Tuesday, May 29

Comicpalooza 2012 (and some random convention observations)

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday (25-27 May), was Comicpalooza: The Texas International Comic Con at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. It was the biggest comic book convention I've ever attended. I only went for one day, Saturday, and had a great time.

To run down my day very quickly, I drove in from my sister-in-law's home on the northeastern edge of Houston that morning, arriving just before the scheduled opening of registration at 9 am. I had purchased my ticket a few nights before, on-line, and was taken by a kind lady inside to redeem my printed voucher, then sent back outside to wait in line for the doors to open at 10 am. I stood in line by a couple who had driven in from New Orleans to be there for all three days. Visiting with them made the hour go by a bit faster than it might have otherwise. Various cosplayers – Rorschach, Batgirl, and so forth – strolled by adding to the line behind us which grew longer and longer. We also saw George Takei (original Star Trek's Mr. Sulu) shuttled in a few minutes before opening. The organizers were punctual to a fault, opening the doors at 10 am on the dot.

I had several specific things to accomplish. No offense to Takei or the other actors from various shows and movies who were in attendance, they are not who I attend a con to meet. I'm far more interested in meeting the various creators, most typically artists, who have given me such enjoyment over the decades I have been a comic book reader. During this convention I had two primary goals: 1) To meet the great Joe Kubert, who has been in the industry for seventy years, from when he started basically as a go'fer at age twelve, just a few short years after comic books exploded onto the scene with the publication of Action Comics #1 in 1938 (yes, I know there were earlier comic books, but Action is the one that really mattered); and 
Art by Thom Zahler
(and it's mine, all mine!)
2) to meet a relative newcomer, Thom Zahler, who puts on basically a one-man show writing, drawing, and for a while even publishing although it's now been picked up by one of the “second-tier” publishers, IDW, what is my favorite “independent” comic, Love and Capes. In fact, in Thom's case I had contacted him beforehand and knew he had something special waiting for me – a commissioned piece of art depicting Aquaman and Mera. Besides the “Triple Shots” I picked up from Thom a few months back (see here), this is the first commission I've ever purchased.

Thom Zahler sketching
Given my general preference as far as comic art goes, which tends toward the more realistic along the lines of Neal Adams, I am sometimes surprised to find myself so greatly taken with Thom's style, which although “cartoonish” and indeed reminiscent of various animated styles (it reminds me a lot of the early 2000s DC Animated Universe Justice League cartoon), sports a clean simplicity that works very well with his own characters and also with many other classic super-hero characters. I love the result here, and will doubtless be picking up some more from him in the future. 
Art by Thom Zahler
 I really enjoyed visiting with Thom and his pal, Jesse Jackson (yes, I made the obvious jest, which he took good-naturedly) both then and several other times through the day. Thom was kind enough to sign for me not only each of the three volumes of Love and Capes, but also the three volumes of an earlier, less well known work entitled Raider. I also picked up a very low number of his limited edition print for Comicpalooza, as well as a Love and Capes tee-shirt. (Note: Both of the pictures came without the watermark shown here.)

Art by Robert Luedke
In my haste to get to one of the two highlights of my day, I forgot to mention that as I made my way to where Thom's table was set up I found Robert Luedke and picked up a low numbered limited edition print he did to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.  I had known about this beforehand and made contributing to this worthy cause a priority.

After all that, I wandered around basically just exploring the large hall which housed Artists' Alley as well as Dealers' and Celebrity Autograph Booths, getting the lay of the land. As I said, this was the largest convention I've ever attended, and that hall was just roughly a third of the total floor space devoted to Comicpalooza. Immediately next was a hall housing various gaming areas such as a large rink laid out on the floor where there was an ongoing Roller Derby competition, several “boxing/wrestling” rings, an area where one of the stunt coordinators from the Star Wars movies was teaching Jedi swordplay, and the like.

Finally, there was an area partitioned off into a number of theatres, workshops, classrooms, and panel/discussion areas. One of the latter was my next destination, where in the 11 am hour Joe Kubert gave a retrospective of his seventy years in the industry, fielded questions from the audience, and drew a wonderful drawing of Nite Owl from The Watchmen that was to be auctioned off to benefit the Ronald McDonald House charity. (I apparently did not win it since I've heard nothing several days later. Congratulations to whomever did!) 
 This was the second high point of my day, just listening to one of the founders of the comic book medium who has emerged as probably the single most influential artist in the history of narrative illustration through his Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. It's sad that just recently we have lost several of that first, “founders” generation – Jerry Robinson and Sheldon Moldoff coming immediately to mind. 
Joe Kubert signing
 I value the opportunity I had not just to hear him speak but, later in the day, to get the first volume of Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years signed and to thank him for, with the first DC issue of Tarzan collected in that book, turning me on to the wonderful writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Most of the rest of the day was spent just wandering around the convention. Early in the afternoon I saw that science fiction author Larry Niven had arrived at his autograph booth. I went and introduced myself to him, saying a few words about how I've enjoyed various books and stories he's written. Unfortunately I did not have any appropriate books for him to sign – most of what I've read by him have been mass market paperbacks or older “cheap” Science Fiction Book Club editions such as The Mote in God's Eye which he cowrote with Jerry Pournelle. He and Pournelle are neighbors and good friends, and I mentioned to him that I sort of keep up with his, Pournelle's, and the latter's dog Sable's “adventures” in hiking via Pournelle's blog. I did, however, get Niven's signature on the Green Lantern graphic novel Ganthet's Tale; in the early '90s, as I understand it, DC asked Niven to formulate a “story bible” for the Green Lantern universe, and this “Prestige Edition” comic illustrated by John Byrne was one product of that. I also sat through a panel during which Niven and his “booth-mate,” fellow sci-fi author Timothy Zahn described the processes by which they have formulated alien cultures to populate various of their works. I say “sat through” because unfortunately Niven and Zahn were competing with a very raucous True Blood actress' question-and-answer panel right “next door” with only a fabric curtain between the two “rooms,” and I quite frankly was able to hear only very little of what I wanted to hear. I was, however, able to shout out my own small contribution to the panel when Zahn blanked on the name of the robot stories written back in the 1930s and 1940s by “Eando” Binder and I was able to jog his memory, “Adam Link!”

Rod Thornton, Thom Zahler, and Michelle Delecki
 "Gender Representation in Graphic Literature"
The other interesting panel that I attended, mainly drawn by Thom Zahler's involvement, dealt with “Gender Representations in Graphic Literature.” It was organized, as I understand it, by a graduate student studying such issues, and included two other artists besides Thom. The perceived misogynism of super-hero comics in particular, a perception exacerbated in recent months by the notorious portrayal of Starfire in DC's Red Hood and the Outlaws, was a major focus, but the artists were able to give a lot of insight into how they go about attempting to avoid such issues in their works. A specific issue that I find disturbing (and have commented on in this blog from time to time) was never addressed however, that of the oversexualization of teenaged girls such as Supergirl, in part because I could not figure out a way to frame the question without coming off as a “dirty old man”!  (On his own blog about the weekend, Thom posts a picture of "What a Panel Looks Like to Me" which shows some old guy off to the extreme left....)

Other than those various memorable parts of the day, I basically just wandered around from booth to booth – oh, at some point I also got a signature by artist Shane Davis in his Superman: Earth One hardcover. When I handed it to him, I said, “This is something I'm sure you don't sign every day,” to which he agreed, “No … this is the first one I've seen today,” although we both knew I'd been standing in a line of people the majority of whom had just that volume for him to sign. I ended up buying very little at this convention beyond the various posters and the commission from Thom Zahler – just a paperback collection of art by Joe Kubert along with his sons, Adam and Andy, and a couple of independently produced comics just for the heck of it. Which brings to mind the different “flavors” of the various conventions I've been to over the past few years.

I only started attending the occasional “con” a few years ago, mainly influenced by hearing about them through the various podcasts I discovered shortly before. There have been basically just four, a couple of which I've attended twice. Each has its own distinct character:

The first con I ever attended was the inaugural meeting of NOLA-Con in early 2009, held out in Kenner just outside New Orleans. It was very small – just a single room in the convention center there, probably less than a tenth the floor space of Comicpalooza – and I remember being amazed by how many of the artists, typically local in origin and not very well-known in the wider comics world, were willing to do small sketches for me in a little Moleskine notebook I brought for that purpose – and at a reasonable price, about $10. The most prominent artist that I met that year was inker John Dell, who does do a lot of work for both DC and Marvel. I picked up a few comics and trade paperbacks, but really had the most fun just meeting the artists. I found the second time I went to NOLA-Con, the next year, to be pretty much the same.

In between, in August of 2009, I attended the Dallas Comic Con – which was a bit bigger. It was the first that had panels, which I found interesting, as well as various celebrity guests. As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, I'm not really interested in those – especially am I not interested in paying $30-$50 for an autograph or a photograph with them. I got several more sketches in Dallas that year, including a “frontispiece” sketch by Michael Lark in my library bound volume of the entire Gotham Central series. (I paid a bit more for that – but really, really wanted it!)

Other than a quick trip to the second NOLA-Con as mentioned above, 2010 was “con-less,” mainly because of the preparations for our trip to the UK in June – and its aftermath the heart attack I suffered just after our return! But in January 2011 Wizard World brought its franchise of larger comic conventions to New Orleans. In area, it was about the size of one of the three halls at Comicpalooza, with no panels, just celebrities and artists. That was when I had a bit of a “reality check” regarding the sketches I'd been getting in my little notebook. It seems that the larger the con and the more prominent the artist, the more they demand even for these. One in particular who will remain nameless wanted $75! I declined, but have shied away from getting those sketches ever since. It's a bit of a shame, really. There are only a handful of artists I would even think of paying that kind of money for a five to ten minute quick sketch. That gentleman is not one of them. … What I really found attractive at Wizard World New Orleans 2011 was the many good deals that were to be had on merchandise. Not so much comics themselves, but numerous vendors had trade paperbacks for half-price or better and I found several things I'd been wanting, including a hardcover copy of Marvels signed by Alex Ross for $10. (I also got snookered into buying a pirated DVD of the last series of the DC Animated Batman Adventures for the same amount – recorded off the television broadcast – and have steered clear of the DVD vendors since. Live and learn.)

Wizard World New Orleans 2012 had as its highlight for me George Perez, from whom I got a wonderful Aquaman sketch – see my write-up here – as well as more good deals, including The Absolute Kingdom Come for half price. And that brings us to Comicpalooza. As you can see – different cons have different characters. I'd be hard pressed to say which I liked best overall. Each had its good points and each had its bad points. I do, however, have very fond memories of those two small NOLA-Cons out in Kenner. Wizard World has pretty much wiped that one out, sad to say.

Anyway, I'll end with a few random pictures I took over the course of the day. I always intend to take more, but these are the ones I got:

A general view of the middle hall

Roller Derby

Jedi Training, Young Padawan....

Marvel appears to be outnumbered here....

Did you lose Kato somewhere?

Thom Zahler's friend Jesse Jackson called it:
 The Composite Avenger!

I probably ought to know both of these, not just Poison Ivy....

Nightwing couldn't beat them off with a stick!

Somebody's making time with Harley Quinn's "Puddin'"!

Young Han Solo...?
Sorry for the increasingly inane photo captions.  I also learned something about taking video with my iPhone ... you do need to turn it on its side to get video in landscape aspect if you want to use it in a blog!

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

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