Emily S. Whitten: Awesome Con Round Up
Sweet Christmas, everyone – this year’s Awesome Con was busy as all get-out and chock-full of cool things to see and do, and con season is rushing by so fast that I’m just now getting to my recap! (We can also blame the con crud for this, alas. It’s been following me around for a solid month.) As always, there were way more activities than one mere mortal could get to. And on top of that, this was the first year where I really saw multiple events surrounding the con that were either not directly affiliated with the con but inspired by it, or connected to it but not part of the main con experience.
So let’s start there. First off, I was part of a pre-con round-table interview Awesome Con set up with the inestimable Stan Lee. Stan answered many great questions. He talked about what books he enjoyed reading as he was starting to write comics, and I was pleased to hear references to great classic writers (in both “literary” fiction and sci-fi/fantasy) including Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Shakespeare. He emphasized the importance of good character and plot in writing comics, rather than just fight scenes, and the reasons why comics are a good medium to tell stories. He discussed the changing perceptions of comics over the years. He gave his best advice to writers, which is to write for yourself – “because I’m not that unique; so if I like it, surely there will be others out there who will like it too.” He told a fun story about why he started nicknaming creators in the comics credits. He chatted about working with Jack Kirby. And he answered one of my questions, sharing that his favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe cameos to date are the recent one in [[[Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2]]] and the one where he’s drinking with Thor in a bar – because for that one, he got to be in two scenes! You can listen to the whole interview here and it’s well worth a listen. Enjoy!
Next, I was invited to talk with David Whettstone on DC’s WPFW, 89.3 FM about superheroines and female creators in comics. We had an interesting and in-depth chat that ranged from the history of comics up to modern times and the Wonder Woman movie, and you can listen to it here.
That same night, I headed over to the National Museum of Women in the Arts to moderate a fantastic “Fresh Talks” panel they had put together for the Wednesday of Awesome Con, “Who Are the New Superwomen of the Universe?” The panel was inspired in part by Awesome Con taking place in town, and featured four talented women of the comics world, Carolyn Cocca (author of Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, which just won an Eisner!), Gabby Rivera (YA author and writer for Marvel’s America series), Ariell Johnson (owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, Philadelphia), and Ashley A. Woods (illustrator, graphic novelist, and artist for the Stranger Comics series, Niobe: She is Life). Each gave an interesting or inspiring presentation, which you can watch in full here:
Carolyn’s focused on the representations of superheroines throughout history to the present, with entertaining illustrative visuals; Gabby gave a lively talk on being a creator and how her community of women inspired her to write and be true to herself; Ariell discussed why and how she became the only black woman comic book store owner on the East Coast; and Ashley talked about her years-long journey to becoming a successful comics artist.
We all then talked about everything from the new Wonder Woman movie to why women should not feel they have to “prove” themselves in comics – because we’ve always been here, and we’re awesome! You can watch the moderated conversation in full here:
The room was packed and the panel was amazing, and I was honored to be a part of it. (Also, it got great feedback which is awesome, because that hopefully means more events like this!)
Thursday brought even more pre-con pop culture awesomeness, with a screening of Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest film, and a Q & A with Wright made possible because he was in town as a guest at Awesome Con. Baby Driver is a very cool and unique film, about a hearing-impaired young man who’s ended up in a life of crime due to his ability to be an amazing getaway driver when driving to the right soundtrack – but who really wants to get out, and thinks maybe he can…after just one more job. The main character literally goes by “Baby” in the film; and while he’s not exactly perfect, he’s clearly a good-hearted kid despite his issues. Baby Driver is definitely in a different vein than Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy (although stylistically it’s still clearly an Edgar Wright film), and is both slightly surreal (packed with high-speed bank heists pulled off by quirky characters, all set to the diegetic soundtrack that is mostly dictated by what Baby decides to listen to) and more grounded that the Trilogy, with less geek references and a deeper focus on interpersonal relationships. These include the budding romance between Baby (Ansel Elgort) and Debora (Lily James), Baby’s relationship with his foster father (CJ Jones), and his relationship with crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) and several super quirky colleagues in crime who are played very well by Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Elza Gonzalez, and Jamie Foxx. Overall, Baby Driver is a balanced mix of frenetic action, quieter human moments, and laugh-out-loud humor. And, of course, the soundtrack is off the hook. If you can accept that it’s not the next movie in the Cornetto franchise and go in eager to see something new and different from Edgar Wright, it’s in theaters now, and I definitely recommend it. In fact, I’m planning to go watch it again!
I would have been happy to also cover yet another cool Awesome Con-inspired event that was going on Friday and Saturday at the Library of Congress, where they interviewed ‘70s Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter live, and displayed over 100 unique comics collectibles in their archives (so cool!), but alas, there’s only so much time in the day, and I was too busy to leave during the con. But oh, the fun I had at Awesome Con!
This year, since the fourth North American Discworld Convention is rapidly approaching (September 1-4 at the Sheraton New Orleans! Get your tickets for The Genuan Experience now!), we are in high promotional mode, and had a table on the con floor, which included a standee where folks could get their pictures taken as Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, and Tiffany Aching, and a handy reading guide for the Discworld series. We also put on two panels, one on how Discworld fandom changes lives (too true), and one on the concept of Nature vs. Nurture in Good Omens. I was delighted to see many Discworld and Good Omens fans in attendance, and we had a great time sharing our thoughts.
But those weren’t the only panels I saw. I also had a blast moderating a panel for Batman artist Greg Capullo, who is a straight-talking comics pro with some great insights into the creative process. He shared how he honed his skills, which was, in part, to get a bunch of different sketch pads and choose all different subjects, and draw e.g. two hours a day in each pad on specifics, whether it be life drawing, or feet, etc. He noted that although as a professional and working on deadlines all the time, he doesn’t have time for that much practice any more, revelations on how to draw more proficiently still come to him. He also discussed the importance of being able to really listen and take critiques from others in the industry when you are starting out. Greg shared what it was like working with Scott Snyder and the way they had to figure out a collaboration unlike any he had dealt with before, and many other insights. You can listen to most of the excellent panel here (apologies for the missing first minute, where Greg explains that even as a child, he drew all the time, and his teacher recognized his drawing proficiency). What a pleasure it was talking with Greg on stage.
And although I maaaay have overslept and missed the 10 a.m. David Tennant panel (and cried about it later. Why put such a popular panel so early, Awesome Con? Whyyyy), I did make it to the 10 a.m. Stan Lee panel, and that was great fun! (Also, ComicMix made the mistake of giving me access to the official Twitter account, so I was live-tweeting! I’m sure they’ll never regret this move.)
I also did some live-tweeting from the StarTalk Live panel, which I loved both last year and this. This year featured host Colonel Chris Hadfield, veteran of two space shuttle missions and former commander of the International Space Station and co-host actor Scott Adsit. Man, it was fun to see it live – not to mention we got to experience holographic Stephen Hawking beaming in-and-out to share some theories on questions the panel was discussing.
And I did get to see at least part of one more panel. It overlapped with my moderating duties, but I didn’t want to completely miss the Samurai Jack Live Read with Phil LaMarr and Jim Zub, writer and co-creator of the Samurai Jack comics, so I snuck in to see a little bit. It was excellent, with Phil and Jim voicing multiple characters in time with comics panels being projected on screen. Man. I could watch voice actors doing live reads all the time. So much fun!!
Of course along with panels, we can’t forget the fun of walking the exhibit hall and Artist Alley at a con. I got to do at least a little of that, which was also a good opportunity to show off the Gwen Stacy cosplay I finally finished, with my friend Alicia who was doing her Harley Quinn. During my wanderings I bought a queen hedgehog from Cuddles and Rage, got a free copy of Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End from Bria over at the Star Wars 501st booth, took some time out to record a couple of segments on Discworld and on The Golden Age of Geekdom for the Fantastic Forum TV show, and chatted with comics friends like Jim Calafiore, Joe Harris, Sorah Suhng, Daniel Govar, and Tony Moy. It was a blast!
You can see a collection of my livetweets for both the Stan Lee and StarTalk panels over on my Awesome Con Storify and photos over on Flickr. And stay tuned for even more comic-con adventures, because a deluge of San Diego Comic Con columns are coming very soon. Until then, stay cool in the summer heat and Servo Lectio!