We Become What We Deserve To Be, by Elayne Riggs
It’s now been three days since NY Comic Con 2008 ended, but I had to save my con report until now because it usually takes me this long to fully recover and gather my thoughts. The older I get and the more convention time I’ve logged, the more a few patterns begin to present themselves, and this con pretty much ran the gamut for me.
Friday was our longest stint at the con, and is pretty much a blur to me now. I’d had no set plan other than touching base with the ComicMix office and wandering around Artists’ Alley to see friends, but I was determined to give the exhibition hall as thorough a perusal as possible during the "trade only" portion of the con in the morning. But between the non-comics media stuff and the dealers in which I had little interest, it all ran together far sooner than I’d expected, and I quickly found myself in "seen one, seen ’em all" mode, wishing I’d prearranged specific meetups with blog friends and such. Thing of it was, though, I wanted to wing it. I’ve had to insert so much structure into my life what with the job search that I just wasn’t up to organizing anything having to do with fun, leisure activities.
Speaking of organization, I should mention that this was hands-down the best run NYCC yet, even with the reported surge in attendance. The volunteers were helpful without being intrusive, polite to a fault (one even asked if we needed help finding anyone in Artists’ Alley) and extremely professional. What a total pleasure! We saw a queue on Friday to get into the Javits, but nothing like the chaos of previous years. And here I must confess that part of the reason we may have seen only the sunny side was that we’d decided to truncate our time on Saturday and Sunday to about four hours rather than the entire day.
We have to face facts — these days, even in our home town, a full convention day takes a lot out of us, between all the walking and the hour-plus bus rides (which turned into two hours going back, as the crosstown bus from the Javits tended to arrive at Sixth Avenue moments after our express bus departed, leaving us to wait another 30 minutes for the connection). We’re not about to keel over or anything, we make it up and down the two flights between our apartment and the sidewalk just fine, but neither are we cut out any longer for the more frenzied activity we could handle ten years ago.
So, Friday. Our first priority was to touch base with Jamal Igle, Robin’s penciller on Tangent: Superman’s Reign, who was still awaiting the birth of his first child with Karine at the full nine months. All of us betting that she’d give birth to Kate this past weekend lost the pool, by the way; as of the writing of this column she’s still very much pregnant. We also encountered about a half dozen others who would become that very special band of People You Run Into All Throughout the Convention, just as there was another special band of People You Never Even See Once. (There’s also the third category of "hey there you are hi bye gotta go!" friends with whom one shares a quick hug or handshake or back-pat during all the hectic activity.)
We also got to a few panels. As usual, panels are the best place to wind down after the sensory overload of the exhibition hall, and your chances of seeing like-minded friends increase when you’re not trying to weave through crowds. We went to the online journalism roundup featuring ComicMix’s own Rick Marshall, the absolutely best-attended Women in Comics panel I’ve ever seen (my favorite line from moderator Heidi MacDonald, vis a vis "slave girl Leia," was "You’ve got to stay out of a bikini if you’re going to be remembered as a rebel commander"), a somewhat disappointing "American: Through the Eyes of the Graphic Novel" session which was supposed to feature Howard Zinn only he had to bow out of the con last-minute, the daily DC hype panel (the trend for this coming year seems to be an over-emphasis on their "key franchises" and a possible return to making comics for kids, like the planned Supergirl and Power Girl and Shazam books; I was also delighted to discover that the dialogue in an upcoming issue of Blue Beetle will be presented entirely in Spanish), and the Black Panel.
The latter was held at the very tail end of a very long day, and we were all pretty exhausted. Even ComicMix columnist Michael Davis (who moderated) and EIC Mike Gold (on the panel) were pretty low-key, for them. The attendance would have been so much better, and the panel decidedly more raucous, had it just been held earlier in the day, like 4 PM or so! By the time we got home it was past 11, and we didn’t even have a schmoozing session to show for it.
I’d wanted to work the Friends of Lulu booth, but they’d been completely subsumed by the MoCCA Machine which had morphed into a bunch of "join us, join us" pod people I didn’t know. You couldn’t even spot the famed Lulu banner because MoCCA had deemed their table so relatively unimportant that they turned it on its side, leaving no indication of Lulu’s presence in the program book or the hall. So there was no place to sit, because Lulu workers had to stand in order to call attention to their existence to begin with. It was eerily like going back to the time when Lulu didn’t matter that much because we were so new on the scene.
This was a national event held in a city where the organization is strongest, where its most vocal Board members are based! It became one of those unintentionally sexist moments, where women’s issues literally got shunted to the side so they could be more easily ignored. The Women in Comics panel may have had a post-feminist feel but, from where I can see, we’re a long way from "post-feminist" as long as women’s organizations are adjuncts and afterthoughts rather than full participants.
So with no place to sit with Lulu, and no desire to pay for a spot in Artists’ Alley… well, that’s death to me. I like to sit while I schmooze, I’ve always done better that way. I was starting to despair of seeing all the friends I’d wanted to; I didn’t seem to have any trouble finding them all last year. I felt adrift.
That’s when this odd feeling came over me that, after having been involved with the comic convention scene for over 20 years now, I didn’t really fit in any more. As far as Team Comics was concerned, I was the nobody I’d always suspected myself to be. Out of work, out of practice, out of favor, I succumbed to the enemy of every fanboy and fangirl, the overblown sense of entitlement. Everything I experienced was suddenly All About Me, which precipitated a dangerous downward spiral. On some level I knew it didn’t correlate with reality, but I’d managed to make a complete disconnect between "wasn’t that nice finding the pros-only curtained-off area with its own friggin’ oxygen bar on Saturday so we could catch up with Bryan Hitch during his one free half-hour" and "poor poor pitiful me nobody loves me pass the worms."
The Steve Gerber memorial panel probably didn’t help this frame of mind. As wonderful as the panel itself was, I sat there missing yet another mentor, after losing so many I cared about this past year, and I couldn’t help but think about how or whether I’d be remembered by my comics friends and acquaintances, and how so much of that was my fault. I’ve failed to use my time between paid employment to jump-start my freelance writing career, thus squandering the connections I’m astoundingly lucky to have in the first place. Suddenly I felt as though my last decade, to quote Marie Javins, who turned 42 yesterday and has lived at least a half dozen lifetimes more than me, had been "utterly controlled by inertia." What have I managed to leave as a lasting legacy? Which if you think about it is like the worst thing in the world upon which to dwell, as if I’m going to be around for my funeral or have any control whatsoever over how I’m thought of after I’m gone.
Still, when we got home Saturday afternoon I was left with no strength, either in body or mind. I went on Facebook, which I don’t visit that often, and there was a feature on the right-hand suggesting people I might know, friends of friends. At least half of them were comics industry folk, but as I went through all the suggested names I started thinking, "Yes, I know this person, but do they know me enough to actually consider me a friend, or are we just convention acquaintances at best?" And I could see what this was doing to my immensely talented husband whom I should have credited with better taste than to love and marry the kind of person I was perceiving myself at this moment, only I couldn’t stop it.
Maybe it was the truncated weekend days, a good night’s sleep, the fact that Sunday was Kids’ Day. Maybe it’s the magic of comics itself. But something changed on Sunday to snap me back to my usual self. Sometimes it just takes one person, and on Sunday that person was Jeff Trexler, who seemed to have actually sought me out so he could tell me how much he liked my old Pen-Elayne For Your Thoughts reviews that I used to crank out weekly back when I purchased all my comics the day they came out. His praise was so effusive and genuine that the pitiful-me part of my brain kept wondering who put him up to it — especially when he then turned to Robin (remember, the Actual Comics Pro) and said something like "oh yeah, I like your inking too" — but this Sally Field moment utterly crashed the pity party and deservedly drowned it. Here was the thing I didn’t know I needed, the objective, matter-of-fact belief that an impartial observer had in the power of my writing to convince me that, oh yeah, my writing has the capability to move people. It was a transformative moment. All you con attendees out there — never, ever doubt the power of a single compliment to brighten someone’s day.
At a convention, surrounded by friends and peers you admire, it’s hard to escape the tendency to compare yourself with everyone else around you. And that way madness lies. I’m never going to be most of these people in the first place simply because they’re younger than me, so any age-related aspirations are right out. Neither will I ever be lithe and graceful. But I still maintain one-hundred percent of my capacity to communicate, to love, to dream, to embrace my life. And I can still aspire to be the best Elayne Riggs I can possibly be, to not let inertia win.
Suddenly every panel reflected my newfound optimism. As Jimmy Gownley and Michael Cohen talked about turning Amelia Rules (probably my favorite all-ages book) into a musical, I saw the possibilities inherent in every ordinary girl’s bittersweet life. At the Jews in Space panel (that’s what I always call "Jews in comics" panels) I listened to Arie Kaplan and Danny Fingeroth enumerate how themes of identity always suffuse themselves into creation even when the people doing the creating are trying to downplay their own backgrounds, realizing again that who I am and who I’ve become is always going to be a part of what goes on the page. The Comics for Girls panel reminded me of the importance of an audience, particularly one so under-served by most American comics. I left the convention center wanting to write again, wanting to hammer my unformed ideas into shape, wanting to birth stories with my husband for the daughters we’ll never have. I recaptured the yearning for the dream that had been missing for too long, the dream of joining my own creations to the astounding panorama that’s already out there.
And in the end, that’s why I go to comic book conventions. Reporting and conducting interviews aren’t my strong suit. I’m no longer wowed by Big Two panel teasers. I’m not even that much of a consumer — the only book I bought at NYCC was Alitha Martinez’ Yume and Ever — so I’m nowhere near what con organizers think of as a target audience. I go to see my creative friends — writers, artists, reporters and bloggers — whose company makes me want to be one of them. And every so often, I am.
Elayne Riggs is still determined to start blogging up a storm real soon now. Here’s her pictorial review of NYCC ’08. At least 20 comic book pros have agreed to befriend her on Facebook.