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?
Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
I’m writing this on the eve of my flight to California, where I’ll be attending my very first San Diego Comic-Con. For those of you who don’t know, SDCC is arguably the biggest comic convention in the world, an event that attracts not just all the big comic publishers, but also television and movie companies – all vying for the almighty nerd dollar.
But, with all the craziness that’s bound to ensue, my main goal for this trip is oddly simple: I just want to meet Jim Mahfood, and Chynna Clugston-Flores. Everyone and everything else, honestly, would just be gravy. Why these two artist/writers? Because they’re the ones who got me into Oni Press.
The real mainstream
That phrase – according to Wikipedia, originally “coined by Stephen Holland of the UK comic shop Page 45” – has been used to describe the kind of comics that this 15-year-old company produces. They’re, from what I understand, comics that are for people who can’t drop obscure facts about Marvel and DC’s superheroes.
I prefer to describe them as the kind of comics that I never knew I needed.
Food One for thought
Though he now publishes most of his creator-owned stuff through Image, Mahfood (otherwise known as Food One) was the first creator to bring my attention to that distinctive Japanese-styled demon-headed logo. I’ve mentioned before that I was quite the Kevin Smith fan way back when, so the Clerks comic that he did with Mahfood was my initial foray into Oni. From there, I picked up Food One’s Grrl Scouts series and pretty much anything else with his name on it.
People always talk about how they discovered the punk rock ethos while listening to The Ramones or The Sex Pistols or The Clash. I discovered it while reading Mahfood’s books. His stories are straightforward. His art is gorgeously dynamic, yet also wonderfully simple. But, most importantly, his comics had balls and they were fun.
In the late ’90s, the publisher had an anthology series called Oni Double Feature, a comic that I owe a great deal to. Aside from giving me more Mahfood (in the form of a two-part Zombie Kid story), it also introduced me to other gems from Oni – like Chynna Clugston-Flores’ Blue Monday.
Usually described as Archie with more sex and swearing, Blue Monday tapped into my love for good teen movies (a love that lasts till today, mind you). It was what would have happened if John Hughes became a comics creator instead of a filmmaker and I loved every panel. But more than anything else, it was the first of many comics that’d introduce me to some really awesome bands.
Chynna’s love for The Jam was what got me into the band in the first place. Her love for mod revival culture continued in her Scooter Girl mini-series, which till this day, remains one of my favorite comics ever (and not just because one of its main characters was supposedly based on Parker Posey).
And then there’s everything else
Oni’s output of quality books certainly extends beyond the works of these two creators. Off the top of my head, I can easily and happily recommend books like Jen Van Meter’s excellent Hopeless Savages (about an incredibly loveable and genuinely sweet punk rock family), Judd Winick’s Barry Ween: Boy Genius (think a potty mouthed Dexter’s Laboratory), Brian Wood and Steve Rolston’s punk rock romance-gone-bad dark comedy Pounded, Greg Rucka’s espionage epic Queen and Country, and – of course – Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series.
But Chynna and Jim were my firsts. Not only did their work lead me to all those other great books, but pushed me headfirst into the whole world of indie comics (beyond The Crow and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that is).
Next time round
I mentioned a bit about how Blue Monday introduced me to The Jam. I’ll probably talk about more about the relationship between music and comics in the next edition. But for now, I’ve got some last minute packing to get done.
* I know, I know. That pun’s so cringe-worthy that it hurts. Look, it’s 3AM here and I’m too wired up about my flight to care.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much.
We break our normal Wednesday/Friday posting schedule for a special announcement:
Learn the ins and outs of this week’s San Diego Comic-Con (or Comic-Con International: San Diego, if you want to be formal about it) this Wednesday night at 8:30 PM Pacific, as Corey Blake appears as a guest on Beyond the Blurb, a live Google+ Hangout video conference hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins. For more information and to watch live.
Corey will also have a special editorial on Comic-Con later this week. A link will be posted once it goes live.
UPDATE: Slight change of plans. We went for a pre-taped studio interview. Here it is:
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
After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.
If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.
These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:
To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:
And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:
For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.
A controversy has been broiling in comics. When DC Comics announced their aggressive relaunch strategy, details were initially sparse but statements of looking for and expecting new readers were promising. Because comics needs new readers. But when the creative teams were announced, there was a decided lack of female creators and a curious dependence on creators that the publisher had relied on in the past with minimal influx of new readers.
Mainstream comics (which essentially refers to superhero comics from DC Comics and Marvel Comics) have been publishing comics primarily intended for the same insular group of readers for decades now, and finally that audience has dwindled away to a level where the publishers think maybe it’s time to somewhat kind of try to reach beyond that same audience. Multiple pundits and industry watchers have been calling for a more dramatic shift in publishing strategy for years. Comics’ most visible genre needs to be accessible and appealing to new audiences. You wouldn’t think this would require much convincing. New audiences = more money. But when large companies are given the options of safe, reliable income that is slowly shrinking vs. much more money with risks, they’ll always pick the safe option because corporate America is primarily driven by fear.
This isn’t to say that the faithful superhero comics fans can’t have their comics. Those comics should not be eliminated. They’re fun, they’re a great example of American myth building, and they have addictive pay-offs to loyalty. I still read them. Those comics should exist because there’s a built-in (albeit shrinking) audience ready to buy with a distribution network (comic book stores) structured for that specific audience. That network and that audience needs to be preserved.
But they should only be one aspect of a major publisher’s output, and they really shouldn’t be the dominant aspect when you see the ongoing sales trends. The primary concern, which should drive the dominant publishing strategy, should be new and/or casual readers, with the outcome that a percentage of those readers will transition into the addictive readers group. (They should also be distributed through other networks like bookstores and digital means, but that’s another topic.)
So, how do you get this new promised land of readers? Well, let’s look at the untapped demographics. We’ve got the white males 18-40 figured out. That primarily constitutes the addictive readers group. So good job, everyone. Check that one off the list. Let’s just check it again. Because seriously, we’ve been very thorough at targeting that demographic.
What’s an even larger demographic? How about over half of the world’s population? Yes, that demographic is out there! And it remains largely untapped in mainstream comics. That demographic is women! It’s not that there aren’t already female creators and readers of superhero comics. It’s not that there haven’t been superhero comics that reach out to women. There definitely are, but they are the exception to the rule, and they prove that there is a huge untapped sales potential.
So how do you create comics that bring in this amazingly large demographic ready to spend lots of money? The most common theory is that readers are attracted to characters that are relatable to them. People are drawn to characters that they can see themselves becoming or wish they could become. How do you have characters, either new or preexisting, that are relatable to women? The easiest way is to have another woman craft the stories (write and/or draw).
As much as we wish that everyone is the same, regardless of how they look and their genetic make-up, the world is an inconsistent place at times. People get treated differently. Groups of people get treated differently than other groups of people. Sometimes it’s really obvious, sometimes it’s very subtle, sometimes it’s imperceptible. But it all has an effect. Those experiences shape a person’s world view and it definitely shapes how they consume entertainment. I can be the most sensitive and empathic person on the planet, but I can never fully understand what living like a certain group of people day to day is like, just as other groups can’t understand what living like other groups is like. So again, the easiest way to create characters and stories that connect to a certain group you wish to attract is to employ people from that same group.
So now we come back to DC Comics and their New 52 publishing initiative. They reportedly went from having 12% of their creative teams comprising of women, down to just over 1%. For a publishing initiative intending to reach new audiences, that’s a very strange shift. You might say it’s contradictory. So people pointed this out. Some did so rather passionately because of their love for comics. People wrote online. And at this summer’s Comic-Con, people spoke up. Repeatedly. In response, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio rather abrasively shot back with “Who should we have hired?” This, of course, just made it worse. Because when you have a Q&A portion of a panel, typically how it works is the audience provides the Q’s and the panelists provide the A’s. Making your audience uncomfortable, especially when that audience is the one you’re trying to convince to buy your products, is what you might call a bad PR move. In fact, it’s ridiculously irresponsible. And unsurprisingly, it just resulted in more attention on the issue and more heat on the publisher. Like here, here, here and here to name a few.
DC Comics finally relented when Co-Publishers DiDio and Jim Lee published “We Hear You” on their blog. Without acknowledging the embarrassing Comic-Con panels, the letter promised that female creators were in the pipeline for future projects. I suppose you could ask why female creators weren’t “good enough” to be part of the initial September launch, but at least they got the message. Finally.
And yet, I’m still seeing people online post how they don’t think people should be hired based on what they look like, they just want the best people for the job. What they don’t understand is that the uproar was never some affirmative action campaign. It was about making smart and reasonable choices to preserve and even grow comics, exactly what the New 52 was supposedly designed to be about. Because as explained above, the best people to write comics that will appeal to women will usually be women. This doesn’t eliminate male-targeted comics. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be crossover appeal because entertainment preferences aren’t strictly defined by gender alone. But it’s a no-brainer in courting a very powerful demographic that, make no mistake, comics needs.
Those two things didn’t happen at the same time but they were two of the most memorable moments of Comic-Con for me this year.
As the comic fates would have it, I was only able to attend one day of Comic-Con this year. Dreading the annual 3-hour drive down to San Diego, I decided instead to ride Amtrak’s Surfliner train down to San Diego from LA’s Union Station to spend the day, and then head back that same night. It ended up being a great way to get around the inevitably terrible traffic and parking headaches. I got to relax, enjoy the spectacular view of the California coast, check out Comic-Con’s app (much improved over last year) to mark panels I might want to see, waste time on Facebook without feeling guilty, take a nap or two, and on the way back I got to read some of the awesome graphic novels I bought. It was dreamy. I will almost surely be doing this from now on (until Comic-Con finally moves up to LA to make it more convenient for me).
Because I only had one day, I wasn’t able to do everything (impossible even if you’re every minute of the day). There were a few people I couldn’t connect with (sorry, Kristian and Brandon!), some publisher tables I never got to (sorry, Boom!, Archaia and IDW!), and some panels I missed (ThunderCats nooo…). Another day probably would’ve done it for what I wanted to do. But I bought a (very heavy!) ton of graphic novels, got to hang out with Scott Shaw! and share a laugh with Sergio Aragonés, and got to experience two things that really stood out as unique and made me absolutely happy that the world of comics exists.
The first was artist Eric Drooker‘s panel. Here’s how Comic-Con’s program described it:
Visual artist and Comic-Con special guest Eric Drooker will project hundreds of his magical images and explore how his early years as a street artist in New York City inspired his award-winning graphic novels Flood! and Blood Song. He’ll discuss the process of designing the animation for the recent hit film Howl, starring James Franco, and how he adapted it for the new book, Howl: A Graphic Novel. Best known for his numerous cover paintings for The New Yorker, Drooker will tell hilarious-but-true stories of how he wound up getting published.
A pretty straightforward description. Drooker is a fantastic artist and storyteller, so hearing him talk about his process and history sounded great. It turned out to be so much more than that. He did talk quite a bit about his work and his background, but Eric Drooker also happens to be a talented musician. Over the projected slideshow of his artwork, which has a haunted quality evocative of woodcuts from the 1910s and ’20s, Drooker played his banjo or harmonica and occasionally sang. Like his art, the music he created seemed to harken back a century. There was something incredibly powerful, moving and intimate about seeing and hearing two different forms of art that he had created and was creating live right before us. It seemed like such a personal expression. Here he was expressing himself to us on multiple levels, visually and sonically, and with such immediacy. I guess the easy description is that he created a soundtrack for his own art, but it felt deeper yet more transcendent than simple accompaniment. It was beautiful.
The second event was a tad sillier but a great example of how comics can take back some of the main spotlight from Hollywood at Comic-Con. I was standing near the Fantagraphics booth when this growling voice bellowed out over the conversations and white noise of the convention floor. In stalked a large hairy man covered in fake blood and wearing nothing but a speedo. He immediately started yelling at people around him, threatening them, cursing at them, mocking them. Now this is Comic-Con, so while there was some confusion, it didn’t take long to figure it out. The bloody man started pacing like a caged tiger behind Johnny Ryan, who was quietly signing copies of his new graphic novel Prison Pit 3. Johnny Ryan is a hilarious cartoonist but he is most definitely not for children. Crass and abrasive, his punchlines are more like blunt objects of comedy that shock and delight at their willful disregard for… everything. He released the third in his Prison Pit series of graphic novels at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s basically a trilogy of absolute violence and gore done on such a deliriously excessive level far beyond the parodying done on The Itchy & Scratchy Show from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. As a promotional stunt, Johnny Ryan and his publisher Fantagraphics had performance artist Ajax Wood (aka Ardent Vein) done up to look like the main character in Prison Pit, Cannibal F***face. Everything Wood yelled was dialogue from Prison Pit 3. Some of the other exhibitors were mildly annoyed at the disruption, but I think it was a great promotional bit. Now maybe this example scared off more people than it drew in, but it certainly fit into the spirit of Johnny Ryan’s work, which itself isn’t exactly mainstream (although he regularly contributes to Vice Magazine). So it’s actually a pretty accurate marketing stunt. If that kind of spectacle is something that amuses you or draws you in, you’ll probably like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit 3. Personally, I would’ve given him a few assistants (maybe with fliers) and had him skulk around the convention floor a little bit before sticking him behind the Fantagraphics booth. But it was great. It got people’s attention. Usually at Comic-Con, all of the really flashy stuff is from Hollywood. Publishers and artists would do well to remember that comics are worth some creative pomp and circumstance too. Comics should be the main spectacle of Comic-Con.
The common thread between these two events is that the artists found a way to add performance art to their work. The two had different goals and purposes (one was a panel, one was a book signing) but people in comics are creative enough to come up with more ways to add a level of performance to their art for public appearances like conventions. When they meld so perfectly with the artist and their work, like these two did, it adds a new level of experience and awareness for fans. And it brings back some of that unorthodox spirit that comics have had in the past that make them so memorable.
I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.
Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]
Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.
Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]
The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.
Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?
WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!