Tagged: Pop Culture Classroom

Mindy Newell: Denver, Stormtroopers, and Farts

X-Wing @ DCC, 2016

So as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by fellow columnist Emily S. Whitten calls “Convention Crud” and I called, last week, “Airplane Adenovirus”…

Me & R2I had an ABFAB time at the Denver Comic Con 2016!

That’s “Absolutely Fabulous” for those of you too young to remember the BBC show.

Overseen by the Denver-based Pop Culture Classroom, a non-profit organization whose aim is to use comics and other pop culture media to educate kids and inform the public, the con is held annually at the Colorado Convention Center, an edifice that puts the Jacob Javits Center here in New York to total shame, in downtown Denver. Incredibly yuuuge – it stretches over four city blocks – with many atriums letting in the sunlight of the Mile High City, the con never felt crowded, despite its 100,000+ attendance.

I was invited because of my connection to Wonder Woman, who was created by William Moulton Marston 75 years ago this year. I must admit to having some trepidation, because, to be completely honest, I didn’t think that my work on the Amazon Princess was remembered, and I had images of sitting alone and ignored for three days. To make it worse, I hadn’t thought to bring any samples of my work to put out on display, so my table was white and bare in comparison to my nearest neighbors, authors and artists whose work was exhibited in beautiful and multi-colored presentations.

(To be fair to myself, I actually have very little of my work here at home. Over the years I have given out 99% of my work to my daughter’s friends, to cousins and the children of friends for birthday, communion, and bar-or-bas mitzvah presents, and for Halloween treats.)

Getting Timey-Winy, DCC, 2016But those little fears disappeared immediately as I became entranced by everything at the convention. The first thing I saw when I entered the Exhibitors Hall was a “life-size” beat-up and dented X-Wing fighter, looking as if it had just returned from a rendezvous with the Imperial fleet. (I immediately took the above picture.) The next thing I saw were two Stormtroopers, and I handed my phone to the volunteer who was leading me to my table as I stepped between them; she obligingly snapped a photo.

I was, as my daughter had put it as she drove me to the airport, “with my people.”

I was on many panels, not all of them to do with “Women and Comics.” Pop Culture also features educational classes for kids and adults at the convention, and I was slated to lead “Creating a Four-Panel Comic,” which was for kids [I would say] from eight-years old and down. That experience is one of my most treasured memories!

When Alix was in elementary school I gave some “lectures” on creating a story for her English class, so I wasn’t at all nervous. I immediately involved the kids in the audience, not staying on the stage, but going into the audience and letting them talk into the microphone. The kids proved to be incredibly imaginative and involved. A young girl volunteered the superhero, named FlashDash for her super-speed. The villain was Lunchbox. This bad guy carries a lunchbox, and inside it are burritos. “Burritos?” I laughed along with audience, who were obviously enjoying themselves. “And what do the burritos do?”

“They explode,” said the young boy, who was about seven, and whose name I can’t remember, damn my menopausal memory!

“And when they explode, it smells like the worst fart ever! The smell will kill you!”

Well, I don’t know about you, but fart jokes crack me up. Just the mention of the word fart makes me go silly. So imagine the reaction of the audience and those within hearing distance – remember, me and the kids were using a microphone – when the young man said this. A gigantic Bwa-bwa-hah-hah! went up and echoed in Exhibitors Hall.

I didn’t want to embarrass the boy. “That is absolutely fantastic,” I said, still smiling and laughing a little. “Lunchbox uses the exploding burritos the way Hobgoblin uses his pumpkin bombs. That is so great.”

“So how does FlashDash defeat Lunchbos?” I asked. The creator of Lunchbox shot up his hand, and even though I really wanted to involve some other kids, everyone was looking at him, so I went with the flow.

Me & 2 Buddies, DCC, 2016FlashDash waves her cape super-fast and blows away the fart,” he said.

I’m tellin’ y’all, this kid is going to be a comics superstar in about 20 or 25 years, or even sooner!

Meanwhile, up on the podium, my artist, a really talented young guy named Colton, was drawing all of this out on an easel in four panels. We had three, so far.

“Okay,” I said, “So FlashDash, in the first panel, meets Lunchbox. The second panel shows Lunchbox throwing the burrito and it exploding.” Colton used wiggly lines to show the farts’s uh, “waves of stink.”

“The third panel has FlashDash waving her cape at super-speed, dispersing the fart cloud. So we have one more panel. What happens?”

A little girl, a very little girl, she must have been four years old, bashfully waved her hand, and I walked up to her. “FlashDash’s dragon uses his fire breath and burns up Lunchbox’s lunchbox,” she said softly. I’m telling y’all, this child was absolutely adorable.

“Oh, FlashDash has a pet dragon?” I asked her. She smiled shyly and nodded. I turned to Colton, who was already adding a little dragon hovering over FlashDash’s shoulder to the preceding panels. I said to the audience that this was an example of a writer and an artist “editing” their work, meaning changing it to make it better.

Then Colton drew the final panel, with the dragon’s fire breath melting the burrito-containing lunchbox.

DCC, 2016“And that’s the end of Lunchbox and his exploding fart burritos,” I said. “FlashDash and her pet dragon have saved the day.”

We weren’t able to photocopy the story, but many parents and kids came up to the podium and snapped photos of the “Four-Panel Comic.”

Yep, I had an AbFab time in Denver. I caught up with old friends – Andy Mangels, Barbara Randall Kesel, Timothy Truman, Trina Robbins, Peter David – and made new ones – Cat Staggs, Yannick Paquette, LJ Hachmeister, Joe Staton, Hannah Means Shannon (a.k.a. Hannah Menzies), Marguerite Sauvage, and Jeff Hendon and his wife.

I met so many terrific people, I could fill this whole column with their names alone. I met that at the convention, I met them at the hotel. I met Jae Lee on the ride back to the airport.

I sat on panels and signed autographs and took pictures with fans. Oh, yeah, remember how I talked about my white, bare table? I found Mile High Comics, and bought a bunch of my comics, including issues of Wonder Woman (including what I consider mine and George Pérez’s best work on the title, #46, “Chalk Drawings”), “Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying,” and “Legionnaires Three.” (I then gave them as a gift to my Exhibitors Hall neighbor, the aforementioned Jeff Herndon, an amazing illustrator in the Denver area, and his wife in exchange for a beautiful painting of Gail Godot as Wonder Woman. I wanted to pay for it, but he and his wife wouldn’t hear of it, so instead we did the “barter.”)

Comics. Celebrities. An X-Wing, Stormtroopers, and R2-D2. The TARDIS.

And farts.

It was a helluva’ weekend.

Mindy Newell: On The Road Again

Denver Comic ConMy parents were not the types to do “stay-cations.” In their lives together they travelled around the country and the globe by car, by cruise ship, or by jet, although they never did make it to China or India as a couple. My mom wanted to go there, because, I think, my dad had been stationed in the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater of operations during WWII, and he would claim he had had enough of Chinese food to last him the rest of his life. This explains why we are the only Jewish family I’ve ever met who never went to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, but actually I think it was because he didn’t want to dredge up old memories, the rotten kind.

Anyway, I don’t remember where they were, but on one vacation they met Muhammad Ali, who was gracious enough to take a photo with them. (I wish I had that photo to post, but I have no idea where it is these days.) This was sometime in the early 70s, and the country was not yet out of Vietnam, so I was a bit surprised to find out that they admired Ali not just for his boxing, but for his stand against the war. This was because at that time I was still a rather bratty kid who thought her parents were two of those middle-aged “love it or leave it” types who swallowed every lie coming out of Washington.

That picture was my first inkling that my father and my mother were individuals, intelligent people able to see past the bullshit and form their own opinions. Did this mean they were going to go out and march against the war? No, they weren’t that radical. But that war sure pissed them off. (A decade later, I first learned of Eisenhower’s warning about this country’s “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address to Congress in a conversation with my dad shortly after they returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where they went to the newly opened Vietnam Memorial.)

Speaking of traveling, this weekend, Friday, June 17 through Sunday, June 19, I’ll be a guest at the Denver Comic Con, put on by the Pop Culture Classroom, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2010 as the Comic Book Classroom. Their aim is to enhance kids’ education and reading ability through the use of comic books and related media.

I really, really love their mission; I know it’s hard to believe for many of the younger fans, but once upon a time reading comics was not considered by any standard to be “cool.” If anything, it was generally thought of as being a sign of moronic ability, of the very opposite of intelligence, of an early-warning system to detect juvenile delinquency and a future that would definitely include time in the Big House. I know that my own parents, although proud of my early reading skills, were worried enough to consult with my “Uncle” Max – he wasn’t really my uncle, but our families were that close to warrant the moniker – who was a principal in the then-noted New York Public Schools System (yeah, hard to believe, huh?) and who told them not to worry, “the important thing was that I was reading, not only reading, but developing a real love of the written word.” And besides, how many 5-year olds could tell you that the Earth was “93,000,000 miles away” (thanks for those Editor’s Notes, Julie [Schwartz]) or could tell what the word invulnerable meant? Or that Metropolis and Gotham were actually synonyms for the word “city.” (I remember puzzling that out and then thinking it was funny and weird that Superman’s hometown was really just called “City” and that Batman’s turf was actually named “City City.”)

So come look for me in Denver – home to Peyton, brother of Eli – and say hi. I’ll have a table in Artist’s Alley (which is kind of surprising to me, to be honest, because I’m definitely not an artist; stick figures is what you’ll get from me, and not even good stick figures) and I’m on a bunch of panels, including one dedicated to Wonder Woman, who’s celebrating her 75th anniversary this year – damn, she looks good for her age! – and one called “Superstars of the 70s, 80s, & ‘90s.” which made me laugh, because I never thought of myself as a “superstar,” and then made me look in the mirror and wonder about a facelift – or at least Botox. And five more, including “Women in the Industry Today.”

Which is kind of sad, in a way, because at my very first convention, in Chicago, which is where I met BFF Kim Yale and her hubby, Johnny O., I was on a panel about “Women in Comics,” and that was 30 years ago. As pal Martha Thomases says, when is there going to be a panel about “Men in Comics?”

But don’t worry. I still have a lot to say.

Don’t I always?