PITTSBURGH COMICON 2002 -- THE ROAD TRIP
"Pennsyl-Friggin'-Vania." It's a term (in a slightly cleaned-up form) coined by my increasingly frequent con-traveling partner, Dani, to describe all the crap that goes on in the Keystone State. Last year, it was the amazing number of small bugs that splattered themselves across my car. This year, it was everything else.
Here's a typical road sign you'd see in Pennsylvania: "Road Work. Next 9 Miles." When you're done driving down those 9 miles of road in a driving rainstorm with concrete barriers on either side of you, you'll reach the section of road that triumphantly is proclaimed to be the first 5 miles of reconstructed roadway. Not much has changed since last year. The really scary thing is that I only need to travel on a 90-mile stretch of that road and it's taken them over a year to get 5 miles done and another 9 miles worth of work begun.
Signage on the roads to indicate things like "Buckle Your Safety Belts" and "Slow Down" bear a striking resemblance to Ultimate Marvel lettering. (I think it was when I came to that realization that I noticed how much of a life I need to get.)
Let us not forget the tunnels. The mountains are too steep to put roads over them, so they dug tunnels through them. This wouldn't be too big a problem, except for the tractor trailer driver who fatally missed the tube he meant to go into on Friday morning and instead crashed into the electrical generator room next to the tunnel, knocking out all the lights in the tunnel and closing a stretch of highway some 12 miles in either direction as engineers were called in to get the electricity flowing again and deem whether the tunnel was structurally sound or not.
"Electricity" was the whole theme of the convention, though. Shortly after I left on Sunday afternoon, the tornado watch the entire area was under turned into an electrical storm and caused the power in the hotel and convention center to go out. I only wish I were there for that surreal event.
The hotel has three elevators servicing the 14 floors of the tower we stayed in. One elevator fell out of use on Saturday night. This had disastrous results on Sunday morning when everyone was headed downstairs for the convention or to check out. I waited for an elevator for five minutes from the tenth floor. When one finally came, it was packed full. Standing in front of them all was ace inker Mark McKenna, who sheepishly waved and shook his head. There was no room in the elevator car with him. I walked down the stairs with my suitcases, instead. It's all good exercise.
Bar service was wonderful this year, though.
Some of the other things in "Pennsyl-Friggin'-Vania" were just cultural differences. The sign on the Pepsi machine referring to it as a "Pop" machine caught me by surprise again this year. I kept ordering food for "here" when it's properly referred to as "dining in."
Comicons are noted places for mullet-watchers, but I was amazed by the variety of mullets. We had both a woman with a mullet, and a man with a mullet and bangs that made him look like a woman. It was all so very confusing.
The Monroeville Mall is going to start renovations soon to upscale it just a bit, by the look of things. I hope the Dawn Of The Dead movie people got their last tour in this year before their historical monument gets a makeover. There's going to be some pissed people there next year.
The Bruegger's Bagel shop that was once so conveniently located at the end of the road was replaced with a fancy jewelry place. This worked out for the best, as we found a much better Einstein Bros. Bagel place just three minutes down the road. I love having a car at a con. It makes packing easier, too.
This is the ninth year of the PittCon. It's slowly built itself up over the course of that time to being one of the most impressive "small" shows that I can think of. The venue is smaller than Chicago, but it's got an amazing guest list. With Frank Miller's Harvey Awards keynote spreading attention about the con far and wide last year, the convention seems poised to break out into one of the majors. Next year's Harvey Awards Keynote speaker is Neil Gaiman, which means you better start planning your wardrobe today. You're going to need lots of black to fit in with the average con attendee next year.
However, the on-going theme of this year's convention was, "Where is everyone?" The aforementioned tunnel accident delayed some people from getting in on time on Friday morning. The con opened Friday at 10 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. like last year. When we walked onto the floor for the first time on Friday morning, it was a ghost town. I've never seen a Comicon so dead in my life.
While things picked up a bit over the course of the day (particularly later in the afternoon after school got out), the crowd just didn't seem as thick as it did last year. Sunday was another empty day. The line for Michael Turner sketches, for example, was only about ten deep. Could you imagine anything less than twice that in San Diego?
DC didn't have a table in Pittsburgh this year, as they did last year. (They had representatives, such as Bob Wayne and Bob Schreck patrolling the con floor, however.) Marvel doesn't do cons outside of San Diego and Chicago, really, but they did have the equivalent of a small press booth for Axel Alonso, Mike Marts, and Joe Quesada to sit in.
I can't help but think that WizardWorld East in Philadelphia cut the convention off at the knees this year. A lot of the people who would normally have made the trek to Pittsburgh decided to skip it in favor of the larger spectacle that is WizardWorld in only two weeks. (WonderCon was just a week ago, but I don't think a con in California hurt an east coast con all that much.)
We'll have to see what happens next year. It could be the make or break year for the con. With Neil Gaiman in town, there should be a lot of outside interest in the event. If they can't draw the bigger crowd that the venue cries out for, it might spell trouble or, at the very least, a scaled back con.
The con floor was laid out in much the same was as it was last year. All the dealers (including bootleggers with JASON X available on DVD the same day the movie opened) sat on the right half, with the small press on the left, surrounded by publishers and artists with their own booths, like Dave Dorman, George Perez, Martin Nodell, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin, George Tuska, Michael Kaluta, etc.
There were so many small pres people this year that Artists Alley got pushed off to a ghetto all its own, capped by the Hooters girls (they were selling playing card decks with their pictures on them) and the prerequisite ex-Playboy Playmates. Foot traffic wasn't so great down this alley, since the aisles were so cramped. I know I didn't feel like walking down it too often. The second you had two people stopped at tables across from one another, the traffic bottlenecked completely. Some of the artists forced into this space included Steve Lieber, Chris Sprouse, Greg Horn, Jamal Igle, and Jim Calafiore.
The costumed people were out and about as well, but mostly on Sunday for the Masquerade contest. Spidey and Green Goblin were seen walking around, sucking in their guts. Tuxedo Mask was walking around next to a guy in an Army uniform. A little girl came dressed up as a Sailor Moon character, and was the only one to look natural or cute in a costume.
Then there was "Burgh Man." I wish I could adequately describe "Pittsburgh's Newest Superhero" in his black and yellow outfit, complete with cape and bicycle helmet. He juggled glowing balls. He had a CD single to promote. Just take a look on his web site for pictures, schedule, and more.
The highlight ("lowlight"?) of the convention, however, had to be the walking spectacle that was the cross-dressing Farscape fan. He was a rather tall man dressed as Chiana, complete with white tights, fishnets, and -- as noticed by a particularly distressed and bemused Sarah Dyer -- no shoes. Of him, Evan Dorkin said, "There's eye candy. Then there's eye ipecac…" He also had a tendency to wander near Virginia Hey's booth an awful lot, as he's seen pictured below.
As luck would have it, I managed to snap a picture of them both together on Sunday afternoon. Two ships passing in the night, whose sails we only wished would get snagged together, causing both to capsize.
CON PANELS AND MEETINGS
We spent most of Saturday locked up in panel rooms. Despite this only being a three-day con, I didn't mind it. You don't need three days to peruse the con floor in its entirety. Heck, you don't need more than a day and a half with a little bit of luck and good timing.
The first presentation was a screening of Cartoon Network's WELCOME TO ELTINGVILLE, hosted by creator Evan Dorkin. Dorkin spoke glowingly of his relationship with Cartoon Network and his hope that the series get picked up for more episodes. (He didn't seem to think it stood much of a chance, given its narrow focus and higher budget. The rest of the crap the Cartoon Network airs is cheap computer-produced animation. ELTINGVILLE was done the traditional way with overseas animation.) The show is a hilarious look at four "friends" who represent the worst of the worst in fandom from all angles, including comic books, sci-fi, and roleplaying. The episode of titled "Bring Me The Head of Boba Fett," from which appropriate permission was granted by LucasFilm. Funny show.
The second was a highlight reel of some of the interviews Rich Henn has put together for his comic book documentary, SCENES FROM THE SMALL PRESS. He had clips from interviews with Frank Miller (plus Miller's now infamous Wizard-ripping speech at last year's Harvey Awards), Colleen Doran (in a very emotional moment), Carla Speed McNeil, Joe Quesada, and more. He's got some fantastic material in the can, and if he can edit it all together coherently, it should prove to be a fantastic special. No, there's no deal for it yet. Henn is busy getting the film finished before he even considers what he does with it -- whether he sells VHS copies, or it airs on a network, or is just a con film.
(In the meantime, we'll all just have to be satisfied with TODD McFARLANE: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW documentary that's now available on DVD. I got mine last week. I'll review it here as soon as I get around to watching it.)
Finally, I stood in the back of the room at the overcrowded Brian Bendis Q&A. Con Organizers dropped the ball on this one. You have arguably the hottest writer in comics at your show, and you schedule his panel in a room that has all of two dozen chairs in it, and maybe room for another 20 or 25 people to stand in the back. I don't know what the crowd was like across the hall in the larger room where Chuck Rozanski was talking about the Mile High collection, but I get the feeling the two panels could have easily switched rooms and had appropriate venues. (Plus, Bendis would have had a VCR so that he could play that animated Spider-Man clip he was carrying around with him.)
Bendis was as affable and self-deprecating as ever. He really looks comfortable in front of the room and handles everything -- including the uncomfortable ramblings of one or two incoherent fans -- with ease. He even handled the heckler standing next to me pretty well. Of course, she turned out to be his wife. It all worked out OK. ;-)
He talked about a lot of things, most of which you can read about over on Newsarama right now.
Speaking of which, I had lunch with Matt Brady on Friday. Yes, it was completely friendly. We do get along. It's all good. Had a great time shooting the breeze about the on-line comics world and swapping war stories. OK, so he has more and better ones than I do. I just review the things. I don't talk to an eighth of the people he does.
Saturday night was spent hob-nobbing across the street at the local Houlihans for what began as a Warren Ellis Forum Drink-Up but seemed to spread out into an all together comics drinking fest. You've never lived until you're heard 12 guys singing along to the high notes of Ah-Ha's "Take On Me" in perfect unison. I don't know if the manager of the Houlihans necessarily agreed with that, but they did a good job handling what was a messy situation to begin with. Dani and I didn't get to mingle all that much, but we did get a good seat at the end of the second table with the gang from G.I. Joe. The sixth issue of that series is out this week and I've flipped through it. Looks terrific. Steve Kurth's art is coming alive. You can see his growth over the course of these first half dozen issues. I'm hoping to catch up on my reading on the series this weekend just a bit.
Coming up on Friday: More from the PittCon, including talk about the Harveys (you don't want to miss that part), sketchbook additions, original art acquisitions, and whatever else comes to mind.
Next week: Pipeline PREVIEWS, in which I attempt to pull out some highlights from the most recent edition of PREVIEWS in time for you all to pre-order what you want.
More than 400 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.