Saturday, April 26, 2008

II. Consolation

In which the author is moved to contemplate human mortality.

The Steve Gerber memorial panel on Saturday is covered extensively here and here sparing any need for yet another recap. From the world of comics there was Mark Evanier, Gail Simone, Paul Levitz, Buzz Dixon, Marty Pasko (who delivered the single funniest line of the event), and Hildy Mesnik (a coworker with Steve at Sunbow Productions on the G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons), as well as Steve's brother Michael Gerber and Steve's daughter Samantha, and finally (and most surprisingly) Steve's writing collaborator on Omega the Unknown and Hard Time Mary Skrenes, not known for attending conventions or interacting with fans. After the memorial, I had a brief chat with the charming Hildy Mesnik, who was also an editor at Marvel in the early Nineties, and with Len Wein, who seems not to have aged even slightly in the nearly twenty years since I last saw him at a convention.

The Legion of Super-Heroes panel in honor of their fiftieth anniversary -- that really just does not sound right, no matter how technically accurate it may be -- is discussed here, including a link to a full podcast so you can hear the whole thing for yourself. As moderator, Peter Sanderson left me uncertain as to whether or not he's actually ever read a Legion comic...but Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen were both lively and entertaining nonetheless, while current series editor Mike Marts was a bit more reserved and was disinclined to reveal anything about the future of the series other than stating that Jim Shooter was sticking around for the long haul. It would have been a much more lively and possibly contentious panel if Shooter himself had been present, but he skipped the con altogether for reasons as yet undisclosed...

Paul jolted me a little by naming a couple of my old friends from Legion fandom back in the Seventies as two people he particularly enjoyed hearing from; he also gave a namecheck to the original founders of the old Legion Fan Club in the letters pages of Superboy way back when. This combined with the reminiscences of the Gerber memorial panel contributed to a feeling of creeping nostalgia...or if not nostalgia per se, at least a sense of passing time. Like revisiting your old grade school or seeing the summer house where you spent your vacations decades later, it's not a desire to be young again -- who'd want that? -- but a feeling that being so far away from your past makes you somehow bigger. Your life occupies a bigger volume in spacetime than it used to. The years seem shorter because each year represents an increasingly smaller percentage of your total lifespan to date than they did when you were twelve.

I'd been looking forward to the Grant Morrison spotlight...but I ducked out of the packed hall shortly after the deliberately over-the-top and very entertaining intro was screened. The truth is, after the Gerber panel it just didn't sit right. Morrison made a concerted effort -- as he says in so many words; see the above-linked video -- to become a rock star of comics, a pop culture icon and media celebrity, to create this aura of glamour around himself previously unknown to comic book writers. (Neil Gaiman, his only rival in this achievement, is a special case.) He set out to do this and succeeded admirably and of course it's a sound decision in terms of his career. But at that particular moment, I didn't feel any pressing need to be in that audience.

Coming out of the panel I headed for the convention center cafeteria on the lower level, where someone unexpectedly called my name. It was Jon Browne, proprietor of They Walk Among Us, an outstanding comics shop in the London borough of Richmond for the past 18 years. I've often held up TWAU as the perfect example of a comics retailer who gets it right -- by presenting a welcoming and friendly environment, by diversifying stock to include a wide variety of toys and games and memorabilia, and mainly (as Jon is quick to point out) by an iron-jawed tenacity in sticking it out through lean times. I'd encourage any retailer to follow their lead, but I suspect the main lesson they'd have to offer is "work harder!"

We discussed the recent death of Steve Whitaker, who introduced me to Jon and his wife shortly after the store opened. Like me, Jon had also fallen out of touch with Whitko, in their case when the latter moved away from London...and had only just reestablished contact with him online a mere six days before he died. We also talked about happier things, like how the shop is doing and a number of celebrity customers who shop there.

After a while it was time to get in line for the Venture Bros panel, so I made my farewell to Jon and went off in that general direction. Last year the VB panel was one of the highlights of the weekend, but a line had started forming an hour before it began...and it had received a lot of publicity and was sure to be even more crowded this year. I'd been telling people that turning up more than an hour in advance was not uncalled for and I was all set to heed my own advice -- but. En route I ran into one Roz Kaveney, who at one time many years ago was very nearly my editor when I was very nearly a writer. She invited me to join herself and a friend for coffee, so I found myself heading straight back to the cafeteria. From now on, if anyone ever says "but you've never bought coffee for a transgendered former civil servant who works in British non-governmental organisations and writes scholarly tomes on teen movies and Buffy the Vampire Slayer" I'll be able to say "don't be silly, of course I have."

This was definitely worth being late to the line for the Venture Bros panel...but it had ceased to be any sort of line and was instead a confused heaving mass. Way more people had turned up than the hall outside the panel rooms could contain, and it tested the convention staffers on their crowd control abilities. They handled the situation smartly, moving the panel to another room three times the size of the room it was scheduled in -- even then, it was standing room only once more -- and everything got under way peacefully if twenty minutes late. A good recap of the panel can be found here (along with coverage of the Battlestar Galactica and Moonlight panels if those are your cup of coffee as well).

Something I haven't seen get quite the coverage it deserves. According to my close personal friend Lance Festerman -- that is to say, I spoke to him once for about two minutes, but I think there was a real bond formed between us and I'm sure we could totally hang out together and talk about stuff -- who was running the convention for the first time this year, NYCC had 15,000 more attendees this year over the previous year. I'll assume that's accurate pending evidence to the contrary. Yet we saw little of the traffic congestion and overcrowding of the past two years...partly because of the increased space available, but also partly due to better coordination and planning. The Venture Bros-related pileup was the only major issue I witnessed, and it was cleared up pretty quickly. I know a few people who swore off attending after last year, but this time was a lot more comfortable.

And next year I'm not going to commit to doing one of these goddamn post-con writeups no matter how much you beg me. Next: Lo, there shall come an ending!

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