Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Con text

A comics convention turns out to have a lot in common with a New York City public park. One difference is that you meet a lot more crazy people at a convention.

This past weekend was the Big Apple Con in Manhattan, and once again I joined my friends Rand and Lisa Hoppe to promote the Jack Kirby Museum the same way we did at the HOWL Festival in Tompkins Square Park back in September.

Visiting British hack Rich Johnston describes the con:

"A hundredth the size of the San Diego and NYCC events, yet with a decent guest list and a critical mass of people and attention. Where else would you see S Clay Wilson and Rodney Ramos sitting together? Or someone who once played a stormtrooper sitting next to Val Kilmer? Where suddenly without warning on Saturday, Neal Adams shows up as a surprise...Basically it was a British comics convention in the USA."

I've been to a few conventions in the UK, and that's an apt comparison. It was intimate enough that no one felt overwhelmed...including the guests, who got to have decent conversations with fans in a normal human way. No one, fan or pro, seemed to experience the terrible crush of "where am I supposed to be in five minutes ago got to get out of here I need to touch base with you you and you and has the panel started yet?" that can make one of these things a relativistic blur.

The Kirby Museum ended up just one table away from no less than Sergio Aragones, who walked in, set up his own table, and then sat down to draw pretty much nonstop for the rest of the weekend as a steady stream of fans, friends, and colleagues stopped by to pay their regards. If you wanted to see everyone at the convention including all the comics pros in attendance without making any effort, there was no better place to sit than in direct sight of his table.

It was a good thing we didn't have the table next to Sergio, or the flow of traffic would have prevented anyone from reaching the Kirby display. Instead, the table between us and Sergio was occupied by a guy named Mark Evanier. Which couldn't have been more appropriate placement, really, as Mark was in town not only to sign copies of Groo with Sergio -- as well as discussing their future collaborations -- but also in connection with his own upcoming book on Kirby.

During the three days of the convention, Rand Hoppe was acting in his capacity as museum curator in borrowing original Kirby art from dealers and collectors in attendance to make high-quality scans for the museum archives. Speaking as a hardcore Kirby fan, looking at this original art from New Gods and The Demon and Kamandi with Mark -- who had last seen some of those same pages more than thirty years ago as they came off Kirby's drawing board -- and hearing his anecdotes about those pages, how they were drawn, the minor spelling corrections and touch-ups he made...well, that was pretty damn great.

But for all that I enjoyed our chats, I think Mark would forgive me saying that the nicest person I met during the weekend was an artist named Carolyn Kelly, who happens to be the daughter of Pogo creator Walt Kelly, as well as a terrific person in general. Occasionally you're fortunate enough to meet someone who has the quality of being totally present in a conversation, someone whose manner says implicitly "I am giving this conversation with you my full attention because I see you as a fellow human being whose opinions matter" and makes the other party feel very special and rewarded. Talking with Ms. Kelly for five minutes made me feel as if we were old pals, and I'm sure a lot of people felt the same way.

As is always the case at conventions, I spent way too much time talking with Richard Howell -- no stranger to being mentioned on this blog but apparently a stranger to reading it, to judge from his reaction of "You have a blog? I didn't know you had a blog," when I asked his thoughts on my comments about his webcomic Deadbeats a while back. (Richard, if you ever see this, those comments can be found here...but it isn't anything I haven't said to you already.)

Other notable visitors to our table included Jim Salicrup (who was my editor at one time), Peter Sanderson, and official Friend of the Kirby Museum Danny Fingeroth, author of Superman On The Couch and Disguised As Clark Kent though the world may know him better as a former writer of Dazzler. Perhaps outshining all of these notables was the arrival of Dr. Michael J. Vassallo, a comic industry historian and archivist widely considered the world's foremost authority on Atlas -- the company run by Stan Lee in the Fifties previously called Timely, but subsequently to be known better as Marvel Comics -- and a friend of mine on the Kirby Mailing List since its inception more than a decade ago. Doc V has his practice in Manhattan (I've even known people who were his patients!) but we'd never met in person until this weekend. Through the good doctor, I was also introduced to fellow list members Nick Caputo and Barry Pearl. When painter, comics artist, and Kirby scholar James Romberger (who curated the HOWL Festival) joined us, this was the largest gathering of Kirby-L participants in quite some time.

So that's me dropping names promiscuously. What else, you ask? The Kirby Museum display had pretty much exactly the same promotional materials and merchandise on hand -- basically, whatever was left over from September -- and as you may remember me saying at the start, the two experiences had a lot in common. Our visitors here included many more comics pros; that was different.

At the convention we had a few more of the intense sort of fan with strongly held opinions, rehearsed over and over again in their own heads, and maybe not so much experience talking about their views with others in a social environment...so you end up as the captive audience for an extended diatribe on how, for example, if he had lived Kirby would have sued to keep those Fantastic Four movies from ever being made. (To which we replied that Kirby was certainly more interested in seeing movies made from new ideas; both Silver Star and Captain Victory started life as film treatments. A way of "agreeing" without actually, you know, agreeing.) Or fervent denunciations of Stan Lee. (Which we answered by pointing out how Stan elevated the credits for artists and writers at Marvel beyond anything other comics publishers had ever done, and built them all up as celebrities in his letters pages and Bullpen Bulletins.) People like these simply want to be heard and acknowledged without interruption, every bit as much as the guy in the park with detailed explanation of precisely how the Bilderberg Group caused 9/11.

(Great, now I'm going to get more Google hits for that than anything else I just said.)

Other than that...exactly the same types of people in the same percentages stopped by our table in both locations. The serious knowledgeable comics fans. The bemused parents whose children were attracted by familiar Kirby characters like the FF and the X-Men and the Hulk. The bemused children dragged along by parents who wanted to show their kids what comics they read when they were young. The folks who knew nothing about comics themselves but had a relative in the business. The ones who'd never heard of Kirby. The ones who only cared about Kirby and didn't like any other comics. In Tompkins Square Park or the Big Apple Con, they come to our table, take our postcards and flyers, and learn a little bit. And they are all so much fun to meet.


  1. Bilderberger? I thought it was the Club of Rome...

    - Rand

  2. ...and really, it was a pleasure. thanks for all your help.

  3. You might enjoy this interview with former Spider-Man comics group editor Danny Fingeroth. Fingeroth is also the editor of "Disguised as Clark Kent" and "Superman on the Couch," and is editor of "Write Now! magazine.

  4. I am more than happy to endorse the above plug. It's an excellent discussion and made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Thank you for mentioning it, Bob!


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