I did so many great things at Comic Con International: San Diego this year!
I went out of my way to focus on comics and only comics, so I had a different experience than almost anyone else there, since even the most die-hard comics fans generally mix some Hollywood action into their convention experience. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, I like the Hollywood stuff as well, but after 27 years of attending the convention I find that most of the “show exclusives” end up in boxes in my garage and the Hollywood panels reveal information that I’m able to see on the internet, and it’s not like I’m being invited to have one-on-one interactions with any of the celebrities. Being seated several hundred yards from them in a massive room where I can only see them on the big screen in the room is not much better, for me, than just watching them on a screen after the convention.
Comics panels, on the other hand, are typically much more intimate affairs with anywhere from 30 to a hundred or so people in the room (as opposed to thousands). The ability for direct interactions with the panelists is a very real thing. I was able to ask questions and get real responses (not just a ‘stock’ answer approved by a marketing department) in a bunch of the panels I attended. I talked to comics creators after their panels in the hall, or at their booths/tables and was able to thank them for the entertainment they have provided over the years.
I attended 25 panels and did lots of other stuff so it’s hard to boil it down to just a top 10, but people seem to like Top 10 Lists, so I’m going to give it a shot:
10. Spotlight on Jamie McKelvie
McKelvie was joined by his long-time collaborator Kieron Gillen who served as moderator/interviewer as he led us through McKelvie’s early days, breaking into the business, artistic influences, and musical influences (since music plays such a key role in many of their projects). It was fascinating to get the behind-the-scenes view of a creator I’ve enjoyed for so long, and seeing the two of them interact it was clear they were great friends as well as collaborators. After the panel they posed in the hall for pictures with the people in attendance cosplaying as characters from their current fan-favorite series The Wicked+The Divine, and they were genuinely nice and unrushed with their fans.
9. Overstreet: 46 and Counting
This panel started off on a bit of the wrong foot with a video featuring lots of comics dealers talking about the Overstreet Guide and how it helps them make money by seeing what they can charge. People who know me know that the monetary aspects of comics collecting are not my favorite thing. There’s nothing wrong with making money off comics, it’s just not my thing, and I would not enjoy listening to an hour of talk about how to make money off of comics. Thankfully, as soon as the short video was over and the panelists started talking, they really focused on the comics fandom aspects of the Overstreet Guide. Using it as a reference tool to see what issues and series existed, what were key events, what were reasonable prices they would need to pay to get a comic for their collection. They reminisced about the early days of the guide and coming off the “wild west” days of not really knowing what was out there and what were reasonable prices to pay. There were stories of dealers who would take a guide that was a few years old with them when going to buy collections (so as to pay less) but always having the latest one for when they would sell.
I must admit that I have always been leery of dealers who charge at or above maximum prices, but that’s basically how we see rising prices/values. If there are recorded sales above guide price, then the guide rises to reflect those prices, so dealers are always looking to test those limits of how much fans will pay to get that desired collectible because it will raise the value of their stock for future sales.
The highlight of this panel, however, was meeting Maggie Thompson afterwards, having a short chat with her. I read The Comics Buyer’s Guide (edited by Maggie and her late husband Don) for over 20 years and particularly enjoyed it when it was in the old “weekly newspaper” format that came to me via the mail. This was our ‘internet’ for fandom before there was an internet. I’d read the letters column ‘Oh, So?’, Peter David’s ‘But I Digress’, Bob Ingersoll’s ‘The Law is a Ass’, and Tony Isabella’s ‘Tony’s Tips’ column, and many more. Meeting Maggie and letting her know about all the comics joy she brought me over several decades was the highlight of this panel for me. I truly consider her to be the patron saint of comics fandom.
8. Spotlight on Matt Fraction
For early on Sunday morning, Matt Fraction was certainly “on”. The man brought his A game throughout the panel, animated and engaging with the audience. Jokes and witty quips throughout, he was extremely engaging as Brothers took us on a tour of Fraction’s comic history. Getting behind-the-scenes on seminal works like Hawkeye and Casanova, as well as his side of working with Howard Chaykin on Satellite Sam (a series that everyone should have a look at). If you ever have a chance to see a Fraction panel, jump at it, this guy has it down.
7. Twisted Roots of Comics: Pulp Magazines and the Birth of the Modern Comic Book
A wealth of comics history knowledge on this panel: Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is co-writing (with Gerard Jones) a biography of her grandfather, the man credited with creating the modern comic book, as well as the founder of DC); Gerard Jones among other things, wrote Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book; Nathan Vernon Madison is a scholar who wrote Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books; Brad Ricca is author of SuperBoys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; and Michael Uslan is a producer of the Batman movies and was the first instructor to teach an accredited course on comic book folklore at any university, he has also written a number of comics and has an autobiography called The Boy Who Loved Batman.
You just cannot get this amount of sheer information about comics most places, listening to these folks talk about the origins and history of comics for an hour was a real treat.
The highlight of this panel for me was when Michael Uslan pointed out that the Batman story in Detective #27 “Case of the Chemical Syndicate” is directly lifted (the plot as well as some dialogue and captions duplicated word for word) from The Shadow pulp, November 1936: “Partners of Peril”. Spot illustrations from the pulp are also lifted for some panels of the comic (with Batman in place of The Shadow, of course). So….Batman’s 1st appearance is partially plagiarized from a Shadow pulp! I did not know this!
6. Spotlight on Howard Chaykin
Chaykin held the microphone and just walked around out by the audience. No moderator, this was pure Chaykin. The man is extremely talented and seems to be his own harshest critic, but is very entertaining to listen to. From his earliest days to his latest work, as well as working with other professionals and publishers, Chaykin covered it all in a very entertaining hour.
Chaykin also slid in a plug for his table down in Artist’s Alley. Everything he was selling was original art, even the above pieces that might, on first glance, appear to be character studies or sketches. Chaykin explained that he likes to do the figures like this and then composite them together with backgrounds and textures in Photoshop nowadays. He’s clearly a master of design and I love the way he draws clothes. In fact, he admitted that he doesn’t like to draw skintight costumes and would much rather draw ‘regular’ clothes. I also got the scoop on the tape you will frequently find on his original art. It turns out that he uses Scotch Blue matte finish tape for corrections (there are also green and red varieties of the tape, named based on the color of the boxes they come in). The Blue, he explained, is great at taking his pencils and inks. He’ll often use it in areas (faces, hands, etc.) where he wants to get some detail just right.
5. Kickstarter Dinner
While not on the formal SDCC schedule, I was invited to a Kickstarter dinner where they were getting together backers and people who had run successful Kickstarter campaigns. It was an information gathering/sharing event held at a very nice restaurant in the Gaslamp district. Being a backer of well over 100 projects, holding the Guinness Record for largest comics collection, and being on the Press list for SDCC combined to get me my invitation. I was seated between Jimmy Palmiotti, who has run a number of very successful Kickstarters for original comics, and Scott Rosenberg, Chairman & CEO of Platinum Studios and (in 1986) founder of Malibu Comics. There were a number of other artists, writers, publicists, etc at the dinner and it was fascinating talking to them all, but I had the most fun with Jimmy and Scott. I have a lot of respect for Jimmy’s body of comics work and we chatted about a lot of it, as well as completely non-comics related stuff. Scott started out in comics by running a mail-order business when he was 13! He’s a huge fan of comics and we had great fun talking about all kinds of comics. I think he was surprised that I could rattle off so many titles from Malibu, Adventure, Aircel, and Eternity that I had read back in the day. I loved the Ultraverse titles before Marvel bought the company and swiftly ran the Ultraverse into the ground. I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to network with all the people who were at this event.
4. Hanging out with Friends
This one is a recurring favorite for me year-in and year-out. Typically in the Top 5, save for the really outstanding moments at con that make me go “WOW!” I’m always amazed that with the sheer number of people at this convention that I always seem to bump into a number of people I know on the floor. Given that I was only on the show floor for a total of less than 4 hours Thursday thru Sunday, I’m amazed that I bumped into anyone, but actually spent time with 5 or 6 people, putting my “bump into” ratio around 1.5/hour. Add to this attending panels with people I know (thanks to Comic Con’s MySched app, I can see friends schedules and they can see mine) and then having dinner with people I now every night, I was truly blessed to have so many folks to spend time with.
3. Jack Kirby Tribute Panel
Mark Evanier, long time friend of the Kirby family and Kirby historian/biographer, opened up the panel this year with a sentiment I have expressed myself in the past, only to be shouted down by Kirby zealots (to be clear, I have been shouted down by the zealots, Evanier was not, there was an odd silence after his opening monologue).
So what did he say that was so packed with truth, yet sop potentially controversial? In a nutshell (I’m paraphrasing, but have the general gist of his message intact, I believe):
“Jack Kirby now has co-creator credit on all the things he created with Stan Lee. His name is on the movies and in new printings of the comics. Whenever there is a collaboration of two creators it generally says ‘created by X and Y’. There is not a percentage attached on who created what parts or who created more than the other. It is quite clear that the characters created by Jack and Stan were created by both of them. At this point there is nobody who could accurately attribute a percentage to either one, so let it stand and accept the ‘created by Lee & Kirby’. Kirby fans have got to let go of the vitriol they typically direct at Stan Lee.“
There was certainly more than this in his talk to the audience, it went on for at least 5 minutes and he quoted various people he had spoken to who had worked at Marvel back then who all agreed that both men had contributed to the characters. For my own part, I only have to look at the characters themselves. The things created by Stan & Jack are unique. They are not like the things Stan created outside the collaboration with Jack. They are not like the things Jack created by himself or in collaboration with others. There is a certain spark in the Lee/Kirby (or Kirby/Lee) creations that does not exist elsewhere. They are collaborative creations and worrying about the exact percentages to attribute to either man is not only unknowable, but also kind of a waste of time and energy.
Later in the panel, during the Q&A session, a man asked the question: “What percent of the various characters do you think Jack created? He created more than Stan, right?” Evanier, nonplussed, responded “You weren’t here at the beginning of the panel, were you?” No, the man was not. Evanier gave an abbreviated retelling of the “Let it go!” speech and moved on. BRAVO, Mark!!
2. March: Featuring Congressman John Lewis
John Lewis is AWESOME. He is a National treasure and I wish everyone would read his March Trilogy and learn more details about the Civil Rights movement, from the lunch counter sit-ins all the way up to the 1965 events in Selma, Alabama and the signing into law by Lyndon Johnson of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Hearing Congressman Lewis speak is inspirational. His co-creators Andrew Aydin (the man who convinced Lewis to make this graphic novel trilogy) and artist Nate Powell were pretty great also.
I sat next to several 4th grade girls who were at the convention as part of a field trip to see this panel and meet the Congressman. They had all read Vols. 1 & 2 of March in school and were able to speak about it with me. They were all going to get copies of Vol. 3 after the panel at the IDW booth. That these books are part of school curricula is wonderful. That kids are learning this stuff should be applauded. That there is a teacher (and a school principal and school district that allow it) bringing kids to comic con to meet John Lewis is something I’d never have dreamed of as a kid. This year’s panel was fairly similar to last year’s panel, but still inspiring and I still loved it. Now that March is complete, it may be Lewis’ last year at comic con, so I’m glad to have been able to hear him speak.
1. 28th Annual Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
There were a number of reasons that this made my #1 spot this year. It combined elements of a number of other favorite things all into one star-studded evening celebrating comics best. The Eisner Awards are the Academy Awards of Comics. While there are not a lot of standard super-hero comics nominated (in much the same way that summer blockbuster action movies are typically not a strong presence at the Oscars) there were a lot of deserving nominees. I had read a decent percentage of the nominees and feel that the ones I had read were all well-crafted and great examples of the comic book art form.
Now let’s add in the friends element. I was invited to sit at one of the tables in the VIP section; reserved for sponsors, nominees, and their guests. My ticket in was Conan Saunders from MyComicShop.com, and I’ll thank him again for inviting me to his table! Conan was at the show alone this year and shared his half-table with a friend of mine, Trevor, who knows and lives near Conan in Texas, as well as myself and tow other friends Andrew and Lisa. We got a fairly decent buffet dinner and decently close seats for the show. We chatted the evening away over dinner before the show and between presenters, as well as after it was over. The table seating made this an Eisner ceremony to remember.
The ultimate? At the end of the ceremony, as we were walking out of the ballroom, we walked right by John Lewis, who was standing with several other people getting ready to leave. I stopped and congratulated him on his Eisner, at which point he turned to me and shook my hand engaging me in conversation. I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed March, how inspirational I found him, etc. He’s very good at making you feel you have 100% of his attention, if only for the minute you’re interacting with him. I’m sure this has served him well in his career as a politician, but it’s no less impressive when you experience it first hand. I’m a bit (a lot?) starstruck by the man. He has helped make so many changes to this country for the better and his work is far from done.
Comic Con International: San Diego 2016 (aka San Diego Comic-Con, aka SDCC) was an awesome experience for me as a comic fan. I’m sure it was awesome for many other people for many reasons, and there were probably others who were just turned off by the lines, the crowds, or any number of other personal reasons that didn’t really affect me. Personally, after 27 years I’m still loving this show. The challenge in getting tickets is the one real problem that can manifest itself at any time and prevent me from continuing my attendance streak, and if/when it does, I’ll be sad. Until then? It’s a show I look forward to every year and I really believe it’s the number one comic-book oriented show anywhere. If you want comics and comic book content, and look for it, you’ll find FAR more here than anywhere else.
Bob Bretall: email@example.com
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