Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dogtown "US vs them"

I have remained relatively silent on the subject of the recent civil unrest involving the lack of grand jury indictments against killer police officers and the racial tensions that have fallen out of that.  Anyone who knows me, of course, knows that I am outraged by these recent events.  I have not said much about any of the specific events for various reasons, the biggest being I'm just not much of an outspoken social media person.  Instead, I prefer to put my opinions in my comics.

For the last two years, I have been running a series called Dogtown in my self published science fiction anthology book, Science Hero.  Last Spring, we put out the third issue containing a Dogtown story titled "US vs them".  I'll spare you my retrospective and self deprecating personal criticisms I have for my own work, and just say that it sums up my feelings on the state of law enforcement in America today.  (And of course, Chris McJunkin, who does 100% of the art for Dogtown, delivers stunning work as always).

I've also been hesitant to post this comic because I don't want to appear to be capitalizing on other people's misery, but in the end, I think these media stories are becoming all too common, which is why I try to write about them in fiction.

Here is the complete 9 page "US vs them" story.  You can download full copies of Science Hero at my website,  Chris and I are currently working on the fourth installment of Dogtown, titled "For Your Own Good" and should have it ready next Spring.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Amoral Stingray Preview

This is a preview of a project I am working on with Kevin Bandt, the amazing artist responsible for Cat-le Drivers.  Kevin and I worked together on a few things, notably Relative Space (which appears in Science Hero #2) and King of the Road.  I'm always excited to work with Kevin and I cannot wait to get this issue finished.

The Amoral Stingray is a dark comedy starring mild mannered teenager, Duncan Daniels.  Duncan is a social outcast who is occasionally bullied at school and has trouble making friends.  His whole life is changed when he receives incredible, destructive superpowers.  However, instead of using his powers for the betterment of mankind, he decides to become a supervillain.  Welcomed and validated by various supervillains and the criminal community, Duncan sets out on a dark path and is increasingly forced to question the morality and ethics of his actions.

Here is the cover and a 5 page sequence in which Duncan meets a friendly neighborhood superhero named Aphid.  Unlike my other comics, this one contains strong language and is not intended for kids.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Planet Comicon and Wizard World St. Louis 2014

I attended two big comic book conventions this last month, Planet Comicon in Kansasy City and Wizard World St. Louis (I think you can guess where that one was held).  I had very positive, but different experiences at each of the cons.  I don't have the hard numbers of attendance, but from my position behind a table in Artist Alley, I'd say that the two conventions are very comparable to each other, but there are some key differences that offer up slightly different con experiences.

Tim, Sergio, Aaron, and Sara at Planet Comicon
First up was Planet Comicon.  I decided to do Planet Comicon pretty big this year (big for me, at any rate) and bought two tables for this convention.  I wasn't doing this convention alone, in fact, I had three other people with me.  Sara (Zero's Heroes Colorist), Tim (Celestial Writer), and Sergio (Zero's Heroes and Smitten Penciler) all came to this convention.  With all four of us manning two tables, we had a nice, wide set up fully displaying all our comics, as well as shirts and original art.

I really enjoy Planet Comicon because it's a large con that seems to have equal representation for Celebrity pop culture and independent comic book creators.  The Artist Alley is huge, with lots of indy books and pro creators.  It seems like PC really goes out of their way to get top industry creators at their con.  Off the top of my head, this year I noticed Scott Snyder, Darwyn Cooke, Jason Aaron, Neal Adams, Tony Moore, and Rick Remender (among many others).  And for every pro writer and artist, there were two indie writers and artists.  But PC doesn't skimp on the media guests either.  This year, for example, they practically had the entire cast of Star Trek:  The Next Generation and William Shatner, as well as a gaggle of Syfy channel TV actors, Power Rangers, and even a Doctor (Sylvester McCoy, the Seventh Doctor).

A few weeks after wrapping up Planet Comicon, I was all geared up for Wizard World St. Louis.  WWSTL was really big this year, much bigger than last year, and when it comes to media guests there is no competing with them.  This year they really brought in the nerdgasm celebrities such as Matt Smith and Karen Gillen (Doctor Who), Bruce Campbell, Adam West, and William Shatner, as well as many other minor TV and movie stars, including Wizard World regular, Lou Ferrigno .

"It's a tiny piece of paper."
For those of you who have been to a Wizard World show, this one was really not much different than any of their other shows (although this year it was one of their bigger shows, I think).  The Artist Alley is woefully under represented, and the majority of the people in Artist Alley are artists selling prints of various pop culture trends.  Most of them have never, and have no interest in, actually producing a book.  There were a handful of Comics "professionals" present, and when I say handful I mean, like, five (okay maybe a few more).  Matt Kindt and Chris Samnee were there (both local St. Louis guys), as well as Greg Capulo, Neal Adams, David Mack, and about five or six other pro artists.  Cullen Bunn and Jai Nitz were the only pro published writers at the convention, and Bunn must have cancelled at the last minute because he was nowhere to be seen all weekend.  So, yeah, fans of actual comic creators didn't have many options.

Even with all the celebrities, toys, costumes, and panel events, I think that Wizard World is vastly overpriced.  I will go so far as to say that WW gouges everybody involved.  A table in the Artist Alley costs very close to double what a table at Planet Comicon costs (185 at PC, 325 at WW).  It's not just exhibitors that get gouged on the prices, it's the fans, too.  A single day Saturday ticket at Planet Comicon costs $35.  That's a pretty fair price, especially when you compare it to Wizard World's Saturday ticket cost of $50.  For comparison's sake, a Saturday ticket at Emerald City Comicon costs $40 and a Saturday ticket at C2E2 costs $35.  Emerald City and C2E2 are both bigger and better conventions than Wizard World (and by extension Planet Comicon), and while it may cost an exhibitor quite a bit more to table at either of those cons, the ticket prices for convention goers remain pretty consistent.  The point is, WW gouges the fans, which I think trickles down to an overall lesser convention experience.  While at Wizard World St. Louis, I had two people (who had never been to a convention before) comment to me about the cost of entry versus the things to actually do (that didn't cost more money).  One guy, who was walking around with a 10 year old kid said to me, "I spent $50 just to come in here and shop?"

Now, there are free things to do.  There are costume contests, panels where people (actors, creators, etc) talk about things and answer questions from fans, and probably some third thing I can't think of at the moment.  And of course, there are a bunch of attention starved comic book creators willing to talk to you about comics (although, they really would like to sell you something, too).  But I suppose you have to really look to find all this stuff, because it's not easy to see in the ocean of vendors, convention goers, and T-shirt displays.

The one thing I find repeatedly frustrating about Wizard World is that their conventions seem to be under managed, despite being such huge events.  I never saw a program schedule, because I guess WW didn't think the exhibitors needed to know what was going on at all during the weekend.  My exhibitor package only contained the load in/load out times, a tax form, and a name tag (but no lanyard or pin to hold it).  Also, since all of their info papers and emails are form letters that they use for every convention, they frequently have typos where somebody forgot to delete the previous city's name and add "St. Louis".  (Also, while I'm nitpicking, the chairs at WW were plastic folding chairs, where as PC provided cushioned chairs.  Three days sitting in a chair and your butt knows which one it prefers).

Alternately, Planet Comicon provided the exhibitors with a full program schedule in the form of a comic book sized, full color, stapled pamphlet that contained a full floor map with a list of exhibitors and their locations, a list of the media guests, a list of the panels and their locations, and a list of the after party events.  It was a really nice package.  I also got a name tag (with lanyard!  Ironically, I didn't use the lanyard at PC, but fortunately saved it and used it at WW).

Aaron at Planet Comcion
The two conventions provide a similar, but different experience.  Personally, as a comic book fan who actually reads comics, I would rather spend $35 to talk with a wide variety of comic creators than spend $50 to stand in line for 4 hours only to then spend more money in order to get an actor's autograph (and heaven help your bank account if you want a photo op with them), but I'm always used to being in the minority.

As I stated earlier, we had a large table set up at Planet Comicon with four people manning the table.  This was wonderful.  Having four people really helped ease the pressure of the whole thing.  We all had plenty of time to walk the floor and actually enjoy the convention for ourselves.  I was able to go out and talk to a variety of other creators (pro and indie), though as usual, I really wish I would have to talked to more.

To be perfectly honest, we didn't sell as much as I thought we would at Planet Comicon.  Last year, I did pretty well and, being that I had a lot more books available, I expected to do even better, but that was not the case.  There were a lot of great people at PC, and I was very happy to meet (hopefully) new fans, but it seemed like we had a hard time getting people to walk away with books.  Despite being unable to move many books, I had a great weekend.  Aside from networking with other creators and professionals, I got to spend the weekend with Sergio, Tim, and Sara.  We had a nice room at the Kansas City Marriott right next to the convention center which, while expensive, sure made the whole weekend a lot easier.  It was also the first time I got to meet Sergio, who flew in from Mexicali for the show.  We all had a great time hanging around Kansas City, eating good food, having a few beers, and we saw the new Studio Ghibli film, The Wind Rises.  All in all, it was a very fun and rewarding weekend, though I was incredibly exhausted and eager to see the end of it (I made the drive home from Kansas City to St. Louis in 3 and 1/2 hours).

Aaron at Wizard World St. Louis
Despite being a bigger convention, my set up for Wizard World was smaller than my set up at Planet Comicon.  I was by myself in St. Louis, and after working so much in Kansas (and a few work intense weeks at my day job), I really just wanted to sit back, relax, and let the convention happen however it was going to happen.  Despite the high cost to be there, I didn't really feel like working this con that hard.

So, I was quite surprised to find that I sold more at Wizard World St. Louis than I did at Planet Comicon.  There are a few specific reasons why I did well in St. Louis.  Firstly, the convention goers were all really great.  Everybody seemed to be just ecstatic that they were at a convention, (as a native to the area, I don't mind telling you that the city often seems entertainment starved if you're not a sports fan), and while obviously not everyone was there to buy indie comics, most people were receptive of the Artist Alley.

Secondly, there seems to be a large amount of people looking to support local talent.  Being that I'm local to the St. Louis area, I'm able to take advantage of that.

Thirdly, and there's no modest way to say this, but I had multiple people recognize me from other convention appearances and tell me how much they liked my comics and became repeat customers.  There was one fantastic fellow who bought a Zero's Heroes book from me at last year's Wizard World St. Louis.  He expressed to me in no uncertain terms how much he liked it and bought my new Zero's Heroes books as well as the first issue of Science Hero.  Then, the next day, having read Science Hero, he came back and bought the next two issues.  It was incredibly inspiring and humbling.  I wish I could remember his name so I could tell everybody how awesome he is, but alas, I cannot.

I also met a family of awesome cosplayers who saw me last year at Project: Comic Con and eagerly picked up more Science Hero and Zero's Heroes books.  I even had somebody recognize Zero's Heroes from Planet Comicon just a few weeks before!  Due to a printing error, all our copies of Zero's Heroes Annual #1 came in black & white instead of color.  Not wanting to sell the books (and not paying for them) we decided to just give them out to kids for free.  One little girl who received a free book at Planet Comicon also attended Wizard World St. Louis.  Her parents said she liked the book so much that they had to buy her some more.

Now, those of you who know me personally need not worry, my ego is still in check.  I'm far from having a enough fans to sell out and leave you all in the dust (not yet, anyway...just you wait).  But, even knowing that one person is digging what I do and coming back for more...well, that's what makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Original Ladykillers

We're running a new webcomic over at called The Original Ladykillers:  The Semi-fictional Autobiography of Preston Rocket.  This comic is a bit different than the usual stuff we do because it is an autobiographical comic.  It is written and drawn by Preston Rocket, a friend of mine who is a musician.  We both have a love for comics and he came to me one day with the idea of doing a comic about his experiences playing guitar in a band.  I figured there's always an audience for honest, soul searching comics about how much life sucks (his words, not mine), so we started talking about what kind of art style he wanted.  He shocked me when he said he was interested in drawing it himself.  Preston's not really an artist, but you don't grow up reading Spider-man comics without making some doodles at some point in your life.  Also, he said that since the comic is intensely personal, it just felt right for him to be the sole author of it (my editing notwithstanding).

So, without further ado, here is an official interview I conducted with Preston where we discuss the origins of the comic, the meaning of "semi-fictional", lady killing, and rock and roll.

AARON WALTHER:  So Preston, tell me about the title, The Original Ladykillers:  The Semi-fictional Autobiography of Preston Rocket.  Why such a long title?

PRESTON ROCKET:  The title comes from my old band called The Original Ladykillers.  The band broke up a few years ago, but you know, I really like the name so I've kind of hung on to it.  When I decided to do the comic, the name just seemed like the obvious choice.  As for the rest of it, well, I just wanted to be clear what the comic was about.  It's about me.

AW:  What does "semi-fictional" mean?

PR:  I had decided up front that I didn't want to do a straight autobiography for a few reasons.  Firstly, I changed all the names because I didn't want people I know to see themselves in this comic.  It's not always flattering and I don't want people to think I'm taking shots at them.  Secondly, and more importantly, my life is actually very boring.  (Laughs)  The only things of interest are the times when I'm playing music in various bands and even that's not always that entertaining.  So, it's really just kind of a story based on various personal experiences I've had.  It's all stuff that happened to me, but it's kind of out order with some people rearranged for better reading.  Really, it's a "based on the true story" kind of book.  Lots of movies, and even some documentaries, use that as a band-aid to cover up where they decide to change things to make it more exciting.  I hate when Hollywood uses that to trick people into thinking things happened a certain way even if the facts say otherwise.  Basically, I didn't want to Michael Moore this shit, so I'm being upfront, it's a fictionalized version of my life.  Plus, with the subtitle, the name was getting a little too long, so I figured I'd just stick "semi-fictional" in there to make it longer.  (Laughs)

AW:  So, how true is it?  You said it's not always flattering, are you trying to avoid hurting people's feelings?  Certainly your friends would recognize themselves in your comic even if the name was changed.

PR:  It's all fairly accurate.  Obviously, a lot of the dialog is just based on my memory of the events.  In some cases we're going back over ten years here.  It's not like I have recordings or anything, so it's pretty generalized and probably one sided.  (Laughs)  The band shown in the comic is actually an amalgam of various bands I've been in.  So, in reality, there are probably lots of people who will think they see themselves in the comic because you run into a lot of the same kinds of people when you play in bands.  It's just the way things are.

AW:  So, apart from being based on you, what is TOLK:TSFAOPR actually about?

PR:  I would say it's about relationships.  When you're in a band, working with other creative's a different kind of relationship than you have with other friends.  Especially if it's between two songwriters.  It's hard to explain.  It's more than friendship.  I know it sounds like a joke, and I am definitely going to joke about it the comic, but it's kind of like a romantic relationship.  Instead of romantic love, you are sharing creative respect and you're both working hard to create something great that can only come from the two of you.  So, the comic is a look at people who have this kind of relationship and, for various reasons, when the relationship falls apart, and even if you're still friends, it's not the same.

AW:  Speaking of romantic relationships.  The first chapter of the comic doesn't feature the band or any music.  It's just you and a girl.  Why is that?

PR:  Well, that's a prologue that I wanted to set up that will come back into play later in the comic.  But like I said, the comic is about relationships, not just between band mates, but also between girlfriends.  The fact of the matter is, girlfriends weigh heavily on the songwriting I was doing at the time, so love and relationships was kind of what my music was about.  So, I guess it's no surprise that that's what my comic would be about.  (Laughs)  When I started The Original Ladykillers (the original real life one), I was getting out of a really bad relationship, and suffice to say, it did a number on me.  So, when I stated writing all this terrible music about being lonely and so forth, I thought it would be funny if the "band persona" were of a bunch of lady killers, as in handsome guys that break women's hearts.  Maybe it was a bit of wish fulfillment, but I just thought it would some kind of interesting juxtaposition.  (Pause)  I don't know, that might be a bunch of BS rationalization.  I specifically remember talking with some band mates about possible names, and we were having a hard time coming up with something we all liked.  The conversation drifted and we started talking about movies and someone mentioned The Ladykillers by the Coen Brothers.  I love the movie, but insisted that everyone should watch the original Ladykillers with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.  Then there was this moment where we all knew what the band name would be.  So, in reality, it's probably a mix of the two stories.  Basically, the name just sounded good.

AW:  So, speaking of music, will you be tying your music to the comic.  Any plans to release any songs to work as a soundtrack, like Brendan Small does with Metalocalypse?

PR:  Well, Metalocalypse has the advantage of being an animated series where the music is very important to how the story is digested.  Since I'm doing a comic, there's really no need to have a soundtrack.  Honestly though, I'm just not that interested in doing music right now.  I might do something in the future, if it feels right, but right now I just want to focus on the comic.  Drawing is hard.  (Laughs)  I know it doesn't look like it, but it takes me forever to finish a page.  Plus, I don't really have any music to release.  I mean, I have some crappy old demos that we recorded in a basement, but those tracks really aren't that great.

AW:  Being that we're friends, I do have a little bit of insider information.  Weren't The Original Ladykillers recording a full album before they broke up?

PR:  (Laughs)  Oh, I was afraid you were going to bring that up.  I don't want to talk too much about it because it might spoil some of the comic, but yes, we were signed with a local record label and were working on a full album.  Things happened and the band broke up.  We only had a few tracks fully finished, maybe 3 or 4, I forget exactly.  Obviously, the label guys were pissed off, and there was talk of bringing in some studio musicians and replacement band members to finish it, which is probably what I should have done, but...well, I just couldn't.  I was probably angrier than I should have been, but I just couldn't play music anymore.  Not at that time, anyway.  I'm still in talks with the label about the completed tracks but I can't really talk about it right now.

AW:  Okay, fair enough.  One last question about the comic update schedule.  You are releasing full chapters each month.  Any reason why you aren't going for a M-W-F schedule, or even a once a week schedule?

PR:  I don't read that many webcomics, so I don't really know what a standard release is.  I want to put it out in chapters because I think it just reads better that way.  That's really the only reason.  Also, I can't say for sure how long each chapter is.  So far, the chapters have all clocked in at 6 pages, but they might be longer or shorter, depending on how it goes.

AW:  Okay then, sounds good to me!

Well folks, there you have it.  We'll be updating new chapters of The Original Ladykillers:  The Semi-fictional Autobiography of Preston Rocket the first of every month, and it all starts right here.  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Art from the Artless

Recently, Shia LaBeouf released his short film Howard Cantour,which he wrote and directed.  It stars Jim Gaffigan as a cranky online film critic.  All in all, it's a pretty good film.  It's well shot and well acted.  In short, it's the kind of thing that could make people think about Shia as more than just a dumb face in bad movies.  So, what's the problem?

The problem is that Howard Cantour is largely plagiarized from a Dan Clowes comic titled Justin M. Damiano.  Huge swaths of text are lifted verbatim and used in Shia's film.  The framing, casting, tone, and (of course) writing are all directly copied from the Clowes comic.  You can view the short film and the first page of the comic at this Buzzfeed article.

This is especially troubling because, in the basest sense, art is an expression of the soul.  Art exists to communicate ideas and emotions in a palpable, cerebral way.  LaBeouf spoke of how personal Howard Cantour was for him.  In this interview with he said, "I have been crushed by critics (especially during my Transformers run), and in trying to come to terms with my feelings about critics, I needed to understand them. As I tried to empathize with the sort of man who might earn a living taking potshots at me and the people I've worked with, a small script developed."

LeBeouf is trying to express something.  He has feelings.  He wants to share them.  He just doesn't know how, apparently.

LeBeouf has never been universally appreciated as an actor, despite the fact that he appears in numerous blockbuster films.  So, I can see why he would identify with a story about a bitter film critic.  LaBeouf strikes me as someone who, now that he's got universal fame and a large sum of money, is desperate to be taken seriously as an artist.  A few years ago he went to C2E2 in order to sell his self published comic book, which is really less like a comic and more like what a gallery artist would produce if he was trying to do some kind of comic styled interactive art piece.  LeBeouf will also be starring in the upcoming Lars Von Trier film, Nymphomaniac, and nobody ever accused Von Trier of being "not artsy enough".

So, I can only assume this intense desire to be a respected artist combined with an intense desire to express himself artistically drove LaBeouf to plagiarize the Clowes comic.  He cant's reconcile his artistic needs with his lack of talent.  Or, to put it a little nicer, he can't seem to recognize his artistic strengths and weaknesses and understand how to best utilize them.  It's like he's a character in a Ricky Gervais show.

What we have here is unchecked hubris.  What bothers me the most about this whole debacle is that LaBeouf is in a position, because of his fame and money, to successfully produce a short film adapted from a Clowes comic.  If he really respected Clowes like he claims to, he could acquire the rights to Clowes' story or even hire Clowes himself to work on something new.  He had no problem hiring Jim Gaffigan and the rest of the crew to make this film happen.  So, why not get Clowes on bored also?  I can tell you right now that if LaBeouf had done that, if he had worked with Clowes, tried to bring a Clowes comic to life, really championed Clowes work and tried to put his own spin on it, he would be hailed as the champion of the comics genre and people would be thinking of his as more than a dumb face in bad movies.  He would be respected as the artist he wishes to be.

But no, instead LaBeouf flat out steals the story, because it's more important for his ego to have people think he wrote it.  There is nothing wrong with being a patron of the arts.  After all, the only way to grow as an artist is to work with people who are better than you or challenge you artistically.

The whole debacle offends me on a very personal level.  As an artist (both writer and musician), I find it incredibly difficult to "find your voice" without outright aping the artists who inspired you in the first place.  It's tough, it really is.  There is a fine line between ideas, themes, and style repeating in art and outright plagiarism.  Howard Cantour is a very clear case of shameless plagiarism.

I hope LaBeouf learns from this incident, but I have my doubts.  I also hope Fantagraphics or Clowes, which ever owns the rights to Justin M. Damiano, takes legal action against LaBeouf.  All LaBeouf needs to do is publicly apologize, retroactively pay Clowes, and add Clowes name to the credits and he can save a little bit of face.  For the record, LaBeouf's fake twitter apology doesn't inspire confidence.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Project Comicon St. Louis

Last weekend I attended Project Comic Con in St. Louis, which was quite a change from Wizard World Chicago, which I attended a month previous.  The biggest difference, of course, is the size of the show.  Whereas WWC is one of the year's largest shows, filling out massive airplane hanger sized rooms in the Rosemont convention center, PCC is a quaint little show in the conference room of a Sheraton hotel.

All other differences stem from this size disparity.  While each show hosts a variety of comic book professionals, at PCC the comic creators are the main attractions and they do not have to take second or third billing behind a bunch of TV and movie actors.  That alone makes it more endearing in my book.

There is also a different attitude in the crowd at the smaller shows.  Both crowds are going to be brimming with love and fervor for comics and other pop culture related art, but at the smaller shows the fandom feels less disconnected and more communal.  When I'm doing a small show, I feel more like I'm a part of the community rather than just another table at a trade show.

As for the PCC show itself, it was really great.  For the record, I did sell more comics at WWC, but the time and financial investment to be there was astronomical compared to PCC.  My table at PCC saw a fair amount of traffic since nearly all attendees could easily walk the entire floor multiple times throughout the day.

One of the things that made Project Comic Com a fantastic experience for me was that I hit the table placement jackpot.  My table was next to fellow local comic creators, Adron and Dan, creators of the comic Loop & Hoodie.  They're a couple of great guys with a fun comic and, being that we're all from the same area, I see them often on the midwest con circuit.  Aside from have familiar neighbors, sitting right across the aisle from me were two famed comic writers, Fabian Nicieza and Joshua Dysart.  Fabian is responsible for writing numerous X-Men comics that I read as a child in the 90's as well as the more contemporary Cable & Deadpool series of the mid 00's.  Joshua is one of the few modern comic writers who's work always interests me.  I don't always agree with his politics, but his work is always deep and meaningful.

Spending a weekend in such great company boosted my morale in ways that people who make custom dragon toys or cheap chibi caricatures just can't.  I was able to spend some time talking with Fabian and Joshua.  I had Fabian sign my old battered and bruised copy of X-Force 18.  Fabian is very quick witted and enjoys talking.  In many ways, he's like Deadpool come to life, just without all the violence.  When I told him that, as a child, I had probably read this comic more than anything else in my collection, he immediately (lightheartedly) questioned whether or not there had been any adverse psychological side effects.  I decided to continue the bit, explaining that I had read so many comics, it would be impossible to determine specifically which one caused all my brain damage.  He responded with a fictitious fact that 4 out of 5 dentists believe all tooth decay is a result of X-Force comics, to which I could only concede that my dentist would agree with him.  A good time was had by all.

I gave copies of Science Hero and Zero's Heroes to Fabian, who was very complimentary and we chatted about the future of digital comics and the difficulties of getting paid to do what you love.

Joshua was also very complimentary of my comics and bought both issues of Science Hero before I could offer them to him for free (sucker).   We talked about the future of Vertigo and his current work with Valiant.  I also got picked up the second Dark Crystal graphic novel, which he authored.  I am excited to read it and put it on my pile of about a thousand other books waiting to be read.

Not to keep talking about Misters Nicieza and Dysart, but I also attended a convention panel titled Us Make Comic Words.  The panel was a small, intimate discussion with four comic writing professionals, Fabian Nicieza, Joshua Dysart, Scott Lobdell, and Phil Hester.  This was a small panel with a pricey $20 entry fee.  I heard Dysart remark to Nicieza that he didn't have $20 worth of advice to give to aspiring writers.  I don't mind paying fees like this because, it being a smaller con, I feel like my money is specifically going toward comic creators instead of a random actor from a lame popular for this summer only show.

The panel was casual.  Lobdell mediated it, Nicieza talked the most, and Hester gave the most pertinent advice.  I really enjoyed the panel despite the fact that I didn't really learn any new information about making comics.  That sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn't.  I was very gratified to hear the conclusions I had come to on my own or gleaned from other sources completely backed up by working professionals in the industry.  It makes me feel like doing something right.

In the future, I plan to attend smaller shows in favor of the larger, more cost prohibitive shows.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Reflections on Wizard World Chicago

Josh and Aaron
Wizard World Chicago is a behemoth.  The convention has come and gone and I feel like I can finally relax.  I had been to Wizard World Chicago a couple of times in the past (though not as an exhibitor), so I had some sense of what to expect from the show.  Also, I exhibited at C2E2 earlier in the year, which is another big convention also held in Chicago.  Still, WWC is the biggest convention I've exhibited, and there were some key differences from this convention and the conventions previous.

Firstly, WWC is a 4 day con.  So, I was at the con from Thursday through Sunday.  That's a long time which feels even longer behind the table.  Secondly, with the exception of a few hours on Saturday, I was doing this convention completely by myself, so I had very little time to relax and enjoy the con for myself.

Last year, Wizard received a lot of flak for how uncomfortably crowded the floor was.  The layout was like a confusing labyrinth in which you were smashed butt to gut with the people on either side of you.  I had the hardest time finding specific people I was looking for, even using their maps.

This year, they tried to correct their space problems by splitting the show into two levels with the retailers on the second floor and the artist alley on the ground floor.  It's not a bad idea entirely, but there were so many problems which I can only ascribe to poor organization.  I won't go into details because there are other places around the web that do, but I will say that the whole convention seemed like a chore just to get into (even as an exhibitor).  Despite all that, what bothered me the most about this convention was the prices.  The table prices had gone up, which I can deal with, but the general admission prices were nearly doubled from the year previous.  There is no way that convention was worth $70 for a single Saturday admission, and many people were paying hundreds of dollars more to attend convention panels and shake hands with a second rate Spock (sorry Mr. Quinto, but it's true).

The real problem with the immense size of WWC is that the show is basically a giant flea market.  There is no selection process when it comes to exhibiting at Wizard World.  Anybody who pays the table fee get to exhibit, which results in a saturation of people selling the same thing.  It doesn't take an economist to tell you that that is going to spread the profits thinner among the large group of sellers.  The retailer floor was just row after row after row of the same set up of comic long boxes and popular toys.  It's easy to get lost and overwhelmed.

The artist alley felt a little different than it had in years past as well.  Not to sound like an old man pining for the glory days, but I remember walking through the artist alley and stopping at every table to talk to the artists, and most of them were self publishing their own comics.  There were lots of mini comics, and well as self published POD comics (like what I do).  I walked away from the convention with a bag full of comics I couldn't get anywhere else.  These days, it seems like there are less and less self published comics in the artist alley.  There are a number of reasons for this, and they all kind of tie into each other.

Firstly, we are in the middle (or maybe near the end) of a changing comics landscape.  With the easeability of webcomics, people don't *need* to self publish to get their work out there.  Secondly, self publishing is expensive.  Even if you're writing and drawing everything yourself, printing a book costs money.  Digital comics cuts out the costs of printing while still making yourself available to your audience.

Along with this decline in self publishing, I've noticed an increase in what I shall call "professional fandom".  Marvel and DC have always had a lax policy of not enforcing copyright infringements when it comes to artists selling prints and other merchandise with their corporate owned characters on them.  It may just be my perception, but the Wizard World conventions seem to be overrun by artists selling what, at best, could be considered "legal grey area" merchandise.  This has caused a curious situation wherein the "retailers" have effectively infiltrated the artist alley.  Upon entering the artist alley, you are no longer finding self published original comics and art, instead you are bombarded with even more Spider-man and Doctor Who t-shirts and prints.  The only difference is that in the artist alley, consumers can feel good that they are supporting an artist instead of the big evil corporation that owns all the characters they love and worship.

The other trend that I've noticed has become all the rage these past years is the pop culture mash up.  This is when you see a property drawn in the style of another property, or perhaps finding a common word or theme between two properties and combining them.  These kinds of merch may actually be more legal than outright selling a print of Thor and Loki because it could be considered satire and fall under fair use.  Occasionally, they can be clever, but more often than not I find these kinds of mash ups to be lazy, pandering, and at the very worst shallow cash grabs.  But if you're a fan of two different things, what could be better than a single thing that represents both?

I'm not here to play art police or to define what is and isn't "Art" because ultimately I'm going to take the stance that everything is and can be Art with a capital "A", but that doesn't mean that all art is inspired or interesting.

I don't want to sound too sour about the convention.  Yes, it was stressful and frustrating, but I also got to see friends and fans old and new and had some genuinely great experiences, one of which went as follows:

     A young couple were walking by my booth casually talking to each other when the man stopped suddenly.  The covers of Science Hero had caught his attention.  He picked an issue off the rack and started flipping through it.  "Science Hero," he said, "this looks interesting."
     Before I could even rev up my pitch and try to make the sale, his girlfriend cut me off and said excitedly, "Oh, I've heard of this!"
     The young man said, "Really?"
     And I said even more surprisingly, "Really?!"
     The young girl replied, "Yeah, Sean bought it and said it's great."
     This, of course, is great news for me, but the only thing that was running through my mind was, "Oh god!  She's got it confused with a different book.  He's going to buy it thinking it's something else, something more popular and better and great and he's going to be disappointed."
     Fortunately for me, the young girl cut off my paranoid internal dialog by saying, "He texted me a picture of it and said to look out for it."
    Wow!  I couldn't believe this was happening.  People weren't just liking my book, they were recommending it to their friends.  It was the most flattering thing I could have ever heard.
     The guy took the first issue in his hands and cheerfully said, "Well, if it's good enough for Sean then it's good enough for me!"
    And then they were off.  I was left with a five dollar bill in my hands and perpetually stunned look on my face.

So, that was a good thing.  I'm still convinced that there was some kind of mistake, but I'll take 'em when I can get 'em (as long as they're in my favor, of course).

I can't say for certain that I will attend Wizard World Chicago next year.  The convention is expensive and time consuming.  I like the more intimate feeling of smaller conventions, especially when the focus more on comics and less on celebrities.