Comics Events 1: My First (American) Comic Con

Visual people beware!

Today is the first in a series of posts that I’ll be writing specifically for Great Bear Month where I want to take time to reflect on my experiences in attending several comics-related events: C2E2 2014, Chicago Alternative Comics Expo in 2012-14, Comic Con India in 2013, Mix 2012 & 13, and the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo in 2012. Each reflection will be fairly brief, and as heavy with images as practically possible. Great Bear is intended as both a space for finding comics and for thinking critically about comics culture, so, in this series, I’ll be reflecting on why cons happen in the first place.

So, let’s talk about the first comics convention that I have ever attended…in the United States. See, I have attended cons in other countries – Comic Con India in Delhi for instance – and even some smaller expos, but never a full and proper Con in the USA. I am not a big fan of American corporate comics culture, but I wanted to have a fairly strong grounding in it both so that I have more resources for my students and so that I can have stronger connections with other creators and scholars. So it was that I purchased my 3-day pass to C2E2 (Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo) this past April 25-27th.

Note: Future posts will have more photos – sadly, both my cameras died within days of C2E2. 

The Floor

First off – the merchandise area is overwhelming. The South Building at McCormick Place is massive, and they filled it most of the way with booths full of paraphernalia related to comics and anything popular cultural. There was a definite geek chic lean to it – but it seemed like you could find something for just about anyone. That said, as someone mostly interested in the panels at C2E2 and networking with creators, publishers, or scholars (and someone who appreciates the value of not-owning-things as a fairly mobile scholar/comics maker), I spent my time in Artist’s Alley or at various panels.

Artist’s Alley was a little out of the way – in that you had to go through a lot of merch to get there – but that meant that it was easy enough to stop by signings at Dark Horse and other comics publisher’s booths on the way to artist’s individual ones.

Artist’s Alley

So many artists and authors! The number of booths (over 100) made it a tad difficult to a) take everything in, and b) decide who to talk to first. On my first day, in between various panels, I wandered around to get a sense of the space and the layout of the Alley. This made it much easier later to track down the various creators I wanted to meet and/or chat with. There were also separate spaces for signings, so that there seemed to be larger areas for lines to form around said tables.

The best advice I got for artists/authors about Artist’s Alley came from the creator of God Hates Astronauts, Ryan Browne – whose work is quite awesome. He basically broke it down to: talk to people like they’re people, support creators by buying their work, and don’t be down on your own work (as I had given him a comic o mine but described it as not so good). The other piece of advice, which I heard at various panels and from many creators, was don’t keep giving people the same work year after year – it’s awkward and not helpful. But mainly, I just chatted with various creators, including the brilliant David Mack, whose Kabuki series is an engaging and masterfully told epic of personal transformation and the relationships between memory & self and art & life. Meeting Mack was pretty much the pinnacle of C2E2 for me – as his work helped me with the existential crises of being a comics creator and scholar (see Kabuki: The Alchemy in particular for some in-depth discussions of living an ethical, artful life – have a brief review). In person, he is super-friendly, and we shared a rather geeky moment where, in telling me about his work, and in me telling him how much I appreciated his work, we both said “That’s my favorite” simultaneously when pointing at The Alchemy.

Other Highlights:

–     Amy Chu is super friendly, an awesome creator, and gave me some pointers on making comics while pointing me in the direction of some awesome ones – read her work in Vertigo Quarterly: Cyan #1, alongside the fantastic work of several other creators.

–     Mike Norton is infinitely nice in person – and his work on the award-winning web comic Battle Pug, the acclaimed Revival with Tim Seeley, and  otherwise is reliably great. Check it out!

–     Chad Sell is always super friendly and willing to talk about his work in depth – we discussed the influence of Japanese folklore on his work and then the nature of his work on Rupaul’s Drag Race. See his site and store for his fantastic illustration & comics work! But especially the gif-ty bit Ninja.

–     Geof Darrow of Shaolin Cowboy, Jill Thompson of Beasts of Burden, and Joe Harris of Great Pacific were also super nice when I picked up some of their comics and chatted ever-so-briefly with them. If you have yet to experience their superb stories, do so on the double!

Sidenote: Loot!

Notice the work of the above creators…and the blurriness of my flip phone’s camera focus. My favorite may be the Wolverine poster by David Mack…

 C2E2 Haul

Panels

The panels on the first day were definitely the best – mainly because you could tell that by the second day, creators, editors, and publishing reps were already tired, but by Sunday, they just seemed simultaneously excited and exhausted. I only attended panels related to careers in the comics industry – as I feel obliged as a scholar to both know about comics jobs and as I wanted to circulate with other comics professionals. The speakers were often passionate and generally both helpful and informative – and I learned quite a bit about comics editing careers and the best steps for creators’ submission of art, writing, or fully developed stories.

Spoilers: Finish and publish a short comics story. It shows you can finish a story. 

That goes for editing too – finish a project, jump through all the hoops, and get it published (in some format). It shows that you can manage all those steps in the process.

The best panel was Creator Connection – where audience members were split up into artists and authors. We met with each other briefly in a speed-dating format in order to hopefully create some solid collaborations, and then were moved on to another potential collaborator. It was pretty awesome, though we’ll see if any comics/illustration work come from them thar connections.

The only downside of these panels was the audience – it seemed like I was surrounded by young people from various fields who felt that they should create comics for a living because they loved it. Despite never having created a comic. There were definitely some more experienced people in the crowds, but many of the Q & A periods were dominated by questions like:

–     “How do I break into comics?”

–     “How do I make a living from comics?”

–     “How do I get an artist to make my graphic novel?”

These kinds of questions assume that you can get into any field if you know how – despite the recovery from the economic recession in the U.S. being agonizingly slow – not to mention the rising gaps between rich and poor and low class mobility in the U.S.A. I just wanted so badly for someone to tell them to make comics (first 1-pagers, then 6-pagers, then longer) before they decide it is their calling. And then maybe let them know that ‘callings’ are mythical beasts one rarely, if ever, encounters…

Rant over. And Con reflection over too – almost.

So why does C2E2 exist? 

See Tribune articles on the first and 2013 events, as well as the Comics Reporter‘s collection of links for the 2014 event for some details of the history and development of C2E2, which is organized by the same people as the New York Comic Con. The main thing that stuck out to me was that there are many reasons – and it’s a bit different for different groups of attendees. As a comics creator/scholar, the event was interesting for seeing patterns in comics culture – but it was more valuable as a place for learning about current patterns in the comics industry. It was also a nice space for meeting other creators (mainly at Artist’s Alley) and for seeing what art styles and narrative tropes are popular right now. More than anything, it was a space where a comics love could feel valuable as a part of a larger world of people. And that is something I’ll explore more in Comics Events 2.

Growlingly yours,

J

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