A Q&Q&Q&A About Comic Conventions

None of these people are here to hear your Daken pitch.

None of these people are here to hear your Daken pitch.

The more I experience in this world, the more I find myself reflecting on the big questions. Why are we here? What is all of this about? In the end, what’s the point of it all?

When I say “in this world,” of course, I mean the world of comic book conventions, and when I say “experience” I mean at panels. I hope that came across.

Convention season is upon us, and… actually, now that I think about it, convention season is already over where I am concerned. Wizard World St. Louis had its triumphant debut in my home town a month ago, and the biggest and best iteration yet of Chicago’s C2E2 came and went last weekend in the blink of a bloodshot eye. That’s about as far as I’m willing to travel in a given year to see a grown man dressed as a Power Rangers megazord in a food court, so when I go I try to make it count.

This year, part of making it count meant sitting in on every panel I could that was remotely interesting to me, until it started to feel like I was trying to get a confession out of myself. The more repetition I saw during the Q&As–and I saw a lot–the more it gave me pause to reflect.

I showed no signs of this kind of reflection while at the Q&As themselves, mind you. At the panels themselves, I was like a child in a junior high cafeteria, rolling my eyes at the kids I wasn’t sitting with and making bets with my friends about who in the Q&A line was most likely to ask a question that made me embarrassed to be a human being. I have a kind of Q&A Bingo card in my mind, cataloguing the kinds of Qers you see at Q&As most often, and last weekend I got to check off every box at almost every panel:

  • The Trojan Insult. “Thank you for doing these panels. I’m a huge fan. I thought it was a really interesting choice to make the third act of Age of Ultron seem more intense by making the first two acts so dull, lifeless and plodding. What was the process editorially for crafting such a boring beginning?”
  • Occupy Microphone. “Okay, Sheldon. Your whole life has been leading up to this moment. This is your one chance, so once you have the spotlight do not let them pry you out of it until they have answered at least fifteen things you’ve been ruminating about since 1994. People are going to tell you you are holding 200 innocent listeners hostage when you could easily pull a panelist aside and talk to them privately at the end; those people are cowards. Now, remember: no one will notice what you’re doing as long as you bookend every answer by saying ‘Along those same lines, I also wanted to ask’ and then launching into a stream of consciousness that is nowhere near any of those lines. Take no prisoners!”
  • Wikipedia Reader. “Hi, I know the writer of Spider-Man isn’t here, but I just wanted to know when Peter Parker was coming back. Like, specifically which issue. I’m a big enough fan to sit in this room for the last forty-five minutes, but not a big enough fan to read the story, so please just tell it to me right now in bullet points.”
  • Surprise Autobiography. “This question is about Moon Knight. I first started reading Moon Knight in 1991, when my brother went away to college and left me his old long boxes. I still remember the thrill of gingerly opening those bagged books, like I was unearthing a treasure at the Smithsonian. Moon Knight was always there as an escape for me when my parents used to fight over finances after Dad lost his job at the bottling plant…..”
  • Minority of One. “I have one of the world’s largest collections of Spider-Man Legos, and I traveled here today to ask the midlevel employees of the publishing company that licenses Spider-Man why the Venom Action Playset was abruptly removed from Lego’s release schedule after it was promised for fall 2012. I think I speak for all of us when I say I have absolutely no perspective on the world around me, and I demand answers.”
  • Imaginary Friend. “I was just wondering: do any of you know of plans to use Videoman in any upcoming stories? Has there been any talk of an ongoing Videoman series or 3.75″ action figure? No? Okay, then my last question is about Age of Ultron. Where will we see how the events of Age of Ultron are affecting Videoman?”(See also: “Will we see any kind of flashback issue showing how events like the Trial of Yellowjacket were changed by Yellowjacket being dead?” which is a question I did not make up but rather heard with my ears.)

imageIt’s easy to make fun of these people (and it’s a blast, and it passes the time like you wouldn’t believe!) but that doesn’t address the important question, the one I finally ask myself when reflecting later: if not this, then what? What should the point be? What line of questioning would be a good use of everyone’s time? That’s a little trickier.

I think process questions are good, and oral history is even better. How did this project come about? Who pitched it? What inspired it? Behind the scenes commentary can be interesting and provide insight when you’re not asking, “What is currently going on behind the scenes of a project that won’t be done for another year?”

I’d like to hear more questions for the artists that are actually about art instead of plot.

If someone stood up at a DC or Marvel panel and analyzed a series like it was any other piece of fiction, my head would combust. What is the author trying to say with Age of Ultron? Is it an allegory for mankind’s growing dependence on technology that increasingly “takes over” every aspect of our world? What does the Sue Storm/Wolverine chapter say about our desire to go back to a simpler time before this technology was so pervasive? Why are you all staring at me like that?

I would even settle for a little scurrilous spice. In line for the DC panel, I joked about what would happen if someone got up and asked, “Why do you keep making all your writers leave? Don’t you like them?” I needn’t have worried. I never heard anything like that even alluded to; the closest we got was, “Why don’t you have a booth here?” which got an answer that would have made a White House communications director slow-clap with awe.

What do you think? If you controlled the universe of Q&As, which Qs would get A’d? I’ll never know unless I ask.


Jim Mroczkowski is basically shoehorning in Age of Ultron to get on people’s nerves at this point.

Comments

  1. KillTheG1mp KillTheG1mp says:

    This made me laugh! :D

    I attended a congress of Science-fiction this passed weekend in Montreal called “Congrès Boréal”, it was the 30th and the 6th I attended and yeah… Even us, SF/fantasy/horror writers and editors have these weird and pointless questions that point out in panels once in a while and everyone’s like: “Ughh!? Okayyyyyyyy…”

    So yeah, I guess it transcends the language barrier (at least in french!) and frontiers! ;) So fans are too surrealist to be real until you realize they really are, real…

  2. ed209AF ed209AF says:

    Some of the other ones I hate are the longwinded “you’re my inspiration and the reason I love comics” that repeat before every question and the guy who wants a picture or an autograph in the middle of the QnA.

  3. Someone should make a bingo card from all of these instances…and include a few special Kevin Smith squares in which the roles are reversed and he enters into a 1/2 hr story when someone asks him “How did you come up with the character Silent Bob?”

    • neums neums says:

      From what some people told me later on that Saturday evening at C2E2, Smith only got to answer 2 questions for the whole thing because there were 2 “surprise autobiography” people in the question line who talked for almost a half-hour each, even eliciting Smith to tap his wrist for time.

  4. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    When I ask creators questions, I try to be original and learn something from them. I asked Mark Waid about “Indetructible Hulk” at Gem City, what was it “about” really because I wasn’t getting it. 90 seconds later I had to stop him and clarify what I meant but he was giving me a really cool answer anyway. Lately I’ve been asking artists how they choose to set up panels on a page and that seems to get weird looks so maybe I should stop, but I just want to know what they do so I can learn for myself. If I could control what questions to ask; I’d try to get rid of the ones that are redundent, irrevelant, or just pointless. Luckily none of the panels I’ve been to have ever had numerious questions that were boring or dumb to hear answered so I might need to go to more panels to have a better understanding of the bad questions.

  5. flapjaxx flapjaxx says:

    Funny stuff, and insightful too.

    Like many people, I automatically check out mentally whenever “con fever” starts to get into full swing. I go to websites, see a litany of articles prefaced with “C2E2″ or “ComiCon” and they all basically become invisible under an “I don’t care about this meaningless trivia” filter. Even the few announcements that I might care about–I really can’t be bothered to be concerned about them on an active up-to-the-minute basis. So it goes without saying that I wouldn’t want to stand in lines for hours to attend these panels in person.

    If I was paid to do so, I guess I would, though? So I don’t begrudge any reporters from websites for having to talk about it.

    Any news (important or otherwise) will totally flood the internet anyway, so I’m not sure what the point of the sweating it out to attend panels would be, not for the average fan at least.

    The ideas Jim presented here are great, though. One way these panels could become useful is if questioners tried to turn them into investigations of craft and storytelling/behind-the-scenes creativity. I’d actually be interested in hearing or reading about that from the creators/editors. Much more useful than predictable questions that can’t be answered for fear of spoiling upcoming storylines, or off-the-wall questions that no one on stage has any idea about.

    • ilovecomics says:

      I have been going to comic conventions for about 20 years since i was a pre teen (c2e2 included). Never once have i stood in line for a panel. Everything is by schedule and is in a program.. you just walk in a room and sit down. Jim is talking about Q and A sessions during the last 10 minutes of panels (its really a minor part of panels and its by choice if you want to stand in line and ask a question or stay seated and watch and laugh). Especially at C2E2 the level of huge comics talent is just amazing and that is where the line waiting takes place.. but its not hours its minutes to get autographs and speak to the biggest people in comics. Nearly all the creators have less than 30 minute signing lines.. many of them you can just walk up to and talk to them without waiting. The panels are the highlight of cons for me though. Yes you get to hear about up and coming events or about the method or inspiration for creators but I really am blown away when some of these comic book guys just sit up there on stage and joke around (some of the guys have near stand up comic level of jokes and humor). Its a blast. Come to see comic book guys and stay to see them transform into stand up comics.

    • neums neums says:

      I’m sure you’ve had to stand in at least one line. There were several at C2E2 this year.

  6. Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

    “I’d like to hear more questions for the artists that are actually about art instead of plot.”

    This was exactly what MorrisonCon was about, which is why it was awesome. In fact, the very first question of the very first panel discussion was a typical con question about when something would happen and that guy got shut down quickly and everyone was told that there would be no discussion of plots and stories that weekend and it would be all about art and process. I hope Ron releases those panel videos at some point because they were great discussions about art by artists.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I’ll second that, I’d love to see some video footage of MorrisonCon since I couldn’t go. Maybe a series of articles for the anniversary?

  7. Oh god youre son the money, i absolutely hate the questions some of the dweebs ask. I particularly hate the autobiography one too. Like “cool story bro but no one asked for your life story”. The sad part is that the Q&A section of a panel is now the majority, rather than the 2nd half as it once was. Because of this i now attenx fewer panels at conventions, making time for only the ones i really want to see or maybe i’ll duck out as soon as the Q&A begins.

  8. ckl ckl says:

    In 2009 – after Dwayne McDuffie went public about the kind of editorial intrusion he’d endured into his JLA plots – Dan Didio visited the Comic Con in Bristol UK.
    I asked DC’s then-Editor what role he thought the Justice League should have in the DC universe; should that flagship book be tied to every cross-over and reflect the various changes in the individual character’s comics, or should creators be permitted to write completely standalone stories. He accepted the question gracefully but didn’t really have an answer, and ultimately side-stepped it by asking the panel audience for a show of hands to indicate what they thought.
    I suppose asking comic creators about their thinking behind a book, or the ethos in which they envisage a character (or group of characters) might be more revealing than asking about plot lines they are not at liberty to disclose.

  9. flakbait flakbait says:

    This is extending into online questioning, too. I see people all the time ask, I dunno, Bendis what he thought about the latest Marvel movie or something. What do you think he’s going to say?

    My favorite was in a Kevin Smith panel I saw years ago, someone got up and asked “What’s a Nubian?” and the crown absolutely shut him down. You could hear crickets.

  10. eclecticmess says:

    The list was pretty funny, but I don’t really understand why the Surprise Autobiography is such a big deal. I’m sure comics have had a profound effect on the lives of many people, just like music or movies, and it’s kind of a dick move to belittle that.

    • Jim Mroczkowski Jim Mroczkowski (@jimski) says:

      Why do the other two hundred people in the room need to hear your story while people wait in line behind you? We only have an hour.

    • batverine batverine says:

      @Jim — Seconded.

      @eclecticmess — Cons are a great place for community. I feel really privileged and thankful to speak to creators for even 20 or 30 seconds. However, it’s an issue of context. If you run into a creator on the floor and they don’t seem to be rushing somewhere, engage them. Some won’t have time, but some love meeting fans. Like Jim said, when you’re in a room with a few hundred other people, there are more pressing concerns than your back story.

    • Dud317 says:

      For pretty much the same reason people don’t want origin stories every time. Most people are harmless, but some are too much.

  11. JesseCuster says:

    You know, I once got Mark Waid’s autograph at a Con, it was a while back. I asked him a question and I swear I meant for this question to have more meaning than it did, but I don’t think he quite understood and gave me one of the worst replies ever.

    ME: What would be a good tip for a writer wanting to get into comic book scripting?
    MW: errr…*SIGH*… you know… Write what you know… ahh… NEXT!

    Bleh. Ok, so the part about ‘next’ I made up, but that was kind of his attitude. Which, I don’t hold against the guy.. .Cons, for the creators, has got to be an ultimate workout in patience and taxing on sanity.

    To clarify, I wasn’t asking for tips on being a good writer… I was geneuinely perplexed at how writers can break into the business. Its seems more difficult that artists. Artists get the benefit of having something visual and instant to show. A writer has to convince someone to not only sit and read a sample, but visualize it in their heads as well.

    • JesseCuster says:

      Oh, and also to add… I didnt actually expect him to suddenly lay down a whole career path plan either.

      Also realized after reading my comment, one way to get into scripting might be to proofread your spelling first. :)

  12. cosmo cosmo says:

    Good article and I laughed out loud at your generic question types. I’ve attended many a film festival screening in my day, and I can tell you that questions afterwards can be just as ridiculous. One of my favorites Is “oh I didn’t notice that the film followed the course of the seasons, did I miss something?” “Yes, the title at the beginning of each section that told you what the season was.”

    In my experience, a Q&A in any art form is always a roll of the dice. I’ve seen some where the audience asked insightful questions and the talent gave good answers. I’ve seen others which resemble more what’s described above. Also, to be honest, there are the sessions where the audience is asking good questions, but the answers are dismissive and/or tangential.