Saturday, April 26, 2008

III. Conclusion

In which you will kindly recall that you asked me to write a convention recap. Well, at least one of you did. Don't blame me that it turned into another three-part epic no one is reading apart from my mother, and then only if there's nothing good on television tonight.

On Saturday evening, Lisa Hoppe and I attended the ReBoot panel (video here and doesn't it make my life easier not to have to recap all these panels when you can watch them for yourself) featuring series cocreator Gavin Blair and onetime producer Dan DiDio. This panel was for me what conventions are for. Not shilling things, not hype and press events and publicity for your big budget film, but seeing folks who are delighted to talk about something they had fun creating, and who are equally delighted to see how many people responded to it.

Dan DiDio in particular was a surprise. My close personal friend Gavin Blair -- by which I mean he once shook my hand and he signed my booklet, which is more than many of my so-called real life friends can say -- remarked afterward that comics people only get to see DiDio trying to promote the latest DC event under the scrutiny of his corporate employers, but the Dan DiDio he knows as friend and colleague is a completely different person. There was nothing to hype here, just a couple of guys reminiscing about this really cool thing they did a few years back...and it was obvious DiDio was having the time of his life telling those stories. If someone attended this panel without ever having seen or heard of ReBoot, that person would have left wanting to see the entire series right away, simply because Blair and DDio made their experiences working on it sound like so much fun.

That night saw a big dinner with the TwoMorrows/Kirby Museum crowd and Jack Kirby Collector contributor Mike Gartland, plus some sort of Philly art mafia consisting of Mike Manley, Jamar Nicholas, and Scott Cohn. Believe me, I am as shocked as you are that I got to sit with those guys. Have you seen their artwork? Go look: it's awesome. My presence there was solely because none of them knew me and generously assumed I had some right to be in their company. If only they knew.

Moving along to the last day of the convention, a few highlights...

Waiting for the Kirby: King of Comics panel to start, I ran into my actual real world friend Jeff Brady as well as JKC contributor and all-around swell guy Adam McGovern. They probably regretted sitting next to me when I heckled Mark Evanier about feral cats in his backyard. Also in attendance were several major participants in Kirby fandom, such as Harry Mendryk (whose own convention recap is much more informative than mine and has cool photos, so I encourage you all to check it out) and the shockingly erudite Atlas historian Michael Vassalo.

Sometime after the panel, I heard of one attendee grumbling that it had focused too much on the entire careers of guests Joe Sinnott and Dick Ayers and gave insufficient attention to Kirby. This strikes me as doubly mistaken. First, both offered a lot of praise for Jack and discussed the work they did embellishing his pencils, how they approached it and what it was like to work with him. Sinnott was particularly effusive in his love for Kirby; Ayers is less outspoken about it but the respect and warmth are there as well. More importantly -- look, I'm the big Kirby fanatic, right? Write a book about the guy, have a panel in his honor, mention his name in passing and I'm right there, as most bloggers learn all too quickly. But Sinnott and Ayers are still with us, their careers are worthy of attention, and I'd rather give them a standing ovation with both in front of us to enjoy it than only offering them praise at yet another memorial service.

I'm proud to be one of many at the con who personally congratulated Laura Hudson on her success at irritating those jerkwads at Virgin Comics. You can tell the worth of any journalist by the caliber of person she offends. To be called an "evil writer" can only be considered praise...because anyone who uses the phrase "evil writer" as a pejorative richly deserves offense. I told Laura to bear in mind the example of investigative reporter Wayne Barrett: on hearing former New York Senator Al D'Amato violently disparage him on television as a scandalmonger, a gutter journalist and worthless hack, Barrett beamed and declared it "better than winning a Pulitzer."

I was also glad to hook up my close personal friend George Khoury with a cheap source of Tom Strong action figure sets. A dealer was selling these at such a steep discount that having bought one I felt obliged to buy a bunch of other action figures from him simply to ease my feeling that I was taking unfair advantage. Yesterday at St. Marks Comics I saw the exact same set going for $44.99. I should have bought out the guy's whole stock. Around this same time, George and I got into a conversation with Erik Larsen about the original Fawcett version of Captain Marvel as compared with more recent interpretations, another of my favorite hobby horses. Okay, now I really am just dropping names...but Larsen is getting a lot of Gerber and Kirby work back into print as well as many other good comics, so if there's kissing up to be done I for one don't mind getting in that line.

As the convention wound down, I hung out for a while in Artists Alley with Richard Howell and his Claypool cohort Jesse Reyes, where my fatigued rambling was tolerated with characteristic graciousness by the always charming and civilized Carolyn Kelly. Carolyn was mercifully spared further babbling from me, however, when I went off to help John and Rand and Lisa pack up the TwoMorrows display before we all got hustled out by the Javits Center maintenance crew. When one of these shows ends they waste no time in letting you know you aren't welcome anymore. After loading up the van, a bunch of us went to dinner just off Times Square, and another convention weekend was over.

I feel as if the preceding entries have been just a big list of names, but that's what the whole convention experience is about for me. I don't go to buy stuff or see a lot of panels but rather to see people, so that's what I've recorded here. Although they were also at the con, I totally missed connecting with Sean Witzke and Jog and Neilalien and the returning favorite Redhead Fangirl. Dammit! There's always something you didn't manage to do.

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!

I. Contumely

In which many names will be named.

Almost as soon as I arrived at the Javits Center for NYCC 2008, Rand Hoppe of the Kirby Museum introduced me to John Morrow, who'd travelled up from North Carolina along with Jim Amash to staff the TwoMorrows Publishing table. As previously mentioned, even though the Kirby Museum wasn't sharing space with TwoMorrows at NYCC this year, that table remained my default rendezvous point: the place I told everyone to look for me if I couldn't be found anywhere else and the first place I looked for other folks.

I also spent a good bit of time hanging out with Mike Philips and Tim Callahan of Sequart Research and Literacy Center -- publishers of Teenagers From The Future, the epic collection of essays about the Legion of Super-Heroes that sold out its entire preview run before the weekend was over. I was lucky to score a copy at the rate they were flying away.

Totally by chance while I was still scoping out the show floor, I ran into Gavin "Gavok" Jasper of 4th Letter (though apparently he slept through meeting me), and the following day I also met David Brothers of 4L when he stopped by the Sequart table. They're both every bit as cool and personable as one would expect from reading their blog. I also had the fortune to spend time with Patrick Meaney and Rob Kelly, however statistically unlikely it was that any of us would cross paths that way. My long term plan is to get all four of these guys doing work for Sequart and/or TwoMorrows so that hooking up with them will be much simpler at future conventions. It's all about who you know...

The multi-talented Thom Zahler was almost directly opposite the Sequart table, and one of my stated goals for the con had been to pick up a full set of his really very wonderful Love and Capes comic series. Later this year, IDW is going to release a collection in trade paperback form: a much more convenient form for gift-giving if you happen to know anyone who might enjoy a) warm-hearted romance with a comedic superhero motif sometimes compared to The Incredibles and b) receiving gifts.

I missed the screening of Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist but made it to the Will Eisner panel with producer Jon B. Cooke (who turns out to display previously unsuspected gifts as a panel moderator, and future convention organizers are encouraged to make use of him in this capacity), the film's director Andrew Cooke, Paul Levitz, Mike Uslan, Mark Evanier, and Will's nephew Carl Gropper. Gropper was probably the most interesting panelist for his family perspective on having Eisner for a relative. There was also plenty of discussion about Eisner the visionary genius who saw the comic book page as a unique graphic entity unto itself and not merely a vehicle for reprinting comic strip panels, and Eisner the unusually shrewd businessman (according to Levitz, rivalled only by Joe Simon and Joe Kubert in that respect). I still regret missing that film, though.

Later in the day, my actual close personal friend (as opposed to the countless people I refer to as "close personal friends" but who are in fact complete strangers or at best passing acquaintances who would barely recognize me under most circumstances) Richard Howell put me on the trail of Peter Sanderson, who was facing a last-minute cancellation by an intended member of his Legion of Super-Heroes panel the following day. I had a good idea of someone who could fill that gap, and spent a lot more time than I probably ought to have done trying to track down all the involved parties and get them on the same page.

It all turned out to be for nothing -- Peter found someone else to fill in -- but to be honest, I enjoyed the temporary excitement all the same. A few years ago I found work as roadie and guitar tech for a rock group simply because I was tired of watching gigs from the audience. Standing there with nothing to do but watch always made me feel antsy; I only ever wanted to be backstage, sorting out minor emergencies behind the scenes so the show could run smoothly. By the same token, I don't feel comfortable just passively attending a convention; I like to have a problem that needs solving.

In fact, I might as well admit it: I'm the one who stopped Jim Shooter from attending NYCC this year, just so he'd miss the Legion panel and I could run around all afternoon trying to line up a replacement for him. I'm so ashamed of myself.

Next: Death be not proud!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday evening coming down

And so another New York Comic Con comes to a close. Funnily enough, I've spent some of my free time since the con ended shopping for comics. Yeah, I know, right? But there's a reason for it.

My friend Howard, the Henchman 21 to my Henchman 24 if you will*, went into the hospital for emergency surgery last week, as I briefly hinted in my previous post. There were complications and he's been through a rough time of it. But I finally received word that Howard was doing a lot better and, although he's still not up to receiving visitors, he wanted me to get him some reading material to pass the time. I didn't see this last message until late Sunday night...that is to say, just after three whole days during which I was surrounded by dealers eager to sell me their comic books at low, low prices. If only I'd thought of it at the time, I could have got a huge stack of comics right there. Complete with autographs for the sick boy in hospital. That would have been lovely. Not to mention a prerelease copy of Teenagers from the Future before they all sold out.

But I didn't, so I hit the comic shops to get the books he wanted (Dynamite Entertainment's Lone Ranger and Project Superpowers and the latest Buffy) plus some others I hope he'll find entertaining (my chance to make him read Patton Oswalt's brilliant JLA: Welcome to the Working Week has come at last). Howard keeps up with the current titles a lot more than I do, so this means for a change I'll actually be hitting the shop every Wednesday and scoring his weekly fix for him until he's back on his feet.

Hey, it's the least I can do for a guy who keeps a complete set of Legion of Super-Heroes action figures on display next to an open window, hoping a stray bolt of lightning will transform him into the Composite Superman.

I'm working on a writeup of the convention, but I've also got a backlog of messages to catch up on so please bear with me a day or two longer.

* Or am I the 21 to his 24? It's a tough call. On the one hand I'm the thinner one and he's the one with the bigger collection of geeky memorabilia...but I'm also the more emotional one whereas he's the more grounded and efficient one. **

** No, I am not saying he's the husband and I'm the wife. That kind of talk is childish, not to mention sexist, and has no place among adults. Quite frankly I'm surprised you even thought such a thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Now these points of data make a beautiful line

Jonathan Coulton's song for the video game Portal is lovely all by itself, but this tribute to the Amiga computer -- animated on an Amiga 4000T -- takes it to an even higher level. (Even more so if you know the context of the song in the game.)

Read the comments at the above link to understand the regard in which the Amiga platform is still held by hardcore computer graphics geeks. I am neither a hardcore computer graphics geek nor a video gamer, but I can enjoy good geek humor and good animation when it's put in front of me.

And like I say, the song is great by itself. (Lyrics here.)

This post is for Howard, as soon as he has a chance to read it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stan Lee even called to remind me

As various people have noted, the New York Comic Con begins Friday.

New York may not yet have the repute or high profile of San Diego, but if this year's guest list is anything to go by, that won't be the case much longer. And you thought last year was overstuffed! We're moving from "finally a major comics industry event in New York again" to "another multimedia showcase promoting Hollywood that pushes aside the comics people, sending them in search of smaller events" with remarkable speed. Two years ago it was all about the comics, man.

That said, it's certainly been a major event of the year for me over the past couple of years and this year will be the same poignant combination of joy and heartbreak as always. Since some folks have expressed an interest in my plans, I thought I'd post a quick rundown here.

To start with, I'll be there all three days. My name badge lists "Estoreal" as my company affiliation -- apart from anything else, this is the only way Redhead Fangirl can recognize me from year to year -- so if you spot a debonair stranger with a certain reckless charm wearing a badge that mentions this blog, feel free to say hello. I always have time for my public.

I originally expected to spend most of my time at the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center table -- this has always been the best way to meet everyone at a convention, since everyone stops by to visit sooner or later -- but it turns out we won't have one this year. Instead, Rand Hoppe will be helping out at the TwoMorrows Publishing table, so chances are good I'll be hanging around there instead.

I'll also be stopping by the table, as they'll be showing off copies of Teenagers From The Future, the Legion of Super-Heroes anthology edited by the rugged yet urbane Timothy Callahan. If you want, I'll even sign your copy...if Tim says I can.

The one panel event I expect to be attending on Friday is a screening of the Will Eisner documentary at noon, and the discussion afterward. On Saturday, there's the Steve Gerber memorial panel, and the Legion of Super-Heroes panel, the Grant Morrison spotlight, and the Venture Bros panel which was such a highlight last year, and then the ReBoot panel...

I'm going to be totally burned out when this weekend is over.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sweet food of knowledge

1. I so wanted this to be true:

(via Serious Eats)

2. Coffee may cut the risk of dementia by blocking the damage cholesterol can inflict on the body, research suggests.

"Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky," said Dr Jonathan Geiger, who led the study. "High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood brain barrier. Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug and its ability to stabilise the blood brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders."

And I really hope this one is true. I make a lot of jokes about getting old and my memory failing and does anyone else remember The Amazing Three because that was a very strange cartoon and what was I just saying a moment ago? But the reason I make such jokes is that my family history contains more than a few examples of dementia and it's something that scares the crap out of me. But I also drink coffee.

(via Daring Fireball)

3. Finally, an ad jingle for Rice Krispies by The Rolling Stones, circa 1964:

(via The New Yorker)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jim Mooney

Jim Mooney interviewed by Chris Knowles:

Certainly I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the nine years I spent on Supergirl. First of all, it was a strip that wasn't terribly challenging. After a while, you were pretty much doing the same thing over and over. The other thing I didn't like about it was, before that I was doing some stuff for DC, House of Mystery and so on, in a much more sophisticated style. When I started on Supergirl, Mort Weisinger insisted it had to be what he considered the "house style." It had to look the way he wanted it, which was much simpler than the way I'd been drawing previously. So, I was pretty much fenced in by that particular requirement that Mort had. If I changed my style at all, he'd call me into his office and say, "What are you trying to do, make a million bucks? Do you have somebody ghosting for you?" I said, "No, I was just trying something a little different." He said, "Well, don't! Draw it the way you were drawing it before."

Steve Gerber interviewed by Dan Best:

I first became aware of Jim Mooney without even knowing that the person drawing it was Jim. That’d be Tommy Tomorrow back in Action Comics in the mid ‘50s. With the Planeteers in their purple and red Bermuda shorts. I first became aware of him at DC in one of Mort Weisinger’s letter columns. They were having a vote for a new hair-style for Supergirl and in the lead up Mort wrote that the drawings were all done by Supergirls’ regular artist, Jim Mooney. Then all of a sudden it was, Oh, that’s who this guy is! He’s been drawing this stuff for ten years and I’ve been loving it as a kid and now I know who it is.

Omega was a departure for Jim, although it had all of the elements that made a strip like Supergirl really appealing. The way he drew kids was just remarkable. I’m sure that an editor brought up his name and I agreed to it immediately of course, but I don’t recall the exact process of his selection. We did have a lot of phone conversations and I liked him a hell of a lot, he’s a wonderful guy to talk to and he really understood what Mary (Skrenes) and I were going for with Omega, and what I was trying to do with Man-Thing. He was a very, very perceptive artist with a keen appreciation of story.

Above, just a couple of my favorite sequences by Jim Mooney. However he may have felt about working on Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes for Mort Weisinger, he still managed to do some exceptional work...and Gerber was exactly right in seeing a direct line from the strengths of that earlier work to his later accomplishments with Omega and Man-Thing and Son of Satan and even to his final work for Claypool Comics.