Comic-Con

Me blabbing off about Comic-Con

So here’s that stuff I teased about on Monday.

The big news is that I am now blogging at Comic Book Resources’ Robot 6. I’ll be doing a weekly piece on whatever big goings-on are going on in the world of comic books. CBR is one of the biggest comics news sites and Robot 6 is one of the best comics blogs, so it’s really exciting for me to be joining their team. In my debut I challenge the notion of who should be going to Comic-Con and why they can’t, along with offering up some solutions and alternatives. Check out the comments too, as there are some good thoughts. Cartoonist Dave Roman offers up an interesting suggestion that really deserves to be explored.

Then I gave Four Tips for Beginners in the following Navigate the Arts interview conducted by Cindy Marie Jenkins:

We also recorded other interview segments on a number of comics-related topics, which will get posted in the near future. I’ll be sure to post them here as they hit the inter-webs, so I can be mortified anew. It’s amazing how uncomfortable I am being myself on-camera and seeing it back. I think Stephen Colbert has the right idea – play a ridiculous fictional character to directly address factual content and the real world. But anyway, Cindy and I had some great conversations.

I’ll be taking Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner down to Comic-Con for the day tomorrow. If you’re going to be there, let’s meet up! Message me on Facebook, Twitter, or email me.

Going Beyond the Blurb to Navigate Comic-Con

Poor CoreyBlake.com. Neglected for so long. I’ve been busy bringing in an awesomely eclectic line-up of columnists at The Comics Observer, in addition to my shows with the Magic Meathands, an improv comedy troupe (show this Saturday!).

And the comic-y goodness doesn’t stop because this weekend it’s Comic-Con: the biggest comics event in North America! My friend Cindy Marie Jenkins is always interested in how different industries reach their audiences, as well as interactive entertainment and media, so she decided to tap me for a special Navigating the Arts interview about Comic-Con for her innovative Beyond the Blurb live interview series. That will happen this Wednesday night at 8:30 PM Pacific time. You should be able to watch live right here.

I’ve also got a special editorial about Comic-Con appearing later this week, so I’ll post about that once it goes live.

Thank you all for your support!

Stan Lee: Real vs. Fake

After the last two days, I think we need something to lighten things up before we head off to the Thanksgiving weekend.

If someone thinks about comic books long enough to consider that people actually make them, that person is probably aware of Stan Lee. The head editor and face of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Stan “The Man” Lee helped plot and script nearly the entirety of Marvel’s then growing line of groundbreaking superhero comic books. He also either helped write or oversaw the western, romance, suspense, humor, war and other comics back when Marvel wasn’t primarily limited to one genre. He was also an innovator in fan interaction for the comics world of the time, taking on a carnival barker persona that remains to this day. While he hasn’t been involved in Marvel’s day-to-day operations for a long time, he’s still thought of as the guy who created the Marvel Universe, even if that title almost completely ignores the contributions of the brilliant artists working at Marvel at the time (most significantly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). Despite the controversies and legal issues of who really created Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and all the others, and to what extent, Stan Lee remains a beloved public figure of Marvel and a legendary force of goodwill and visibility for comics in general.

These days, he remains as active as ever with his POW! Entertainment, where he’s provided concepts for a mini-line of superhero comics published by BOOM! Studios, superhero characters for the NHL, manga, and countless other projects, along with a first look deal with Disney and other production partnerships. (But not Stripperella. Nobody had anything to do with Stripperella.) And on the side, he makes cameos in Marvel Studios’ films:

To expand his Twitter and Facebook presence, Stan Lee is getting ready to launch TheRealStanLee.com, which is going to be a community-focused site. Here’s the promotional video that was released yesterday:

And thus we get to the real point of me posting all of this. Included in the above video is a clip of Stan Lee meeting The Fake Stan Lee. Played by cartoonist/improviser Kevin McShane, the Fake Stan Lee hits the right balance of playful tribute and pointed satire. For a few years now, McShane has been posting funny videos of himself as Stan Lee attending comic book conventions and interacting with attendants unabashedly being Stan Lee. And if you don’t know what that means, you got a glimpse at the above video. Now check out the below two videos. The first includes the two Stans meeting at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.

And they had another showdown in last year’s Comic-Con:

For more Fake Stan Lee videos, check out his YouTube channel.

First Time Comic Convention Goer Reviews Comikaze Expo

The Comikaze Expo debuted at the Los Angeles Convention Center at the beginning of November. This brand new comic book convention joins a crowded field to get a major comic con in the city. Many have come and gone over the years. Will this be the one that sticks? Guest-blogger Cindy Marie Jenkins attended Comikaze and shares her thoughts.

Cozying up to Alex Leavitt's laptop

I truly went to this on a whim. A friend threw it out on Google+ and I thought it sounded like fun, and a low-key way to introduce myself to attending conventions. For various reasons in my storytelling world, I need to stay involved in the larger industry.

So I went expecting….what, exactly? The website gave detailed information about the panels and that was encouraging. I knew I would have to decide between some very interesting topics. Scanning through the guests and vendors, I found a lot of brand names or people that I knew and looked interesting. The Guests of Honor, though, left a weird taste in my mouth. I am new to the details of this industry, but I had no idea that the Nickelodeon show “All That” fell into geek culture.

Yeah, that’s because it doesn’t. They were the main attraction though. Stan Lee – very cool – and Elvira – a respectable mainstay, I’m guessing?  – also headlined. I can understand needing a more mainstream attraction like an “All That” Reunion except that, actually, I can’t. Again, I’m new to conventions, but in what alternate universe should Stan Lee be overshadowed by “All That” at a comics convention?

That aside, the event itself was fun. I didn’t know there was a program which is good because they apparently ran out of them in the first hour. I had printed the panels, but no map to the floor. That’s not a big deal; I could wander around the room to decent effect. However, at the entrance they only let people inside two at a time, which left a little excitement to be desired. Translation: way too orderly an entrance to rouse anticipation. It felt like we were being let into a museum.

Jane Espenson *swoon*

On the comics note, I noticed I’m more inclined to risk $1-10 for an issue rather than pick up a free one; most likely because I don’t want to seem like a swag free-loader. Also, cheaper trial issues assured I had enough money for a few of them, rather than blowing my whole budget on one new title to try. That feels more in the vibe of a convention, so new audience can experiment with what they read. I have already enjoyed many of the titles and webseries I found there since last weekend.

The two panels I attended were definitely the most interesting parts of the day. The first was run by Alex Leavitt from USC Annenberg on otaku and the role of anima, manga and otaku in Japanese culture. He braved through a largely visual presentation with no projector, thanks to the Expo simply not providing him one, according to Leavitt. We crowded closer to his laptop, which was actually quite a lovely setting, and we saw the visuals if not the video well enough. Poor young Leavitt also battled the consistent overwhelming cheering of the “All That” Reunion. Overall we got the gist of the topic; I do wish he’d delved deeper into the very interesting examples he gave. I learned what otaku means and have a better idea of how close their geek culture is to ours. We are the world. I would have liked more meat.

The next panel I attended was Character Studies: Geek Girls in Popular Culture, with Jane Espenson, Amy Berg, Cecil Castellucci, Sarah Watson, Sarah Kuhn, Jessica Mills and Stephanie Thorpe. Moderated by Amy Ratcliffe. (Here is a general conference pet peeve: why are panelists’ Twitter addresses not listed anywhere? I missed one of my favorite Twitter personalities, Black Nerd Comedy, because of no program/map, and wasn’t lucky enough to catch his tweets about the event*).

Back to the panel. I am now the biggest fan of Jane Espenson, but that doesn’t take much. She’s awesome and a role model for many of her fellow panelists. This panel was kept kind of upbeat and light, which wasn’t hard with six women incredibly happy with their lives and work. A very humorous moment came when the ASL Interpreter was asked what the sign for “D20” is. She made a motion like rolling a die, and then was careful to demonstrate the difference between that sign and one not quite as G-rated.

These guys are seriously my favorite from MAD magazine of yore

CosPlay fascinates me, but my only venture into it involved east coast renaissance faires so I could show off my sword. At Comikaze, I snapped a few shots while others posed, and had a hard time asking for anyone to pose just for me. The one character I did have the guts to ask was an absolutely stunning Witch King of Angmar; however, by the time I found my courage, his helmet was off so he can eat lunch with his son. I didn’t want to intrude on the Witch King’s lunch. I do wish I’d gotten that picture.

Since one of the biggest reasons I attended was to get a sense of the culture and be prompted to read or watch new stories, Comikaze Expo earns a rousing success. In no particular order, I discovered the League of Extraordinary Ladies, Reed Gunther, The 36, reMind, Shelf Life (had known about through Yuri Lowenthal & Tara Platt but prompted to watch after seeing writer on panel), Awkward Embraces (another I heard enough about but actually watched all of Season 1 yesterday), ran into Comediva again after an intro at the Broad Humor Film Festival (they win for best hook to get people to their booth), Jefbot, The League of S.T.E.A.M. (donated to their kickstarter for Season 2 but first time seeing them in person. They get the best carnival barker award), Americana: The Book Series, Elizabeth Watasin, Jody Houser, Eliza Frye, the Winner Twins (haven’t checked out yet but they self-describe as “identical twin teenage dyslexic scifi authors”), and Olivia Dantes.

A few cool combinations of art and social good, which is a very public crusade of mine: The Winner Twins tour the country with Motivate 2 Learn, “a nonprofit inspiring students to read, write, overcome obstacles and teach their creative writing method.” Princess Leah postcards were everywhere, asking for donations towards medical bills to help a young baby Leah suffering from a mysterious illness; lastly, the California Browncoats have fun fan memorabilia and artist-donated fan calendars that go to different charities. Check them out – support art – help a cause. Everyone wins!

Mandalorians vs. The Leage of S.T.E.A.M.

There were definitely first-year problems. I’m a novice to conventions but not to events or performance, and rather than dwelling on the criticisms I know they’ve received (thank you Facebook), I want to offer some solutions.

*Continue of pet peeve:
Help tweeting loudmouths out and reap the promotional benefits: put the event hashtag everywhere and encourage all speakers, vendors, etc, to post their Twitter addresses as a sign. Point everyone to your business and give them all the tools to help a vendor, and direct everyone following the hashtag to find vendors and artists of their choice. I mostly found out at least ten of my friends were there thanks to the #Comikaze hashtag, and although most intermediate Twitter users pick up on it, encourage its use with signs.

Overall, the flow felt adequate and kind of like an indoor swap meet. I do wonder why more like-minded vendors aren’t placed together. Is it a quandary over competition? I bet if I’d walked through all five steampunk vendors at once, I would have bought something. Ditto for independent comics section. Has this been tried at other conventions and discarded? The autograph area was packed together for sci-fi specific actors, but that left poor Claudia Wells (original Jennifer Parker in Back to the Future) all by her lonesome and way on the other side of the hall. I wasn’t looking for signatures myself (although “The Voice for The Archies” Ron Dante almost got me to buy something), but I can’t imagine the original girlfriend of Marty McFly means much by the time you pass the Lasik Eye Surgery booth, take a left at the guy selling all his Star Wars memorabilia, and finally get to hers.

These pumpkin sculptures were way more impressive when I thought they were real pumpkins

I will absolutely return next year, with a larger budget and more room in my schedule for panels. It’s looking good that many of the titles and series I’ve enjoyed since our introduction are keepers, so the artists get more fans. Multiple crafts vendors got my attention and money, but special artisan beauty goes to Sev’s Wood Crafts, “Where one good turn deserves another!” according to his card. I’m writing about scribes right now, and had a massively difficult time not buying half his stock instead of paying my student loans. The very happy purchase I did make was a dragon-shaped bookmark, created out of turkey vertebrae transformed into beads.

That, plus encouragement for female writers garnered during the Geek Girls panel, was well worth my time and budget. I am confident they’ll listen to the very vocal feedback to improve next year.

———
Cindy Marie Jenkins admits her childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan. She works as a Storyteller and Director of Online Outreach for Social | Impact Consulting LLC. Current writing found at the Blue Dragon Scribe Shoppe and MYTHistories. @CindyMarieJ. She is a big fan of beer. CindyMarieJenkins.com

DC Comics and the Elusive Female Demographic

Batgirl #1

September's Batgirl #1 by writer Gail Simone - representing DC's 1% of female creators in September

A controversy has been broiling in comics. When DC Comics announced their aggressive relaunch strategy, details were initially sparse but statements of looking for and expecting new readers were promising. Because comics needs new readers. But when the creative teams were announced, there was a decided lack of female creators and a curious dependence on creators that the publisher had relied on in the past with minimal influx of new readers.

Mainstream comics (which essentially refers to superhero comics from DC Comics and Marvel Comics) have been publishing comics primarily intended for the same insular group of readers for decades now, and finally that audience has dwindled away to a level where the publishers think maybe it’s time to somewhat kind of try to reach beyond that same audience. Multiple pundits and industry watchers have been calling for a more dramatic shift in publishing strategy for years. Comics’ most visible genre needs to be accessible and appealing to new audiences. You wouldn’t think this would require much convincing. New audiences = more money. But when large companies are given the options of safe, reliable income that is slowly shrinking vs. much more money with risks, they’ll always pick the safe option because corporate America is primarily driven by fear.

This isn’t to say that the faithful superhero comics fans can’t have their comics. Those comics should not be eliminated. They’re fun, they’re a great example of American myth building, and they have addictive pay-offs to loyalty. I still read them. Those comics should exist because there’s a built-in (albeit shrinking) audience ready to buy with a distribution network (comic book stores) structured for that specific audience. That network and that audience needs to be preserved.

But they should only be one aspect of a major publisher’s output, and they really shouldn’t be the dominant aspect when you see the ongoing sales trends. The primary concern, which should drive the dominant publishing strategy, should be new and/or casual readers, with the outcome that a percentage of those readers will transition into the addictive readers group. (They should also be distributed through other networks like bookstores and digital means, but that’s another topic.)

So, how do you get this new promised land of readers? Well, let’s look at the untapped demographics. We’ve got the white males 18-40 figured out. That primarily constitutes the addictive readers group. So good job, everyone. Check that one off the list. Let’s just check it again. Because seriously, we’ve been very thorough at targeting that demographic.

What’s an even larger demographic? How about over half of the world’s population? Yes, that demographic is out there! And it remains largely untapped in mainstream comics. That demographic is women! It’s not that there aren’t already female creators and readers of superhero comics. It’s not that there haven’t been superhero comics that reach out to women. There definitely are, but they are the exception to the rule, and they prove that there is a huge untapped sales potential.

So how do you create comics that bring in this amazingly large demographic ready to spend lots of money? The most common theory is that readers are attracted to characters that are relatable to them. People are drawn to characters that they can see themselves becoming or wish they could become. How do you have characters, either new or preexisting, that are relatable to women? The easiest way is to have another woman craft the stories (write and/or draw).

As much as we wish that everyone is the same, regardless of how they look and their genetic make-up, the world is an inconsistent place at times. People get treated differently. Groups of people get treated differently than other groups of people. Sometimes it’s really obvious, sometimes it’s very subtle, sometimes it’s imperceptible. But it all has an effect. Those experiences shape a person’s world view and it definitely shapes how they consume entertainment. I can be the most sensitive and empathic person on the planet, but I can never fully understand what living like a certain group of people day to day is like, just as other groups can’t understand what living like other groups is like. So again, the easiest way to create characters and stories that connect to a certain group you wish to attract is to employ people from that same group.

So now we come back to DC Comics and their New 52 publishing initiative. They reportedly went from having 12% of their creative teams comprising of women, down to just over 1%. For a publishing initiative intending to reach new audiences, that’s a very strange shift. You might say it’s contradictory. So people pointed this out. Some did so rather passionately because of their love for comics. People wrote online. And at this summer’s Comic-Con, people spoke up. Repeatedly. In response, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio rather abrasively shot back with “Who should we have hired?” This, of course, just made it worse. Because when you have a Q&A portion of a panel, typically how it works is the audience provides the Q’s and the panelists provide the A’s. Making your audience uncomfortable, especially when that audience is the one you’re trying to convince to buy your products, is what you might call a bad PR move. In fact, it’s ridiculously irresponsible. And unsurprisingly, it just resulted in more attention on the issue and more heat on the publisher. Like here, here, here and here to name a few.

DC Comics finally relented when Co-Publishers DiDio and Jim Lee published “We Hear You” on their blog. Without acknowledging the embarrassing Comic-Con panels, the letter promised that female creators were in the pipeline for future projects. I suppose you could ask why female creators weren’t “good enough” to be part of the initial September launch, but at least they got the message. Finally.

And yet, I’m still seeing people online post how they don’t think people should be hired based on what they look like, they just want the best people for the job. What they don’t understand is that the uproar was never some affirmative action campaign. It was about making smart and reasonable choices to preserve and even grow comics, exactly what the New 52 was supposedly designed to be about. Because as explained above, the best people to write comics that will appeal to women will usually be women. This doesn’t eliminate male-targeted comics. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be crossover appeal because entertainment preferences aren’t strictly defined by gender alone. But it’s a no-brainer in courting a very powerful demographic that, make no mistake, comics needs.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Banjo Playing and Speedo Wearing

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul

My Comic-Con 2011 Haul (click to see what I got)

Those two things didn’t happen at the same time but they were two of the most memorable moments of Comic-Con for me this year.

As the comic fates would have it, I was only able to attend one day of Comic-Con this year. Dreading the annual 3-hour drive down to San Diego, I decided instead to ride Amtrak’s Surfliner train down to San Diego from LA’s Union Station to spend the day, and then head back that same night. It ended up being a great way to get around the inevitably terrible traffic and parking headaches. I got to relax, enjoy the spectacular view of the California coast, check out Comic-Con’s app (much improved over last year) to mark panels I might want to see, waste time on Facebook without feeling guilty, take a nap or two, and on the way back I got to read some of the awesome graphic novels I bought. It was dreamy. I will almost surely be doing this from now on (until Comic-Con finally moves up to LA to make it more convenient for me).

Because I only had one day, I wasn’t able to do everything (impossible even if you’re every minute of the day). There were a few people I couldn’t connect with (sorry, Kristian and Brandon!), some publisher tables I never got to (sorry, Boom!, Archaia and IDW!), and some panels I missed (ThunderCats nooo…). Another day probably would’ve done it for what I wanted to do. But I bought a (very heavy!) ton of graphic novels, got to hang out with Scott Shaw! and share a laugh with Sergio Aragonés, and got to experience two things that really stood out as unique and made me absolutely happy that the world of comics exists.

© Eric Drooker, http://drooker.com

© Eric Drooker

The first was artist Eric Drooker‘s panel. Here’s how Comic-Con’s program described it:

Visual artist and Comic-Con special guest Eric Drooker will project hundreds of his magical images and explore how his early years as a street artist in New York City inspired his award-winning graphic novels Flood! and Blood Song. He’ll discuss the process of designing the animation for the recent hit film Howl, starring James Franco, and how he adapted it for the new book, Howl: A Graphic Novel. Best known for his numerous cover paintings for The New Yorker, Drooker will tell hilarious-but-true stories of how he wound up getting published.

A pretty straightforward description. Drooker is a fantastic artist and storyteller, so hearing him talk about his process and history sounded great. It turned out to be so much more than that. He did talk quite a bit about his work and his background, but Eric Drooker also happens to be a talented musician. Over the projected slideshow of his artwork, which has a haunted quality evocative of woodcuts from the 1910s and ’20s, Drooker played his banjo or harmonica and occasionally sang. Like his art, the music he created seemed to harken back a century. There was something incredibly powerful, moving and intimate about seeing and hearing two different forms of art that he had created and was creating live right before us. It seemed like such a personal expression. Here he was expressing himself to us on multiple levels, visually and sonically, and with such immediacy. I guess the easy description is that he created a soundtrack for his own art, but it felt deeper yet more transcendent than simple accompaniment. It was beautiful.

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face from Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

Ajax Wood as Cannibal F***face of Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit 3

The second event was a tad sillier but a great example of how comics can take back some of the main spotlight from Hollywood at Comic-Con. I was standing near the Fantagraphics booth when this growling voice bellowed out over the conversations and white noise of the convention floor. In stalked a large hairy man covered in fake blood and wearing nothing but a speedo. He immediately started yelling at people around him, threatening them, cursing at them, mocking them. Now this is Comic-Con, so while there was some confusion, it didn’t take long to figure it out. The bloody man started pacing like a caged tiger behind Johnny Ryan, who was quietly signing copies of his new graphic novel Prison Pit 3. Johnny Ryan is a hilarious cartoonist but he is most definitely not for children. Crass and abrasive, his punchlines are more like blunt objects of comedy that shock and delight at their willful disregard for… everything. He released the third in his Prison Pit series of graphic novels at this year’s Comic-Con. It’s basically a trilogy of absolute violence and gore done on such a deliriously excessive level far beyond the parodying done on The Itchy & Scratchy Show from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. As a promotional stunt, Johnny Ryan and his publisher Fantagraphics had performance artist Ajax Wood (aka Ardent Vein) done up to look like the main character in Prison Pit, Cannibal F***face. Everything Wood yelled was dialogue from Prison Pit 3. Some of the other exhibitors were mildly annoyed at the disruption, but I think it was a great promotional bit. Now maybe this example scared off more people than it drew in, but it certainly fit into the spirit of Johnny Ryan’s work, which itself isn’t exactly mainstream (although he regularly contributes to Vice Magazine). So it’s actually a pretty accurate marketing stunt. If that kind of spectacle is something that amuses you or draws you in, you’ll probably like Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit 3. Personally, I would’ve given him a few assistants (maybe with fliers) and had him skulk around the convention floor a little bit before sticking him behind the Fantagraphics booth. But it was great. It got people’s attention. Usually at Comic-Con, all of the really flashy stuff is from Hollywood. Publishers and artists would do well to remember that comics are worth some creative pomp and circumstance too. Comics should be the main spectacle of Comic-Con.

The common thread between these two events is that the artists found a way to add performance art to their work. The two had different goals and purposes (one was a panel, one was a book signing) but people in comics are creative enough to come up with more ways to add a level of performance to their art for public appearances like conventions. When they meld so perfectly with the artist and their work, like these two did, it adds a new level of experience and awareness for fans. And it brings back some of that unorthodox spirit that comics have had in the past that make them so memorable.

Comic-Con Wrap-Up: Comics Debuts

I know it’s hard to believe with all the big flashy Hollywood things, but Comic-Con actually had stuff about comic books! There were a number of exciting debuts this year. Scroll through and see if something catches your eye. If so, read the blurb I’ve put together from the publisher’s write-ups, and if you’re intrigued, click the links to find out more.

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell

Any Empire by Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and G.I. Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished? [Interview]

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen: A haunting postmodern fable, this beautiful and minimalist story is the culmination of ten years and over 600 pages of work that details the metaphysical quandaries of the occupants of an endless plain, existing somewhere between a dream and a Russian steppe.

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

Daybreak by Brian Ralph is an unconventional zombie story. Drawing inspiration from zombies, horror movies, television, and first-person shooter video games, Daybreak departs from zombie genre in both content and format, achieving a living-dead masterwork of literary proportions. [Interview]

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes

The Death-Ray by Daniel Clowes: Classic staples of the superhero genre – origin, costume, ray-gun. sidekick, fight scene – are reconfigured into a story that is anything but morally simplistic. With subtle comedy, deft mastery and an obvious affection for the bold Pop Art exuberance of comic book design, Daniel Clowes delivers a contemporary meditation on the darkness of the human psyche.

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by David Server, Jackson Lanzing and Joe Suitor

Freakshow by writers David Server and Jackson Lanzing, and artist Joe Suitor: When five refugee survivors develop monstrous mutations from a devastating chemical explosion that leaves their city in ruins, they band together to seek revenge against the clandestine government quarantine that has seized control in the aftermath. But are they monsters…or heroes?

WAIT, there’s more! Click through…!

(more…)