Committed: A Week of Nostalgic Comic Work / Love

When I offered to cover three specific panels for Comic Book Resources at Comic-Con International, I should have known those choices would shape not only my experience of Comic-Con, but also the weeks afterwards. Perhaps I ought to have expected subjects so close to my heart to influence me...

Writing up three panels and combing through 1000's of photos has consumed a lot of the last week. Unlike other conventions, where I've taken on covering random panels that Comic Book Resources assigns me, I realized I could better assist the CBR team by covering panels that I know a lot about and in the process perhaps bring attention to panels which might otherwise remain unreported on.

I picked out my absolutely essential panels, only covering ones that I felt I had to attend, because ultimately there are so many good speakers and subjects that I could easily spend the whole convention in panels... but then I'd miss all of the fun browsing for back issues, talking to comic book creators, artists, toy designers, my friends and lounging by the pool. (Quick explanation: Although I live in California, it is San Francisco where although there is no real winter, there is also very little summer. Right now I have the heat on while the rest of the country experiences a heat wave. So pool time was necessary.

Anyway, I found my essential panels and Jonah Weiland (the head crazy man at CBR) agreed that they'd make a good fit, as well as suggesting that I take some photos of the con too. So far a couple of things have posted: my coverage of the Hernandez Brother's Love and Rockets panel and my coverage of the Chip Kidd Comics & Design panel. Before I even sat down in the panel to take notes and do my audio recording (which is what I use later to check quotes when I'm turning my notes into full sentences) I honestly thought that attending a panel wouldn't be that different from reporting on one. I also had this crazy idea that because I was extremely engaged in the subject matter, it would be easier to report on them.

Please don't get me wrong, all of the panels that I have covered in the past have been interesting to me in some way. However, some of them have comprised of so much specialized reporting that they required hours of extra time to check spellings on titles that I had hardly heard of. In contrast, I've been reading "Love & Rockets" since the inception, and I've followed Chip Kidd's career for years, so I'm familiar with the subjects.

On the plus side, this meant that I didn't have to triple check too many spellings. On the down side, I hadn't realized that reporting on an event means disengaging from it. You can't stop taking notes so that you can ask questions, even if there is something you're dying to know and no one else is asking it. You can't stop taking notes to laugh with the rest of the audience, because when I did, it obscured my recording so that it was harder to hear what the speakers were saying. Basically I had  to continue reporting, no matter how much I wanted to get involved, I couldn't. It was a strange experience and somewhat disconcerting.

The reporting paid off though, despite any challenges, because I spent the last few days going through my thousands of words, annotating and specifying quotes which was weirdly fun. It meant that the words became imprinted on my brain and every inflection of the speakers became clearer. I cannot imagine any other way in which I could have enjoyed the words of the speakers so much without doing reporting on them and it amplified my enjoyment of the convention.

So that was what I spent a lot of my time doing this week; writing up three panels and sorting out 50 of my best photos from 1000's. I'll let you know when that final panel (a spotlight on Alan Davis) and the photos go up. If they don't, then I'll post them elsewhere for you. I have to be honest though, and admit that working on comic book related stuff wasn't the only distraction this week. There were the purchases to go through... there weren't many but they cried for my attention.

At heart, aren't we all just crazy collectors? Okay, maybe you aren't. Maybe you're cooler than me. I am not so cool about my love of comic books and even though I was determined not to go crazy with the shopping at the convention (I made a rule for myself - no toys and no original art, since they're my weakness), I still had a great time picking up the odd thing that I just couldn't resist.

My top Comic-Con purchase is probably a little pile of beat up old copies of Iron Fist, and a few Spider-Man team ups. I really enjoying spending a couple of hours rummaging through longboxes for them, it felt like something I hadn't done in ages, but I used to do that all the time when I was a kid. All of them were published in the late 70's, done by Chris Claremont and John Byrne and they're fantastic. Apart from that classically introspective writing and wonderfully square jawed heroes, I love the crappy paper, horrible print quality and slightly mouldy smell of them. Every time I stop for lunch I manage to read another one. These are the kind of comic books I couldn't get when I was a kid, they just weren't easy to find in London before the specialist shops started. Still, these are the kind of comic books I grew up reading, this kind of physical quality. Maybe it is ridiculous, but I still like the black lines and flat, limited colors. When I was a kid my house was full of old, dusty books and so reading these comics smells like home to me. It is a very satisfying experience, far more so than buying a reprint.

Influenced by their panel, I also managed to get some pencil sketches from the Hernandez brothers. I asked Gilbert Hernandez  to draw Luba when she was still young and sassy, to which Jaime joked "Oh, ask him to do something hard why don't you." I also got a Jaime Hernandez sketch of a young Maggie and Hopey, saying "I know they don't hang out anymore, but I liked it when they did." to which he enigmatically replied "But you haven't read 'Love and Rockets' #4 yet..." So that really piqued my interest for it. Luckily it was available early at the convention and you can bet that I bought it and read it immediately. I won't spoil it for you, but I can tell you that it is even better than the 3 that have come before it (and they were fantastic.) Seriously, Love and Rockets is just getting better and better.

After that I stumbled across a man called Doug Sneyd, a Playboy cartoonist from the mid-'60's who was selling his book of unpublished cartoons and also sketching headshots of girls as playboy bunnies. Since I grew up sneaking looks at the cartoons in Playboy I had to get one (don't ask, suffice to say that if a kid is young enough, they really will ignore the boring photos and just look for the funny drawings.) His classic style is unmistakable and he and his partner were absolutely charming, she was wearing full Wonder Woman accessories over her regular clothes. While he drew he told anecdotes about the girls he's drawn over the years and Hugh Hefner. It was damn entertaining.

Since I enjoyed the Chip Kidd talk so much, I went over to the Abrams booth to browse some of the books he and his colleagues had discussed. There I discovered his new book "Shazam!", displaying the most incredible collection of Captain Marvel memorabilia. Beautiful layout and a very rare and strange collection make it not just a lovely book, but a window into an extremely different time, both for the marketing and for people's attitude to comics and collecting. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in design or comic books, but also anyone interested in marketing, fashion and sexual equality.

All in all a tremendous convention, shaped much more aggressively than I expected by the panels I chose to cover. It became a nostalgic trip, where I reveled in everything that got me so completely hooked on comic books as a kid.

EDIT: My 50 CBR photos are live now. The thumbnails are cropped so click on them for the real meat.

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