THE ROAD TO MADISON SQUARE GARDEN
I've crossed the Hudson River to New York City once since September 11th. It was a business trip that took me out of the usual areas I usually visit when for a comic book convention. This weekend was my first trip back to those "old haunts." The biggest change along the way is the PATH station, which is the train that takes you under the river from NJ to NY. There used to be two trains there; one went to the neighborhood of Madison Square Garden, while the other went to a station under the World Trade Center. Now there is just the MSG (33rd Street) train. Other changes including getting wanded by security on my way into MSG and those lovely concrete blockades in front of Penn Station that have oh-so-cute flower boxes inside of them. I bet someone sold the city on the idea of them being "park expansion" instead of a security concern.
Very little else about the city has changed. I still needed to come home afterwards and throw myself in a hot bath to get the grime and smell off my skin. I don't know if the clothes will survive the experience. I've washed my hands more often than a compulsive person with a cleaning disorder trapped inside a Port-O-Potty. And I have a strange tickling in the back of my throat that won't go away for days now.
Gotta love that city, don't you? It's the culture that brings people in...
On the bright side, the old slogan about the train time being your own time worked to my advantage, as I glided through 100 pages of a Greg Rucka novel. It's one of those books I figured will take me a week or two to read. I'll probably plow through it in three or four days, instead.
In any case, I reached the con floor a little after noon, having walked around the block looking for a door to get in. It's not very well marked. The convention booklet proclaims that the con has the unwieldy name of "The New York International Sci-Fi & Fantasy Creators Convention 2003." Everyone else refers to it as "The MSG Con." It is as good as you're going to get in New York City. Ticket prices are fixed at $15, because Ticketmaster deems that any ticket price above that would incur a $4.50 facilities surcharge. I kid you not. And, yes, you had to go to the TicketMaster window to purchase your ticket. I'd bet anything that it's one of the prices of doing business at MSG. TicketMaster has the monopoly and you have to bend to their will. If you want to know why it's so tough to put together a successful show in NYC, now you have one more reason. If any dealers want to talk about their fun playing with the Unions in loading and unloading their stuff, feel free to write me and I'll include it in a future column.
The con floor is the biggest you'll find in this city, although the main thoroughfare for Artist's Alley could stand to be another foot wider. It gets worse in the dealer's area, where you literally had to wait for people to move if you wanted to get somewhere. You were trapped. It opens up a bit more near the back, where there's a concession stand, a small seating area for presentations, an area for washed up sci-fi television stars, and the featured artists and writers area.
It's that last area that I flocked to first, with a backpack weighing heavily on my shoulders carrying all the Bendis hardcovers I own. Seated from left to right were Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Maleev, Michael Gaydos, Bill Sienkiwicz, Michael Avon Oeming, Mark Bagley, Art Thibert, and David Finch. Joe Kelly and a couple of others were mixed in, as well, probably because the con ran out of room in the regular Artist's Alley for them. At least, I don't remember Kelly drawing an issue of ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP.
Lines snaked through that area for the entire afternoon I was there, but it was never unmanageable. You had, at most, ten people in line at any given time I looked. Even with artists doing sketches, you wouldn't have to wait until your legs caved under the pressure. It's the most accessible convention you'll have for these creators, save maybe Pittsburgh. With Bendis living in the great Northwest now, though, you're unlikely to see this lineup there.
I worked my way through a few of the lines, getting Mark Bagley to sign my two ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN hardcovers, while Art Thibert commanded more attention for sketches and autographs. I'm still trying to figure that out. Maybe everyone on that line had already gotten Bagley's attention and formed another line? Doesn't matter to me. It made waiting in line a much shorter experience for me, although I never got back in line for Thibert's autograph. Gaydos and Maleev at first didn't have a line. They just accepted the spillover from Bendis. Even then, lots of people seemed to skip right by them. As the day wore on, though, I noticed more people lining up for everyone along the row, but Sienkiwicz and Bendis were the heavy hitters of the day. Like I said, this is one of the most accessible cons for fans to get to their favorite creators.
Gaydos had a stack of ALIAS pages for sale at $50 each, which is a pretty good deal on the vast majority of those pages. While he drew a nice Jessica Jones sketch in my sketchbook -- the only sketch I got at the con -- I flipped through the art pages and found one I liked. It was the most I spent at the con. I picked up a couple of Leonard Kirk pages from SUPERGIRL a little later for $25 each, though.
Bendis' line was a bit lengthier, but he was also selling books, being very talkative, drawing sketches, and signing all the books you cared to bring. It was worth the wait, though, and I'm glad I don't have to schlep my hardcovers to San Diego to get them signed. That made it all worth it. He showed off color copies of David Mack's upcoming DAREDEVIL work, which are unbelievably gorgeous, even for Mack's stuff. It puts his previous DD work to shame. Scrabble fans will love the way he uses their favorite game to tell one part of the story. While this is clearly Echo's story, Daredevil does show up near the end of the first issue.
I also snuck a look at the first few pages of ULTIMATE SIX, which Bendis was busy making lettering corrections on. Hairsine's art looks great, but I can't tell you much more than that. There weren't enough pages. But thanks to Mr. B for letting me take a look through them. Great stuff.
Now go to his message board and ask him for the Lou Ferrigno story.
I spent a good chunk of time talking to Todd Dezago and Craig Rousseau of Team Perhapanauts. I first met Dezago at the MSG Con a couple of years ago. I interviewed him for a piece I was writing about TELLOS for a magazine that never came to print. (The material was used in a couple of Pipeline columns, instead.) It was great to renew acquaintances. We talked about TELLOS, the new Perhapanauts book, carpentry, being an uncle, and how it feels to be more popular in Europe than America. Todd's one of comics' nicest guys, and it's a danged shame we don't get to see more work from him these days. You can see more about what he's up to at Newsarama right now.
Dezago sold the Perhapanauts ashcan at the con. If you missed him there, you can still pick it up through his web site. Right now, it has a small trailer for the series, and this first ashcan issue is a pretty good taste of what any potential series could be like. It starts with an eight-page action story that introduces us to the world of BEDLAM, the Bureau of Extra-Dimensional Liabilities And Management. Think of HELLBOY's BPRD, because the comparison is obvious, but with a more straightforward action/adventure/humor bent to it. The lead characters include a Bigfoot, a Chupacabra named "Choopie," and a ghost. There are plenty of more normal humans surrounding them, of course, but they end up looking plain by comparison. In his small roll, Choopie steals the spotlight in the second half of the book. That second story is a short four-page gag piece done in a heavily-shadowed style a la Mignola, with the nine panel grid that might remind you of Keith Giffen's JUSTICE LEAGUE.
On the way out, I stopped at Peter David's table to get him to sign the art I picked up from the series he wrote, SUPERGIRL. Inker Robin Riggs split the booth with him, but was running late that day, so I missed him completely. In his place, however, sat his wife, one-time USENET regular Elayne Riggs. We compared notes and figured that the last time we had talked in person was at the very first con I ever went to in Philadelphia, which was January of 1995 or 1996. That's where she encouraged me to go ahead with my idea of writing my own column. If you really want to, you can blame this all on her. We exchanged blogging stories and other ex-Usenet pleasantries.
One of the strange things I noticed with this con is that I'm seeing the same fans over and over. I've noticed it a bit with Chicago and San Diego, also. There's an overlap with fans who go to both of the big shows. Now, I'm starting to see the East Coast contingent. It's fun to have acquaintances at these shows who you never expect to see, but are pleasant surprises to bump into.
The MSG Con is the high watermark that other NYC-based cons have to aspire to. It has a nice mix of dealers, with plenty of guest creators from all over mostly-mainstream comics. (DC Comics even brings a small booth with plenty of previews to flip through.) The location is easy to find and the hall itself doesn't stink like the basement of a church. If they make it back next year, I'll probably return.
GET MARIA TO THE CHURCH ON TIME
Reading Oni's latest graphic novel, MARIA'S WEDDING, I am reminded of just how much I loathe weddings and all the family dramas that go along with them. The book is so true to the way families work at large weddings that it renewed all those same old frustrations I have with the event. Besides, weddings are never thrown for the guys. It's clearly the woman's thing, and the men all bend over backwards to get out of their way. Even then, we're still automatically in trouble.
James Lucas Jones had an editing nightmare on his hands in contending with all the characters spread across 84 pages of story taking place predominantly during one wedding reception. I don't know how writers Nunzio De Filippis and Chrstina Weir could keep track of it all. I had to read the book twice to catch everything. The good news is that the book is solidly constructed, so reading it twice is not a chore. It's a pleasure.
The book starts with an abbreviated family tree that introduces you to the roughly two dozen main characters. You will want to bookmark this page, as it comes in handy. I found myself flipping to it a lot on the first read-through.
De Fillipis and Weir obviously have some experience with this type of wedding, and manage to emphasize the right notes while keeping the storyline intact. The story, though, isn't something that's easily defined as being made up of three acts with a character arc and a throughline. It's more of an ensemble piece. We're briefly dipping into this family's life, seeing what's going on in this moment of time, and then getting out when the party is over. There are plenty of characters that ring true and will remind you of someone in your family. There is something of a happy ending and there is the chicken dance. What more could you ask for from a wedding?
The story revolves mostly about Frankie, the cousin to the bride, who has a reputation for being the family loudmouth after his spiel at his brother's gay marriage last year. The question hangs in the air if he'll repeat such a performance at Maria's ceremony, and that brings in enough conflict to keep things pumping along. But there's more to Frankie than just that, as you learn over the course of the book. I would have liked to see even more done with Frankie and Brenna's "long standing flirtation," but the course the book takes with it is probably far more realistic.
Artist Jose Garibaldi does a good job with the visuals. His art style is very iconic, keeping all the characters looking like something out of the 1960s. He has a difficult job to do in showing characters that look related yet different. He pulls that off, particularly with Frankie and his brothers, Jack and Joseph. One is heavier, and the other has a more angular face with flatter hair. The nose and eyes, though, remain consistent.
One of the techniques Garibaldi uses is gray tones. It helps that the matriarch of the family -- all Italian families seem to have one of those -- has white hair with slightly gray highlights, while her children have gray hair with white highlighting and the grandchildren all have black hair. The significant others of the latter generation sport a variety of hair colors, but they tend to be lighter than the straight black of the all-Italian family. It's good short hand to keep the generations straight.
There is a problem with that, though. The art can be a little muddied at times. When you add that to the formal wear at the wedding, the darkened reception hall, and the shadows playing across characters' faces, you have a lot of toning applied to the art. It's a good technique to use on a book this dense with characters to keep things well defined and dimensional. However, at first glace it all tends to blur together.
Just to blur things together some more, the Bryan Lee O'Malley's lettering is done with a clear background. Instead of solid white behind the lettering, you're getting the background showing through, dimmed by about 50-75%. That can be distracting. It's a technique that's been tried off and on, but nobody's gotten it to work yet, I don't think. (You might have seen the technique used in Gary Frank's KIN.)
MARIA'S WEDDING is due out next Wednesday, carries a $10.95 price tag, and is a worthy effort from all involved. It's a great depiction of the kind of emotions and petty differences that supposedly happy festivities like weddings can bring out in people. De Filippio, Weir, and Garibaldi all do their parts to make this book an enjoyable one.
Pipeline Previews returns this Friday, July 4th with a look at the books scheduled to ship in September 2003.
If the programming schedule shows up on the San Diego Comicon web site anytime soon, I'll also be doing a special Friday edition of the column next week to run down some of those highlights for those attending. Don't forget that I'll be on one of those panels at the end of Thursday to talk about comic book reviewing on the web.
Pipeline Commentary and Review comes back at you next Tuesday with all new reviews, including the new Disney Duck books and Matt Fraction's LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS. I've fallen way behind on reviews again, so I'm hoping to start catching up on them in the next couple of weeks before San Diego. With any luck, there will be some longer columns coming.
Various and Sundry is chugging right along, with a review of the new Liz Phair album, the story with The Drew Carey Show, reports on new albums from R.E.M. and Dido, the flip side of iTunes, the week's new DVD releases, and much much more.
Somewhere around 500 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.