over 126,000 copies and beating the first superhero book on the list by more than 86,000 copies.  So for all the anti-Twilight sentiment, it appears the Twilight crowd are buying comics in large quantities, far more than supposed Comic-Con "purists." 

The banners hanging around San Diego read "Celebrating the Popular Arts."  That attitude should be shared by the attendees.  We should be celebrating the things we enjoy, and trying to bring new fans into the fold.  Leave your snark and bile at the hotel.  Bring the love.

This is the fourth of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Third Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Peruse Small Press

Some parts of a convention floor are as unexplored by con veterans as they are by newcomers, and that's really a shame. At large conventions, fans flock to meet their favorite creators, and the crowds around the A-list writers and artists in the major publishers' booths or in Artists' Alley can become huge. When you find yourself overwhelmed by the masses, there's one place you can seek solace and discover some great comics at the same time. Off to the side or in the back of the convention floor, tucked away in its own little world, you'll see the Small-Press Area.

While usually sparsely populated, the Small-Press Area offers the opportunity to discover creators, characters, and books that you likely won't find anywhere else (outside of a convention devoted solely to the small press, such as the MOCCA Festival, APE, or SPX). Here you'll see comics fueled by passion, with characters and concepts the creators have developed on their own time, and about which they care deeply. Best of all, for those who don't appreciate superheroes, the work you will find in the Small-Press Area of a convention will include stories in almost any genre or on any topic you can imagine. You name it, someone has probably done a comic about it, and many of those comics can only be found here.

In the Small Press Area, you also have the chance to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Several properties that started out as books from small press companies, if not in the Small Press Areas of conventions, have achieved significant mainstream success. Dave Stevens' Rocketeer, made into a film in 1991 and just now coming back into popularity with a new anthology series from IDW, was originally published by a small company named Pacific Comics. The Tick, which has gone on to star in dozens of comics, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and a live-action series, started as a mascot in the newsletter of a comic shop, New England Comics. Jeff Smith's Bone and Dave Sim's Cerebus, both hugely successful, were, for the most part, self-published. Perhaps the best known success story from small press would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-published the first issue of TMNT, reportedly with money from a tax return and a loan from a relative. From these humble beginnings, small press creations can turn into some of the most beloved characters in entertainment, and you can say you knew them when…

As an added bonus, many of a convention's best bargains can be found in the Small-Press Area in the guise of mini-comics. Mini-comics, often made at the size of a standard piece of paper folded in half, and usually printed either at Kinko's or at the office on the sly (that's where I did mine…shhh!), offer the reader a chance to sample an artist's work, usually for a much lower price than a normal comic issue. Forget paying $3.99 for a comic! I'll take a mini-comic for $1 or $2 any day, and learn about an amazing new talent. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; some creators have to charge a little more to cover Kinko's or ink cartridge costs, some choose to deck out their mini-comics with more expensive cover stock or paper, giving them a unique look and feel. (The work of Ryan Claytor comes to mind in that regard.) Nevertheless, at any price, minis are a great way to see a new creator as they develop their skills and try their hands at storytelling.

In the interest of full disclosure, my blog about Small Press would be incomplete without mentioning the work of Steve Bryant (Athena Voltaire, Cipher), Jim Heffron (Territory 51, Anna Arky, The Further Adventures of D.B. Cooper, It Tolls for Thee), and Michael Heffron (Aunomati). In recent years I have worked on some of their books, and have spent time behind the table with them in the Small Press Area in San Diego. Seeing the effort that they--and everyone in the Small Press Area--put into making and selling their comics, all in the name of getting their stories told, makes me have an even greater respect for the creative process, and that's something in which you might want to share.

So when you're in line to meet Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Stuart Immonen, or Jim Lee, remember that they and many other well-known comic creators got their start on small press books. Head on over to the Small Press Area, and discover tomorrow's A-list creators for yourself.

This is the third of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.