Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Part 2 of 3

An hour before the NYCC 2007 Venture Bros. Spotlight was due to start, a small crowd had already begun to gather outside the room designated for the panel. A few minutes later it became a huge line, stretching around a corner and down a long corridor.

Venture Bros. creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer turned up early to view the scene surreptitiously and seemed happily surprised by the turnout. A few fans recognized them (Doc Hammer in particular is an immediately recognizable guy for his hairstyle alone) and greeted them warmly but discreetly, while most of the crowd gathered to see them may not have realized who they were before they appeared on stage: one of the quirks of being famous for a cartoon.

The panel wasn't held in one of the largest meeting rooms; when the doors finally opened, it turned out to be standing room only and I felt lucky to have a seat.

Besides Publick and Hammer, the panel featured most of the main voice actors: James Urbaniak, Michael Sinterniklaas, and Steven Rattazzi -- pretty much the whole regular cast, apart from the absent Lisa Hammer and Patrick Warburton.

If you're familiar with the show, you know the sense of humor the panelists all demonstrated. They really are that funny in real life. James Urbaniak in particular kept things moving with rapid-fire wit and devastating sarcasm worthy of Thaddeus Venture. It's impossible to report on the panel in any sort of coherent linear way -- the audience were generally filling their boots and wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. I was left coughing my guts out from laughing so hard.

I subsequently learned from Adam Philips of DC Comics and other witnesses that the sheer force and volume of our laughter disrupted the simultaneous Crossing Over: How the Comics Boom is Changing Entertainment panel in the next room, and everyone on the DC panel was left wondering what the hell we were doing in there.

(When this news was later passed along to Jackson Publick, he was pumped that we'd been able to stick it to DC: they'd refused to grant the show permission to mention "Batman" in a script, forcing Hank to make references to "the Bat" instead.)

The panel opened with a video promo for the Venture Bros. season 2 DVD set with an offbeat "sexual mind control" theme, promising more "off-topic commentary" and "confusing menus" and clips of the live-action supplemental footage that enhanced the season 1 collection. Then Jackson Publick announced that a third season has been confirmed by Adult Swim, with a very strong possibility of a fourth. (Hammer dismissed this as "the empty promises of a lover.")

After that, the panel was turned over entirely to audience questions -- Publick and Hammer freely admitted they had nothing prepared and were winging it, and feared the possibility of long awkward silences. This turned out not to be a problem.

I couldn't possibly detail the range of questions, nor convey the tenor of the answers. Any question about the new season, unresolved cliffhangers, or the reappearance of favorite characters was rebuffed with sarcastic bluster. "Don't you want to watch the new episodes? Aren't you intrigued? The whole idea of having a cliffhanger is so that you show up for the next season. You are hanging on a proverbial hook! Tune in! We’re not Lost! We’ll tell you!"

A question about how they kept pop culture references from dominating the scripts prompted a surprising answer from Publick: that the pop culture references should be allowed to completely take over the story rather than being held back. He pointed to the episode "Love-Bheits" in which the leads are costumed as Star Wars characters, and this becomes a driving force in the plot. When the references are an organic part of the story and contribute to the action, it works; when they're tacked on as an irrelevance, you get Family Guy. (And I recall a story on South Park making this exact point...)

My favorite question had to be the 11-year-old boy (!) who asked if the Scrotal Safety Commission really exists and paid for the episode “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean” -- opining that a real doctor was unlikely to write something like that. Doc Hammer, who suffered a case of testicular torsion in childhood, sternly explained to the boy that "You should be worrying about this. In fact, it's likely you'll suffer this condition..." And so on, to increasing audience hysteria, until Hammer finally called for security to escort the boy away -- he was clearly pleased to have been on the receiving end of this tirade, I must add.

Another firsthand account of the panel can be read here, and a few photos here. (Update: if I'd known someone was going to post videos of the panel I wouldn't have spent all this time trying to describe it!)

After the panel ended, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick could be found checking out the convention floor and mingling with anyone who approached. I was especially glad of the opportunity to praise their cover of "Hard Candy Christmas" -- one of the musical numbers they've released online each year as a holiday gift to their fans -- both provide vocals in character as the Monarch and Henchmen #21 and #24, while Doc performs the score. This led to Doc expressing his passion for the film version of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas...and I warn you, do not say anything disparaging this film in his presence, nor even hint you've never seen it, as he is a fierce advocate on its behalf.

I've been torn between wanting to provide a coherent description and giving in to breathless fanboy gushing here, because I'm genuinely in awe of these guys. Jackson Publick is a writer in the direct lineage of Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund as well as being a gifted performer, and one of the most self-effacing and approachable people you could hope to meet, genuinely grateful that people like his work and willing to show fans how much he appreciates their support -- in stark contrast to the rock star affectations you might expect from someone with a devoted cult following. The same goes double for Doc Hammer, who is not only those things but a talented musician and a frighteningly skilled painter; it just makes you want to spit with disgust that someone can be so competent at so many things at once...and steadfastly refuses to be conceited about it. As collaborators, they're a sort of Lennon/McCartney pair, in the sense of two equals who are challenged by one another to do their best work while being mutually supportive. Just on a technical level the Venture Bros. scripts are densely structured and I'm consistently amazed by how much they fit in. To finally attach their names to real people was a treat; those people turning out to be such great guys was a thrill.

In our final installment: I drop more names of the "comic book famous" and spend lots of money!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


This and the next couple of posts will be stream of consciousness rambling as I try to piece together disjointed memories of NYCC 2007...

Here's a general tip for convention-going: you may see more of the convention by moving around...but you meet more people by staying in one spot and letting them come to you. Provided it's the right spot, mind you, and you aren't actually working. I spent a lot of time with the hospitable Randy Hoppe of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center and his charming wife Lisa as well as comics scholar and author George Khoury at the TwoMorrows Publishing booth, which became a regular check-in point and refuge from pacing the convention floor.

And who can blame me, given the caliber of visitors it attracted? Besides all the pros and exhibitors and dealers who stopped by, sticking around that table enabled me to chat with fellow Jack Kirby fans such as Tom Kraft, Scott Sheaffer, and James Romberger (who was eloquent on the trials of being a Kirby devotee while studying with noted Kirby-hater Art Spiegelman) as well as Jon Cooke and his brother Adam, both working on what promises to be a terrific documentary on Will Eisner.

The biggest surprise of the day by a wide margin was the sudden appearance of Jon Browne, proprietor of the comics shop They Walk Among Us in the London suburb of Richmond. This was my local comics shop back when I lived in the UK...but we hadn't seen each other in seventeen years. And yet Jon recognized me immediately from a distance and greeted me by name while I was still trying to figure out who he was.

I knew something of what Jon had been up to lately -- namely raising money for diabetes research with a 500 km bike ride along the Mekong from Saigon to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The most interesting people run comic shops, didn't you know? But seeing him at the con was the last thing I expected. I spent most of our conversation moving my jaw and trying to make words come out. Which was pretty much how I always acted back in the day, so no big surprise there. It must have been like stepping through a time machine for him.

I got a special kick from hearing that Pete Townshend is now one of Jon's customers. Pete lives in the same area; I used to walk past his house and studio on my way to the shop. Pete never used to read comics -- though as it happens, one of his best friends is a comic book writer and editor -- but he loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and was inspired to check them out. What could increase my delight at seeing Jon again after all these years? Finding out that Pete Townshend owns a book I worked on.

The Comics Blogging panel on Friday afternoon started at 2:30 hour and a half before the convention opened to the general public, limiting attendance to those with industry, exhibitor, or press badges. The focus of the panel was inevitably on the mainstream news sites that cover sales figures and industry trends, rather than us scruffy amateurs who offer only opinions and analysis. And yet, from a show of hands, more than three-quarters of the audience had blogs of their own. I think there's room for a whole different discussion of blogging by individuals, rather than just portal sites and old media web presences, but this wasn't that panel.

When the panelists were asked to name their favorite non-industry, non-insider comics blogs, Chris Butcher of Comics 212 demonstrated good taste by citing Jog for his mad writing skills, and Ron Hogan of Galleycat chose Chris's Invincible Super-Blog for its high fun quotient. Those were the only two "outsider" blogs mentioned in the whole panel; panelists Heidi MacDonald and Johanna Draper Carlson each declined to name a favorite, sensibly pointing out that not having to remember all the sites they recommend is why blogrolls were invented.

It was comforting to learn that both Heidi and I get a surprisingly large number of hits from the search term "Disney sex" -- at least I once actually wrote something vaguely related to that phrase, and no I will not tell you where to find it, you filthy pervert -- aaaaaaand now those hits will at least double, what with me mentioning it again just now.

There was a potentially interesting but too-brief discussion of the hazards in reviewing the work of people with whom you interact socially. Johanna opined that "Just because I don't like one of your stories doesn't mean I don't like you." To which any writer -- Johanna included -- would have to reply "But that's much worse! What you think of my work is much more important than what you think of me as a person!" I only wish I'd thought to say that at the time.

It turns out I missed the chance to meet bloggers David "hermanos" Brothers and Geoff Klock, both of whom were in the audience. However, by a staggering coincidence, friend of this blog Redhead Fangirl took the seat directly behind me and didn't realize it for the entire panel. And yet Jon Browne recognized me after seventeen years...!

In our next installment: the shocking link between The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and the Scrotal Safety Commission!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Below the fold

This one goes out to all the Grant Morrison fans out there. You want an example of something from The Invisibles happening in real life? Then clock this article from the New Yorker by Susan Orlean about a physicist turned origami expert:

And as origami became more complex it also became more practical. Scientists began applying these folding techniques to anything — medical, electrical, optical, or nanotechnical devices, and even to strands of DNA — that had a fixed size and shape but needed to be packed tightly and in an orderly way. By the end of the Bug Wars, origami had completely changed, and so had Robert Lang. In 2001, he left his job — he was then at the fibre-optics company JDS Uniphase, in San Jose — to fold paper full time.

No mention of using origami for time travel, but give the guy a few years. Since string theory and its cousin brane theory call for as many as 10 or 26 dimensions, most of which are compactified (essentially, folded in on themselves) to such a small level we can't detect them, it's not entirely inconceivable that the mathematics Lang uses for his origami could have some application to describing the shape of spacetime. And if I were the likes of Morrison or Ellis, I'd have turned that idea into a four-issue miniseries already.

Also, it turns out that the history of origami in the West has an odd connection to the history of comic books: social critic and Kinsey Institute researcher Gershon Legman, who joined Fredric Wertham in attacking comic books starting in the late Forties, makes a surprise appearance in the New Yorker article:

In the mid-nineteen-forties, the American folklorist Gershon Legman began studying origami. Legman was a man of diverse inclinations: he collected vulgar limericks, wrote a book about oral techniques in sexual gratification, and is credited with having invented the vibrating dildo when he was only twenty. After becoming interested in origami, he made contact with paper-folders around the world — most significantly, Akira Yoshizawa, a Japanese prodigy who, before being recognized as an extraordinary talent, made a meagre living by selling fish appetizers door-to-door in Tokyo. What made Yoshizawa extraordinary was that he presented the art for the first time as a medium that could be creative and expressive — he devised tens of thousands of models, and was particularly famous for his gorillas. In 1955, Legman organized an exhibition of Yoshizawa’s work at the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam.

Legman and Wertham are interesting people, much more than the stereotypes we remember them as today. Both of them were what we'd call "liberal progressives" who were deeply concerned for the welfare of children...and both had a heartfelt, genuine, and utterly misplaced dread of the evil effects that comic books had on young minds. Both were totally opposed to censorship...except when their fear overtook them, and they lent their support to a crusade to eradicate something they saw as an even greater evil, even if it meant impinging on our civil liberties and freedom of speech. Fortunately we're so much more enlightened than that today.

So, Legman helped crush the comic book industry in ways from which it still hasn't recovered...but he also helped introduce us to origami.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Things to do at the NYCC

If you saw or read about the madhouse that was last year's inaugural New York Comic Con -- complete with surprise appearance by the fire marshals -- this year promises to be even more ludicrously overpopulated. And I'm just talking about the featured guests.

Really, have you seen the guest list? Wes Craven. Kevin Smith. Stan Lee and Feedback. Stephen King. J. Michael Straczynski. Four cast members from Buffy. The cheerleader from Heroes. And if that weren't enough, some people I'm actually interested in seeing.

Anyway...even though the convention is still more than a week away, given such a packed schedule it seems logical to start making plans for how to fit in everything I want to do during the con. Ordinarily I don't like being in a room with more than six people in it, so gearing up for an event like this requires an almost military level of advance preparation.

This is my current to-do list:

  • Ask Hayden Panettiere if she still has her Dot costume from A Bug's Life.

  • Attend Comics Bloggers panel and try to pick up pointers on how to be a better blogger. Also, try not to cry when Estoreal is named as "an example of what not to do."

  • Ask Redhead Fangirl how I can be more creepy, because creepy guys get all the girls.

  • Staple myself to my seat for the Venture Bros panel. Try not to go all stalkerish on Jackson Publick. I once had an e-mail from Doc Hammer; I do not need another restraining order to add to my collection.

  • Attend the tersely-named African American panel and ask why they think there are no black female comics creators. And for my next impression, Jesse Owens! (Explanation here and here.)

  • Hide wrist-slitting sharp implements from attendees leaving The Truth About Breaking Into Comics panel.

  • Test Brian Cronin on Yiddish words. Bonus points for asking him if he's attending The Jewish Side of Comics panel. (Note: to find this funny, you'd need to know that Brian Cronin is more Jewish than anyone in my family and any of my Jewish friends...and yet he's not actually Jewish. Or so he says.)

  • Compliment Jeff Brady on his beard. Another non-Jewish fellow with a fine beard. I am disturbed by this trend.

And finally: ask Stephen Colbert if his new Ben & Jerry's ice cream will be a great flavor...or the greatest flavor?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

This is the day

In honor of my first blogaversary and the fact that Blogger insisted on switching me from old Blogger to new Blogger -- sorry, blogger formerly known as plok, they done bushwacked me -- I'm taking the opportunity to tidy things up around the place, update the blogroll, and generally make things more blogtastic in an effort to use the prefix "blog" gratuitously as many times as possible in this sentence. Other than that, it'll be pretty much business as usual.

(The blogroll at right only contains about half the comics blogs I'm subscribed to, as well as a few which aren't comics related. And then there are the political blogs and news blogs and entertainment blogs and about five dozen Macintosh blogs. Yes, I have a sickness. More links to come as I get around to them.)

Over the past year I haven't been able to maintain the steady flow of posts nearly as much as I'd like. Part of it is work-related distraction and part of it is natural inclination. I envy those bloggers who are natural essayists. I am if anything more of a natural ranter, capable of going on at frightening length when something has raised my ire, much like a belligerent drunk walking up to strangers in a bar, fixing them with an unsteady accusatory finger, and delivering an impassioned speech about what exactly is wrong with that bastard Giuliani and why a man with his abhorrent political history and frankly disgraceful marital history should retire from politics and never again seek higher office...

Which is all well and good when the red mist rises...but I'm far less verbose when I'm feeling calm. And, worse luck for my lovely readers, I've been working on maintaining my inner peace and equanimity in the face of outrageous provocation. Oh, I get plenty of other writing done in those happy moments of serenity...just not the sort of stuff which makes entertaining blog posts.

(And I look forward to being able to talk about those other things I've been working on, once they're done...but I am not at liberty, national security is at stake, official secrets act, et cetera and so forth.)

So anyway, here's to a much more talkative second year of blogging. Because somehow, I don't think the world will fail to give me plenty of things to rant about.

Can you believe they're using a song by The The as the incidental music for an M&Ms commercial? That's just insane! I cannot wrap my head around the complete and utter wrongness of this...

See what I mean?