Let’s not lie and pretend that New York Comic Con isn’t intimidating. Filled with awkward fans, confident gatekeepers, and the creators and makers that bring us joy and inspiration, for four days the Javits Center becomes a staggering bastion of fandom. The panel rooms are all one size up from a normal convention and the sheer array of geeky artifacts to dig up and barter for is impressive.
I spent my morning just getting the lay of the land, understanding NYCC’s enormity again. My not so guilty pleasure greeted me at the doors with Yu-Gi-Oh: Dark Side of Dimensions lanyards at the bag check and a towering Blue Eyes Alternate Dragon lurking just beyond the show floor’s threshold. Nearby Bandai offered all manner of replicas and Diamond displayed tiny kaiju that are still enormous collectables. The big publishers manned their booths like ships, crewed by editors and signing writers. Further out, small comics publishers, large publishing houses, and those wishing to be one or the other divided glass cases from cardboard longboxes. And there were plenty of longboxes.
Do I really want that issue of Star Wars Tales? Could I find a better deal on that old Aquaman issue before it sells? This convention can be dangerous to the neurotic.
I managed to grab some low-printed Aftershock comics off of what seems like the last stacks in New York and gave into some questionable instincts on the question of buying some Detroit-era Justice League of America. Then I headed over to Artist Alley to get a sense of that entirely different animal.
This year the back wall hosts a giant Power Rangers coloring page that separates the convention hall from a separate room full of tables and pitchers. Apparently NYCC offers a concierge service for the attending creators this year, bringing them water at the flick of a touch screen.
I talked trades vs. singles and the culture of renumbering with Al Ewing and accidentally interrupted Tim Seeley and Tom King – sorry guys. I also nabbed a cool Princess Leia postcard from Arielle Jovellanos and regretfully conceded that I wouldn’t be seeing Greg Rucka or Amanda Conner without some serious time in line, get there early.
DC’s all access panel was light on announcements, but interesting in its scope. The biggest news was the formal announcement of Marguerite Bennett’s upcoming Batwoman solo series. Bennett told the crowd that she would be working with James Tynion to spin the book out of Detective Comics and that it would focus on Kate Kane as a more global hero, not limited by Batman’s focus on Gotham or jurisdiction. Steve Orlando spoke about Justice League of America, saying that his first thought was “why ‘of America?” What makes this Justice League American? His answer was simple, “This is the Justice League that looks like America.” Orlando was excited to work with Vixen and demonstrated a deep love for the Ray and his sweet 90s jacket.
Josh WIlliamson bounced back and forth between action and character as he pitched Justice League vs. Suicide Squad to the crowd. Half the time he wanted to stress that this would be just as awesome as it sounds, but then he would change tack and talk about the significance and opportunities the series would offer for character interactions we haven’t seen before. His major question was, ‘why do we need a Suicide Squad in a world with a Justice League?’ It sounds like Batman will feel the same way, as the Caped Crusader will reveal the existence of Task Force X to his teammates after something goes wrong on a mission. Williamson also hinted that Killer Frost’s journey to Justice League of America will very much begin in Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.
Shea Fontana also made an exuberant pitch for DC Superhero Girls, telling us that the next two graphic novels would be Hits and Myths, an Odyssey-inspired adventure that will lead a new heroine to Superhero High, and Summer Olympus, which sees Wonder Woman spending the summer with her Dad on Mount Olympus. She also reminded us that the online series is now available and that the first issue, “Past Times at Superhero High”, would see Harley Quinn and Batgirl get into an argument over who had more dinosaur knowledge, with disastrous results.
I returned to Artist Alley for a bit and checked out the names I hadn’t heard before heading back towards the show floor. There I looked in on Boom! and IDW and chatted with Jeff Whitman at the Papercutz booth. The next volume of Ariol is out and Papercutz is giving away a sampler that includes sneak peeks at Last Boy on Earth and The Lunch Witch: Knee-Deep in Niceness!
I walked down to the Charmz School panel with Jeff and got on-line. There were young girls, the Charmz line’s target demographic, but there were also plenty of women, of all ages, eager to learn and discuss the process of making comics. There was even one lovesick puppet!
The Charmz School panel was wonderful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it followed the pattern that Boom! Studios has been using in recent years of focusing less on the publisher and more on the ideas that they want to advance. This wasn’t really a Papercutz panel, or even a Charmz panel. This was very much a panel for aspiring creators that happened to feature Papercutz talent. And speaking of which, the speakers for the panel were great. Sven Larson, VP of Marketing at Papercutz, moderated a panel consisting of Amy Chu, Mindy Indie, Janice Chiang, Jeff Whitman, and Janet Jackson.
Mr. Larson explained that he wanted to see a panel where women got to talk about their experience in comics, rather than just dealing with confusion that they have any. The panelists talked working with artists, script formats, and more. Amy Chu was, as always, especially interesting to me. She revealed that she stumbled into comics when a friend asked for her help and she, in response, self-taught herself everything about comics, “because I’m crazy like that.” Especially having heard similar stories from Chu at other panels, I adore what a nerd she is and how badass she makes it.
Janice Chiang had tons of advice for any aspiring creators, talking about the importance of lettering and how it’s changed over the years. My favorite tidbit was how she used to letter some dense balloons backwards to make sure it would fit, back in the days of pen and ink. I also was thrilled to discover that she had been the letterer on the original Marvel Transformers series and even created the unique balloon that Cybertronian characters used.
After the panel I introduced myself to Ms. Chiang and showed her an old Transformers comic I’d picked up on whim earlier in the day. Sure enough, I discovered during the panel, she had lettered it and it featured the aforementioned dialogue balloons.
I wish I could have spoken more with her, she seems like such a kind and genuine woman, but the next panel was starting and I had to stick around.
This was the panel I was most excited about, X-Traordinary – the LGBT Characters of the X-Men. It proved an interesting enough panel, but one question in particular put it in a category all its own. You can find my detailed thoughts on the panel here.
The con wound down after that, but panels weren’t over. I walked the floor until it closed and then headed down below to chose between two panels, Gender and Diversity and Afropunks and Blerds. I even ran into David Walker, ever honest and affable, who was also frustrated by the overlapping scheduling of panels about the idea of blackness. Walker and I shared regrets that Nighthawk was to be canceled, but he seemed confident that he would have a chance to tell the stories he wanted in Power Man and Iron Fist and Ocuppy Avengers.
Talking with Walker made me feel confident that the Afropunks and Blerds panel wasn’t as useful to me nor I as useful to it as the Gender and Sexuality panel, so I got on line.
Ta-Nehisi Coates talked about his experiences with Marvel growing up and loving the scavenger hunt feeling of following editorial captions to other issues. He said that he thought that continuity is, if not necessarily ‘important’, fun. Continuity, for lack of a better word is good. Asked about how Ayo and Aneka came about, Coates said that the fact of the matter is that the reality of comics storytelling means that most of the male characters in T’Challa’s life have died. The women have been spared, if via sexism, and that led him to begin crafting stories around them. Their characters came out of Coates desire to explore a Wakanda where the social contract has started to break down, potentially including the intense, and rarely explored, pledge of loyalty that the Dora Milaje make to the Black Panther.
He also revealed that he was very specific in his scripts to avoid a male gaze portrayal, saying that a huge number of conversations were had about “underboob”.
Moderator Jonathan Gray asked if Steve Orlando had any trouble realizing his vision for Midnighter at a company like DC, but, to his surprise, Orlando said that it was not terribly difficult at all. First of all, the editor on the book was queer, which provided a welcome support, but Orlando also took issue with the oft mentioned idea that Midnighter was a radical comic. “It’s only audacious because it’s rare. This is pretty tame,” he said, citing an issue of Kevin Smith’s Green Arrow where the Emerald Archer actually goes down on Black Canary.
Asked later about what inspired Virgil, Orlando cited the same emotion, with the book having come into existence after he heard people talking about how daring Django Unchained was. ‘It could have been bold,” he said, but, for him, it wasn’t. Why was Django looking for his wife, why not his husband? And from that Virgil was born.
Orlando also admitted that every story he writes is essentially Die Hard and that he actually had to send his artist porn in order to get the sex scenes. This last plan almost didn’t work, as the well meaning but straight artist just couldn’t draw gay sex without one character “having sex with another’s thigh.” “I – literally – had to make sure that everything was in its place.”
For Tee Franklin, the core idea was, ‘If you want something done right, you do it yourself’. She lacked the faith that Orlando had in the publisher’s intentions and ability and she was tired of waiting. That fight and empathy was apparent even in the course of the panel. She pitched her upcoming Mental Health Anthology, talked sincerely to an autistic fan with depression in the audience, and defended fans who were upset with diversity in comics coming through established, admittedly incestuous, channels rather than tearing that system down.
Midway into the panel, Coates was asked about how he worked to improve representation in creators, but had to answer that it was not something that was within his purview. Though the moment past, it obviously affected him and, as the panel wound down, it came out in another answer. “I don’t know why anybody reads anything or does anything, man. I am always having this internal debate over whether and how art can actually change anything…And I’m ambivalent.”
I called it an early night after that. It was an oddly dramatic and thoughtful day. However, I have to say that I left less intimidated than when I entered. Though the X-traordinary panel certainly shook me some, even that offered a sense of connection to others. We’re all tired and excited, and wish the Javits Center was designed in a way that suited a comic convention better and it’s amazing what comes of putting all of these people together to celebrate the things that they love.