San Diego, 2003.
Where does one start? Probably trying to park. That’s as good as place as any. And in San Diego, it means a couple of things. One, that you’re going to pay through the nose ($12 on Thursday, $15 on Friday, $20 on Saturday plus another $10 to park that night and $15 on Sunday) and you’ll have the privilege of walking a fair stretch. That’s before you get to set foot in the convention center.
For those of you who haven’t seen the new convention center, it’s got an oddly nautical-inspired design, complete with billowing sails atop the main atrium between the north and south halls. Add to this a series of sort of gigantic concrete and glass Habitrail (google that one if it’s a little confusing) structures and you might begin to have some kind of idea what you’re dealing with. And it’s big. Really big. Walking from one end to another is something like a quarter-mile.
So, I’m there and I wander up to the registration area. Along the way, I run into Doug Tennapel, the creator of Creature Tech (who I’d recognized from a presentation he’d been at earlier in the year) and strike up a conversation to pass the time while we move through the line. Doug’s an incredibly nice guy, quite funny and pretty damn good writer too. End plug. The folks there were quite speedy and professional when it came to processing entrants. And just to show that they don’t play favorites, I was processed through the pro line (managed to get that set up at the last minute) in the same amount of time it took my non-pro friend to get in. Though I understood that on Saturday, the time to get from the line to inside ranged anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours. There’s a reason why I register early, folks.
Down to the floor. As I mentioned above, it’s big. Every year it manages to get a little bigger. This year, it’s basically double what it was three years ago. And it was really big then. I’ll date myself by saying that I remember going to the Con in 1988, when it was still held at the Civic Center Plaza, and probably a quarter the size it was this year. Every year, I think I’m ready to take it. Every year, I’m wrong.
I thought I’d had a plan, but it was completely forgotten in the face of the overwhelming psychic presence of the convention floor. Like a bird who’d just flown into a window, I shook myself off and wandered, wobbly and shaken. About the first place I can actually recall sensibly was the booth set up by the Royal Academy of Illustration and Design (manned by Cameron Stewart, Chip Zdarsky, Kagan McLeod and Ben Shannon). If you’ve read this column before, you know how I feel about Mr. Stewart’s work on Catwoman (hint for those who haven’t before: I like it a lot), but wasn’t familiar with the work of just about everyone else there (though I’d heard of Mr. Zdarsky’s Prison Funnies, which I’ve subsequently read and both been repulsed and amused by and recommend to anyone with a strong sense of humor). They all seemed pretty stand-up gents, though I’d watch Mr. Zdarsky, as I don’t really trust anyone who wears a cowboy hat indoors. While there, I picked up a copy of their Rumble Royale book, which I give a hearty endorsement to (soon to be available through Cold Cut, and Diamond eventually, or so I’ve heard.)
I also took the opportunity to look through some of Mr. Stewart’s Catwoman pages. It’s always a real treat to see original art at full size, particularly when it’s done by artists who handle everything themselves. No matter how good the reproduction, you’re always losing something. Those original pages still have a lot of magic that doesn’t quite end up in the finished product, and it’s thrilling to get a chance to see the originals of great artwork. Surprisingly, the pages were priced very reasonably (particularly for a book getting the buzz that Catwoman is getting) and lingered over more than one of them. But here it was only an hour or so into things and I was contemplating original art. I was definitely getting ahead of myself, swept up in the moment.
Moving on, I simply wandered the floor, dodging Klingons and pirates, X-Men and costumes that even I was hard-pressed to identify. I can only recall flashes of what was going on then. I’ve been to conventions like E3, which are simply audiovisual overload and I can manage to cope effectively with those. But the Comic Con is something different. Something about the range of media and aesthetics at work always manage to just swamp me and I end up bouncing around like a human pinball in a game that’s being played by a bunch of half-drunken Hell’s Angels.
None of the panels that I’d agreed to cover were taking place for another few hours, so I wandered off with the ebb and flow of the crowd. I found myself dazedly paging through the oversize Comics Journal collected interview editions, primarily of Frank Miller’s work, which were really beautiful pieces of work, but I could pick those up at any time from their website. I wanted to take home stuff that was really special, if I was going to be parting with my hard-earned money at all (hey, this internet writing gig doesn’t pay the big bucks, okay?) Before I knew it, I was chatting with Dirk Deppey, who puts together the Comics Journal’s weblog, Journalista! He looked only slightly more dazed than I did, but then he’d been up since four that morning to get on the plane down here. I’d only been up since five because of my son. That seemed about even.
Soon, the flow of humanity took me down to the artist’s alley. Lemme tell ya, going to the alley within two hours of the Con opening isn’t a good idea. You’d be lucky to find a quarter of the tables filled up, if at all. I made a quick reconnoiter, but only recognized a handful of folks, many of whom I wasn’t really looking to chat with (though it’s always fun to look over Peter Kuper’s art, particularly the neat Spy vs. Spy pieces he’s done that are a little lighter than the heavily political work he’s better known for.)
Helplessly, I was swept back up by the flow of the milling crowds, churning like a mighty river being moved by Kryptonian hands. Before I’d fully grasped the situation, I was being rushed past the ramparts of the mini-Mordor of the Lord of the Rings booth complex (which may or may not have been New Line Cinema itself; it was so hard to tell.) I was able to pull myself free of the seething morass of Graphitti T-shirt clad attendees in time to jump off at the relative safety of the Allen Spiegel Fine Arts booth. This was the convention home of Dave McKean, John J. Muth, Kent Williams and Greg Spalenka (who himself isn’t really known for comics work but more traditional fine art.)
Note that I said relative safety. While it wasn’t mobbed by fans, it posed dangers to my wallet that were both very real and very frightening. Original pages from Mr. McKean’s Cages were finally available to the general public. They were very large, very pretty and very pricey. Of course, it goes without saying that they were worth the asking price. Just not to me at the time. Though I was perfectly happy to look them over (as well as the odd page from some of his older work such as Signal to Noise or Hellblazer, and I’d cursed myself for not picking them up years ago, not that I could have afforded them back then as well.)
Mr. Muth had a selection of pages from the Lucifer: Nirvana graphic novel on sale, and while they were within my reach, they weren’t what I was looking for. I didn’t ask if he was doing sumi ink painting/sketches this year, but I’d gotten a couple from him over the years pervious, and they’re beautiful work. He did, however, have copies of his children’s books available, including one called Batman’s Secret which was about young Bruce Wayne stumbling across the batcave for the first time. I’m not sure if it’s the best thing to be reading to young children at night, but the work was wonderful.
You could have a worse time than stop at any of the back issue dealers (particularly those handling Golden Age material) and simply paging through the covers of the books they had on hand. Yeah, a lot of it was hokey and probably laughable by today’s standards, but the imagination at work there is something to behold. When not fettered by the constraints of ‘realism’, comics are really an amazing distillation of frenzied imagination laid out on the page. Anything that you could think up has probably been slapped onto a funnybook cover (and they managed to get away with a lot of things that would probably never, ever fly in today’s intellectual climate.) Do yourself a favor next time you’re at a con and just park in one of the bins and look this stuff over. Yeah, Grant Morrison writes trippy and insane stuff now, and gets great illustrators to back him up, but there’s a reason why he started writing what he does, and the Golden Age comics are a nearly pure hit of that.
I indulged in a stop at the Splash Page Art booth, where Chris Weston (of The Filth and Ministry of Space fame) was signing and sketching. I also then made the mistake of flipping through one of the books of his artwork there. It’s amazingly detailed work that would probably drive normal artists over the brink of sanity, but Mr. Weston seems to be doing pretty well at it. My hand lingered over a beautiful (and multilayered) double-page splash from The Filth #3, featuring characters jumping out of a comic and into the Third Dimension. Fortunately, I summoned the willpower to put it down, though it really was a steal at its offered price. Splash Page had a lot of great work there as well, from artists like Duncan Fergredo, Sean Phillips and Michael Lark, but I was running out of time before I had to move on to catch the first of my panels.
Though I did have time to swing by the DC booth before I ran upstairs, and decided to look things over. Oddly enough, I ran into Heidi MacDonald there (she of Comicon.com fame and others), who I’d been hoping to find, as I’d agreed to do some panel coverage for them just before the convention. She was far more personable than I’d expected, given that she’d just flown across country and spent nearly a full day rushing to and fro covering the convention. At any rate, it’s always good to put a face on the online persona (which is one thing that SDCC is really great for.) But by the time I’d finished talking to her, I’d lost my chance to look over the upcoming books from DC/Wildstorm (and really, I don’t want the surprise ruined, which is why I don’t read Previews, either.) I suppose this puts my fanboy status in question. Ah well.
I won’t rehash the panel coverage here. If you really want to read about ‘em, Frederik has put all the reports in one place here. It was enough work typing all the notes up once. I’m not doing it again. And next year, I’m bringing a laptop, dammit. Taking notes by hand and then retyping all of them is just beyond stupid. Besides, I type faster than I handwrite these days.
And thus ends day one, more or less.
Day two starts with a solid breakfast of pecan pancakes (carbs for energy and protein for staying power) and enough coffee to wake up a sleeping bull elephant. If you’re going into battle for a sustained campaign, then it’s best to be properly prepared.
Parked in the same lot as the day before, paid three bucks more. Go figure. Got rained on the whole time, too. Big drops about the temperature of human sweat. Very weird.
I really like Friday, actually. It’s still pretty uncrowded (for the most part) and everyone’s generally shed the deer-in-the-headlights look that’s all too prevalent the first day of things. People have begun to find their groove, figured out what’s wheat and what’s chaff, and usually loosen up a little bit. That and the celebrities start showing up around then.
Friday also happened to be my big panel day. The Batman, Vertigo X and Grant Morrison Spotlight panels were all on my hit list. There was something else that I’d planned on attending, but it was slipping my mind, first thing that morning. Apparently the coffee wasn’t strong enough.
Once in the door, I made it my business to say hello to Matt Brady of Newsarama, since I’d agreed to cover some panels for him as well. What can I say, I’m not only shameless, but I really know how to over commit my personal resources. Matt’s a good guy, though he was busy being the guy in charge and we only chatted for a couple moments before we both had to get back to business.
So, instead of spending the majority of the day milling around, I spent it on my (small by most fanboy standards) tuckus, in the semi-comfortable chairs of room IAB, which DC seemed to have almost completely monopolized. I wasn’t complaining, really.
Though I was on the floor long enough to make the personal acquaintance of one James Sime (he of the Isotope Lounge in San Francisco). A truer gentleman and more enthusiastic booster of comics you’re not likely to find anywhere. Grant Morrison was the second-snappiest dresser at the Con, and Mr. Sime was clearly head and shoulders above him (the hair makes the ensemble, it seems) in his sharp blue suit and tie. I’d chatted with him online, but not yet in person, and he delivers the same sophisticated wit and manner that you’d expect from his forum postings.
Again, coverage of those panels can be found here. Well, all of them but the one that I’d forgotten. And really, I was kicking myself once I’d realized what it was. Mr. Kevin O’Neill has been a favorite of mine for some time now, ever since I’d seen his work in a few issues of 2000 AD that had made it over to the West Coast in the early-mid eighties, I’d been intrigued. When Marshal Law was started up by Epic Comics in the late eighties, I was utterly hooked. His style was both sketchy and detailed, cartoony and utterly overblown, but at the same time pretty accessable. And it never, ever failed to deliver a punch (particularly when paired up with Pat Mills on writing.)
Unexpectedly, Mr. O’Neill was an unassuming gentleman, soft-spoken and quite accommodating when asked for signatures, though he wasn’t officially on-duty before his panel started. Yes, I’m a fanboy. Yes, I asked for autographs. He sat down and started up with little fanfare, primarily because his editor hadn’t yet arrived to moderate things, so Mr. O’Neill simply started up. He recounted his early days doing strips for British music magazines and various comics work (including work on some kid’s comics, which have a bigger market/following in the UK than they did in the US, well, at least during the time that he started in the early-mid seventies.)
Of his work at 2000 AD, Mr. O’Neill had a fair bit to say, particularly on the move from uncredited to credited artwork. He said that his first job there was actually to erase artist credits from pages (and that there was one artist in particular who went to great lengths to hide his signature in out-of-the-way places on pages, often taking an entire morning of work to find and obliterate them all.) Continuing, he pointed out that editorial at 2000 AD was very much against the idea of creator credits, feeling that once the creators got names, they’d become more famous and loved than the characters they wrote/illustrated. Eventually, they went to credits as an experiment and never went back. (And DC/Vertigo had their jobs made a lot easier, I’d add.)
Discussing his influences, Mr. O’Neill remarked that there were a couple of big ones that loomed heavy in his childhood. One of those was the availability of Marvel Comics that were used “as ship’s ballast” and could be found cheaply. “Those were always cooler than the DC comics that you could get at the stands, when you could get them.” The other big influence, one that shows up in his work to this day is that of Mad Magazine. Kurtzman and Elder were named directly, as was the predilection for placing subversive graffiti in backgrounds and on character’s personal items (seen to great affect in Marshal Law, but even currently in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)
Mr. O’Neill then told a bizarre story about a giveaway item that had been included with an issue of 2000 AD. Once, the magazine thought it’d be a good idea to give its readers a chance to more closely resemble the characters they read about by including a sheet of stickers designed to slap on and give the appearance of cybernetic parts underneath the skin of the wearer. That sounds like fun, huh? What would be better if you were thirteen and wanted to freak out your parents, right? Well that was all fine and good. Until 2000 AD started getting letters from concerned parents, not worried about their children looking like cyborgs, but the fact that they couldn’t get the stickers off! Apparently the adhesive wouldn’t unstick in the face of anything milder than “boiling water and caustic soda.”
Mr. O’Neill also holds the singular distinction of illustrating the only story that the venerable Comics Code Authority rejected out of hand, without giving any single reason other than being “entirely unsuitable.” The story in question was one of the backup stories slated to appear in a Green Lantern book or annual (though the name of the story escapes me at the moment, and I wasn’t taking notes, foolishly.) Mr. O’Neill got it into his head to actually find and call the Comics Code (who had a real office), who refused to discuss the matter with him. He was also finally able to turn up a dusty and forgotten copy of the Code at the DC offices, but found nothing in it directly that would immediately make his story unpublishable. Eventually the story did see print in a Green Lantern annual, and was reprinted in the Alan Moore collection that DC recently solicited.
Speaking of the League movie, Mr. O’Neill stated that he found it enjoyable, though it bore little resemblance to the original book and conceded that he and Mr. Moore were really writing an “R-rated comicbook” as opposed to a “PG action movie.” He also apologized for the lateness of the last issue of Volume II of League, saying that the pages were in his suitcase and had seen the view out a number of hotel windows and would be finished shortly, no later than the end of the month. He also revealed a bit of Volume III of League, but that’s been covered in a number of other places by now, so I’m not going to cover that again. This travelogue is already interminably long as it is; don’t need to add more to it.
There was much, much more, but I considered this a ‘fun’ panel and didn’t take notes, exhaustive or otherwise, so apologies if I left something out.
I returned to the floor, finding that I’d only about an hour or so to wander before I had to run back upstairs to catch the Grant Morrison panel. Against my better judgement, I went straight over to the Splash Page Art panel and purchased the spread from The Filth #3 that I’d lingered over earlier. Yeah, I’m a fool. I can live with that. And if I’m really on the ball, I’ll have a taken a picture of it and can send it along with this week’s column (but I wouldn’t hope for that…) Mr. Weston thanked me (as I’m sure my credit card company did) and I moved on, taking the page along for signature by Mr. Morrison once his panel let out.
Walking to and fro again, my friend spotted Crispin Glover (most recently of Charlie’s Angels, but most memorably of The River’s Edge) signing autographs at the New Line booth. It was…well….very strange to see an artist who’d spent such a lot of time and energy being deliberately obscure and weird doing something so mundane as dealing with a queue of autograph-seekers. I couldn’t help but just stare for a moment.
I was, however, able to spot Bill Sienkiewicz over at a dealer’s table, sitting and sketching. I was able to chat with him briefly and remarked how I’d seen the splash page from Elektra: Assassin where she was riding Garrett like a horse. I think a riding crop and a collar/leash were involved as well. Yeah, that was an eye-opener when I first read it too. But back to Bill, I remarked how that one page kind of summed up the entirety of the miniseries very neatly. “Yeah,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it at the time, back when I was a bit more naïve. But yeah, he was totally her b*tch.”
I dunno. I guess you had to be there. He also asked to look at the page that I’d just bought and marveled at artists who “could actually draw people in perspective like that outside of a computer.” He also mentioned that he was really looking forward to working on Batman with David Lapham and had already finished the first issue, pencils, inks and all. Mr. Sienkiewicz is always a treat to talk with, and this year he actually brought pages along from Big Numbers, so if you want to see a piece of lost comics history, you should track him down.
The more I think about it, the more I acknowledge that I’d left some important bits out of Mr. Morrison’s panel (which was really a Q/A session with the audience, as he hadn’t prepared any materials for discussion). I also realize that the only way to capture it would have been to sit there with a tape recorder and hope that I could pull the text out of his accented English. I didn’t do that, so you’ll have to accept the reports that have already been filed here. At least I think that one’s there.
With my brainpan cracked open and leaking clouds of cerebral fluids, I was unable to do more than mutely offer up the Filth pages for signature, which he looked over momentarily before signing. Surrounded by a throng of fans, Mr. Morrison was generous with his time and energy, happily signing and chatting. Truly a class act, for all his reputation for rockstar antics (which I saw to be pretty much unfounded, other than his fashion sense, perhaps.)
I’d only been on the floor for a little while that day. Why was I so wiped out?
Stopped for pizza and Elephant (a nice little beer bottled by Labatt’s) on the way home with a friend. Nearly gnawed my own arm off, driven to frenzied hunger by the smell of the pizza and an empty stomach for the 20-minute drive back. Got home, ate, wrote up panel reports, crashed. Crashed way too late, too. It took jackhammers to get me out of bed the next morning.
War is not Hell. Saturday at the Comic-Con is Hell. Just ask any of the folks who were sitting in the line outside to be processed (as some 20,000 new entries were.) The line went as long as three hours to get in the door, and population on the floor went up by what felt like at least fifty percent. Imagine a gigantic subway car just big enough for everyone to walk in an endless circuit and you get the feeling. You could look up to the ceiling and feel free, but on the ground, you’re stuck in a crush of a million mere mortals. For a few brief instants, I heard the thoughts of some proto-Morrisonian hive brain just beginning to emerge out of the crowd, though its thoughts were too random and inchoate to be made out clearly.
I heard rumors of a near-riot upstairs when Angelina Jolie was almost a no-show at the Tomb Raider panel, but wasn’t around to witness it, unfortunately. That would have been worth the price of admission right there. I tell ya, there’s nothing like a good riot to get the day started off right. Gets the blood pumping, ya know?
Wandered back over to the Artist’s Alley again and stopped at Rick Geary’s table. How to describe Mr. Geary? I suppose he works some of the same territory that Edward Gorey did, but Mr. Geary often spins into the politically absurd and historically ultra-obscure. At any rate, I was cajoled into picking up a collection of Lovecraftian material that he’d done some work for. H.P. Lovecraft is my weakness, doncha know? Well, one of them. Though I’ll probably pass on the fictionalized H.P. Lovecraft biography that Vertigo is working on (despite beautiful artwork) as I’m tired of stories about how Mr. Lovecraft really ran across the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods in his lifetime. I dunno. Comes across like fanfic to me.
Also managed to chat briefly with Micah Wright of Stormwatch: Team Achilles, which is rapidly becoming a favorite book of mine. Mr. Wright is a very astute and funny and politically incorrect guy who not only tells a good story but is able to prod you into thought at the same time (without resorting to bland polemics). And yes, before you ask, he really was an Army Ranger. I don’t suggest questioning the veracity of that claim to his face, okay?
Right around then was the call to head upstairs to cover Neil Gaiman’s spotlight panel. Yeah, it was in the big room. Not the BIG ROOM reserved for Hollywood celebrities, but just the big room. I guess I have what you’d call a love-hate relationship with Mr. Gaiman’s work (personally, he seems another Genuinely Nice Guy) and think that he could do with a bit tighter editing (at least when talking about The Sandman) but that folks are pretty much afraid to change anything he does. However, in person, he’s always entertaining, even if he doesn’t always answer your questions in quite the way that you want or expect him to. But more on him later.
After Mr. Gaiman’s panel, I made the mistake of returning to the RAID booth to look at the Catwoman pages again. I know. You’re thinking “Big mistake, Matt. You barely escaped there with your wallet intact last time. This time he’s got you for sure!”
You’d be absolutely right, but not in the way that you thought. I’d gotten there, and there was another gentleman looking through a second stack of pages that Mr. Stewart had brought, of work I hadn’t seen before. Most of them were far less expensive than the pages I’d seen earlier, which made me exceedingly happy. They were downright affordable. Yippee!
Then I got handed the rest of the stack that was just finished being looked at. I got about halfway through and stopped dead. There were Invisibles pages there. I’d completely forgotten that Mr. Stewart had done those at all, but there they were plain as day. My priorities immediately shifted. Catwoman pages were plentiful; I’d seen that with my own two eyes. But Invisibles pages were pretty tough to come by, so far as I’d seen, particularly those drawn/inked by Mr. Stewart (since he only did three in the series).
I put aside the two Catwoman pages that I’d been considering and looked long and hard at the Invisibles page, which didn’t have a price on the back (as most of the others had.) Maybe I’d luck out and it’d be a page that he wasn’t all that fond of and wanted to let go for the cost of a soft pretzel and a bottle of water from one of the vendors (about twenty dollars; no just kidding, but it felt like that.) Okay, that was purely delusional thinking, but it could happen.
I asked as to the cost of the page, hoping against hope. Mr. Stewart took the page, flipped it over, flipped it back and looked at it for a moment. He named a price. It was more than the other two pages I was looking at. But it was a very nice page that actually looked better than the printed version (particularly as it was a text-intensive page as printed, balloons obscuring a fair bit of the background material). That and it had some odd resonances with the discussion that Mr. Morrison himself had been leading the night before. Something just clicked and I agreed, not even bargaining on the price (and I should know better, being a semi-veteran buyer of guitars and paraphernalia that usually has no set price and is worth whatever someone will pay for it.) Unfortunately, Mr. Stewart wasn’t set up to taking credit cart payment (but his website is, heh heh) so I was off to find an ATM that fulfilled two important criteria. One, it had a line in front of it shorter in length than a full furlong, and two, that it didn’t soak me for the privilege of withdrawing MY OWN DAMN MONEY.
So I took a bit of a walk, knowing that I’d find neither under the roof of the convention center. Really, I think I was just looking for an excuse to get out from under the oppressive crowds and out into the sun for a bit (and a side quest to find the hidden Marvel Hospitality Suite, but that didn’t work out as my plan to follow Joe Quesada back to it never really materialized). Walked to the bank in a daze and let the solar power recharge me a bit. Then I made my way over to the infamous Ralph’s supermarket by the convention center. It was kinda busy a little. Bought some cheap water and peanuts (protein and fat keep you going a lot longer than sugar and chips will, folks; and remember to stay hydrated!) to sustain me through the afternoon.
Somehow plastic isn’t real money. I know it’s a cliché and all that. But it’s much easier to rack up expense on a little grey card than it is to actually hand out all that lettuce. I’m both poorer and richer for it, I suppose. But now I have a couple small pieces of some books that I’m a big fan of, and that’s not too shabby, really. But this could get to be a dangerous habit.
I’m not even going to talk about the feeling of looking over original Jack Kirby artwork, of which there was plenty there. It gives you chills. Though the sticker shock is enough to warn you off thinking about doing anything rash. More on that later, however.
Sometime during the afternoon, I stopped by Red Star central, that taking the form of the Archangel Studios booth, right up at the front of the convention center. As always, Christian Gossett was more than happy to shake hands and say hello, even recognizing me from years previous. I was even handed a copy of the new Archangel book Assassin, for which I’d seen an intriguing preview earlier. I’ll let you know how the book turns out, as it’s near the top of a sizable pile of stuff that I ended up taking home (and I can’t tell you how much free stuff I turned down). When you’re skinny like me, you can’t just take free swag lightly. Paper begins to weigh you down sooner than you realize.
To tell you the truth, most of Saturday is a blur. I know that I was there for the Van Helsing panel, but I only vaguely remember it and the rest of the con floor that day. I do remember trying to find Grant Morrison again, as I had another page for him to sign, but that he wasn’t slated to be anywhere until the early evening. Stopped by at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth and looked over their offerings. While there, my friend pointed out that Neil Gaiman was doing a benefit reading for the CBLDF that night. On a whim, we decided to pony up the sawbuck to get a ticket.
It was right about then that I called to check in with my better half and was quickly reminded that I needed to pick up someone at the airport in about forty minutes. Well, so much for hanging around to the end of the Livewire panel and getting a signature, and perhaps so much for seeing the reading, since I wasn’t really happy with driving all the way home and then turning around to get back in time for the reading. Oh well. It’s a donation to a good cause if nothing else, I decided.
Drove home with my houseguests and decided to return, braving Gaslamp Saturday night crowds in an effort to find a parking space. Listened to a Television bootleg blaring from my stereo as I wolfed down a barbeque bacon cheeseburger and inhaled the coke like a drowning man while dodging drivers more idiotic than myself on the way back down. Word of advice. If you’re looking to go back to the convention center on a weekend night, don’t try to go through Downtown to get there. The whole place was crowded like a low-rent Mardi Gras. Luckily I knew enough to get off the main arteries and found some quieter backwaters to prowl for parking. Ten bucks. This little sidebar was beginning to add up.
I’m almost convinced that Neil Gaiman should stick with prose. Particularly after listening to his reading that night. It’s very simple, clean and compact writing that really seems to come across better than his comics work (though Violent Cases, Signal to Noise and his Hellblazer story are pretty much unassailable; Sandman was (and is) largely great work but suffered a bit from going on too long in my eyes.) But his short stories are great little pieces of fiction that really wouldn’t translate all that well into graphic form without coming across as…just really weird and probably funny in the wrong way.
He joked about not wearing the scarlet velvet waistcoat that he wore to the first Midnight reading that he held at the Con, back a number of years ago now. Though he was able to joke in the face of what seemed to be impending exhaustion, as it seemed that he’d been on at least one panel a day, and probably more, plus charity signings for the CBLDF as well as just being at an event as draining as the Con.
Mr. Gaiman read a number of short works, including “October in the Chair”, “The Faerie Reel”, “The Wolves in the Walls” and a particular favorite, the unprinted adult fantasy story “The Problem of Susan.” I wouldn’t hold my breath on the last one ever being printed, either. It takes too many liberties with a certain children’s series for that author’s estate to be at all comfortable, I’m sure. But it was a chilling piece of work and quite moving at the same time. I’d probably pay to attend another reading just to hear it again.
The reading concluded right around midnight. Even if he’d been game to continue, I’m not all that sure I would have been. My friend and I headed back home, where I decided that I needed sleep more than I needed to file my panel reports for the day. Besides, who in the hell was going to be posting updates at one AM on a Sunday?
Nobody, it turned out. Not a big deal.
Sunday at the Con is bittersweet. Usually the programming isn’t that amazing, as people are generally well-baked by that point and very few folks are showing up for the panels first thing in the morning. That being noon and after, naturally. Case in point, the Wildstorm panel at 12:30, featuring both Jim Lee and Scott Williams, as well as the body of Wildstorm’s artists was very, very lightly attended (odd, as Mr. Lee’s drawing and Mr. Williams is inking the #1 book in the US right now.) This panel was also covered for other folks, and should be with my other panel reports here.
Luckily, I didn’t have to go far to catch my next panel. Okay, it was in the same room, so I didn’t have to move a damn inch. I don’t know if Greg Rucka is dedicated or totally nuts, but he informed the panel that he’d more or less just flown in from Oregon that morning to attend a friend’s wedding, after flying out either Friday night or Saturday morning. Yet he was back for the last day of the convention. That’s dedication, folks. The panel was covered elsewhere, but I did want to repeat one point that both Mr. Rucka and Ed Brubaker made. They both felt that their primary goal was not only to tell great stories, but to make sure that they gave the reader a decent value for their hard-earned money. Both of them felt that comics were too expensive to read once and throw away, and both felt it necessary to make sure that the stories not only worked once, but wouldn’t just be “fire and forget” in Mr. Rucka’s words. That’s a stand worth taking.
After that, I was in cleanup mode, though I had one more thing on my list that I want to take care of. Yeah, I was in very grave danger of being a total fanboy, but I wanted to track down Grant Morrison again, as I’d seen that he was going to be at the DC booth autographing early in the afternoon. Yeah, I’m a freakazoid. So what? I blame Mr. Morrison for dragging me back into comics in the first place, so I guess I’m a fan.
Luckily, my friend spotted Mr. Morrison right by the DC booth before he set up to do the official signing. We asked if he’d mind signing a couple things before he officially started (normally I try not to just bug pros who aren’t “on duty” as they’re probably more overwhelmed than anyone else). Oh, and a piece of advice for bald men who wish to blend in a crowd at the convention center: try a hat. The highlights from the overhead lighting at the center stand right out on clean skulls. Anyways, he quite politely obliged and signed the Invisibles page I’d gotten the previous day as well as a copy of The New X-Men: Imperial, which convinced me that the X-Men weren’t entirely played out after all.
As I’ve said in other fora, Mr. Morrison is a very personable, approachable guy (particularly for someone who has a reputation as a primadonna wannabe rockstar who goes out of his way to be weird.) I found none of that held true when I chatted with him for a few moments. He was more than happy to chat about things and a couple of his upcoming projects. However, if something was secret, it was going to stay that way, and he wouldn’t answer questions as to the nature of his upcoming project with Frank Quitely. I guess we’ll all just have to be a bit more patient.
So yeah. Good con this year. And really, there’s a lot of little stuff I left out, like Ed Brubaker doing his best impersonation of a carny barker and tossing out issues of Sleeper to anyone who’d catch ‘em (though to his credit, he was decidedly scrupulous in making sure that nobody under the age of 18 got one.) Though, really he shouldn’t have to do that. More people should actually pay for that book and read it ‘cause it’s consistently great. But yeah, these are the highlights. And I seriously doubt that more than three people on the planet are going to get this far through this quintuple-size edition of Full Bleed, but to those who do, my hat’s off to you.
I’m off to try and catch up on some sleep and maybe get back to work on some other things. Before I head off to another convention at the San Diego Convention Center next week. No joke. Though this one’s only good for a day, which to me sounds like a vacation right about now.