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Comics Come Alive at SDCC

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Comics Come Alive at SDCC

So, San Diego Comic-Con. If you thought I was going to write about anything else this week, sorry! We’ll get back to my usual blend of social justice-y complaints, ’90s nostalgia, and chubby dude appreciation next week. Tthat convention happened, I was there, and I just have to write about it.

This was my second SDCC — or is it really CCI? Anyway, this was my second trip to the center of the comic book universe, and this time around was… different. I imagine your first SDCC is always drastically different from your second SDCC. The sights were new last year, the scope was impressive, I even think the concessions were cheaper? Everything was a bit more exciting. I mean, I met John Ratzenberger and Joss Whedon last year, so, that’s some Literally Impossible To Top business right there.

In the aftermath of this year’s go-round, a few articles have come down hard declaring that comics are dead at the show. I didn’t see that. If anything, comics were the only thing that got me excited this year — and I really don’t think I’m alone in that. In fact, most of my excitement about comics came from being in the same space as a massive number of other comic book fans. If anything, it really felt like all the positive comic book vibes I was feeling were powerful enough to animate the Statue of Liberty itself (pretty sure that’s at least the second “Ghostbusters II” reference I’ve written on CBR’s dime). Let’s run through the ways that comics totally dominated my SDCC experience.

My comic convention kicked off on Thursday morning, bright and painfully early (I may have been in bed for seven hours, but I only slept for what felt like the duration of two “Golden Girls” eps). I dragged myself up to the panel rooms to prepare to cover a panel for CBR, and I ran into Declan Shalvey. The “Moon Knight” artist was already having a massive convention on day one, having been flown to San Diego from Ireland in secret to announce his new comic, “Injection,” at the previous day’s Image Expo. See? Comics! Shalvey was hanging around because the panel before the one I was assigned to cover was the Breaking Into Comics the Marvel Way panel. See? Comics again.

The one-two panel punch of Breaking Into Comics and the Spotlight On Dan Slott — what I was sent to cover — got my con off to a comic book-y start. As always, the Breaking Into Comics panel was packed with people there to create comics, and Dan Slott’s panel was filled with people that love reading comics. I was pleasantly surprised to see how full the Breaking Into Comics panel was, and I was even more pleasantly surprised at how troll-free Slott’s panel was. The guy attracts some of the most nutjob haters on Twitter, and I was grateful that none of them had the guts to do their (awful) thing in person. Those people were there for comics.

Thursday afternoon, I got to attend a press op for Batman’s 75th anniversary. I did a number of these types of events over the weekend, and I have to admit that it was kinda cool seeing all of this Hollywood-level fuss being made over comics. Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder, and Dan DiDio all filed into a far-removed room in the convention center (judging by the noises, I’m pretty sure it was literally next door to a cosplayers forge and/or armory) and then they — talked about Batman. That’s it! And cable networks and big media outlets were there with camera crews to cover it. Those people were probably there just to do their job, but their job was to create comics-focused content for their audience.

That evening, I grabbed dinner at the first not-insanely-crowded restaurant within shambling distance of my starving body. (Apparently two Clif bars can not replace eating two full meals.) I had dinner with Declan and my pal Kirk, who recently moved to LA from the I-have-to-tell-myself-it’s-vastly-superior New York City to work at Buzzfeed. Our conversation? Comics. And a bit of “30 Rock,” but mostly comics. See, Kirk’s spent the last year really getting into comics — all types of comics. From “Lumberjanes” to “Daredevil,” he’s a guy in his 30s that’s fallen back in love with comics thanks to an encounter with Kelly Sue DeConnick and the Carol Corps at 2013’s HeroesCon. He’s legit excited about this stuff, and that excitement is new, and doesn’t stem from the movies or television shows. He was at SDCC for comics.

I spent Friday morning at this year’s Gender In Comics panel, which is quite possibly the best panel to see if you want to realize just how powerful comic fandom can be. Really, any panel that focuses on celebrating voices that are often not elevated in the mainstream — women, black, queer, any minority — is where you should go to see passionate comic book fans. These are the fans that tend to be left out of discussions for the rest of the year, but at comic conventions they can find each other — they can use real names instead of screen names. There’s an excitement to these panels because they finally allow for people to speak out loud about their personal comic-related experiences and get nods indicating a shared experience. They get to see industry professionals on the panel that exist in the same minority space they do, and they get to be inspired by it. I really felt the passion, excitement, and inclusion of comics at both the Gender In Comics and Gays In Comics panels I covered. All of those people were there for comics.

Most of the comic book panels at SDCC were in small rooms, sure. That usually happens, and for the most part, I think that’s fine. It makes rooms feel full, and full rooms are conducive to excitement. But the back-to-back “Saga”-thon on Saturday took place in a huge room — and yeah, it was all about comics. The Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples panels were wisely placed next to each other, giving fans of the Eisner Award-winning series a primo destination spot. There was a long line to get into the room; Vaughan’s panel ran like a 45 minute long Q&A session between fans and the writer, and it wasn’t the hostile, contemptuous creator/fan relationship that we see play out in pop culture interpretations of comic cons. The fans asked smart questions, Vaughan gave hilarious answers and the entire hour felt warm and familial. Those fans were there for comics, and they were specifically there for the so-not-soon-to-be-a-motion-picture “Saga.”

Okay, I should get an award for writing over 1100 words before mentioning the fact that I got to accept an award at the Eisners. I’ve been freaking out about that on Twitter for days now, and here it is, buried way in this article! Yeah, I got to go on stage with fellow CBR superstars Albert Ching, Steve Sunu, Brigid Alverson, Shaun Manning and Remy Minnick to accept our Eisner Award. That happened — and it also happened with Kelly “Lady Deathstrike” Hu standing right next to me. Is this bragging? Man, I dunno. That was my first Eisners, and I got to go on stage, in front of nearly every comics pro that I respect and admire. I haven’t had that big of a smile on my face since — since, I dunno, Black Widow’s brawl with Winter Soldier earlier this year? Or a “Cheers” episode, probably? It’s obvious that everyone at the Eisners was there for comics. The speeches given by Faith Erin Hicks, Chip Zdarsky, Vivek Tiwary, and many others for their wins just made me feel great about comics. Heck, Hicks’ speech made me feel so great that I got legit weepy.

In addition to all of those experiences, the news that knocked me into Audible Gasp mode was all comic book news. You better believe I’m going to read “Injection” and Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s “Invisible Republic” from Image Comics. I freaked out when I saw that John Cassaday “Star Wars” cover. I want to read “Captain America and the Mighty Avengers” right now. I now know I need to get my hands on “Adventures of Superhero Girl” and “Lumberjanes” as soon as possible. SDCC was exhausting. It was way too crowded and the security was way too touchy about people leaning against concrete walls. Despite all that, I still left more excited about comics than I went in.

Yeah, all the people that I said were “there for comics” were probably also there for movies, television, video games, and giant Homer Simpson heads — but they were also there for comics. SDCC is huge. It’s huge and diverse enough that you make of it what you want to make of it. No, the con is not going to be mostly about comics for every attendee, and it’s kinda cool that it’s not. It’s about comics if you want it to be about comics, and I encountered a “Saga”-sized room full of people that were down with comics. Comics aren’t dead at SDCC. If comics love is alive inside you, then it’s alive at Comic-Con.

Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).

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