Three weeks ago, while comics in general and comics Twitter in particular was whipping itself into a frenzy, I was getting off a plane in Montevideo, Uruguay.
I was blissfully unaware of the depth and viciousness of the controversy sparked by the Hydra revelation in "Captain America: Steve Rogers" #1. There was, of course, much wailing and gnashing of teeth. There was much freaking out. There were death threats. There were arguments over who gets more death threats. There were arguments over entitlement and representation and harassment.
Some of these are good discussions to have, obviously. But a rational, respectful discussion is an entirely different thing from a sniping, trolling argument. From what I can tell via the Monday morning quarterbacking of it all, a lot of people acted poorly. In some cases, much worse than poorly.
Part of it, of course, is the nature of online interaction. There's a segment of people who aren't happy unless they're unhappy. From the safety of their keyboards, they pick fights and spread vitriol because... well, I don't honestly know, because I'm at a loss to understand that behavior. I guess some people try to fill a hole in themselves by making others feel bad.
Of course, twenty years ago I had a ringside seat for the same thing with "Emerald Twilight." The howl was more muted, because the Internet was in its infancy, but we still received demands that the creative and editorial teams be fired and never work in comics again. We received envelopes containing the pieces of "Green Lantern" issues that had been torn to shreds (this is the 1.0 version of filming yourself setting an issue on fire). And yes, we received death threats that were turned over to the NYPD.
What's happening now has happened before and will happen again. "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown." There are no facile solutions, because at this point, we can't even agree on what the problems are.
But while all that was going on, I was having a wholly different experience in a wholly different place. I was invited to be a guest at Montevideo Comics, a two-day festival in Uruguay. When I initially received the invitation, it took me all of two minutes to accept. One of the greatest gifts of a career in comics is the travel that sometimes comes with it. I've visited London multiple times, New Zealand, Malta, Germany, India, and Mexico City, as well as cities across North America. I'm flattered by any invitation, but the international trips are especially appreciated. The chance to see places you'd otherwise never see, meet people you'd otherwise never meet, is precious. I never thought I'd be in Montevideo, Uruguay, but after flying all night and connecting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, there I was.
What I took away from Montevideo Comics was, in many ways, the antithesis to the online ugliness happening at the same time. My hosts at the festival, Matias Castro and Marcelo Sanchez, told me that I should expect a different experience than at an American convention. I think they told me this so that I wouldn't be disappointed in a smaller, more intimate convention. But disappointment was the farthest thing from my mind.
My wife and I were picked up at the airport by Nicolas Peruzzo, a writer as well as an artist, and a prime member of Montevideo's comics community. His newest book, "Rincon de la Bolsa" with artist Gabriel Serra, was released at the con. Nico gave us a some of Montevideo's history as we drove along the shoreline to reach our hotel in the middle of the city. The rest of Thursday was ours to explore the city, as was much of Friday, until a welcome dinner for the guests that evening.
In Uruguay, restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8 p.m., so we probably didn't really eat until 9:30 or 10. The dinner was a chance to meet some of the other guests, who had journeyed locales including Spain, France, Argentina and even South Korea. It was a communal meal, with great, heaping platters of meat and bottles of wines. Uruguayan cuisine consists of meat and... well, more meat, usually cooked on a wood-fired grill. I didn't realize it at the time, but that communal meal would be an encapsulation of my experience in Uruguay. So much of the trip was about community. Even with a language barrier, overcome thanks in large part to my friend Jose Antonio Vilca from Peru, known as Chiqui, we were part of a comic community made up of both locals and visitors.
Montevideo Comics is held at the Auditorio Nacional del Sodre, a performance hall a few bock from the city's main plaza, and across the street from out hotel. It's a beautiful new building known for hosting opera, ballet and the symphony performances, a far cry from the cement bunkers that many American shows call home. On Saturday, the show didn't open until 1 in the afternoon. When the doors opened, I was sitting in the Auditorio's cafe, having a cappuccino with my wife and Chiqui.
At most U.S. shows, of course, a con's doors open and there's a mad dash across the convention floor so people can get on sketch lists, or grab up exclusives. In Montevideo there was a long queue out on the sidewalk, starting to wrap around the building. When the doors finally opened... there was no frenzied stampede, just a parade of relaxed attendees strolling toward the exhibitor space. No jockeying for position, no sense of competition. It was utterly refreshing.
My commitment to the show Saturday was a one-hour signing. I offered to do more, but the organizers insisted, "No, we want you to enjoy yourself in Montevideo." What a wholesale difference from a typical show, where you're often tied to your table for a full eight hours or more, and completely exhausted by the end of the day. I spent a few hours wandering the show, looking at comics from all over South America, as well as some from Europe, meeting writers and artists. A number of them gave me their books. I brought home a stack of comics with an amazingly diverse array of subjects and styles.
While I was at the booth of a publisher from Argentina, he handed me his phone and said, "Jok would like to speak with you." Jok is a terrific Argentinian artist with whom I'm working on a project that has yet to be announced. After I got over my initial shock, we had a great conversation about the project in specific, and working together in general.
During my signing Saturday, I was finally able to meet Uruguayan artist, Maan House, with whom I'd done a number of "Witchblade" issues. Maan was instrumental in making the initial introductions between me and the Montevideo Comics organizers, so it was thanks in large part to him that I was even there.
Maan brought me an original illustration of Kyle Rayner that he'd done for me, already framed, a beautiful piece. It's always a pleasure meeting a collaborator in person for the first time, and there's a familiarity that's hard to explain, something beyond online friendship. You've never met before, but you already know each other, because you've created something together. There's almost an intimacy in that. We've already started talking about new projects.
Maan also introduced to me to "his boss," as he called him, Guillermo Lockhart. Guillermo is the creator, producer, writer and host of the Uruguayan television show "Voces Anonimas" ("Anonymous Voices"). Now in its sixth season, "Vocas Anonimas" has become something of a cultural phenomenon in Uruguay and other Spanish-speaking countries, chronicling tales of the supernatural and urban myth. The show has also spawned a series of books, written by Guillermo with illustrations by Maan. The latest volume was the best-selling book in Uruguay last year.
I got a pretty immediate sense of how big a star Guillermo is, because our chat was interrupted literally every 60 seconds or so by someone wanting an autograph and a picture with him. Guillermo happily signed and posed over and over, sending away each fan with a smile. It was impressive to watch.
Guillermo invited us to dinner that evening, driving us through Montevideo's rainy streets down to a restaurant on the shoreline. Yes, more autographs and photos for Guillermo. Great meal, but again, the most satisfying thing was the sense of being welcomed into a community.
The rest of our trip was much the same. My schedule at the show Sunday was a signing and then an interview/Q & A in front of an audience. I looked at portfolios, signed comics, posed for selfies. Sunday night was another communal meal, this time at a pizza restaurant, talking about comics, comparing work. More of the same at lunch Monday, with Guillermo and Maan along, and then dinner Monday evening.
The recurring theme, whether in a large group or a smaller one, was a love of comics, especially the work of making comics. While people were using a Captain America story as a pretense to tear each other apart, I was with a group of people -- both creators and fans -- who loved comics for the sake of comics. No vitriol, no agenda.
Montevideo Comics put some wind in my sails creatively. I didn't realize how much I needed it. Now I realize how much we all need it.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" for Dynamite, "Skylanders" for IDW, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics on Madefire, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.