Category Archives: Events
Based in Los Angeles, The Comics Observer gets to experience some of the most fun and fascinating events in the world of comics.
Guest columnist Miguel Cima, director/host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics, looks at what makes comics so great, and what’s holding them back.
It’s hideously cliché to rag on the Comic-Con International: San Diego these days. We all know the complaints. It’s grown too big, has become overcrowded. Tickets are hard to get, accommodations can be next to impossible. Studios, games and toys have taken over most of the floor space. Indy professionals can’t afford the ballooning booth & table fees (if you can even get a table other than by signing onto a 3-year wait list). Even seasoned pros struggle for badges & beds (a top Vertigo writer, in fact, made his feelings know on Facebook; Comic-Con International required him to show a copy of his pay stub to verify his credentials as so to be approved for complimentary Pro Badges – he decided to stay home). Fewer opportunities to really spend quality time with fan favorites. Getting into decent panels is a game of long lines and serious time investment. And forget Hall H. I never go anywhere near Hall H.
But we love it. And we need to find a way to fix it. Each year, you can see the problems growing. The tension in the halls is palpable. People are more rude, even aggressive, crammed in and frustrated as they are. The good deal has become elusive. So merely plugging leaks isn’t going to cut it anymore – we have to think to the next level. The common conversations and planning currently surrounding this topic are cosmetic and sorely lacking in ambition. You’ve heard them: move the Con to Anaheim. Or Los Angeles, even Las Vegas – which to my mind makes the most sense, even though it’s not my kind of town really. Scuttlebutt has it that the Convention Center will be expanded straight to the water, getting rid of the park and marina, leaving room even for additional lodging to be constructed. I took a long hard look at the proposed area makeover, from above and the ground, just didn’t look convincing to me: amounts to nothing more than a much bigger band-aid than usual. Conventional wisdom has become useless. There has to be a bold leap, a real mutation (if you will) from a difficult-to-manage jumble that leaves many wanting to a whole new way of life for the Con.
And I’ve got an idea or two on that.
- Say Goodbye To The Annual Event: Welcome The 365 Attraction
I’m not kidding about this. What’s San Diego all about tourist-wise? Attractions. And why not? The weather is awesome, the gorgeous beaches alone are half the lure. But what else do you do in San Diego? There’s the Zoo – pretty damned famous. And Sea World. Visit some Missions, cross the border. Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland are doable by car. Great fun for the kids. So…how about San Diego’s newest attraction, The Great San Diego Comic Con? Sure, it may sound crazy. Basically, the Con would have to permanently occupy the San Diego Convention Center (or whatever space they end up using) and it would be open, like a park, all year long. You could break things up by section, sort of like they already are, just think like a theme park: Toy Land, Video Game World, TV Place, Movie Scene, Chotchke Heaven – and of course, Comics Corner. But rather than make all booths permanent, part of the beauty will be that the floor will always be dynamic. The summer can see robust film studio presence. The fall can be more of a TV vibe. Of course, Halloween will bring horror. Christmas will focus on toys, etc. And always – comics. And mix up the booths with some more traditional attractions. Comic-themed rides? Again you can follow Disney. Just ape the groove of It’s A Small World, taking a graphic trip through the comics of international artists. Drawing classes for kids? Automatronic Kirby creations? You can even have comic-themed games of chance. The scale could be as small as a carnival or as huge as Six Flags, either way, it’ll help keep visitors coming. And everybody would have a chance to go. Fans will have a plethora of calendar dates and preferred events to choose from. Retailers can come and go, as can publishers, artist booths and so on. The volume of an endless con will make it possible to charge attendees and exhibitors more affordable rates. The halls need not be as crowded. The current hotel stock could better handle demand. The little guys can get more space. The big guns can take over seasonally. You could go to Con five times a year and see five totally different shows. Regular people will want to go there. They will see comics. Their kids will bug them to buy comics. More people will read comics – hell, a retailer from their home town they never knew could be on the floor. I myself would go often.
- Move The Con To Disneyland
No, I am not kidding about this either. Why not? For the love of Mickey, Disney owns Marvel. We’re already halfway there. But a park’s not a convention center, right? Doesn’t have to be – if you’re willing to shake up the paradigm. Think of book fairs. All the booths are outside, people walking around in fresh air, pleasant atmosphere and those visitor thoroughfares have lots of space to set booths up on. Plus you gotta admit it – setting it all up in Disneyland would be awesome. Stroll through Main Street USA on a bright day, browsing back issues and new works. Move on to drunk late night studio parties on Space Mountain. And they have the hotel bandwidth in Anaheim for sure. I’d move it to a colder month – say October – which is Disney’s down season anyway, so it might even make more sense. No need to consider facilities – obviously Disneyland has that covered. And we could get existing rides done up in comics designs – anyone up for an EC Comics-style makeover of Pirates of the Caribbean? Nerds would own the park for a week – or maybe a little longer. A longer duration would allow events and panels to be repeated, perhaps relieving the waits and affording more access to more eager fans. And if there are lines – look, it’s Disneyland. That’s where lines were born. Besides, they could make good use of the neighboring, less popular Disney California Adventure to alleviate the crowds (you can drink there, but not in Disneyland, so maybe THAT’S where the studio parties happen). I like this as a second option.
- Jekyll And Hyde: Split The Baby In Two
I’m not as sure about this one, but it’s worthy of some chatter. How about one Con for fans, and another one for Pros only? One Con can be all about the geeks coming to buy and check out cool stuff. Another can be about people buying and selling their work, networking, pitching, etc. The pro one can be like MIPCOM or the American Film Market, the other one can be more like a really cool film festival. I’m not sure as to how the dynamics would shake out, but I’ll leave it for others to decide.
- Double Trouble: Just Do It Twice
Yes, this idea is just a new twist on the above idea. In Japan, they have their largest Con twice a year. Comiket is the single largest comics draw on the planet, boasting 500,000 visitors every time – or a million attendees a year. That’s like nine times as much as San Diego Comic-Con. It’s a weird Con as it focuses on self-published comics exclusively. Technically, it’s not a Con, but a Fair. Such quibbling aside, the point is that maybe having two Comic-Cons a year, keeping the current set-up, could allow the opportunity for access to allow more of the folks being squeezed out an opportunity to get their time in.
- Act Like A Normal Convention: Go Mobile
My dad’s a doctor and he belongs to a bunch of medical associations. Every year they have their meetings in different cities. And it works. All of the Normals do things this way. We can be like the Normals. Don’t be afraid. Now, I don’t want to rattle off all of the variables this would introduce to the Con, but I doubt most folks would be comfortable with the idea of having to deal with a whole new town every time. Still, you could add a local flavor each time, giving professionals from the region some deference, give them their chance to shine more brightly. A Seattle Con can be most distinctive from a New Orleans venue or Boston, etc. In this scenario, rather than be held hostage by the whims of the San Diego City Council, cities will bend over backwards for the chance to host. It’ll be like the Olympics. Comic Con will leave ruinous municipal debts in its wake, while raking in the dough…
If you think these are harebrained schemes – take a closer look at what Comic-Con is really considering. My ideas can’t be any dumber – and surely there are those who may have more radical solutions, equally warranting serious consideration. Who knows? One of these might just hit the nail on the head. There’s only one thing we can all agree upon with certainty: the current model is just not sustainable. Too many people want to go. There’s not enough space. Too many folks are excluded. There’s nowhere to stay and you gotta be ruthless & obsessed or connected to get in. The top dogs are eating up the floor more and more every year. At some point, all these stresses are going to make the thing buckle. The current structure just can’t hold her. I’d rather try something nutty than to await the inevitable implosion and decline – which by the way, would solve all the Con’s problems, as it would shrink and turn back into the thing comics fans really want to see anyway.
Argentinean-born New Yorker and NYU film school graduate Miguel Cima is a veteran of film, television and music. He has worked for such companies as Warner Bros., Dreamworks and MTV. An avid comic book collector since he could read, Miguel began writing stories in 4th grade and has not slowed down since. He is a world traveler, accomplished writer, filmmaker, and comics creator. He is the writer, director and host of the award-winning documentary Dig Comics. Follow Dig Comics on Facebook. Read Miguel’s comic book recommendations.
At Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6, where he’ll now be blogging weekly, he challenged the notion of who should be going to Comic-Con and why they can’t, and offers some solutions and alternatives.
He also gave Four Tips for Beginners in the following Navigate the Arts interview, which you can watch right here:
More interview segments were recorded, so keep checking back for more installments.
Let us know your thoughts and questions about Comic-Con in the comments below. Did you go this year?
Over the last decade, colleges and universities have been exploring a deeper appreciation and understanding of comic books than ever before. This kind of attention in educational circles is a crucial and valuable element in a higher level of acceptance of sequential art (comics, graphic novels, manga, etc.) as a rich form of communication and entertainment beyond just “Yeah I guess comics are cool ’cause I liked that Avengers movie”. Just as college students take film appreciation, art history, and literature classes, so to should they be able to take equally in depth classes on the value of the comics form. That is happening more and more, and one art and design school is taking it to the next level with a three-day comics symposium.
The Columbus College of Art and Design will hold their inaugural Mix 2012 comics symposium October 4-6, 2012. Robert Loss, programming chair for Mix and adjunct instructor for CCAD’s English Department, has sent out a call for proposals, papers, roundtables, and workshops with
a June 4 deadline an extended July 6th deadline. According to Loss:
“By bringing together artists, academics and other professionals and students interested in the comics art form, we hope to encourage substantial and lively discussion in a way uncommon to most academic and comics conferences. Panels and roundtables will feature a diversity of participants, and will be presented for an audience that is equally diverse and will include a sizable student population. We’re looking for people interested in reaching across boundaries and engaging in interdisciplinary conversations.”
Renowned cartoonist Chris Ware, who is best known for the award-winning graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth and his comic book series Acme Novelty Library, will be the event’s keynote speaker. And what’s particularly refreshing is that the symposium’s theme of epic narrative sounds like it’s going to be all about superheroes. But from the programming information released so far, while that genre won’t be ignored, they seem to realize there’s much more to comics than that.
An official website for the Mix 2012 symposium will soon follow. In the meantime, click through for more details:
One of the biggest days in comics is happening tomorrow – Free Comic Book Day! This is an annual event where free comics are given away to anyone who walks into a comic book store, and many stores have special sales and events, as well as artists on hand for free sketches, and lots more. Check out FreeComicBookDay.com for more details and to find participating stores near you.
The LA comedy quartet Jawiin put together this video to explain how Free Comic Book Day works (while addressing some confusion about the day):
Golden Apple Comics is opening at 10 am with free Gamma Labs and Hubert’s Lemonade drinks and a Cinco de Mayo taco bar with purchase. Our own Scott Shaw! will be doing Simpsons sketches, plus there’s a sidewalk sale, $5 grab bags, a kids play area, a bounce house, and more. Plus signings by Felicia Day and the cast of The Guild, Andrew Chambliss (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9), Scott Davis (Wrath of the Titans), Marc Andreyko (Manhunter), David B. Schwartz (Idolized), Peter Calloway (Anti), and Geoffrey Thorne (Prodigal: Egg of First Light).
Meltdown Comics will hold their Free Comic Book Day festivities from 11 am to 9 pm. As if giving away free comics wasn’t enough, they’ll also give you a 20% discount on any Marvel Comics products if you show your Avengers movie ticket stub. Plus a 50% off sale from 11 am to noon, 30% off all back issues, sidewalk comics by the pound ($3/lbs.), a Marvel Comics grab bag of 10 comics for $10, and more. Greg Weisman (Gargoyles), Victor Cook (Mecha-Nation), Caleb Monroe (The Remnant), Brandon Easton (Shadow Law), Scott Lobdell (Teen Titans) and creators from Archaia Entertainment (writers Tim Beedle [Fraggle Rock], Mike Kennedy [Bleedout] and Heather Nuhfer [Fraggle Rock]) will all be signing throughout the day.
Collector’s Paradise in Winnetka and Pasadena wasn’t content just having Free Comic Book Day. They’re expanding it to Free Comic Book Month with special events, signings and sales throughout May. But for tomorrow, there’s a 3-for-1 sale, and appearances by writers Ed Brubaker (Fatale), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), Joshua Fialkov (I, Vampire), writer Corinna Bechko and writer/artist Gabriel Hardman (Planet of the Apes), writer Kyle Higgins (Nightwing), the Mind the Gap team of writer Jim McCann and artists Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, Shane and Chris Houghton (Reed Gunther), and Matt Whitlock (Peanuts).
The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach has so many creators, like Richard Starkings (Elephantmen), Joshua Dysart (Harbinger), and Jeff Stokely (Fraggle Rock) and fun stuff to give away, they made a 20-minute preview video (special password at the end of the video gives you a 25% discount!):
Cartoonist and comics historian Scott Shaw! is taking his popular Comic-Con show Oddball Comics to a Hollywood comedy club all month long. Every Saturday night, he is presenting a slideshow of some of the silliest, weirdest and most baffling comic books known to man, and provides hilarious color commentary and background information.
Oddball Comics is appearing weekly at the comedy club Oh My Ribs! in Hollywood. Every show has a different focus or theme. This Saturday will be about sex, drugs and rock and roll. It will include a special look at the hidden (and not so hidden) sexual imagery in comics covers. Animation historian Jerry Beck will also join in on some of the commentary.
The show started last Saturday night and runs weekly until May 14 for a limited run of six shows only. If you’re in the LA area, catch it while you can. The show starts at 8 PM. Tickets are $20.
The Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are a set of awards for excellence in literature held annually since 1980. They are given to books published in the United States within the previous calendar year by a living author(s). Winners receive a citation and $500 for each category. The finalists for each category were announced recently, and the Graphic Novel category, the newest to be added to the prestigious prizes, has an impressive line-up. The Comics Observer looks at each Graphic Novel finalist in the build-up to the award ceremony April 20.
Joseph Lambert‘s debut graphic novel I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (published by Secret Acres) presents a set of short stories from a rising star exploring childlike perspectives. It has won the 2011 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Collection and Outstanding Artist. Some of the work originally appeared in mini-comics created and/or edited by Lambert. The Comics Journal‘s Rob Clough has named some of those mini-comics the best of 2010 (#21: Everyday) and 2011 (#4: Sundays: Forever Changes, #13: Too Far, #14: Kids). Lambert has also been recognized in several editions of the annual America’s Best Comics anthology, and was spotlighted by its editor Jessica Abel here. He’s a 2008 graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, where some of his short stories were published in the local alt weekly newspaper Seven Days.
Despite all of that, Lambert is almost definitely the most obscure pick among this year’s Graphic Novel finalists. Because most of his work has appeared in mini-comics until now, he’s under a lot of people’s radar. So this could be a significant win for someone so new to the game. It could also give a nice promotional push for his upcoming release Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller, a graphic novella aimed at younger readers.
He’s an exciting newcomer that almost surely has his best work ahead of him based on the promise he’s exhibited so far. And that’s no slight on the work in I Will Bite You! or any of his other current material. His sublime illustrations are unafraid to play with colors, form and the narrative convention of comics without losing any appeal and accessibility. Just check out his stunning use of colors and childlike discovery in the story Fall, available to read online for free at that link.
Two-page scan from The Comix Cube, which included I Will Bite You! on its Best of 2011 list.
Next weekend, the 25th WonderCon, a comic book convention traditionally held in the San Francisco area since 1987, will be hosted in Anaheim, a city in Orange County just south of Los Angeles. For those that have always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con, North America’s largest comic book convention, this is your chance to get to a more accessible and manageable version of that show. No 3-hour drive, no instantly sold-out tickets, and just a generally easier vibe. Both shows are owned and run by the same company, so format-wise, you’re basically getting the next best thing with less stress. Registration is still available, and unlike with Comic-Con, onsite registration will be possible, meaning you can decide to go that day and drive on down.
So what can we expect to see at WonderCon? The programming schedule for Friday, Saturday and Sunday have been posted, and there is plenty to do whether you’re new to comics or a longtime fan. Or explore the floor.
Here are some recommended highlights from the program:
2:00-3:00 Quick Draw! — It’s another battle to the death with Sharpies at twenty paces! Three of the fastest cartoonists alive draw and duel in what is always a standing-room-only event at Comic-Con in San Diego. This time, we have Scott Shaw! (The Simpsons), Disney legend Floyd Norman, and a player to be named later, all sketching like mad on the command of Mark Evanier. If you’ve never seen one of these, you need to experience it! Room 204
3:30-4:30 comiXology Open Discussion: Everything Digital! — Digital comics are the hottest topic and fastest-growing segment of the comic industry — with comic fans, retailers, and publishers embracing this new distribution and retail model. From self-publishing to same-day-as-print sales, digital retailer storefronts, and more, comiXology is the undisputed leader in this, the digital charge. Join CEO and co-founder of comiXology David Steinberger along with guest panelists for an open discussion on everything digital. All topics are game! Room 203
5:30-6:30 CBLDF: History of Comic Censorship — Learn the shocking history of comics censorship and how even today comics and the people who make, sell, and read them are still threatened. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund executive director Charles Brownstein tells the sordid tale, from the public book burnings and Senate hearings that led to the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s through the attacks on retailers in the 1980s, artists in the 1990s, and readers today that the CBLDF is working to combat! Room 211
11:00-12:00 Womanthology — Get the story behind the hottest Kickstarter project of the year, a graphic novel produced entirely by the top women in the industry! Over 200 creators combined to create Womanthology, and all profits go to the charities of GlobalGiving.org! Project mastermind Renae De Liz and a host of surprise creators offer sneak peeks, inside tips on how to break into comics, and more! Room 213
12:30-2:00 CBLDF Live Art Jam — Witness amazing live art created before your eyes by the industry’s greatest superstars! WonderCon special guests Jim Lee, Rebekah Isaacs, and Eric Powell plus special surprise guests will make original art on the big screen, giving you a one-of-a-kind glimpse of their creative process, and then a chance to bid to take their work home. The proceeds of this auction benefit Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, who protect the industry’s First Amendment rights. Stop by the CBLDF booth (417) for your bidder number, then come watch great art happen before your eyes at the CBLDF Live Art Jam! Room 203
3:00-4:00 Kids Can Draw Cartoons with Kristian Sather — Hey kids! Kristian Sather (Bonkers, Jetsons, kristiansather.blogspot.com) will demonstrate the techniques used in drawing funny cartoon characters. You will learn how to draw your own funny cartoon characters using basic geometric shapes. Join Kristian for this fun & informative session! Room 210
8:30-11:00 WonderCon Masquerade — It’s Saturday night’s big event! Join the crowd and be enthralled with the parade of costumes and characters across the big WonderCon main stage. Ballroom, Third Level
11:30-1:00 Secret Origin of Good Readers — Talking comic books, why we need them in our classrooms and libraries, and how to use them with Bill Morrison (The Simpsons, Bongo Comics), Steve Rotterdam (Bonfire Agency), Nancy Silberkleit (anti-bullying and literacy advocate), David Rojas (education consultant), and Mimi Cruz (Night Flight Comics). An overview of the comic book medium will include helping educators and librarians navigate the wonderful world of comic books, highlighting specific ways comic books and graphic novels can be used to engage a variety of learners while promoting reading and literacy. Educator comic book packages will be provided for attendees on a limited basis (or until supplies last) at the conclusion of this presentation. Free online 70-page The Secret Origin of Good Readers companion resource book [PDF] and other exciting materials at www.night-flight.com/secretorigin courtesy of XMission.com. Room 203
2:00-3:00 Stump Mark Waid — Superstar comics writer Mark Waid (Daredevil, Irredeemable, Kingdom Come, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and more) is joined by Jonah Weiland of ComicBookResources.com in a contest of wits! Drawing on questions submitted by CBR readers, and throwing in some of his own, Weiland will desperately try to “Stump Mark Waid” on a variety of comics trivia. Will the comics Internet prevail or will Mark Waid stand triumphant? Show up and find out! Room 203
3:00-4:00 Comics for Kids — Despite the fact that most of us fell in love with the comics medium when we were children, good comics for kids seem few and far between…or are they? Join moderator and APE Entertainment editor Aaron Sparrow, artist James Silvani (Darkwing Duck, Richie Rich), artist Amy Mebberson (The Muppet Show, Strawberry Shortcake, Toy Story), Shane Houghton (Reed Gunther, Casper Scare School), Archaia editor Paul Morrissey, Beanworld creator Larry Marder and more for a lively discussion on kids comics, their place in the industry, and how to break into the business! As a bonus, children attending the panel will be eligible to win comic books and sketches the artists will draw during the panel! Room 203
The LA Times Festival of Books is ramping up for this year’s event, one of the country’s largest free outdoor book fairs. Last week, a press release announced the finalists for the 32nd Annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, which are given out on the eve of the Festival. Last Friday, the Festival’s website and social media once again came to life to announce that the 17th Annual Festival of Books will be held April 21 and 22 on the campus of the University of Southern California. The Book Prizes award ceremony will be held in USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Friday night, April 20.
The LA Times Book Prizes have been awarded every year since 1980, but it wasn’t until 2009 that a graphic novel category was added. This third year of the graphic novel category has the following five finalists:
- I Will Bite You! And Other Stories by Joseph Lambert (Secret Acres Books)
- Celluloid by Dave McKean (Fantagraphics Books)
- Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil (Dark Horse Comics)
- Congress of the Animals by Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
- Garden by Yuichi Yokoyama (PictureBox)
Finalists and winners of the LA Times Book Prizes are selected by a panel of three judges per genre. The panels are made up of writers who specialize in each genre. Tickets for the Book Prizes ceremony will be available for purchase at 10 a.m. Monday, March 26. Once again Geoff Boucher of the LA Times’ Hero Complex blog will be presenting the Book Prize for the Graphic Novel category. Look for more on each of the finalists here at The Comics Observer in the weeks and months leading up to the ceremony.
The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books began in 1996 and typically attracts about 140,000 people every year. Just as comics and graphic novels have been embraced by libraries and book stores over the last decade, so too has their presence increased at the Festival. This year will surely include plenty of writers, artists and other comics creators and publishers. A list of authors attending the Festival has already been posted and will be updated as more are confirmed. Already spotted are writers Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes and the upcoming The Year of the Beasts) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), and writer/artist Jim Woodring (Congress of the Animals, Weathercraft)
Loyola Marymount University‘s Dr. Adilifu Nama, Chair and Associate Professor of African American Studies and author of Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, will hold a conference tomorrow on race in comics.
Dr. Nama shares some of his findings in this video produced by LMU:
His take on Luke Cage as more than simply a blaxploitation character, which is typically how he’s dismissed, but a reflection of the debate about the criminal system and rehabilitation going on at the time, particularly stands out to me. This isn’t just another regurgitation of comics history but an indication of someone bringing their own knowledgeable perspective to the ongoing dialogue and analysis. I’m bummed I can’t make this conference, but I’m very interested in checking out his book as a consolation prize.
The colloquium ran from 9 AM to 4 PM and included a line-up of professors and professional creators in comics and animation, including animator/artist LeSean Thomas (The Boondocks, The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra) and nationally syndicated cartoonist Lalo Alcarez (La Cucaracha).
From the schedule:
OUTSIDE THE LINES:
Reconfiguring Race in American Comics, Animation and Graphic Novels
A colloquium concerning issues of diversity, commerce, artistic control, stereotypes, discrimination, aesthetics and pressing debates over the role and responsibility of artists and the comic art and narratives they create.
His book focuses on superhero comics, but this conference looks to expand beyond that, which is important. Click through for the full schedule.
By now, fans of Furious Theatre Company expect every show to end with dead bodies. It’s how we get there that thrills – and usually chills.
When I heard their latest offering (after combating some huge obstacles outlined here) was “part theater and part graphic novel,” I jumped at a ticket for opening weekend. Usually I wait until the middle of a 6-8 week run of a local production, but I knew this was a chance to see one of my favorite outreach principles in action: a direct attempt at broadening one’s audience by appealing to different interests.
Since I come from a theatre arts background with a strong interest in the comics world, this production was pretty much made for me. If it were done by nearly any other theatre company, I’d be concerned they couldn’t pull off the technical elements needed to combine a comic book design with a live experience.
But this is Furious Theatre, and I knew they wouldn’t try it if they couldn’t do it – well. The story centers around the teen Josh Jaxon, a budding comic artist haunted by the powers of his own “Hellbound Hero” versus the realities of his high school life. Playwright Matt Pelfrey describes his relationship with comics before writing this play:
“I grew up on comic books. It’s almost all I cared about as a kid. I had stacks of them. Things really took off for me during the John Byrne era of the X-Men. I have almost every issue from #94 until Byrne left. I also have Wolverine’s first appearance in the Hulk. I was a big Marvel fan – I loved back in the days when Marvel was into one time-line and the editors kept track of what the characters were doing when they appeared in other characters’ comics and continuity matter.”
The production melds storytelling through design elements and live performance. Preparing for such a technical production proved challenging. The work they did prior to starting rehearsals (often only a 4-5 week process) included staging the show in a warehouse and filming it, so illustrator Ben Matsuya had reference material. Director Damaso Rodriguez and video projection designer Jason Thompson had to translate elaborate superhero powers to the stage. Casting Fight Director Brian Danner and seasoned stage and screen combat actors increased the realities of the fight. The actors all had enough experience that more risks could be taken safely, but not all of Pelfrey’s stage directions could be realized exactly. Harnesses and working with an aerialist were considered but cost-prohibitive.
Rodriguez elaborates on how experimentation in rehearsal allowed for the moment when “Josh Jaxon begins ‘to float’, then begins flying and shooting cosmic energy from his fingers. …When we began rehearsal we still did not know how we were going to do this. In order to… ‘feel’ like he was floating, Nick Cernoch (who plays Josh Jaxon) played the scene while standing on a skateboard. This allowed him to wobble like he was floating and move his body like he was learning to fly.” Although meant to only be an exercise for the actor in rehearsal, “In the end, we kept the skateboard staging. Our artist Ben Matsuya drew a projected backdrop for the setting which our projection designer Jason H. Thompson later animated. When Josh begins to float, the sky moves, and eventually he’s soaring through the clouds. Add the right trippy music from composer Doug Newell, and Josh IS flying. We all get it. And when he loses his balance off the skateboard and falls to the ground, we see him come crashing down to earth.”
The heart of the story is still Josh Jaxon. The magic of a feeling, believable acting, design, and letting the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks: live theatre at its best. That moment was merely one among hundreds like this over the course of the two hour play (with a short intermission I could have done without, but I’m sure the actors and production team needed a break from the fast paced story).
This production is not merely about special effects, any more than you could remove the art or characters from a comic and still be successful. The heart of the story is Josh Jaxon, whose gut (and teenage lust) thrust him into the media spotlight as a hometown hero. He and two other phenomenal characters (played to perfection by Troy Metcalf and Shawn Lee) perform good deeds as part of their jobs and basic human instinct. The Media Vultures, as named in the script, create the superhero image of each character who then have nowhere to go but down. And down they fall, until a second act twist gives them control of their fates again. To say any more would absolutely ruin it.
Rodriguez says that producing this play became a “company obsession,” no matter the risks or obstacles. “We’d never seen anything like this done before. It felt new and really exciting to us and something that we would want to see ourselves on stage. Add to that, Matt was our resident playwright, a true L.A.-bred writer who had written something really ambitious for the theatre. Something that defied form and genre. We just wanted to see the play come to life at whatever cost.”
They went a few steps further and created a comic follow-up to the play. The continued story (and intriguing villain) took me aback just as much as the play itself, and I only wish it were longer to further develop the characters and story.
Pelfrey wants to know, admittedly “selfishly, if [you, the reader] thought I did the comic elements justice. And I’d want to know if seeing a play like this would make them venture out to other plays.”
I do too. It only runs through the end of February and has gotten great reviews, so get your tickets now. Every Thursday is Pay-What-You-Can, and no amount is too small. Then tell us and Furious what you thought!
Adult: $25 | Students/Senior: $12
THURS – SAT @ 8PM: SUN @ 2PM & 7PM
Week of JAN 29: WED @ 8 PM: FEB 1, SAT @2P & 7P: FEB 4, No show SUN, FEB 5
THURS @ 8PM; JAN 26, FEB 2, FEB 9, FEB 16, FEB 23
KATIE MARIE DAVIES
DANA KELLY, JR.
DAVID C. HERNANDEZ
Original Graphic Illustration – BEN MATSUYA
Set Design – JOHN IACOVELLI
Lighting Design – DAN WEINGARTEN
Costume Design – CHRISTY HAUPTMAN
Props Design – Shannon Dedman
Video Projection Design – JASON H. THOMPSON
Sound Design & Original Music – DOUG NEWELL/ZIPLINE SOUND
Fight Choreography – BRIAN DANNER
Production Manager – SUSAN K. COULTER
Stage Manager – CHRISTIE WRIGHT GILMORE
Assistant Stage Manager – DEIDREW WORKS
Marketing/Graphic Design – JESSICA SMITH/HIVE CREATIVE STUDIO
Website Development – LOCHLAN MCINTOSH
Publicity – LUCY POLLACK