A Year Called Comics, part 3c: Convention Revolution
(The third of an eight-part year-end analysis of the A Comic A Day project!)
After five days of dwelling amongst superheroes, Storm Troopers, and celebrities, waking up and returning to work this Monday morning seemed mundane and melancholy, and I actually really like my job. In fact, my office boasts many of the posters I’ve acquired from Comic Cons in the past, and in a week or so, my new Iron Man and DC Universe posters will join them. So, since I live in a proverbial anticipatory bubble for the Con all year long, a little post-event depression is natural and healthy, right?
Or am I really the only one that would genuinely endure another two hours of traffic in a mere eight-mile stretch for just one more day? (No, I'm not plugging anything Marvel there . . .)
If you haven’t been to Comic Con, or any other “convent” kind of convention, even a casual perusal of the photo round-ups at Comic Book Resources or G4 TV’s website will transport you to what looks like another world. Yes, it’s just San Diego, but for five days (I’m including Preview Night) California’s southernmost beachside city becomes an Earth-2 in itself; while still a world without superheroes, their spirit is so palpable that they needn’t exist to make a difference. Further, and perhaps more importantly, the fourth wall between artist and audience is torn down, and fans of multiple genres get to shake hands and ask questions with the architects of our escapist media. Although meeting any given writer, illustrator, or actor is proof that the characters they’ve created aren’t real (and, no, I didn’t need a reminder, but I’m convinced some of my peers do), that connection adds a make-or-break enhancement to the entire entertainment experience. Can you believe that the Star Wars empire began with a humble table at the Comic Con? How many attendees blew off that ambitious geek, only to worship him a year later? Artists actually dare to breach the fourth wall more than we think, via storytelling tricks, editorials and letter columns, and now message boards and e-mailers. The convention is just the natural next step.
Further, frankly, without the Comic Con, my A Comic A Day project may never have reached fruition, which is why the pop culture phenomenon has warranted a three part review (not to mention my news-oriented updates at Geek in the City). Despite my frequent frustrations with comics’ continuity content, printing or production quality, or niche-oriented marketing, the medium is an art first, with every issue a makeshift gallery of words and pictures sprung from the contributors’ passions. Watching an artist sketch a quick Batman grimace for an eager fan or perusing old original comic book pages, complete with crudely glued text captions, is a visual treats that reminds even the most hardened fan of our preferred industry’s charm – that before a comic book becomes a bagged, boarded, and filed addition to our collection, every page is a day’s labor from some artist’s ink-stained fingertips. Shatter wasn’t as influential as its era thought it would be, as the first completely computer generated comic book, and I say thank Granny Goodness for that. “Shatter” is exactly the word for what that could’ve done to comics.
With all of this emphasis on art, I would like to digress to say that, as a Warren Ellis fan that, like almost 10,000 others, receives his Bad Signal e-mailer sometimes thrice a day, hearing him talk during his Avatar Press sponsored spotlight panel was a delight. Beholding his wit was the intellectual equivalent to watching a talented artist draw, but on cases of Red Bull and cigarette deprivation.
Making such a connection with fans seemed to be the driving force behind this year’s Con, starting with a gag reel starring Jon Faverau introducing the audience to a clip of preliminary Iron Man animation, only to jokingly play the Hanna Barbara style cartoon from the ‘60s and ‘70s. This good humor continued through Stephen Spielberg's’s Indiana Jones clip, in which he sincerely expressed that every scene is shot with the franchise’s fanbase in mind, then he introduced Karen Allen, reprising her role from Raiders of the Lost Ark, by carrying in a chair reserved for Dr. Marion Ravenwood. Sometimes, however, a definitive disconnect with the audience was detected, like during the Masters of the Universe Mike Young Productions DVD release panel, in which almost every question was answered with a “cannot discuss at this time” type response. A prototype He-Man action figure, utilizing the classic design with a modern sculpt and points of articulation, was briefly on display in the Mattel booth, but the panel regarded it with a very “meh” attitude. This dichotomy represents the potential for an audience’s long-term investment in any given franchise to swing either way via the artist/audience rapport. Sometimes, establishing a connection with fans is the existential equivalent of signing over a creation’s ownership to them.
So, the real question about the Comic Con is, has Hollywood devoured its spirit? The G4 crew asked this question during their four hours’ worth of coverage on Thursday and Friday, with the at-home audience favoring “no” by a narrow percentage. Still, one cannot help but observe that only half of the exhibit hall is diminishingly reserved for comic book retailers. Speculation that the Con will change venues or splinter into two shows will run rampant for the next year, with allegiances to either decision undoubtedly as fervent as the Lutheran/Protestant division, or something.
At the beginning of this three part series-in-a-series, I asked if your town could accommodate thousands of geeks for a five day nerd-a-thon. If you live in San Diego, based on traffic, parking, and hotel accommodations, I dare say that your answer is rapidly approaching the negatory category. Heck, the Comic Con can hardly accommodate itself anymore. The influence of comic book culture has exceeded room capacity.