I just got back from WonderCon in San Francisco, the week before that I was at the New York City Comic Con (NYCC).
These cons were fun and, for the most part, well run. I say for the most part because the NYCC people still have some work to do with regards to how they treat professionals and, more important, the fans. WonderCon ran smooth that’s because no one runs a convention better than Fae Desmond and the staff at Comic Con International. They treat each fan like they were the only fan there. The NYCC people have a good heart and I think any problems they had came from the staff at the Javis Center and not the convention people.
I had a good time at both but there is something missing from these cons and for my money something missing from all the really big cons. That something is intimacy. Now I can hear you asking the question: what does intimacy has to do with a comic book convention?
My answer is… everything.
Comics is an intimate medium, or it was once upon a time. Comic book fans will wait on a movie line for hours and consider it part of the experience. Comic book fans think that Star Trek marathons are cool, even if they were born decades after the show first aired. Comic book fans don’t just go to conventions seeking the issue of Spider-Man they need to complete their collection. Comic book fans go to conventions to be with like-minded people. They go there because if they want to they can dress up like a superhero and not be afraid. They can talk about a battle between the Hulk and Superman with the seriousness it deserves. Comic fans go to conventions because they are safe. Safe to be who they are, safe to say what they want.
These are important things.
Think not? Well let’s just say you are a comic book fan and you live in South Central L.A. You think you can stroll the street with your Captain Kirk outfit on without taking some flack?
You are walking down a South Central street a group of young men are walking towards you; they are members of a street gang. They approach and the leader stops and talks to you:
Yo, our crew is looking for new members you down?
I’m already with a crew.
Who you with?
I’m a member of the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise!
Yeah. I’m sure they will just love that as they proceed to beat you with your Star Fleet manual.
Conventions offer a must needed escape to be with people who are just like you. And by you I mean me and by me I mean all of us. It also offers us a place to have a real say in our industry. I don’t care how cool you think comics are, I don’t care how many people think your collection is cool. I don’t care how many people think it’s grand that you have this room in your house with all those cool toys. All of these people think there is something at least a bit strange about you.
ALL OF THEM!
In fact how many times have you heard these choice words?
“You paid how much for that?”
“It’s just a toy.”
“Take it out of the box.”
“How many times have you watched that stupid movie?”
“Comics are for kids.”
“Michael, you will never work with DC Comics again! You have pissed way to many people off!”
Well, I’m sure that if you are a true fan then you have heard comments like these more than once. Face it friends, being a comic book fan is a lot like being a mutant, or a black man trying to get a cab… hard.
We need conventions so we can be ourselves. Yes that applies to the entire industry and the pros are no difference. Let me clue you fans in on a little secret. Every single professional is also a geek. The coolest “god-like” writer or artist is still a geek. Some of them may walk around with bodyguards at conventions, which is HO-larious to me. But they are all geek, geek geek. Like you, like me.
The next time some ‘superstar’ writer or artist gives you attitude simply remind him or her that YOU made them and YOU can break them. Trust me, nobody wants to be confronted about his or her attitude from a fan.
To that end, none of these “superstars” can hold a candle to a true creator like Kevin Eastman. Kevin is not just a visual artist but he has done more in his career than most of the working superstars have done combined. If Kevin can still treat every single fan he meets like a new friend then the latest hotshot on The Marvel Orgy Special starring Aunt May should just be glad to be working.
No disrespect to Marvel for that title… but you know that book would SELL OUT!!!
How’s that for straying off the point? Sorry. Back to the subject at hand.
I have been attending conventions for over 20 years (since I was eh, three) and I know of what I speak. It is fair to say that conventions have allowed me to pull off some of my biggest deals. It was at the Mid-Ohio Con in (gasp!) 1987 that I met John Ostrander who introduced me to Mike Grell who introduced me to Mark Nevelow, the then brand new editor of DC’s new mature imprint Piranha Press. Mark gave me the very first assignment ever from Piranha. That deal made it possible for me to then work with Mike Grell on my next gig.
It was at the San Diego con in 1991 when Denys Cowan turned to me and said “Where the white women at?” I mean, he said, “We should start a company that represents people of color.” So it is very true to say that Milestone started at a comic convention. I closed my Motown deal at Comic Con; I closed my latest deal at Comic Con. I have met people at conventions who have become part of my extended family. In fact there have been many times I have gone to conventions with no business to do I just wanted to hang out.
I remember one particular convention that I went to in Texas. Bob Wayne of DC Comics invited Denys Cowan and me to a real life Texas barbecue restaurant. Denys and I had this running joke (and it was a joke so before you write in with a complaint keep your Political Correctness to yourself) we would go to a place and loudly ask Where the white women at? Well, when we got to this place we asked (and we were serious) “Where the black people at?” We were a bit on edge (much to Bob Wayne’s delight) but that soon passed and we had the best time. In fact that convention (whose name escapes me) was one of the very best I have ever been to.
Before WonderCon moved across the bay from Oakland To San Francisco the convention and the hotel were in one place. You could find everybody in the bar at the end of the day. In fact we even had a name for what went on after the convention. It was called ‘Bar-Con.’ it was sooo cool. Everybody was there. On any given night you could see Frank Miller holding court with a bunch of fans at one table. Stan Lee would be hanging with Roy Thomas at another. It was… intimate.
I know, I know. We have grown as an industry and we have out grown these type of venues. But have we not lost a bit of our souls as well? Are some cons just to big?
Can’t WonderCon or Comic Con or any big con give an opening night party or have a suite or two dedicated in ONE place where we can just hang out?
At Comic Con there are a zillion places that pros and fans can go after the floor closes. That’s cool but a central place where you know you will be able to have a great conversation and find a friend would work in a small way to bring some intimacy back. It’s not like the conventions can’t afford it.
For the last 10 years I have given a major party at Comic Con. My guest list is always full of the coolest people at the con but they are most likely coming from or going to another party. That’s fine with me but would it not be cool if there was one place that the con could set up where we could go after attending all those other parties? Or we could skip the parties and just go there? I love the fact that Comic Con International has grown to such an event that it takes you 45 minutes to walk the floor without stopping to look at anything. I also hate the fact that Comic Con International has grown to such an event that it takes you 45 minutes to walk the floor without stopping to look at anything.
Why do we need this intimacy? Well for no other reason we need it because comic book fans will wait on line for a movie for hours and consider it part of the experience. Comic book fans deserve the right to be the geeks we are without becoming what other media outlets have become.
What have these other media outlets become? They have become a place where people worship celebrities who could give a hoot about what it means to be part of something. In fact they could give a hoot about you.
We run the very real risk of becoming a place where product is the end all and be all.
Product not people. Product not purpose. Product not promise.
If we become that kind of industry, you can forget about feedback, forget about dialogue. You can see some of this happening now. Need I remind you of some of these hotshot creators with the bodyguards? What are they expecting? An attack from Too Much Coffee Man?
Will having a place or places where we can go just to be among ourselves stop the industry from growing? No, but it may stop the industry from growing cold and indifferent like the television industry has become. You can still walk up to Frank Miller, the biggest star in comics, and have a word. Try that with Patrick Dempsey from Grey’s Anatomy, or as I like to call him, McLucky. I will admit that Grey’s Anatomy is a good show. Now name two more good shows. I’ll wait. TV is so lame these days that executives are looking at YouTube for ideas. And where are some on YouTube and the movie industry looking for ideas?
You know where. Comics.
More and more our industry is being used for our ideas. Many of those ideas have come from sitting around after a day at a convention and someone says; “What if…”
That’s special. We are special.
If we grow so big and forget what makes us special then we are doomed to just be like everyone else. If the major conventions continue to explode with more floor space more major companies and more fluff, without taking the time to remember why comic conventions started in the first place we are doomed. Why did comic conventions start in the first place? They started as a place where us geeks could get together to be geeks.
If we forget that, then, my friend, you can just put your Kirk outfit away because there will be no place left to wear it.
Michael Davis is a comics creator and the founder of the Guardian Line series of comics as well as being a television producer and writer. He was a co-founder of Milestone Comics and his artwork has appeared in Wasteland, Green Arrow: Shado, Green Hornet and The Question, among others.