NYCC here.

NYCC was surprisingly short on groundbreaking announcements this year—which I find to be a shame. While SDCC has clearly been overtaken by Hollywood (announcements regarding film and television projects in the science-fiction and fantasy realm are often reserved for the event), NYCC had been able to increase in size (and importance) while remaining largely about publishing. It’s where major series were once publicized, new companies and imprints were revealed, and contracts with celebrity creators were made known. This year, however, presented little to the public beyond an event logo or two and the revelation of a few new minor titles. NYCC’s loss of exclusive announcements removes what made the convention unique. It is now a grand spectacle and a boon for networking opportunities—phenomenal for professionals, but fans who are not locals have no need to attend. NYCC, like all major conventions, will only grow larger or stabilize, but the nearby hotels that once benefitted from gouging throngs of attendees may find only a limited number of professionals occupying rooms as fans simply get in their cars—be they automobile or subway—and go home. For me, NYCC (along with SDCC, ECCC, and DragonCon) has been scratched off the list of conventions to attend, but I’d advise any fan from Manhattan or Brooklyn to buy tickets for 2015 as soon as possible.

That said, NYCC did have a revelation or two. Let’s take a look!

Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple

Many fans will wonder why Dawson did not go for a meatier role such as Elektra, Misty Knight, or Kirsten McDuffie. Honestly, given Marvel’s propensity for making certain that all of its heroines of color pass Hollywood’s paper bag test, I’m relieved that Dawson is not playing Knight. However, while the role of Claire Temple is not a substantial role in Matt Murdock’s life; it is an enormous role in the life of Luke Cage and Goliath. Temple was the first love of both Cage and Goliath, and was a major component of two long-running love triangles in Marvel comics (Cage-Temple-Foster and Temple-Cage-Young). By selecting the role of Claire Temple, Dawson can now be inserted in four Marvel television shows (Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones) and one Marvel motion picture (Ant-Man). Wise choice. Dawson may not be playing a superheroine, but Claire Temple is a role that guarantees her a great deal of screen time and dramatic material. Get money, Rosario.

The Battle for Independents

There are a few independent comic companies nipping at Image’s heels by producing comics that are similar in tone to the work put out by Image. What these companies fail to recognize is that you cannot topple a thriving organization by imitating it. Image was able to best Vertigo by excelling where Vertigo had grown weak. It provides a home base for popular “counter-culture” creators who feel constrained by Marvel and DC and wish to broaden their creative horizons and perhaps cement a financial future by working on properties that they themselves own. Yes, this can be done at other companies or via self-publishing, but Image has name recognition and conjures up notions of literary celebrity and alt-glamour. Point blank, if you are a white male in your late twenties to early forties who occasionally eschews the mainstream and has an established fan following? You need to be at Image. And if you are not at Image? It is likely because another company foolishly thinks it can become Image by throwing substantial amounts of money in the direction of you and your peers. No. Image has a brand, a clear voice, and a steadfast determination to not repeat the mistakes of its forerunner. One can survive feeding from their leftovers, but one cannot thrive or build a brand of one’s own.

What an independent company (or alternative imprint such as Vertigo or Icon) needs to flourish is a unique voice that serves a specific mission or caters to a specific audience. And if said company cannot create one? Cribbing one from a company that clearly does not have its ducks in a row works just as well. Yet fledgling companies continue to crib from Image, which is neatly aligned from beak to tail.

Some, however, have moved in a new direction. BOOM! has created a welcoming space for female creators that has yet to be replicated elsewhere (though other companies should note that said creators could likely be wooed away with adequate monetary compensation). Dynamite and Zenescope have embraced and improved the bad girl trope popular in the nineties, and serve an audience that has drifted from companies no longer as focused on providing “cheeky” fantasy material. Moreover, Dynamite (along with IDW) has wisely picked up popular licenses that fall outside the superhero realm, and will benefit from the boost nostalgia provides without having to compete with the behemoth that is the “big two.” And finally, Archie Comics continues to aim for the irreverent to capitalize on past success. In order to make headway in these times a company must ask three important questions: whose stories aren’t being told? What popular genres are not being properly explored by the comics medium? Which companies have dissatisfied creators?

Ladies First

The rise in the number of female creators and female characters was considerable—and quite frankly, necessary. Not only did talented mainstream staples like Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick announce new projects to compliment their work at Marvel and DC, but Marvel and DC also relied on established methods of finding and developing talent to bring in female creators from other arenas, double the workload of existing female talent, and increase the number of titles starring female characters. While I’m a bit wary of the ability of the characters selected to find an audience (I would have asked the creative teams on Silk and “Spider-Gwen” to lend their talents to Spider-Girl and Jubilee), the fact that Marvel and DC are willing to work to recapture the success of Ms. Marvel and Batgirl is encouraging.

Yet the inroads made by Marvel and DC are miniscule compared to the presence of women in the world of self-publishing and small press. I was elated to see the immense line for Regine Sawyer’s Women of Color in Comics panel and women were also well-represented in Prism’s Women in Queer Comics.

Back to the Future

I am curious to see what the future holds for NYCC. As large as the convention is, the event still seems to center around comics—in marked contrast to SDCC. Will this change when Marvel is the only large publisher located in the Northeast? After all, it will be much easier for a convention like WonderCon to assume the mantle of the largest comic convention about comics given its location. Moreover, should DragonCon take great care in cultivating its comics track and unite with Atlanta’s SCAD division, it could possibly lure exhibitors away from NYCC. It provides legions of fans, promising new talent, celebrities, and tourist traps at a cheaper price point than New York City. Then again, the DragonCon showrunners do not know how to successfully embed the culture of Atlanta within geek realms in the same way that Reed is able to infuse geek markets with the flavor of New York City. Missed opportunities for one and a blessing for the other.

Next year, as I did this year, I will happily watch the events of NYCC unfold from the comforts of an easy chair—scrolling through interesting links on a tablet. May 2015 be even more successful than the last!


NYCC ya!

When I’d heard that four-day passes to New York City Comic Con had sold out, I scrambled to purchase whatever tickets remained available. Unfortunately, the only tickets remaining were passes to Thursday’s show. Reluctantly, I decided to plunk down forty dollars for a ticket. After all, a chance to attend one day would be better than missing the show entirely.

Or would it? To be honest, New York City Comic Con has largely been a terrible experience. The commute from New Jersey to New York is expensive, time-consuming, and unpleasant. My time during the show is spent alone, for friends are required to work to cover exorbitant table and traveling costs. Nearby food is stale and overpriced. I am on my feet for the entire day, sans any hotel room to rest or freshen up. I am unable to socialize for long after the show—friends are often corralled into meetings or dragged to office parties by employers and I am unable to stay late due to a need to catch the last train back to New Jersey.

Do I want to spend ninety dollars, eighty minutes commuting each way, and seven hours on my feet to talk to twelve people I adore for six minutes each? I ask myself this each time I purchase a ticket to this convention. Previously, the answer was always yes. This time? It’s no.

I’m going to cut my losses, raise a glass to the NYCC showrunners for smartly separating me from a couple of my Jacksons, and spend tomorrow catching up on Sleepy Hollow. See you at the next ComfyCon! (Someone should really get that up and running again.)


Conventional wisdom.

Emerald City Comicon is my absolute favorite comic convention. Unfortunately, I can no longer attend it. It has finally become large enough to cross the threshold where the experience can only be afforded by locals, those appearing at the event for work, and those willing to spend exorbitant amounts on what may perhaps be a fun experience—but with no guarantees.

The hotels surrounding the Washington State Convention Center have changed their policies regarding the convention, demanding a non-refundable deposit for any individual booking a reservation. The Emerald City showrunners have placed tickets for sale more than six months prior to the convention—well before an adequate number of guests have confirmed their attendance. The organizations involved demand money from attendees for a show they provide little information about. For those who do not live near the convention and must rely on hotels and airlines to experience the event it is simply too much of a financial risk to take.

It seems the pie has been divided, with different conventions assuming dominion over different regions. Guests may be shared—invited celebrities and creators freely bounding from one region to the other; convention-goers are not.

Unlike theme parks, which pride themselves on repetition and nostalgia—providing the same experience year after year—comic conventions make an effort to showcase a new crop of entertainers and creators each year, making each show a unique experience. However, that uniqueness—essentially instability—makes the convention difficult to invest in for fans who are not locals, especially when they are expected to purchase tickets and hotel rooms with only a handful of guest announcements made. For locals the draw is the spectacle—outlandish costumes, revelry, and the superheroic—convention constants. However, those who are not from the region attend to see very specific people—artists, writers, and actors. I can bear witness to spectacle at home; Dragon Con takes place merely a short drive away. But should I wish to get a particular comic signed? Well, I can’t attend just any convention. I have to attend the one the creative team in question attends. And if tickets for that convention have sold out months before the creative team has even announced their appearance? Well, I can’t attend the convention at all.

Every large convention, San Diego Comic-con, New York Comic Con, Dragon Con, and now Emerald City Comicon, requires attendees to purchase tickets prior to knowing what they are purchasing tickets for. A show with a paltry, partial guest list is no more than a mystery prize. One cannot expect fans to risk hundreds without knowing what is behind Door #3. Showrunners know this and do not care, for there are many locals who are more than happy to merely risk a couple of twenties. That risk is most certainly worth it.

I am excited to be attending Rose City Comic Con next week—and New York Comic Con the following month!—but the experiences will be bittersweet. New York Comic Con will likely be the last comic convention I ever attend, and the chapter will have closed where it began.

To watch the evolution of the convention industry has been astounding. What started in the musty basements of churches and tiny recreational halls has now become a phenomenon that fills vast convention centers each season. I do believe the comic convention has reached its “final form,” that of an impressive indoor carnival to delight different regions once a year.


ECCC: Comic convention contemplation.

The Washington State Convention Center is an exceptional place to host a convention—airy with ample space and fantastic lighting. Plus, there are restaurants, hotels, tourist traps, drugstores and department stores all within a short radius. It’s what sets Emerald City Comicon apart from its larger competitors. NYCC and SDCC have been unpleasant experiences for me due to terrible locations that provide no respite from the overwhelming convention crowds unless I’m willing to travel long distances from the convention. At Emerald City, one is able to pop across the street and eat at a cozy restaurant or take a nap in one’s hotel room. There’s no escape from the Javits Center without walking at least a dozen very long Manhattan blocks. As for San Diego? Good luck finding anything affordable.

And good luck finding anything affordable at the closest contender to claim the title of ECCC East—Dragon Con. Not only are ticket prices ridiculously expensive compared to other conventions, the nearby hotels charge exorbitant prices designed to gouge attendees. Rates often double those found at Emerald City. And while the location is perfect—countless amenities are only a block or two away—the comics industry is treated as a mere afterthought. Film, television, and prose reign supreme.

Comics come first at Heroes, but the convention’s location is horrifically dull. While Seattle, San Diego, New York City, and Atlanta offer an amazing array of activities apart from their conventions, Charlotte offers little in the way of excitement.

Given that Emerald City is quite a trek for me, I’ve been thinking about how best to recreate the magic of the convention closer to home. I’m sure many convention organizers looking for a lucrative investment are too. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The Location: Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically? The Atlanta Convention Center. However, a set-up similar to Dragon Con where a few smaller hotels share space would also work well.

The Date: Like Emerald City, the event should be scheduled during “Spring Break.” Weather in Atlanta during that time is exceptional, and a late March or early April date would provide a great kick-off to the convention season for those tired of winter weather. Plus, being such a great distance from Emerald City would allow it to occur at a similar time without “poaching” guests from that convention. Those who would attend “Peachtree City Comicon” would likely never consider Emerald City due to the distance involved. And Megacon, currently showing signs of weakness, could easily be cannibalized.

Key Factors: If one is going to host a comic convention in Atlanta, three organizations/events should be involved or showcased in some manner. The first is Cartoon Network/Adult Swim. The second is the Atlanta branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design. The third is the ComicsPRO annual membership meeting. Also, making a deal with hotels in order to keep rates in the range of $100.00 to $150.00 a night is essential. Expensive hotels hurt attendance.

I’m sure the last thing Jim Demonakos and his crew want is to launch yet another large convention, but they have shown that they can succeed where many others have failed. Plus, there is a clear “convention vacuum” here on the East Coast that no one has been adequately able to fill. I’d like to see someone fill it—and I’m willing to put my money and muscle where my mouth is to make it happen.


Backing black.

In the wake of the largest New York Comic Con to date, there have been important discussions taking place concerning the representation of women and minorities in comics. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I submitted an application to the NYCC showrunners to host a panel showcasing black creators in comics. The panel was rejected. Though I was initially frustrated by the rejection of the panel, I was truly happy to learn of the existence of a Hip-Hop and Comics: Cultures Combining panel featuring creators Ron Wimberly and Eric Orr.

Yet, I am still frustrated. Black youth culture gave birth to hip-hop, but black people are merely one facet of hip-hop as hip-hop is simply one facet of what is black. And one lone panel tangentially focused upon race/ethnicity designed to showcase black creators seems woefully inadequate. Diversity is about the inclusion of all—in all spaces.

Yet, do we really need a Women in Comics panel? Blacks in Comics? Gays in Comics? What is desperately needed is a panel featuring key comic creators and editors discussing the topic of sexism in comics. Panels focusing on how racism impacts the comic community’s output and how homophobia shapes the treatment of comic icons should be standard. Imagine a panel dedicated to a frank discussion on racism featuring Hama, Priest, Bendis, Simone, and Stephenson. Honestly, I think that’d be the only panel to convince me to lift my current ban on attending conventions.


Hope and change.

The San Diego Comic Convention has come and gone. Many have taken the time in the days following the convention to reflect on the current state of the industry and ponder what the future holds. I was thrilled by some accounts and disheartened by others, but I still see a future for the industry that is strong and sustainable, and one where women and people of color play a part in it.

No, I am not sacrificing realism for optimism. I am aware of Marvel’s “leaking” of hints of a Black Panther movie that shows no signs of coming to fruition—leaks that conveniently occurred after fan grumbling over the marketing of minority characters (a choice example being the debut of sneakers paying tribute to Marvel’s famed Nazi villain the Red Skull and Z-list X-Man Chamber, while characters such as Luke Cage, Shang Chi, and White Tiger are denied any type of product placement). I am aware of claims from Marvel representatives who discuss the difficulty of translating Wakanda to film, and yet indicated no difficulty in bringing Asgard to the silver screen. Yet I am also aware that these representatives do the best they can, wading through red tape and battling bigoted executives, to make even minor changes in how we tell stories and shape worlds. Tied hands can only do so much. White lies are given so that consumers do not bear the brunt of the brutal racism these men and women encounter in the boardroom.

Luckily, there are a slew of individuals with hands no longer bound. And we are at a point where the industry is at its most fluid. The line between creator and consumer has blurred—no longer visible. At Davis’ Black Panel a woman lamented a lack of characters reflecting her life and world. Just as Davis indicated, she has the power to change that. She can write. She can sponsor projects that intrigue her via Kickstarter. She can search for existing books that are simply waiting for her eyes to light upon them. We can have the comics that tell our stories. No, they may not come brandished with a recognizable logo on the cover, but why is a logo so important? Logos can no longer buy the security of a built-in audience; a list of recently cancelled titles provides evidence of that. And while the backing of a major company can help in regards to marketing and access to consumers, there are alternatives available to self-publishers.

At the last convention I attended, the New York Comic Convention, I was thrilled by the diversity I found. There were individuals of all backgrounds creating comics, bringing their unique perspectives to the medium. And the collection of consumers was equally diverse. Rich Johnston indicated in his post-convention review that this has carried over to San Diego’s festivities, and I certainly do not doubt his account. However, I keenly remember at NYCC that the diversity I found behind the table was located away from the main exhibitions in areas such as Artist Alley. Moreover, the credits in mainstream comics recently produced have shown no indication of change. If larger publishers are hiring black individuals in greater numbers, those men and women certainly are not determining who Black Panther shall battle next month, who Spider-Man shall kiss, or whether Luke Cage will lead his team to victory. We are not hired to shape worlds. Should a black writer at a mainstream publisher be found—one that is not currently on a book hurtling towards cancellation—I will gladly withdraw my statement.

In the past this would have concerned me greatly. Today, mainstream publishers no longer provide benefits unavailable elsewhere. The number of exclusive contracts has dwindled. There is no health insurance to enjoy. Creative freedom has given way to editorial edicts. So why not hone one’s skill via self-publishing through Kickstarter or use a smaller, alternative publisher to build one’s name?

I am aware of the importance of mainstream visibility—for men and women of all backgrounds to be seen as heroes and have their stories told. But given the success of individuals such as Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes, I have to wonder if established channels are the route to achieving said visibility—especially when we are clearly not considered part of the establishment. No matter what the medium, there are other options available waiting to be chosen.

Choose.


After all is said and done.

The bad news is that there wasn’t one book announced at SDCC that I have any interest in reading. The good news is that there was a whole host of books announced that I plan on recommending to or flat out buying for other people! I’m still on the hunt for that one comic that’s perfect for me though.

Another thing I learned from the news coming out of SDCC is that I can safely skip NYCC. It seems like the bigger conventions have become more about partying (fans) and networking (pros) than they are about scoring good deals on books. Plus, any relevant news hits the Internet seconds after it has been announced.

Finally, it was nice to see Marvel and independent publishers such as Image and Dark Horse put their best face forward. Yeah, DC will probably dominate in September, but they’ll have strong competition once October rolls around.


Drive-by Blogging! Again!

Stick with this. Please note that my boy Jamar Nicholas has been doing the damn thing. Don’t believe me? Check out the first chapter of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence over at Beacon. Yes, Beacon. Life is more than just spandex and the big two, people. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing Jamar on a Spider-Man joint (versus Hypno Hustler, of course). Think about it, Marvel!

Sans San Diego. I can’t afford SDCC, so NYCC has become my Nerd Prom. It’s a perfectly acceptable substitute! Actually it’s better than SDCC since there’s a complete lack of Hollywood types clogging up the aisles. If you live in the tri-state area, you cannot let this con pass you by. Trust me on this one.