Comics, Conventions, Events

My San Diego Con Report

I nearly did not make it to San Diego Comic Con this year. Blame it on jet-lag, middle age and a perilous meeting-packed week. I knew I would not make it on Wednesday and Thursday, and by the time Friday came around, I had half a mind not to go at all. But there were promises to keep.

I believe I am coming down with Convention Fatigue. I say this out loud despite knowing that fifteen-year-old version of me would punch me in the face. 2005-version of me would get all passive-aggressive, especially at how I was somewhat behind in replacing all my shelved books with signed copies.

This is specially true of San Diego, where walking from one end of the exhibition floor to the other requires serious stamina, a willingness to not mind being buffeted by the occasional 200-pound metaphorical gorilla. I am not making fun of the Comic-Book Fan here, I swear, it’s just that there is never a straight line. There are always aisles blocked by a signing, or impromptu photography sessions when an exceptionally-beautiful Elektra poses for pictures, or a kid wants to pet a cute R2D2 robot. Occasionally you notice that specific creator signing at a booth, and you have to weigh the probability of missing the event you are running to if you choose to queue for this particular guy, who is only around for 30 minutes more and does not stay the next day.

San Diego Comic-Con is a logistical nightmare if you are not prepared. I was not prepared at all this year.

I missed Benoit Peeters and Francois Schuiten signing the new English language reprints of their award-winning graphic novel, Leaning Girl. I could not get to Joe Hill at the Harper Collins booth because he signed until noon on Saturday, and I got there at 12:10. I could not get to Joe Hill at the IDW booth because you needed wristbands (groan!) to stand in line, and all the wristbands got over in the morning. I missed Bryan Lee O’Malley signing at his booth because I wasn’t there on Thursday and he cancelled his Saturday signing. Missed Matt Kindt and Kazu Kibuishi; did not even get to say hello to Mike Mignola at his booth, wanted to get a ticket for the Sin City 2 signing at the Dark Horse booth but could not.

Meh.

“So what did you do in the one and a half days you were there?”, they asked.

My favorite moment in the show was meeting artist Kevin O’Neill, who was signing and sketching over at the Top Shelf Booth. I was in line on both days, and got a Mina sketch and a Hyde sketch in my Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen editions. Got my Marshal Law and Nemesis The Warlock volumes signed, and even bought a limited edition copy of League: Century, signed by both Alan Moore and Kevin. While waiting in line, it turned out that pal Micah was right behind me, and we spent a pleasant half-hour talking about con experiences and comics. With a special emphasis on the phrase “Hyde fucking the Invisible Man to death.” What have you wrought, Alan Moore?

 

 

Right next to Top Shelf was the Fantagraphics booth, and I met Don Rosa, the man behind The Life and Times of Uncle Scrooge. I had met Don in 2007, at my first US convention – Super Con San Jose, which has since been rebranded as Big Wow Comic Con, and I mentioned to him how he had signed my copy of Life and Times, but when I went to buy the companion (which is sort of a collection of out-takes from the book), it was all sold out. This time I had a copy of the Companion with me, and he signed it “For Satya, again!” He also sketched a very cool Kid Scrooge for me, with his lucky dime. Very very cool indeed. The Hernandez bros were also signing right next to him, and I got my copy of the Love and Rockets sketchbook signed by both Beto and Xaime.

Saturday started off pretty badly, with a parking ticket from the officialdom of San Diego, because half my car was in a yellow line as I was getting money out of an ATM. Mood soured, I went in to try catch Joe Hill. Missed ‘im. Headed to Zander Cannon’s booth, got myself a copy of his audio commentary and he drew me a sketch inside my copy of Heck. Most of the day then went by in a blur, meeting old friends, talking to art dealers, admiring the cosplayers. Made my first payment for my Next Big Art Deal. Ended the day and my con meeting Jeff Smith, who signed copies of Bone for a pal. At this point, I am not sure how many copies of Bone I have asked Jeff to sign, but it’s always a pleasure to say hello to him and Vijaya.

A couple of take-aways for me, from SDCC this year.

  • I need to be better prepared. Comic-con is a test of one’s physical and mental reserves, and if I am not into it, I will not enjoy it, period.
  • No more lugging hardcovers around. They put a serious damper on my enjoyment of the convention. I plan to make myself some book-plates next time. Getting those signed and sticking them into the actual copies of the books.
  • I hate the fact that I did not make it to any panels this time. Not even the one where one of my friends was up on stage!
  • While hotels were sold out, I noticed lots of AirBnb postings in the downtown area. So far, I have stayed at a hotel away from the convention center, at a hotel right next to the convention center, at a friend’s place in San Diego, and this time, at a friend’s place in the OC. AirBnb next time, maybe?
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Comic Art, Comics, Conventions

San Diego post #2 – Getting to SDCC

This is one of the best-known words of advice about Comicon, especially comic art collectors: Preview Night is where the action happens. Allow me to explain: The con officially begins on Thursday morning at 9 AM. It ends on Sunday at 5 PM. Preview night is on Wednesday evening, when the convention floor opens up for a few hours just so that you can look around for the good stuff before the crowds hit. Some of my friends take it a step higher and head inside the convention center (using Exhibitor badges) around noon on Saturday. I did that in 2011, too. That’s when you have random brain-freezes when you see Robert Kirkman walking around, or Dave Gibbons passing by.

(However, the best Retail deals happen in the last few hours of Sunday, when booths, eager to load as less inventory back to their trucks as possible, go for insane discounts. There’s a tip right there for you.)

This year, I was eager to get in early on preview night, mostly to check out Adam Hughes and Mike Mignola’s booths. They bring original art to the show at very decent prices, and which is plucked clean in the first few hours.

However.

Tuesday evening, I find out that my rear left tire is running low. This after I had filled it up 2 days ago. I headed over to the service center and asked them to look at it, plus there were some other small things wrong with the dashboard console. Wednesday morning, they call me to say that my tires need to be replace – the front tires, because there was an air bubble. Damnation and hellfire. I was supposed to leave at 10 AM, so that I could get to the convention by 1 PM. It was 2 by the time I got the car back, and by the time I navigated through bumper-to-bumper traffic on 5 South to Downtown San Diego, it was 6 PM. But to balance this cosmic injustice, I got a free parking spot opposite the convention center – the chances of that happening are astronomically low and everybody I met told me the exact same thing.

By the time I got inside, Mignola and Hughes were picked clean. There was a single Hellboy in Hell page remaining and I thought it wasn’t good enough for the price. Adam Hughes had a Fables Encyclopaedia cover for $8000, and a few Fairest covers that made my heart stop. I spent thirty minutes hanging out and talking with art dealer Scott Eder and the various people who flocked to his booth, old collectors I knew by name, others I had met before. I was in “view” mode, Scott and I have a deal for something major and I could not afford to jump in with something else. Then I walked over to some other booths. A James Jean Fables cover sold in front of my eyes, one of two that a consigner had brought for sale the minute before it sold, for a little less than a quarter of my annual salary. Two pages from Frank Miller’s 300 – those were the only pages from that series that had ever been available on the market – had sold an hour ago. There was the Robert McGinnis painted cover from Stephen King’s Joyland, and a Charles Addams unpublished cartoon, a few Kelley Jones Sandman pages that made my toes curl. One dealer, remembering how I had asked for a good Spirit page a few days ago, pointed me to an excellent example of a 1940s strip that had P’Gell in it. Since $8000 was a little too much for my immediate budget, I bid it a fond farewell.

There was, on one gallery wall, the greatest Prince Valiant strip I remember seeing, with Val and his wife Aletha in all panels, and one in which Val spanked Aletha on his lap. Already sold for $15,000 and a little of my tears. A Preacher page with the Saint of Killers, the cover to Bruce Timm’s Naughty And Nice pocket book, one of the best Dave Johnson 100 Bullets covers, featuring Dizzy. San Diego, on preview night, had me feel like Aladdin inside the cave for the first time, except of course, there was no lamp, because this ain’t no stinkin’ fairytale. The surprise of the evening was realizing that Juanjo Guarnido’s commission list was not full yet, and after a few minutes of vacillating, I decided to go for a full-figure drawing of Alma. I love Blacksad, and getting a piece of artwork from Guarnido without having to pay through my nose appealed to me.

A bunch of us met for our annual Secret Art List dinner, where we talked comics, art and the films of Julie Delpy. I found out that a collector lived a few miles away from my place, and we promised to get together. I put plans in place for a Miller Daredevil page, and probably another Sandman page, but obviously, time will tell.

That was the first day. I slept happy, and very very tired.

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Conventions, Manga

San Diego post #1

(first in a series of posts about the SDCC experience this year, with random digressions)

Did not attend too many panels at San Diego this year, except for two back to back on Saturday evening. One with Jeff Smith and Terry Moore talking about comics and the indie scene in the 90s. It started slow, when both creators made jokes about not really understanding the point of the panel, but once it got going, there were great anecdotes about jumping into the comics business, how the comics market changed over the last few decades, and great memories of previous conventions.

And this is when my camera died.

And this is when my camera batterydied.

The second panel I attended was a Best of/Worst of Manga 2013, where some of my favorite manga correspondents talked about series they liked and disliked. (It was great to be able to put faces to familiar names, like Shaennon Gaerrity, David Brothers, Brigid Alverson and Chris Butcher, and saying hello to Deb Aoki) Knew (and cheered) most of the series mentioned, and made note of the ones I did not. Funny moments included Attack on Titan and Heart of Thomas appearing in both “Best of” and “Worst of” sections. Deb made a compelling case for why Attack works and does not. Brigid was unafraid to knock on Moto Hagio a bit, even as Shannon vehemently disagreed. Much fun. You can read details here.

When the panel ended, I asked some of the panelists a question that had been bothering me the last day. Aditya Gadre had asked me on Twitter about what  title he should start reading if he wants to get into manga. My standard response to that is to figure out what kind of books and movies the person likes, instead of thrusting whatever is the core “best-of” list. He said he was a Neil Gaiman/Alan Moore fan, which got me really worked up about suggestions. And since San Diego was on, why not go to the Recommendation Mothership?

Chris took about 5 seconds to recommend Pluto, which I had thought about but dismissed because I felt it was kind of like giving Watchmen to someone who has not read superheroes. A lot of the charm of Watchmen comes from recognizing how Moore subverts familiar superhero tropes, and similarly, you enjoy the beats in Pluto much more if you have a working knowledge of the original Astro Boy stories on which it was based, and a decent knowledge of the characters in that universe. I stopped reading Pluto myself around volume 2, made sure I reread ‘The Greatest Robot on Earth’, and enjoyed the story much much more. But Naoki Urasawa is a fantastic writer/artist, and Pluto is really one of those series that is a perfect combination of art and story, without any of the manga tropes that pisses off non-manga readers.

Pluto

It’s more fun when you know who the kid is

Deb took some time to come up with two choices – Black Lagoon, which I agreed with but was a little skeptical about the bad-girl violence, and Dorohedoro, which I heartily agreed with. Black Lagoon is about a band of mercenaries called the Lagoon company, operating somewhere in South-East Asia. The story begins with them kidnapping a young Japanese salaryman who ends up joining them, and the series is an excellent mixture of no-holds-barred, stylish action mixed with moments of quiet contemplation about the nature of crime, killing and existence. Dorohedoro is a series I read a few months ago, about a man with a reptile head who fights wizards from another dimension, and this has to be the most underwhelming explanation of one of the most fascinating manga I have read in recent times. It has laugh-out-loud humor and strange secrets-behind-secrets, even as Q Hayashida, the lady who writes and draws this series, slowly draws back the curtains on both the wizard and human worlds. It is also a series where you would be hard-pressed to take sides.

Two of the bad-ass ladies of Black Lagoon

Two of the bad-ass ladies of Black Lagoon

dorohedoro

The zany cast of Dorohedoro

 

Brigid suggested Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (to which Deb and I both agreed). It’s about a bunch of graduates who start their business – of talking to the recently-dead and carrying out their last wishes. Each of them has a special power, like talking to the dead, or embalming, or mad computer skills. Which sounds kind of cliche, I know, but it is very very entertaining and also really creepy at times.

The_Kurosagi_Corpse_Delivery_Service

I love the cover design for the series.

The only problem with all these titles mentioned above (except Pluto) is that they are all ongoing series. Lagoon has been on hiatus for sometime, Dorohedoro is seeing steady publication, while Kurosagi is published once a year.

Other books that I thought of, which are a little more stand-alone:

Domu by Katsuhiro Otomo. Best-known for the phenomenal Akira, this was the horror-fantasy title that got Otomo noticed. A creepy story about a telekinetic showdown between an old man and a young girl in an apartment complex.

Death Note. 11 volumes. One of the most well-known manga out there, and is delightfully over-the-top sometimes and yet so compelling.

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APE 2011
Comics, Conventions

Going APE part 2

To recap: I had spent half the day at APE hunting down serendipitously meeting Craig Thompson and had then bought some art off Steve Oliff. Umm, that was it. On to part 2.

So Kate Beaton was due to sign at the Drawn and Quarterly booth. Agenda #1: Find out where the D&Q booth is. Attempting to do that in the hall was a problem because (a) there were no helpful numbers on booths to figure out where you were, at a given moment, and (b) it was hard not to get distracted by the shiny-ness on display. I mean, how can you pass by Stuart Ng books without looking through their collection of artbooks and the out-of-print European comics that they mysteriously manage to keep in stock? How do you control the urge to go spend some time with Richard Starkings and tell him how good the entire Elephantmen run is? (Not to mention the fact that I’ve been reading them on the iPad, and would probably just burst into guilty tears and buy the entire set of 4 hardcovers, which he was selling at the Expo at a sizable discount.) Oh well, I’ve gazed into the abyss, fellas. It’s not pretty. But you just close your eyes, think of beatonna, and scurry to your destination. That’s Kate Beaton’s twitter alias, by the way, and it never fails to make me smirk to myself. I wonder if she selected it for the Japanese reference.

So I find the D&Q table, and sure enough, she’s signing there. Just about three people there clustered around her, so I relax, and ask the guy standing there if he’s in line. “I am”, he says. “And so are they” He gestures behind me. Holy guacamole, there’s an insane line for Kate Beaton! They were cordoning off people three at a time near the table, to keep the crowds moving. The line actually warps around the center of the hall, and there’s an end-of-the-line volunteer waiting to tell people that, yes, that is the end of the line, and no, Kate won’t be signing any sketchbooks – pretty de rigeur for all the artists attending that day. But the line moves ahead merrily, and I take some time to chat with the lady standing behind me, who’s totally getting it on with her dog-eared copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (a brilliant analysis of fairytales, a must-read). The guy in front of me is hard-core, carting around – yes, he actually had a cart – a few long-boxes of comics. Of course I get totally judgmental about him – he’s  getting every single Beaton appearance signed, including the APE program guide.

When my turn comes, Kate takes some time to flex her fingers. She asks me what my favorite strip is, and in my head I go “shit, do I mention the Nancy Drew covers? No, that’s too generic. Hmm, I liked the Bronte strips, but hold on, there’s something else I am missing”, while out loud, I say “ba-bah-bu-ba”. And then I take the safe way out and say “All of them”.  Which probably means that I fail her test, and after having slotted me as “clueless generic comic-book fan”, she proceeds to draw Wonder Woman in my book. In the middle of her sketch, I remember that I loved the Javert strips, and tell her so. I don’t think she hears me.

I totally get my program guide signed too, hah!

In the meantime, I meet a few friends, a few art collector buddies. We laugh about the fact that nearly all of us had mailed each other saying we won’t make it to APE this time, and changed plans at the last minute. For a second or two, all of us look funny at each other, each one wondering if the other’s here for some hitherto undisclosed art deal. The moment passes. We do not kill each other.

Craig Thompson is signing again at the CBLDF booth, and I head there, pick up some books from them. I pick up a few others with a 20% discount from a retailer nearby. “Never ignore a discount” is the corollary to my family motto. (Which is “Carpe Omnius”, before you ask, and um, yeah, I am the only practicing member of my family.) This time the line is longer, probably because people are starting to surge in. I think Craig gets a little spooked when he sees me again, but that could just have been my imagination. I tell him about my friend who cried after reading Goodbye Chunky Rice, and we both snicker a bit. Actually no, he sort of understands.

Last signings of the day – Adrian Tomine and Dan Clowes, who are both signing at the Drawn and Quarterly booth at the same time. I do not realize why until I read this, much later. Their line is longer than Beaton’s, obviously. By the time I get to the front, there’s a crowd around Tomine while Clowes is relatively freer. I spend a few minutes getting some books signed and talking to him, after which he takes a restroom break. Completely unrelated, I assure you. He gets back, and I start talking to him again, both of us taking a moment to scoff at mainstream comics together. We totally bonded, man. I introduced myself to Tomine with a request from a friend who, in a fit of high perversion, wanted me to get a drawing of a blonde girl from Tomine. “I will be your bitch forever if you get that for me”, he said, and who am I to refuse an offer like that? Having inked a quick headshot in my copy of Sleepwalk, Tomine does a self-portrait in Scenes From An Impending Marriage, which I totally love.

And with that, I come to an end of my APE adventure. There is some more wandering around the venue, an excellent dinner at a Spanish restaurant afterwards, and a magnificent Thai chilli lemon sorbet after that. 

And this is what I lugged home from the show.

Only 5 of these are mine.

 

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Comics, Conventions

Going APE, part 1

I nearly did not make it to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this Saturday, thanks to Birdy Nam Nam. The band was due to perform at a French music festival in LA on October 1, and I loved them enough to consider staying back for their show. Unfortunately, they ran into visa problems, and Etienne de Crecy headlined instead. The universe, it seems, really wanted me to be at APE. And since my name isn’t Scott Pilgrim, I do not fight the universe.

The universe also put me in a mild state of euphoria when I got off the BART at the UN Plaza/Civic Center station. I flipped through the last page of The Last Colony, the third book in the Old Man’s War trilogy that I was yapping about a few days ago. Random deus ex machina plot points aside, it was a very very satisfying finish, and it also helped that ‘Saadda Haq’ began playing on my earphones that exact same minute, acting like a closing coda to my week-long read sprint.

My primary agenda of the day was to meet Craig Thompson, he of Blankets and Habibi fame, and get a bunch of books signed by him. Entering the convention center, I tried to mark out the signing spots – the CBLDF booth said that they would have Thompson at 2:30 PM, which meant I could amble around at leisure until then. Which I did, studiously avoiding eye contact with the artists selling their minicomics and prints. No offence to anyone, but I’ve blown quarterly comic/art budgets in the first few hours of a con before, and the most I can do now is to learn from my previous mistakes. No contact = no caving in to temptation.

Until I got to the Lee’s Comics booth. Lee’s happens to be one of the most well-known comic-shops in the Bay Area. I had visited their Mountain View store in 2007, and my I-am-from-India spiel had earned me a hefty discount back then. I wasn’t too confident about pulling that off right now, but as I was gazing through their well-selected con collection, I happened to look more closely the guy Lee was talking to. And realized, with what a pulp fiction writer would call ‘a lurch’ – that Craig Thompson was in the house, yo. Craig caught my eye, called me over and said he recognized me from SDCC – I think it’s more likely he saw the fandom-lust on my face. He was talking to the creator of Zahra’s Paradise, I do not remember whether it was the artist or the writer. As it turned out, Craig was signing at Lee’s comics first, and I was technically first in line, so yeah, whoopee. I told him, as he signed and sketched in my books, how much I had enjoyed reading Habibi, and how it was ironic that Holy Terror and Habibi came out the same week – both centered around Islam, both after years of anticipation and with completely divergent world-views. (A separate post on Habibi and its joys will follow soon, I think)

Just for the record, he was totally nice about my getting multiple books signed. I also bought another book from Lee’s Comics, just to not be a dick and support those guys for getting Craig over. Even went back to the end of the line to not make others in the line wait too much.

Once that was done, I began walking through the other end of the hall. And then the second serendipitous/happy moment of the day – I came across Steve Oliff’s booth.

Who’s Steve Oliff? One of the most well-known colorists of the 80s, Oliff brought computer coloring to comics by working on what would arguably be the most renowned manga of the time, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. How did he do that? By creating color guides using airbrush, watercolor and acrylic, which were sent to the computer coloring team in his studio for reference. This was before Photoshop made pixel-pushing lens-flare junkies out of everyone in the industry, and the results were quite unlike anything being published in the market at that time. Otomo himself approved of the project, and Epic comics milked the hell out of it, making Akira one of the best-selling manga runs, ever. (Read this for more information)

I had met Steve in Super-con 2007, where I bought one of his color guides from him, and he introduced me to the work of Tony Salmons in course of our conversation. He had been a hard man to get hold of, since then. A good friend, on seeing my color guide, wanted to buy a few of his own, and none of Oliff’s online contact information worked. He wasn’t at San Diego this year (he was there as a guest this year, he said, and did not have a booth set up. Ugh!) and we weren’t even sure if he did cons any more. So yeah, meeting him, and seeing the pile of Akira pages in front of him, I chuckled to myself, thinking of my friend’s reaction when I told him that I met Steve at APE. I spent a pleasant hour there, looking through the Akira pages, marvelling at the lovely techniques, chatting with Steve about Otomo art, his experiences and comics in general. I got three pages from him, one of them for my friend, and Steve mentioned that he enjoyed working on that particular page a lot because it had a ‘mist’ effect on it.

It was 2 PM. And Kate Beaton was due to sign at the Drawn and Quarterly booth.

(continued)

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