Last week I attended my first Comic -Con. In case anyone doesn’t already know how fantastic it is, I can confirm that it was one of the funnest experiences of my life (this is probably a surprise only to me – in retrospect I can’t think why I was nervous about it). As my brother said, it felt great to be in an environment where everyone knew what we were talking about, and was as excited as we were too. I wish the rest of the world were like that.
It occurred to me that in terms of travel, it is similar to my first trip to Burning Man. So I made a list of the similarities and then a list of the differences.
- There are quite a lot of really dodgy-looking, half-naked people.
- There are a few half-naked beautiful women who people keep taking photos of.
- People who aren’t wearing outlandish costumes are the ones who feel out of place.
- A lot of participants forgo showering and brushing their teeth for the entire 5 days.
- There’s an entire subset of people who go in order to hug people a lot.
- There’s a lot of art. Some of it is good, some of it is bad.
- Despite drinking a lot of water, everyone is still dehydrated all the time.
- The food is terrible, but no one really wants to stop to eat.
- Strangers will just start talking to you, and you assume that they’re friends of friends. But they’re actually complete strangers.
- It’s completely impossible to get any sleep because there are always too many exciting things to do.
- It’s crowded and confusing and easy to get lost, but it doesn’t matter because pretty much everywhere is entertaining.
- Every day brings more mind-blowing conversations with incredible people.
- I came home exhausted, jubilant and feeling like I need a vacation.
- There are hotels, with real beds.
- There is running water.
- There are real toilets.
- People are excited about comics, toys and science fiction. For me this is better than people being excited about drugs and rave culture.
- The place is jam-packed with some of the most talented genius’ working in comics today, and you can ask them all about their work.
- Unlike Burning Man, people are generally too geeky to try and have sex with you, so it’s a very low-pressure environment to be a woman in (even if people do stare a lot).
- Comparitively speaking, the psychedelic drug use is relatively minimal.
- People’s costumes are better.
- The art cars aren’t nearly as good as the Owlships and Batgirl bikes.
- No one’s costume involves being entirely naked, so there are no awkward revelations about genitalia over breakfast.
- There’s a far slimmer chance of accidental death.
- You don’t come home with dust everwhere.
- As a graphic designer, there are far more things that are tax deductible about a trip to Comic-Con.
There was a lot to do at Comic-Con, but one of the things that excited me most was getting to ask the questions that swim around in my mind while I read my favorite comics. Unfortunately I don’t have a photographic memory, so I’m going to have to paraphrase a here, but you’ll get the gist of it, and perhaps this will answer some of the things that you wonder about when you read comics.
I asked Philip Bond why he doesn’t do a lot more work, why his incredibly emotive and relatable drawings of very real-looking people aren’t everywhere. He said it’s a combination of things, and primarily it’s that he draws pretty slowly and so each comic takes a long time. He also explained that for the last 3 years he’s been bringing up his new baby boy, and he told me about the benefits of having a job he can do with his son around.
I asked Gilbert Hernandez a ton of questions, in the main, why more creators don’t age their characters as he does, as it’s deeply satisfying to watch them evolve. He pointed out that with a lot of comics this would effect their marketability. I also asked why he’d created Birdland, instead of incorporating those stories into Love & Rockets, since the characters were the same. He said that he’d become frustrated by the limitations and censorship involved, and Birdland was his way to work outside of that.
I asked one of the Luna Brothers (sorry but I don’t know which one) why they like writing about women so much. He said that it was mostly down to trying to find a way to do something unexpected and different with stories. For example in The Sword; people are used to seeing a big guy waving a sword around, but drawing a small woman with a sword is going to stand out more and present more interesting problems in the story.
I asked John Cassaday how he inks. I’d been sure he used a fine point pen or rapidograph, and assumed that his style would change dramatically if he moved to a brush (as Frank Miller’s did). But no, it turns out he always inks with a brush, which implies insane amounts of control, and really impressed me. I asked him whether he prefers working on Astonishing X-Men or Planetary, because personally I prefer his work on Planetary. Like the professional he is, he diplomatically said they were both fun to work on in very different ways.
I asked Grant Morrison why it is that, while his work is of a very high quality, there is no single over-arching theme them? It’s incredibly eclectic and diverse, and I often have problems identitifying that he’s written a story, except that I like it a lot, and later check the byline to discover it’s one of his. He said that unlike a lot of writers, he’s got no axe to grind, it’s simply that he has all of these ideas rushing around in his head, and he has to get them out. He said that he’d known he’d be a writer ever since he was 9 years old reading Enid Blyton.
I asked Mark Waid if (in view of Kingdom Come) he agreed that deep down, only mature superheroes have the authority and stability to be truly trustworthy. He laughed at that, and agreed that somehow a 50 year old Superman had a lot more gravitas. He said that he’d always choose to write Superman over Batman, only because in order for Batman to really function as a character, he can never be a joyful character, whereas Superman is often in a state of joy. It made me like Superman a little more.
I asked J.H. Williams III about drawing Promethea, and particularly the Kaballa storyline. He talked about all of the early concept discussions with Alan Moore and how much he enjoyed working on the different art styles and ideas involved with the story. He even told me how he’d break up the book if he were going to make movies out of it (there’d be three), but he reckoned that just doing the special-effects on the Promethea character – with the stars, floaty robes and living caduceus – would be prohibitively expensive.
I asked Dave Gibbons about the Originals, which always seemed like a deeply personal story to me, particularly in view of it being the only book I know of that he wrote and drew himself. He said that it was indeed very personal to him, as it was based on his own life, that he had been a mod years ago. To him, scooters had always looked like something out of space, and so it was no great leap to make them hover, and create a futuristic version of the mods and rockers – which had the added benefit of setting it apart visually from Quadrophenia. Of course unlike Quadrophenia, this is a real story based on his life, and he’d shown the book to the friends featured in it, and they’s agreed that it was an accurate portrayal of the time.
It still amazes me that my idols were so willing to talk about their work. Over the years, their creations have had such tremendous impact on my life, and I feel honoured to have been able to pick their brains.
Comic-Con is amazing, I can’t say it any clearer than that. It was a damn well organized meeting of the minds, like coming home to a place where everyone understands the things I love. On the flight home, my brother and I discussed our costume plans for next years Comic Con, because we’re definitely coming back.
Sonia is an occasionally red-headed, always comic-loving, graphic designer of British descent, who’s lived and worked in San Francisco for the last 12 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.