MEANWHILE, IN MY KIND OF SUBURBIA. . .
This past weekend's first Hawthorne High School Comics Convention was a success, as far as I'm concerned. I imagine we'll be hearing numbers soon on how much it raised, but I can tell you from a personal perspective that it was worth the drive to get there. And it was a tough drive. I had to stop at that one red light on my way over. . .
The show was held in the school cafeteria, which was large enough to hold the guests, yet small enough to make it feel busy and well attended. A little extra room would have been nice in one of the aisles, but I can't complain overall. Everyone fit in, and I think some last minute maneuvering had to be done after word got out that J. Michael Straczynski was flying out for the show. After that, a secondary wave of creators joined up to nearly double the size of the convention. Aside from smaller table space and a couple of tables wedged between support columns, you wouldn't have noticed it.f
The con had three rows of tables in the middle of the floor for the creators, while a few dealers lined the outside walls. Tables for the auction lined up on the back wall. Classrooms doubling for panel rooms were just around the corner, but I never made it over to any of those, so I can't comment on it. JMS did a panel at 3 p.m. In retrospect, I wish I had attended it to see what he had to say. I'm sure if any news broke in there it'll leak out to the Internet eventually.
Show attendance was good, while still being bearable. Besides some crowding in the middle of the cafeteria, everything flowed smoothly. I saw a few familiar faces from local area shows. I met people who came from as far east as Long Island, as far West as Detroit, and as far south as Maryland.
This was the closest access you'd ever get to many of the creators at the show. The con organizers did a good job handling lines for JMS' signing. As you paid your attendance, they gave you a slip of paper with a number on it. They then called out the numbers in groups of 25 to get in line. I never saw a line longer than ten people at the table at any one time, allowing for plenty of conversations and autographs. I had a BABYLON 5 DVD set and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN hardcover autographed. I was humbled when JMS recognized my name and said that he's read the column before. I don't get awestruck too often at comic book shows anymore, but that was definitely one moment.
Adam Kubert was a signing machine, signing any stacks of comics you'd care to put in front of him. In the short time I was on line, he only had to say, "Nope, that's my brother's comic" once. I brought my hardcover copy of ULTIMATE X-MEN Volume 1 with me to diffuse just that possibility. They both drew issues in there. Phriend Phil, who accompanied me to the show, went to the Kubert School of Art for just over two years, so the two had the chance to relive old times.
Jamal Igle continues to do every other show I attend. He sketched for fans and showed off some very nice black and white pages from his Humanoids work. (Newsarama has some color pics.) That work is about half finished now. Sadly, DC will probably reprint all three books together in one trade paperback next year at the smaller size. Igle's pages are packed. The background detail is outstanding. Squeezing all of that work onto the smaller page is going to hurt it.
As is a con tradition, I present the Obligatory Jamal Igle Pic.
Picked up an Oracle sketch from Rick Leonardi, who also showed off black and white pencil photocopies of upcoming BATGIRL issues. Leonardi doesn't get enough credit as it is, but some of that BATGIRL work I saw this weekend is the best stuff he's ever done: good architectural details, varying panel layouts, interesting perspectives and angles in the work. It's almost a shame it has to be inked, as good a job as Jesse Delperdang is doing on it. Also, DC Editorial is bound to make him cover up Poison Ivy more, so you're all going to miss the halo of leaves that barely cover her body in the original art.
Hawthorne High also turned out to be a nirvana for Lettering Geeks. At one point, I was talking with Chris Eliopoulos, Bob Pinaha, and John Workman all together. In the end, all I got was a picture of me with Workman. (Thanks to Buddy Scalera for being the expert photographer. Did I mention he sells CDs of photo reference for comic artists? It was like getting a picture taken by a professional.) Next time I get this chance, I'll be sure to get a pic of the SAVAGE DRAGON letterers Past and Present together.
Workman still does all his lettering by hand, although he has a technique where he scans in his hand lettering for tweaking and adjusting on the computer before the final compositing. He's also a small self-publisher, creating small photocopied books centering on different facets of the comics industry. Topics covered include where the industry went wrong, what kind of readers comics have, how comics are produced, and even a small 'zine of his original art.
These tracts -- if I may call them that -- are mostly the kinds of essays that people today throw up on a web page or a message board somewhere. Instead, he prints them up in small pamphlet/booklet form and sells them at cons and through the mail. After I have the chance to read the four I picked up at the show, I'll be sure to review them here.
Danny Fingeroth was a mad pimping machine, selling copies of his book, SUPERMAN ON THE COUCH, and back issues of WRITE Magazine. The issue with a JMS interview in it was likely the most brisk seller. He's also putting together classes on comics writing and the industry in New York City.
I talked to former Marvel and Topps Comics editor Jim Salicrup for a while. I didn't have anything for him to sign, but he does do "lousy sketches" for a small fee. "Slightly Less Lousy Sketches" cost twice as much. He adorned my sketchbook with a page I could only refer to as "Jim Salicrup Snows Under The Marvel Universe."
My bone-headed move of the show: In sorting through some comics the other day, I ran across the Marvel-licensed SLEDGEHAMMER! comic, based on the mid-1980s sit-com that's arriving on DVD this summer. I pulled it out and put it aside so I could talk about it when the DVD comes out. I looked at it in the morning before I left for the convention. I saw it again when I stopped back home for lunch.
It was only after the con that I remembered Jim Salicrup wrote the thing! How cool would that have been to get signed? It's just obscure enough that there's a chance he forgot about it. Drat!
I'm going to drag that comic book around with me to all future conventions now, on the off chance I run across him again.
The one big side effect of the show is that I wanted to get home, lock myself in a room, and read comics for the next week. I forgot just how energizing a good show can be.
Thanks and congratulations to Allan Rosenberg and all the staff and students at HHS who put on a fun show. It was a pleasant oasis in a sea of increasingly large and repetitive Big Name Comic Conventions.
PLANET OF THE CAPES
I think that might be the only way to describe PLANET OF THE CAPES, the latest writing outing from Larry Young, with art by SWITCHBLADE HONEY's Brandon McKinney. Is it a paper-thin plot of superheroic excess, or a manifesto of "What Went Wrong" propaganda for the comics industry? Why are these funny-looking men, women, and aliens killing each other for no good reason? And what does that say about us? The mind boggles.
This book is Young's commentary on the comics scene, cleverly hidden under a thin veneer of superhero puffery to avoid some of the thornier discussions that inevitably arise from the sillier arguments on the state of the industry. Young could have written a two-page essay and spit out all the ideas in this book succinctly. He could have posted it on the Internet, and we all could have sat by and watched the flamefest burn bright. But we've seen it all a million times on message boards and blogs all across the Internet. Why bother?
That's where Young gets smart. POTC stretches his side of the argument into a superhero's graphic novel, weeding out the weak or those who just don't want to bother. This is a book you'll have to work at. It wasn't until I read it the second time that many of the analogues became clear to me. I had bits and pieces, but it took the second reading and some hints from others to start putting them together.
In effect, there's nothing new in this comic except the comic. The ideas Young presents throughout the book include topics of Mutually Assured Destruction between Marvel and DC, the idea of Big Comic Companies turning their backs on their readership, independent publishers strip-mined for their best stuff by The Big Two, etc. You have to be willing to look into the book a little harder than usual to pick it all up. I hated English classes in college, in part, for just that reason. Stories which require the reader to hurt his head analyzing it and searching for hidden deeper meanings hold no sway with me. I read for the enjoyment. I like a smart story, but I don't like authors who think they're too clever for their readership. Larry Young comes dangerously close to that in this book, and that's where the troubles arise. The parallels between comics' Real World and the POTC's world are not as obvious as, perhaps, they should have been. I've seen enough people on-line pick up on the relevant stuff to be convinced that it's not completely hidden. However, an occasional nudge in the ribs might have helped, even if it risked being too obvious or expository.
This doesn't mean I think you're stupid if you don't get it. I've had enough of that mud flung at me over the years, thanks, for daring to not enjoy SANDMAN or thinking Grant Morrison is overrated. In the case of POTC, it will either be up your alley and worth taking a careful look at, or it won't be and you'll be disappointed. If so, no skin off my nose. Send your complains to AiT/PlanetLar. Just be sure to read this review very carefully before using it as an excuse to blow your $13 on the book.
It's funny, but once you've seen through it all or read the cheat sheet on it, the dialogue goes from being slightly hokey comic book dialogue to sledgehammer-in-its-subtlety comics industry commentary. Kastra, speaking clearly for Larry Young in the direction of the more wildly independent comics publishers (Fantagraphics?), says, "He's just pissed off at the state of things. He's got all this power, and he can't seem to harness it long enough to do anything good with it. He's all turmoil and frustration."
The book reads completely differently and, I might add, much more satisfyingly once you've seen through the coat of superpowered dirt that Young uses to hide his point.
Narcissist that Young is, he seems to have placed himself and his company's role in the comic book industry in the body of a buxom alien babe. Hey, if you're writing the books and making the rules, I say go for it. Along those same lines, you'll smile at the chutzpah to have that same character proclaim, "It's tough being the one with all the brains."
At the very least, you get a book in which Young can write the Fantastic Four for a few pages and nobody gets sued. They appear near the end of the book, just before Everybody Dies and Nobody Learns Anything.
McKinney's artwork does serve the story well. He does a great job in making this book feel like a superhero book while drawing it in a less frenetic style. It's toned down enough to make it feel like "regular people" are populating the story. If everything were glossy and iconic, the impact would not be as great. The reader's mind would be too stuck in the classical superhero mold to get out far enough to see the book for what it is. McKinney deserves credit for that.
PLANET OF THE CAPES is a challenging book. It's like nothing else the publisher has ever sent to store shelves. Heck, it even has a color sequence in the middle of it. But if you stick with it and pick up on the hints Young lays out, it's a satisfying read with a devilish smile behind it.
I've now reviewed two AiT/PlanetLar books in as many weeks. Take that, comics blogosphere!
Special thanks again to Phriend Phil and Buddy Scalera, for their excellent photography skills.
Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with more news and reviews.
Over at Various and Sundry this week, you'll get more AMERICAN IDOL commentary, thoughts on the SURVIVOR ALL STARS finale, an O.A.R. concert update, the down side of electric cars, and a lot of other little links.
More than 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 also still available at the Original Pipeline page.