C2E2 | Saturday: Panelpalooza

The question that I raised yesterday about whether TV and movies were going to steal C2E2's focus from comics turned out to be a non-issue. Concern - and maybe this was just me - was born from a couple of things: the catch-all "Entertainment" is right there in the name and there were several movie/TV appearance announcements in a row that I guess put fears in my head. But it was clear even yesterday from the exhibitor layout that the core of the show is all about the comics. I still haven't explored the entire floor, but I've yet to stumble across the media autograph area.

I did start and end my day with media panels, but they both had deep comics connections. First was Cartoon Network's presentation of the Firebreather DVD with Phil Hester. As Hester put it: "It's Saturday morning; we should be watching cartoons!" I saw the movie when it aired in November, but it was especially impressive in Blu-Ray on the big screen. And it was cool to hear Hester answer questions about his experience having his comic translated into film by Aeon Flux's Peter Chung. We also learned that Firebreather screenwriter James Krieg is currently developing a Green Lantern series for Cartoon Network.

Though it was a thoroughly enjoyable start to the day, I could tell early on that I wasn't going to be able to keep up the panel schedule I'd planned for myself. Sitting in panel rooms all day long without even seeing the convention floor didn't have a lot of appeal, so I started trimming things. My schedule was a mess anyway with a lot of overlapping panels and difficult choices. This was true last night too. I went to Dirk Manning's writing panel because I know and like Dirk, but I had to make a choice between it and another writing panel. That's a weird head-to-head line-up and there were more like it today. Several small press publishers had to compete for attendees and my next panel after Firebreather was a choice between ComiXology's digital-focused State of the Comicsphere and a discussion between Mark Waid and Matt Fraction on Script Writing and Comics in the Digital Age. Of course, I didn't realize it yet, but the digital conversation at C2E2 was something that involved far more than just those two panels.

I'm getting ahead of myself though. Knowing that Brigid Alverson was going to cover the ComiXology panel, I chose Waid and Fraction's. They had a lively, entertaining panel that was primarily a Q&A between the two of them (each representing a different generation or school of comics writing) about how they approach their processes. In the end, there wasn't a lot of difference between the two, but they arrived at them through different means and influences. It was especially fascinating to hear Fraction talk about his nervousness over the upcoming prospect of writing a Marvel-Style script for the first time and then Waid to offer advice about pitfalls to avoid. They also discussed the difference in pacing between the Bronze Age comics they grew up on, the extended plotlines of the '80s, and the extremely decompressed stories of today. And things are about to change again thanks to digital.

Waid's currently spending a lot of time thinking about digital comics and how they're different from print comics. Digital isn't as simple as replicating print comics for the computer or mobile screen. According to Waid, digital comics are to print as TV was to radio drama. When TV was first invented, no one understood its potential and shows were very dialog-focused in imitation of radio. It wasn't until folks like Milton Berle came along and integrated old Vaudevillian elements that people realized what TV could really do. The same is true of digital comics. There are some cool things that digital comics can do that print can't, but it's going to take some serious thinking and experimentation for people to figure out what those are. Though I'm pretty sure they aren't motion comics.

When I tweeted about this later, Comics Bulletin asked if the collectability issue came up. How do digital comics affect that aspect of the comics experience? That it didn't come up answers the question, I think. This ties into something that Archaia said later at their panel, but concerns over comics collecting have been absent from the conversation for a while now. The easy accessibility to older comics via archives and collected volumes has pretty much done that in, right? Tell me in the comments if I'm wrong, but I don't hear readers talking about comics that way anymore.

The Archaia panel was next and illustrated another interesting difference in the way panels were conducted over the weekend. Rather than just talking about their upcoming releases, Archaia offered an interactive discussion with the audience about producing graphic novels. In a similar way, IDW's panel focused on digital comics (there's that theme again) and Moonstone's panel tomorrow will focus on jungle comics.

But back to Archaia, they haven't abandoned single-issue periodicals yet, but it's no secret that they're mostly focused on bookstores. They also support digital comics, but don't see digital as competition to print because Archaia publishes attractive, hardcover volumes that aren't just packages of content, but objects of art in themselves. Their comments reinforce the notion that it's not the comics industry that's in trouble. As an industry, comics are doing very well thank you. What's in trouble is one particular market (the direct one). A more diverse audience than ever before is reading more comics than ever before. They're just doing it in ways and forming habits that are different from what the traditional US comics industry is used to. They're not going to comics stores, but are buying graphic novels and collections on Amazon and in bookstores, or reading digitally on phones and iPads.

The Archaia guys said something else that shared a sentiment of Mark Waid and Matt Fraction in the previous panel. That's the idea that comics are a visual medium, as much as writers would like to think otherwise. Archaia talked about it in reference to submissions: a submission with art is much easier to judge than one without. Waid and Fraction weren't just being self-deprecating when they suggested that their role is much less important to the final product than the artist's. As a writer, that hurts to hear, but I get what they're saying. Comics are telling stories with pictures. A strong writer can improve the experience, but the overall effect is made or broken with the art.

After Archaia's panel, I stuck around for Oni's. This was a more traditional panel focused on coming attractions, but as Brigid reported earlier, there's some very exciting stuff coming up in Ray Fawkes' One Soul. During the panel, someone asked about Oni's digital plans (they're one of the few publishers who don't currently offer digital versions of their books). Marketing Director Cory Casoni's response was that the current lack of digital content is intentional, the result of wanting to research the format and do it right. But in the same answer, he also said that 2012 (Oni's 15th anniversary) will be a big year for the company. Make of that what you will.

My final panel of the day was the reunion of the cast of The Middleman. I was getting panel-fatigued by then and almost didn't go, but I'm glad I changed my mind. Comics writer and showrunner Javier Grillo-Marxuach led the spirited, funny Q&A session with Natalie Morales (Wendy Watson), Matt Keeslar (The Middleman), Brit Morgan (Lacey Thornfield), Mary Pat Gleason (Ida), and Jake Smollett (Noser). Going into the audience "Donahue-style" Grillo-Marxuach took questions and asked some of his own. I'd forgotten how much I'd loved that show and missed it, but the affection that its creator and cast still had for it - and their memories of favorite scenes, lines, and events - brought it all back. The big takeaway from the panel was that absolutely no ill will exists toward ABC Family or fate in general for bringing the show to its too-soon conclusion. Had things worked out any differently, Grillo-Marxuach contends that they couldn't have made the show they did. It was a perfect storm that led to their being able to create 12 episodes that were exactly the way they wanted. They'd rather have that than 100 episodes where only a percentage of them worked the right way. It was a wonderfully upbeat end to a long day, even though it was for a TV show.

But though the day was long, it was also fascinating and good. I'm not the only one who thought so. I talked to several artists and exhibitors about their experiences and the almost universal response was that everyone had had a great couple of days. Even people who were less than thrilled with the perceived attendance of last year's show were pleased with the business they've done so far this year. Tomorrow's another day, but with some free time for visiting in the morning and interesting panels in the afternoon, I'm expecting an awesome conclusion to a great show. I'll be surprised if I hear differently from anyone else.

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