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.


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


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.


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.

Comics, Life

7 Things I did not do at Comicon

  1. Meet Bryan Lee O’Malley Out of all my ‘goals’ for Comicon this year, this was the only one that did not happen. I wanted to meet the creator of Scott Pilgrim, just say hi, and maybe buy some art. He did make an appearance at the con, he did bring art I wanted, and horrors, he was apparently the guy who picked up a Seth DPS that I was eyeing at the Beguiling art store. But I missed him by about an hour. Oh well, he stays in LA, so there’s a high likelihood I’ll bump into him some time. If all else fails, there’s always next year.
  2. Attend the Locke and Key screening Locke and Key – which as I’ve mentioned before as a series that rocked my world – was recently optioned as a TV series. But a few weeks before Comicon, it was announced that the series had not been picked up, unfortunately. (Which means it joins the likes of Global Frequency and David Goyer’s Wonder Woman as aborted shows I would have liked to see) The pilot was supposed to be screened at SDCC, and I was looking forward to watch it. Alas, it was all about the timing. People were queuing for it way before I reached the convention center, and I missed the evening show because I was attending the Eisners.  So, uh…. 
  3. Cosplay  A lot of people dressed up at Comicon. A LOT. I was not one of them. I could probably argue that no, I was dressed up like that fellow Raj from The Big Bang Theory, but I did not shut up in the presence of women, and I definitely did not have a dorky haircut. Also, comic art collectors probably would not take a cosplayer in their midst too seriously.
  4. Give in to temptation (No, really) So I bought some pages for a bargain. I got offered twice my cost price for them the same day. I swallowed hard, punched myself in the face (mentally, of course), and refused. I loved those pages and sometimes, money isn’t everything.
  5. Save on hotel bills Yes, I should have planned before, and would have saved a boatload of money on hotel bills, probably more than enough to cover the cost of another Preacher page. (Seriously, I am getting addicted to the idea of owning Preacher pages. Preacher is the new Hitman, y’all). But I did not, and I paid 225$ per night for my hotel, for 4 nights. My middle-class Indian upbringing wants to choke me to death and kick me in the head for good measure.
  6. Meet a TV cast I would have loved to meet the cast of Chuck, and I would have even settled for The Big Bang Theory. The closest I got to a TV cast was for Once Upon A Time, which I did not enjoy as much, even with Robert Carlyle in it. Ah well, filed under “next time”.
  7. Take More Pictures I took a lot of pictures, I swear I did, but sometimes you just gotta nut up, shut up and let your eyes do the recording. And that’s exactly what happened.
Comics, Life

The ‘hugs’ post

In which I flog my face, in the company of illustrious embellishers. Based on an idea submitted by Ganesh Natarajan, age 26, Chennai.


Adam Warren, the man behind Empowered and Dirty Pair, the master of the soft lead.

Meeting Adam Warren was high on my priority list for the con. His Empowered happens to be the one of the few comics that I wish had a speedier release schedule, and I have gone on record stating how much of a crush I have on the titular super-heroine. One of my fondest wishes is to own a complete Emp story – Adam does 2-3 page stories often in his books, and they are funny, sexy and perfect self-contained chunks of his artistry.

I spent the better part of a day looking for his booth, and following his tweets regarding his whereabouts. On the second day of the con, I landed up at Stuart Ng books because they had his sketchbooks, and as soon as I saw them on display, I grabbed at one and was flipping through it. This guy asks me if he can take a look, and I oblige. As he flipped through it, I was on full Emp-love mode, talking about how cool the series is and how great the sketchbook looks, because it had some short stories in it. After some time, I notice a bunch of people clustered around us, and steal a glance at the guy’s name tag. *Groan* It was Adam Warren himself, looking through his  sketchbook because they came straight to the con and he had not seen them before. Obviously, I met him again the next day, and bought some art, but I found it totally serendipitous to meet him this way.

Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead

I met Kirkman on Wednesday evening, when everybody was setting up. I was still in the “I can’t believe I am standing here” mode when my friend Kwan introduced me to Kirkman, and I shook hands and said hi. Kwan took a picture of us. And then as we were walking away, it sort of registered who I had just met – the guy that wrote the best ongoing series in comics, bar none. So I took a deep breath, turned and explained to Robert why I thought he was awesome and his books were awesome and that he should continue the awesomeness and take my money forever. He did not freak out and run away, so I assume I was lucid when I said all that.


Jerry Robinson, the man who created The Joker

It was such an honor to meet one of the figures who shaped the Golden Age. Mr Robinson was signing at his own booth, and I happened to be there at the right time. Picked up one of his prints, had him sign it to me, and when I asked to take a photograph, he called me behind the booth so that I was in the picture as well.

Jeff Smith, of Bone fame, with Vijaya Iyer, his wife and publisher, Cartoon Books.

Picture taken at the end of the party. I had seven glasses of wine in me, and was very freaking happy with the evening’s proceedings. There was a Bone photo-booth, and the original plan was to go in there with Jeff and Vijaya and pose with Bone. But the booth was closed towards the end, so we just decided to take the picture on my camera.

Then I staggered to my hotel room (2 miles away!), collapsed on my bed, and felt the world heave and shudder all night. Seven glasses of wine, I hate you (like I love you).

Dave Gibbons. THE Dave Gibbons.

If Dave Gibbons looks a little flustered here, it’s because he was in a hurry. I sort of feel sorry about my friend Joe stopping him just so I could get a picture taken with him, but Dave was nice enough to oblige. Later on, Dave was on stage with Jonathan Ross, as part of the Eisner presenters and the duo killed everyone with their jokes.

Craig Thompson of Blankets and Goodbye Chunky Rice

In 2007, I nearly paid a European collector $350  to get a small sketch by Craig that he owned. Wise sense (and a nearly-empty wallet) prevailed, and I did not go ahead with the deal. It was therefore a happy moment at the Con when I got to meet Craig, chatted with him about his work – he mentioned that he almost made it to the Jaipur Lit festival this year, but had to pull out at the last moment. Even meeting him was fortuitous. I was looking for the Harper-Collins booth to see if Joe Hill was hanging out there, and when passingthe Pantheon booth, I nearly fainted (mostly because I could not believe that I had missed this crucial bit of information) on seeing a hardcover edition of Habibi, Thompson’s 700+ page work after Blankets. As it turned out, the book would be out in September, and all I could do at the moment was hold it, caress it and kiss it goodbye-till-we-meet-again. The lady at the booth informed us that Craig would be signing posters at the booth for an hour the next day. Of course I made sure I was there an hour before the designated time, saw that a line had already formed before me. I bought a Blankets hardcover, and when it was my turn, Craig graciously drew a sketch for me. It was, ladies and gentlemen, the cause of the shit-eating grin I had on me the rest of the day.

Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez, the team behind Locke and Key, probably my favorite series right now.

Ah, Joe Hill. The man who Made Me Believe. The first writer, after my childhood idol (who was his father) that I would buy anything by. It’s almost funny to think that I had postponed reading Locke And Key so long just because I thought it would not live up to his prose writing. I was wrong. Joe Hill is a genius, and lucky, because he teamed with artist Gabriel Rodriguez, whose work has to be seen to be believed. Do not read anything about Locke and Key on the web, just go and download it RIGHT NOW. Read it. If you are not compelled to pay these guys money once you’re done, maybe you should stop reading this blog, because seriously, I do not have anything in common with you. Yes, them’s fighting words, but you’ve got to understand, I’ve waited years to be this blown away by a comic-book series. To not be jaded by a writer’s work because I can predict what’s coming next. *

*with the exception of The Walking Dead.
Comics, Life

10 Things I Did At Comicon

  1. Picked up pre-ordered stuff. I spent the first day picking up stuff that I had pre-paid for, a few pieces of art, the Bone 20th volume edition (which came with a Jeff Smith original Bone painting), the Artist’s Edition of Walt Simonson’s Thor. A happy beginning!
  2. Met a lot of art people. Dealers, collectors and online friends, people I had been corresponding with for the better part of 5 years, seeking advice and envying their real-world adventures from faraway India. This year, I was on an adventure of my own, and could finally put faces and voices to names and email addresses. Some of us had dinner together on Wednesday night. Much mutual envy was expressed, and every form of comic art – European, Japanese and American – was discussed and dissected over food and drinks. I was to meet more people as the days progressed.
  3. Met some of my heroes.  Jerry Robinson. Craig Thompson. Becky Cloonan. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Dave Gibbons. Michael Zulli. Steve Leialoha. Walt Simonson. Stan Sakai. Sergio Aragones. Joelle Jones. David Zahn. Adam Warren. Bill Willingham. Mark Buckingham. Robert Kirkman. Jill Thompson. They may just be names to you, but to me, they were icons that defined my reading habits. Meeting them in person was surprising, awe-inspiring, more than a little happiness-inducing. In most cases, I managed not to gush or simper or freak out anyone too much, and managed to tell them how cool their work was and how important they were to a guy growing up in India. I hope they understood.
  4. Wheeled and dealed  I had taken some of my art with me, and after the shock and awe of the first two days wore off, I looked to see if I could trade some of my under-loved pages for some better stuff. And yeah, I got some great stuff – traded an Invisibles page for a Steve Bissette/Alfredo Alcala Swamp Thing page, sold some of my pages to fund another purchase. Also got some deals started in the pipeline, so I know where my money for the next few months is going.
  5. Attended a party I had met Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer in 2009, when I interviewed Jeff for Rolling Stone India. This year marked the 20th Anniversary of Bone, and Vijaya invited me to the Scholastic party celebrations. The minute I walked into the terrace of the Hilton Bayfront on Thursday evening, I knew I was in for a swell time. Pros and fans mingled with each other, there were free goodie bags full of Scholastic graphic novels being handed out, great food, and an open bar. Surreal moments that evening – at one point I found myself discussing Hindu mythology with Paul Levitz, at another, Sergio Aragones put a hand on my shoulder like we had known each other for years, and told me how his passport caused much consternation at Bhutanese immigration since he was the first Mexican to visit the country. I recommended some books to a charming lady, an editor for Dvir Publishing House in Israel, which is publishing the Hebrew versions of Bone, and she in turn recommended the excellent works of Raina Teglmaier. Surprise, Raina was at the party signing her books, so I went on and said hello. Struck up conversations about Robyn and Swedish music and collecting comic art and types of cake around the world with random strangers, got a little drunk, staggered to my room a happy, happy man.
  6. Walked a lot When veterans of the Con tell you that it’s a tiring event, part of it is because of the sheer size of the convention. Walking from one end of the floor to the other takes about half a day, taking into account the crowds, the amount of distracting shininess on display and the fact that there are too many things going on at the same time. If you are ever at SDCC, make sure you have ample amount of snacks and some water with you. Do not buy too many books at once. Plan the day’s activities in the morning, if possible. And please, get yourself in shape a bit. I followed all these rules that my friend Joe hammered in me the last few months, and I was functioning on pure adrenaline by the end of Friday evening. And then I discovered that there were two more floors with stuff happening. *Sigh*
  7. Attended the Fables panel The biggest problem with attending panels at SDCC is that you need to queue for them, and considering the amount of things going on, it seems a criminal waste of time to stand in line when you could be doing something else. But I wanted to attend a panel – not just any panel, the Fables one, which was one of the most well-attended in the con, and required a ridiculous amount of queuing. I went in about 4 hours early, stayed for the Once Upon A Time TV show premiere (which is a TV show that seemed to be heavily inspired by Fables, though to be fair, the creative team behind Lost is doing it, and fairy tale characters are public domain, after all. Though I did not think too highly of it, I am fairly sure it will be successful) and the Jim Lee panel. The Fables panel had a huge number of creators up on stage, and the wait proved to be really worth it. Willingham  and co were great at giving out nuggets of information about the future direction of the series without really spoiling anything, and even though I’m not as rabid about Fables as I was a few years ago, I found myself getting more than a little interested in knowing where the series and its spinoffs were going. And oh – I will probably forever envy the lucky fan who answered a trivia question about Boy Blue and got a horn in a case, which was signed by everyone on stage. UGH!
  8. Attended the Eisners  The Eisner awards are the premiere award ceremony for the comic-book industry (sorry, Eagle Awards and Angouleme grand prizes) and when I learnt that entry was not just limited to professionals, I knew I had to go attend. I am glad I did. Cheered for Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez and Mike Mignola and the Ba/Moon brothers, and was completely thrilled at seeing Jonathan Ross taking potshots at the comic-book industry. A low-point was Lance Henricksen on stage, massacring names of nominees, comicbook companies and award-winners, but all in all, an awesome experience.
  9. Helped a friend. When art-hopping, I saw two Alex Raymond Rip Kirby strips for sale, at a more-than-decent price. How decent? Well, two strips were being sold cheaper than a single example available at a dealer in an adjacent row. I knew my friend was interested in good Raymond examples, and those two were great for the price. A couple of hastily exchanged emails and a Paypal payment later, the strips were his. As a bonus, I get to keep them until I meet him. I also got other things for different friends, and you will all get them when I meet you next.
  10. Bought books. While I had been trying to avoid buying books ever since moving to LA, the amount of 50% discount offers going around was too much for my fragile collecting soul, and I caved in multiple times. How much did I get? I went there with one bag, and I had seven heavy bags when I came back. Among the good stuff – Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung-fu, a hardcover edition of Blankets that Craig sketched in, Alec by Eddie Campbell, Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash. All three Amulet volumes, signed and sketched-in by Kazu Kibuishi, Finder omnibus by Carla Speed McNeil. Obviously, I have to find time to sit and read them all.
There will probably be a post with pictures in them coming up soon.