Confessions of a Comicon Virgin
The London Super Comic Con was this past Sunday and as the title suggests it was my first. I always wondered about how I would find it, and whether it could be as good as I really hoped. Over the years I have found it dangerous to meet your heroes. If they show a lack of interest and a level of rejection, it can change you and stop your love for the art you once adored. I had taken many a comic there, hoping to meet some friendly creators, who would sign their work for me. Suffice to say I was incredibly excited…
As I exited the tube station and headed to the venue, I met @fractures who recognised me from my Twitter photos. Honestly it was amazing to find someone as obsessed as I am about comics, as that was the void that existed before I started tweeting. It felt like we had been friends for years and I keep his name as a twitter handle to protect his secret identity! I also took my best friend Faizal, who has been reading comics for years, and actually lent me The Dark Knight Returns when we met at university. He takes less of an interest with the mainstream world, but loves the art. So I was in good company and wearing my House of Flying Scalpels t-shirt, so what could go wrong!
The hall was huge and packed full of stalls, comics and people. There were desks of creators, booths for signatures and cosplayers for photos. As I meandered around excitedly, not knowing which way to turn, I came across Doug Braithwaite. Together with Kieron Gillen, he helped to create Kid Loki at the inception of Journey into Mystery #622. His art is phenomenal and he was very flattered at my kind words as we discussed the original Kid Loki idea and it’s popularity. As I flicked through his portfolio looking at his JiM original sketches, he signed my JiM Vol.1 waiting for the ink to dry before handing it back to me. I would have paid a lot for his original work, but his wife was not letting it go as he sat there grinning next to her!
Faizal and I approached the Neal Adams table, and were in awe of the prints and artwork he had on display. However it was incredibly expensive and cost ten pounds just to obtain a signature on anything not bought at his stall. The only thing I had to hand, was the first and only issue of First X-Men, which I dislike. I decided I had better places to spend my money and opted not to contribute to the Neal Adams pension fund.
I moved around looking for more people and was ignored by Simone Bianchi at his table, which is cool because I don’t like his art anyway. Esad Ribic was polite but told me to return to a signing session to get my Thor #1 signed, which was still disappointing. And then I met David Mack. He always favourites and retweets my blogposts about his work and I was incredibly excited to speak to him, but had developed a little anxiety.
What initially completely blew me away was his original Daredevil work, in his portfolio. Those were the art pieces that had me so engrossed in the Bendis run and why I yearn for Echo. He opened up his file and pulled out some incredible watercolours he had made for people. The jealousy set it and I hadn’t even thought about sketches and was missing the boat as we speak. Mr Mack was a friendly man. He was clearly tired as he said he had been sketching most of the night, but made time to listen to me shower him with adoration and thanks. He came across very flattered as he signed my Daredevil End of Days comic together with the Kabuki The Alchemy book, that I bought from his table. I promised I would review it as he asked me to let him know what I thought. He was a very kind and humbled man and, as far as I was concerned, my day was made.
Tim Seeley was my next target as he sketched away at his table. His Revival work is really cool and I risked disturbing him to ask about his day. He had a list of commissions to do, but was very happy for me talk to him. I expressed my love of the book and also how popular it has been. I expressed my love for the skeleton hoodie with the red stitching in his books and took the plunge, asking if he had time for one more sketch. Pleasantly, he asked me to come back at the end of the day to see how he was progressing, I felt he was genuine and not just shooing me away. I did get this signed though:
I would come back to that table, more than once. We looked around some more and came across this wondrous sight. A legend in action.
It was then time for the Spider-Man panel with Dan Slott, which I decided to go to with @fractures, who knows my love for Slott and Spider-Man all too well. At least it was current and important. At this time I also met Stephen (@quizlacey) from the world of tweets! Mr Slott is a surprisingly charismatic man. Alone he manages to keep the crowd enticed with his anecdotes and amusing stories. He clearly is a fan of the art form and adores Spider-Man. I think this comes across in his Twitter bio “I write Spider-Man. Yay!” He discussed how pressurised Peter Parker actually is, and though he comes across as a good guy, he actually struggles with avoiding the abuse of his powers. He may break into a jewellers to steal a ring for MJ, before realising that theft is wrong, but still causes damage to the shop and stress to its owners. It was interesting how stressed writers are from their editors and how their initial stories can be switched quickly from their original plans to accommodate crossovers or real world trends. He had a great story about how Spider-Island was pitched with the name Spider-Manhattan, quickly rejected! He revealed that the Marvel Now reboot was not a revision of the DC new 52 stunt. Brian Bendis had decided to leave the Avengers and begin elsewhere, at the same time other big book writers decided to move on too. The company decided that this would be a good time to take advantage of this co-incidence and relaunch a series of books. There was never any intention to reset the current continuity. They all turned their heads to Dan, who looked up into the air as he stated indignantly he was never leaving Spider-Man! He would not fold to peer pressure and only compromised by changing the name of the book, with his Doc Ock story arc. He paused for a moment mid flow to point to a fan in the audience, who he recognised as a Twitter follower. What an amazing gesture, showing the clear connection he has with his fans. Dan Slott is a lovely man and a pleasure to listen to. As much as I think his writing may lack subtlety and how I dislike the death of Peter Parker, his passion really came through. I decided that I would venture the ridiculously long queue with @fractures to meet him. You may call me a hypocrite, I felt like a hypocrite, but I was interested to ask him a few questions.
This was ridiculous. The line barely moved despite @fractures and I catching up on life outside of comics. He was way to nice to allow me to run off to signing sessions and quickly bought a couple more books. This is when I met Kyle (@JohnnyTimpulse) who is from North London and a big X-Men fan. It is interesting to hear how his father used to read comics and that is how he entered the field. We had an interesting chat about Cyclops and the new Uncanny series, with his theories on the bald character supposedly backstabbing Cyclops. I then managed to run to the end of the signing sessions to get Bill Sienkiewicz to sign Daredevil and George Perez to sign my Superman #1. George was a happy, chirpy man and I regret that I had little else to say to him, as I am unfamiliar with the best of his work. Quickly back to the Slott queue, not that the queue was moving very quickly at all…
Dan was in sight! I was debating what I should say to him that was friendly but honest. The jovial security attendant warned us that we had to be nice to him! @fractures and I walked towards his table and I presented to him my Superior Spider-Man #1 Skottie Young variant, which he loved! We had a discussion on how the Morbius variant was his favourite. I asked him how he handled the reaction to his recent Doc Ock angle and to what extent he knew the anger it would generate. He replied by saying that it is incredibly difficult because he loves Twitter, but struggles with the negative criticism. He was well aware of the impending backlash and took a twitter break from the end of ASM to the start of SSM. One fan said they were coming to stab him in the eye with a pencil! He is greeted with a lot of love for the work he has already done, but also anger for the recent changes he has made. Time is important in these situations because the instant reaction is not always the permanent one, and many fans start to enjoy the stories after a couple of months. You have to tell the story you want to and accept the difficult responses. It was clear to me that Dan Slott cares for Spider-Man and its reception with the readers. I can imagine him being upset with the negativities but he carries on with his art. Never meet your heroes? Dan was never a hero of mine but when I left that table, I decided that I would carry on reading his book because his passion was worth following. If a man cares that much about the people reading his work then he is the kind of creator I want to be reading. This may apply to plenty of poor comic creators out there, but I am liking SSM more and more and will carry on buying it. It was quite an enlightening encounter.
I then spy Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie at their desk. Now Gillen has created work far beyond my own intellect and I had so many questions to ask. So I took the approach of asking them all! We discussed the ending to Kid Loki and how phenomenal a non-ending ending it was. It amazes me that he had that planned all along. I told him how he was very difficult to review because I like to find the depth in characters but he writes such detailed backgrouds on his tumblr! We also discussed the marvel method Decompressed podcast which is by far my favourite. It felt like he was revealing the biggest secrets in comic creation. With Kieron Gillen, it is almost as if he challenges readers to look deeper into his work by giving us so many of the answers to the basic questions. I asked more questions about the AvX Uncanny crossover, which was brilliant as a tie in story with Sinister. He has a solid background in political thought that formed the basis of his plot with Steampunk Britain.
I also inquired at how the pacing of the AvX Consequences was detrimental to the meaning of the plot and he stated that I wouldn’t really want to know how quick he actually wrote it! The bar is set pretty low for tie in and aftermaths to crossover and Kieron said that the JiM Fear itself and AvX consequences could be the greatest tie-ins ever written! As I kept firing questions at him, he deflected them with passion and was very animated standing in front of me, talking as fast as me! What felt like thirty minutes was only five. We could have spoken for ages, well I felt like that anyway! There are few writers that have such a grasp for storytelling and deep character tragedy than Kieron Gillen. A very interesting man whom I will meet again. During all of this he signed my Journey into Mystery and Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 trades, Journey into Mystery #645, and Young Avengers #1 (both normal and Bryan Lee O’Malley variants). Jamie McKelvie quietly signed them too and I said how much I loved his work and apologised for not getting to ask him any questions. Still Kieron Gillen, what a guy!
Tim Seeley?! Please? My persistence payed off as he looked at me and said, “Go on then”. I asked for an Em portrait, but it had to have the red stitched hoodie! Oh I was coming back!
It was time for the Batman panel with Brian Bolland, Neal Adams, Gary Frank and David Finch.
Faizal, Charles and @fractures sat with excitement to hear the voices of the creators of the Bat. I mean just look at that anticipation!
They discussed the legend of Batman and what he means to his fans. There was definitely an interesting contrast between the old and the new artists. Finch and Frank sat quietly reflective and respectful of the heavyweights next to them. Bolland and Adams were very paternal in their nature as they reminisced over their times as artists. Adams was responsible for taking Batman from the camp television show, into the dark shadows of the inner city. It was not until people started to ask questions that it became interesting, to a point. Neal Adams is an intriguing guy. He definitely talks to fans as a founding father and says things that he can probably get away with but shouldn’t really say. Examples include how Batman shouldn’t really have a Robin, and he would be beat up in a hospital rueful of his decision to ever be a sidekick. He also said that the actress playing Talia was not beautiful enough for the role, as she is supposed to make men faint in adoration. Some of the questions asked were idiotic though, ranging from questions about Joker’s death in the Arkham asylum game and why Bruce doesn’t help kids with cancer. I kid you not. My favourite question, voiced with all seriousness was, “Given how Batman is so realistically portrayed in the comics, how come no one has actually tried to become a real life Batman?” To which Frank replied, “Because he would be arrested!” These questions began to irritate me. I decided to ask a question.
“Given the advances in social media, do you feel the pressures are different to modern day writers?”
Bolland and Adams looked a little blank unsurprisingly. However Frank and Finch has something to say. They described the stress of having to please an audience who are able to instantly feedback. Its incredible how fragile David Finch sounded, as he described the hard work he puts in to his work, only to have reactionary negative comments. It clearly affects them more than we realise. The Godfather Neal Adams then replied with this gem:
He is right and I do feel we can all be quite instant with our reactions. I certainly tweet about books I read straight away. Savouring a comic and coming back to it may do it justice in the long run. After all it is not just Neal Adams that says fans learn to love his work over time. This is an interesting concept I was completely unaware of before today. The two panels opened up a world to me, and how different creators are to the older ages.
Neal Adams knows the world of comics, creators, editors and fans. He knows how to handle people and he knows how to avoid stress. He would have to in order to maintain his longevity. He is an old school writer who pandered to very few people and as an old man has the credibility to say whatever he wants. He provides a level of honesty that others may hide. If we compare Slott to Adam, I think we can see the difference between the old and new creators. Neal Adams was more disconnected to the world he drew for compared to Dan Slott. He answered to the editors, where Dan Slott answers to everyone. Neal says what he likes and is not afraid to offend people, whereas clearly Dan wants to please everyone. At the end of the day they still have good products that will be appreciated over time. Maybe it would be healthier for Dan to keep away from his fans, but this would be impossible because he loves us. I am not sure Neal Adams feels the same with his previous experiences. I am sure he encountered many a reader at conventions and maybe he has changed over the years. The world certainly has and I get the distinct impression he is not impressed with the general direction of the industry. Maybe Dan is different and maybe Neal just wanted to draw Batman.
It was then that Faizal and I decided to contribute to the Neal Adams pension fund, as we were impressed with his brutal honesty. Faizal had a brilliant idea and we began trawling the long boxes. I went to a comic trader selling old comics, and he looked up in his reference catalogue for an old original Batman book, drawn by Neal Adams. We found one after a while! We approached Adams with our ten pounds in hand. He was quite charming actually and we discussed the panel he just attended, and asked if he remembered the book in his hands. He said, “Oh yeah, this is a good book! Its about……” as he looks at the wolf on the cover, “……werewolves!” Faizal and I just laughed as we read each others minds, wondering if the mighty Neal Adams just blagged us! It didn’t matter as this is what we left with:
The day was already as good as I imagined it could be, but I needed to run to catch the end of the last signing session, with Nick Spencer! Now here was an amazing guy, who laughed as I said the bunnies scene in Bedlam was one of the sickest things I had ever seen! We also discussed how he was disappointed Thunder Agents was cut short but, the ending was how he wanted it. After remarking on the success and brilliance of Morning Glories, I asked for a photo:
What a day. What an incredible comic con. I had signatures galore and a truly amazing sketch. The world of comics became tangible, not only with the comic creators but also with the friends I have made around the country. It does genuinely overwhelm me, how comics have united so many people the world over. I meet new friends, talk to artists and writers, and then report it to the people I have never met across the planet. As much as loved the day, I was happiest to meet the people that I share my love of comics with. This world can only expand and I very much look forward to meeting many more of you.