This weekend is the 2015 New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center. I am not there. I am at home, on vacation, but also quite poor, due in part to having gone a 2nd month with only 1 of 2 necessary roommates in my apartment, thus being on the hook for part of a second rent. I’ve long given up on getting the Professional status I used to enjoy from NYCC for reduced, originally free admission, but when Midtown Comics suddenly made a batch of passes available, I had a lovely moment of “What the hell” and bought a weekend pass. A couple weeks later, after one of the greatest professional victories of my life, I found that I had to sell the pass to keep my head above water. Once I got past that realization, I’ve not had much regret about it (yet; the Con has only been open a few hours). I need no excuses to spend money right now. I now have time available to be creative (to wit), get some household projects done and even babysit a toddler, which I quite enjoy.
However, last year I was suddenly afforded the opportunity to go for 2 days as a special correspondent to the most respected comics news blog, The Beat, direct from E-in-C Heidi MacDonald. I’ve known Heidi for a good long while, and she remembers my work for the seminal & defunct online comic magazine Savant. I was never what would be mistaken for a comic journalist, which could well be my first error herein; I don’t copy & paste PR memos well enough. If you’ve read nearly any other post on this blog you would have a flavor for my approach, which is: Everything through the refraction of myself. Objectivity? What’s that?
So it was somewhat irking that this piece never saw print on The Beat. Oh yes, it’s long, rambling in spots and doesn’t have much in the way of a point. Sometimes the ride is the point, not the destination. The reader is always at liberty to pull the ejector seat. I think I usually manage to justify their continued interest, even when nothing of consequence is happening, even if I have to cast myself in unflattering light to achieve it. If not, then not. In the words of my generation, “Whatever.”
It’s interesting to revisit this as I intended it to be published. By no means is it an exhaustive exploration of the show or any particular aspect of it besides my experience there. Of course, any hot tips included have likely long since expired, but there still may be an exclusive or two hidden inside.
It’s passing strange to be writing this rundown on the 2014 New York Comic Con for a few reasons. For starters, last year was the first year since the event began that I didn’t attend, having waited too long to register as a professional. This year I got my pro registration in on time, if barely, despite the last moment moving up of the deadline by ReedPop. Yet I was nearly instantly denied professional status, begging the question: If I’ve previously enjoyed professional status, how am I no longer a professional? Did ReedPop err back then and now want their money back? I’ve been a writer, artist, editor, publisher, journalist, retailer, student and educator. I auditioned to host the official 2007 NYCC podcast. Did I forget to check something off a list to qualify for a free sandwich?
I had resigned myself to the idea of not going again. To be honest, it HAD been a while since I considered myself to be a professional in anything more than technical terms. So when fearless editor Heidi put out the call using a giant Ricola ram’s horn for all hands on deck, I was more surprised than anyone that some autonomic reflex compelled me to respond in the affirmative. It’s a mystery, Charlie Brown, along with why I showed up dressed like a Baptist minister from The Jetsons.
Hello, I’m Ken Applebaum. I used to be a comics journalist. I guess I’m officially a comics journalist again. That’d be the other reason why this is so effing strange for me. I intend to make it every bit as strange for you, too.
All right, I’d planned. I was only going for two days this time and I needed to economize. I knew what panels I wanted to hit by the NYCC app. I’d bookmarked artists and retailers I wanted to see. Naturally, I immediately got distracted by the floor. The pull of the welovefine booth was too strong to resist. Can you blame me? Don’t answer that, answer this: What good are the bootleg DVD sellers if they don’t even have Titmouse Studios’ transcendent Motorcity, late of Disney XD? For shame, black marketers; for shame.
Trucking past the Geeks Out booth I spotted my pal Bill Roundy representing. I’d recently seen an art show of some of Bill’s bar review comics, appropriately enough in one of my favorite Brooklyn bars, Supercollider. His newest project was redrawing many of the classic Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual creatures as inoffensively cute monster guys. I pointed past his head. “I love the Quentin Quire-style ‘McKellen Was Right’ T-shirt,” I said. “I just happen to be wearing this.”
I pulled up my shirt to show a tee beneath referencing Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa’s High Crimes, emblazoned “Wertham Was Right.” Then I remembered I was partially disrobing by the Geeks Out table and covered back up lest anyone get the right idea.
Bill chuckled. “Hmm, yeah, I would say you’d want to keep that under wraps around here if you don’t want to catch a beatdown.”
When I arrived 10 minutes late and $65 lighter to the Big Hero 6 and Tomorrowland panel, the guard told me only Press was allowed.
“I’m Press.” I showed my badge.
“You’re not the Press on this list.” He’d neither asked my name nor who I was with. But honestly, it wasn’t important enough to argue. I’ll be seeing both these movies. You’ll be seeing both these movies. Why would we want to know more than that going in? This isn’t a tabloid. How dare you. This is exactly how that panel would go if I was on it:
Why should we see these movies?
Clears throat, mic feedback. “Um, because they’re going to be freakin’ awesome. No spoilers. Thanks, that’s all the time I can spare.”
Look, you rationalize not getting into a panel your way; I’ll rationalize it mine. We all have our coping strategies.
NON-PRO TIP: Pack a lunch. Better yet, pack two. With drinks. Alcohol, if you can swing it. Absinthe? I ain’t your daddy. There’s no reason to pay Javits Center prices or, really, anyone else’s, for that matter. Conserve money for the stupid things on which you’re about to waste Junior’s college fund. If you’re anything like me, you have a small collection of nerdy lunchboxes to complement whatever overpriced referential T-shirt you settled upon after hours browsing your voluminous library thereof.
This is not to say I was trying to spend all my time in panels, but those few I hit felt relevant. Coincidentally, those I attended and some I did not which sounded to be asking the pertinent questions were concentrated in Room 1A01, at the very end of the hall, often confused for the boiler room. And the group that made it so was the American Library Association. This leads me to wonder: Was the room assignment consciously chosen to subvert Room 101 from Orwell’s 1984, or is it mere synchronicity that’s an oft overlooked corner of the Javits Center?
The first I caught was “What We’ve Lost, What’s Ahead,” presented by Prof. Carol Tilley of University of Illinois-Urbana, who to some but not enough acclaim uncovered the evidence that Frederick Wertham largely fabricated or monkeyed with his results that he published in the notorious Seduction Of The Innocent. Certainly we live with its results, but fewer remember what the comics scene was like before he helped to cripple it, the answer being UBIQUITOUS. Furthermore, in that nascent time of fandom, the communities that sprung up because of them were less crass, innocent entities. In their crusade to supposedly protect that quality by kneecapping an industry that never fully recovered, the moralists of the time demonstrably undermined it. How is it we need to relearn that lesson every generation?
OK, I kept the “Wertham Was Right” tee covered. I’m not that big of a dick, and besides, it worked better with the rest of my outfit that way.
Prof. Tilley, as a member of the American Library Association, turned her beam onto that very organization, asking why they’d failed to push back against this tide against comics. My guess is because unlike some Hollywood types, your average librarian couldn’t weather being painted with the “Commie” brush. They have more of a backbone now, as they generally did not cooperate with the Patriot Act; bookish types are not as easily labelled “terrorists,” even if our culture is trending towards anti-intellectualism.
That recently-developed spine was featured on the next panel in 1A01, “Saving Indecent Comics,” also hosted by the ALA, and primarily featuring contributors to graphic novel review site No Flying No Tights. It was moderated by Thomas Maluck of the Richland (SC) Library, who has policed teens asking for yaoi, albeit how-to guides over the actual content. Huyen Diep had an order of graphic novels go through a hastily-constructed standards committee just about them and trimmed those they offered considerably. This contributed to her eventually leaving the Lexington County (SC) library system, but was later consulted by other library systems on which books they ought to carry that more discriminating systems refuse. Both Diep and Maluck witnessed the defunding of $35,000 for College of Charleston for the inclusion of Alison Bechdel’s best-selling and award-winning Fun Home in its curriculum, only to have it restored, earmarked for an obviously politically-motivated course. Marissa Lieberman and Jessikah Chautin truly luxuriated in their geekiness, the former dressing in a kimono as a true representative of manga otaku. They acknowledged that what is considered harmless to the Japanese is not always so in the U.S., but is nevertheless comparable to certain well-beloved, Western children’s media.
But Anna Call, Adult Services Librarian for Wilmington Memorial Library, was the most incendiary (and rapid-fire) speaker, telling those assembled, “The fact that you are here means that you are an activist.” Her angle on the thought process of would-be censors is that comics are the ultimate in “show, don’t tell,” which is why they are such a potent medium, but that the visuals without the narrative context can be confusing to the uninitiated. She called up the spectre of Mike Diana’s Boiled Angel and his subsequent demonization by the state of Florida as a still recent history of systemic scapegoating. My takeaway from these two panels in concert is that the most important function of the comics community, in whatever function we serve independently, is to protect the form and any other media considered an easy target from becoming anyone’s whipping boy again.
NON-PRO TIP: You may be too cool to spend much time on the main floor, eschewing the spectacle for community, but if you aren’t thorough you may miss something you’ll be kicking yourself over later when you’re writing up your experience. Ow. Ow. Ow. Dammit.
My choices in panels were not strictly academic, however. Elementary? More like Pre-K. On Sunday afternoon I attended a packed large conference room for “Sesame Street & Pop Culture: 45 Years of Spoofs on the ‘Street,’” with Murray Monster, Abby Cadabby and Grover in attendance. I’m an old school Sesame Street fanboy and short-lived castmember myself, so Murray and Abby are alien to me (she seems cool; he gets on my frickin’ nerves). As dear as Grover is to me, though, my friend Charles Stunning of Nerdy Show Network’s “Epic Piecast,” over a decade my junior and dressed up as Indiana Jones, was positively starstruck.
“I can’t believe I’m in the same room with Grover!” she squeed.
“Why don’t you go get your picture taken with him?” I asked her.
“Oh no. I would totally start crying hysterically.”
“It’s not like it’s Frank Oz performing him anymore, though Eric Jacobsen is one of the more seamless replacements I’ve seen among the Muppets.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s Grover.”
“OK, I know this level of fandom well enough. Then you’ll regret it if you don’t get a picture with him.”
“I’ll regret it more if I make a big scene in public!”
I backed off. Hey, the first time I saw Louise Simonson in person I couldn’t approach her. The second time I had to use Dean Haspiel to vouch I wasn’t a total rando if I should lose my composure over her; I came damn close. That was just one of my heros, while Grover is a legit superhero. “And cute, too!”
BLIND ITEM! What webcomic “creator” whose content is predicated on corporately-owned properties and avowedly on hiatus while he addresses “issues” involving unsolicited dick pics was nevertheless hawking his wares adjacent to original all-ages joyride Bodie Troll‘s table?
I had been on the show floor for maybe 10 minutes when I spied a woman in costume that seemed a bit too unlikely to be a general cosplayer. I approached her and asked, “Are you supposed to be Cholly from Bodie Troll?”
“Yes,” she said, turning around, and my jaw just about dropped. On her arm was a full-sized Bodie Troll puppet! “We just got him yesterday from our friend who fabricates for Henson.”
Once I got to Artist’s Alley it was easy enough to track down Bodie Troll creator Jay Fosgitt’s table by those two avatars of his book. It’s been a minute since I’ve outrightly gushed how much I love a book to its author in person, but it all came back to me quickly enough. Like Jamie Smart’s Bear, it begs to be read aloud because there’s no good reason why there isn’t already an animated series based upon it. Unlike Bear, it would be all right to read aloud to a child.
“How do you voice Bodie?” Scott asked. I gave him some lines in a delivery reminiscent of Hanna-Barbera’s Speed Buggy. “Everybody goes for raspy. It’s the consensus. But I always hear his voice as being higher.” I told him I’d work on it.
Meanwhile, there’s a Bodie Troll collection from Red 5 Comics and a standalone story in their Free Comic Book Day sampler next year, so hop on that if you, I dunno, like great comics?
The last time I attended NYCC I made the discovery of Ryan Browne’s God Hates Astronauts in its original small press edition. Now in the Image fold, he may be better known for stories set in Oppenheimer’s internal world from Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects, but God Hates Astronauts is back with a new series and it picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue.
“Is that a Jim Rugg cover for #2?” I asked.
Browne beamed. “And he gave me the original art for it.”
“GUUHHH, jealous. I remember him when he was Dick Troutman.”
“In the ‘90s under that name he put out a thinly-veiled autobio comic called Outfitters about when he was a whitewater rafting guide.”
“I’ve never heard of this!”
Pull pin, drop grenade, walk away, be too cool to look back at the explosion.
“I went to college with your brother Victor.”
“What? For real?” Brent Schoonover responded. “Are you a townie, too?”
“No, I’m from here.”
“Then how did you end up in Wisconsin?”
“My stepmother went there and it was cheap.”
“Sounds about right. Did we ever meet back then?”
“I don’t think so. I’m not even sure I knew you existed before you did that Kirby-style Voltron pinup. What are you working on now?”
“Dynamite just announced I’m doing the art on the new Phantom series.”
“Slamming evil, eh? Glad they’re distancing him from that King’s Watch series; fooey!”
“Actually, it’s picking up where that one left off.”
I spit out my foot. “Ah.”
NON-PRO TIP: Bring coffee to Chandra Free of The God Machine, for she is a sphinx and without a boon she may cast you into a pit with all other hapless travellers. That I had none for her yet escaped with my life only proves just how badly she needed caffeine.
“Oh, yo, James,” I greeted James O. Smith III, leading into the most awkward handshake/hug known to man due to my swag bag. I’ve known James for fourteen years since we rolled with the local fan club for an overrated writer and we both had hair. When my luck ran out he let me crash on his couch for too long and he was my neighbor in Bed-Stuy when I’d bounced back. What I’m saying is, sign your bank accounts over to him.
“Look at that,” James said. “There are seriously people who love Rob Liefeld. They love him. He was their rock star and he never has nor will do wrong by them. What does he do now?”
“Covers,” I said. “Some early DC New52 that went nowhere. And farms his old creations out to much more interesting writers and artists, so at least he has decent taste. What are you doing?”
“More Gang of Fools through jamesmith.org. Are you working on anything?”
I deftly turned the conversation to How To Train Your Dragon 2; it was officially unsalvageable for journalistic purposes from our high-pitched shrieks of delight.
“O Carl Potts, I know you of old,” I declared as I approached Carl Potts’ table. “I was The World’s Number One Power Pack Fanboy, and you were its editor. Twenty-eight years ago, when I was in fourth grade, I arranged a field trip for my class to the Marvel offices. I still have my copies of numbers 8 & 20 that you signed to me.”
“Wow. You know, Weezi is here this year.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I’ve met Weezi. Actually, I thought June Brigman was going to be here.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh. Did your class come at the time Mark Gruenwald was making us dress up in red jumpsuits and white construction helmets for the tours on Fridays?”
That stopped me dead in my tracks. “…nnnno, I think I would remember that. Sounds like you inspired Joel from Mystery Science Theater 3000 four years before it debuted.”
“We’d sew patches for the books on which we worked onto the sleeves. It got kinda meta.”“You were the original editor on Cloak & Dagger, weren’t you? I have one of those patches. What are you working on now?”
“I just edited Chuck Dixon’s new Alien Legion OGN.”
“Its existence is a minor miracle.”
“I sold a screenplay of it to Jerry Bruckheimer back in 2010; supposedly they’ve had half of Hollywood rewriting it since. Screenplays are mainly what I do now.”
Red jumpsuit and a white helmet not required to watch Potts-penned productions. Print that!
NON-PRO TIP: Even if an organization has denied you the dignity of attending your industry’s event as a professional, bring examples of exactly that which qualifies you as such; you never know who you might meet.
I had seen the name “Daryl Freimark” in the NYCC app, which rung a bell with me though I couldn’t be sure from what. I found him by accident on Sunday while checking out his Artists’ Alley table mate, Kristen Gudsnuk of Henchgirl.
“The Devil Is Due In Dreary was a story my friends and I had tried to sell as a screenplay a few years back,” Freimark said. “That got held up, so in the meantime, we decided to make a graphic novel out of it. This minister predicted on his deathbed that two strangers would be harbingers of the devil, so no one has really left town in decades. These two guys’ car breaks down outside town and everyone decides they’re the harbingers.”
“Sort of a Tarantino occult Western gothic hook, eh?” I ventured.
“That’s one way of approaching it. Can I offer you a review copy?”
I hedged. “I don’t know whether I’ll be doing any reviews for The Beat, so I don’t wanna deprive you of a copy you can sell.”
“OK, let me give you my contact info instead.” He began to write.
I was staring at his name when suddenly something clicked. “Did you go to sleepaway camp in Hinsdale, MA, in the eighties?” I asked.
He stopped writing and slowly swivelled his head towards me, his eyes enormous. “WHO ARE YOU?” he demanded.
The moment was so magnificently pregnant I didn’t want it to end. “Daryl, it’s ‘Apple.’”
He lunged out from behind his table and gave me an enormous bear hug. “I haven’t seen you since your 15th birthday when you made us watch all the Back To The Future movies in a row!”
“Oh God, what a self-indulgent twerp I was.” (“Was”?)
He pushed his book into my hands. “Now as an old friend, will you please take my goddamn graphic novel??” I did but made sure he had a copy of my comic in exchange. If you should see a review from me of it, my bias is on record.
“Sailor Scout Amy Reeder, where is your uniform today?” I barked.
“I decided not to cosplay anymore this weekend,” Reeder replied. “For some reason people don’t take you seriously as a professional if you’re in costume.”
“That’s the only reason I’m not in something garish,” I said, straightening my loud Mcbess Kidrobot jacket. “Those Rocket Girl tees you and Brandon [Montclair] silkscreened turned out great. And the book is so ‘80s it hurts.”
“Awesome. We’ll be announcing some schedule changes for it soon because–” Here her voice turned to a stage whisper: “–we fell behind.”
So behind it’s in the ‘80s! Gnarly!
“I never got to tell you how amazing King Kirby was at the time,” I told Fred Van Lente of his recent play co-written with his wife, playwright Crystal Skillman.
“Gee, thanks,” Fred said. “We were very proud of it.”
“Are the two of you working on anything together now? Maybe another play or a book?”
He shifted. “Yes, no, and I actually can’t talk about it.”
“Ooh, mysterious. I’m also stoked that Silencers is back in print; I bought those from you at MoCCA maybe 10 years ago.”
“Sounds about right. All praise due to Steve Ellis. It was one of my first real credits. And look at me now!”
“Yeah, you’re all over Valiant. Who’d’ve thought that would be a player at this late date?”
“I also co-wrote this comics textbook with Greg Pak.”
“I think I need one of those in my library. I’ve taught comics before and you never know if I might again. Would you sign it for me?”
“Sure, and if you’re quick you can get Greg to sign before he runs out. HEY GREG! BOOK! SIGN!”
“Can I go to the men’s room first?”
“NEVER!” I chimed in. “Nah, go ahead.” I turned back to Fred. “Wasn’t it Greg who did those Gurihiri Power Pack series a decade ago?”
“Uh, no, some of those were me.”
“Oh. I wasn’t crazy about those.”
“I felt the characterization was off.”
“Nah, it wasn’t.”
ABORT ABORT ABORT ABORT
“To be fair, I had been working on my own Power Pack script at the time the first was announced. I remember Vito Delsante emailed me his condolences when the news broke.”
“Ah, I think we’ve figured this one out. GREG!!!”
Speaking of Steve Ellis, I found him with his frequent and present collaborator on The Only Living Boy, writer David Gallaher, who asked me, “Oh hey, did you ever fill the open rooms in your apartment?”
My eyes rolled back in my head harder than yours are right now. “Yes, after over two months and the threat of eviction looming over me; thanks. How are things progressing on The Altern-80s?”
“Good! Kevin [Colden] is chugging away at it. I hope to have more to say on it soon. Would you like the LAST copy of Boy #3? After you, we’re sold out.” In answer I lifted the book aloft and sang a high, operatic note.
Steve turned to David. “Hey, those double dustjacket commissions are ready.”
“Did you see we have these blank dustjackets for the hardcover compilation of the first several issues of Boy?” David asked me. “A couple commissioned Steve to do a linked image between a pair.”
All in presence cooed. “Sick,” I groaned, and raised my smartphone.
NON-PRO TIP: If you can get a hug from Marvel Social Media Manager Adri Cowan on your way out the door, it’s like a ribbon on the entire adventure.
At the end of Sunday, after I could no longer get back on the show floor, I was snapping pics of any halfway decent cosplayers. I waited my turn behind a gal who was taking a photo of a toddler dressed as Son Goku. “I’m reporting for The Beat,” she told the toddler’s dad.
Huh, I thought, I’m reporting for The Beat. But it wasn’t Heidi. Who else was reporting for The Beat? I hadn’t even checked the site.
She stood up, and it was my old friend Edie Nugent, who I hadn’t seen in close to a decade. We met at Twenty-Four Hour Comic Day 2004 at the former Jim Hanley’s Universe (now JHU Comic Books). We were catching up when my eyes wandered. “Is that a Doctor Who-related cosplay down there?”
“Oh my God!” she squealed, and bounded down the steps. I didn’t have time to be offended, because I had the same reaction when I saw a little girl dressed as Astrid from How To Train Your Dragon 2.
Edie and I left the Javits Center together, noting the new “Cosplay Is Not Consent” signs on our way out. “It’s sad that needs to be said to purported adults, but at least someone is saying it,” she said.
“Haven’t you been following Gamergate? Telling one group not to dehumanize another is discrimination. Logics!”
“I’ve had to deal with that kind of crap my entire life. I’ve been told to leave comic shops, and even when I’ve been allowed in, they can’t believe that I’m shopping for myself. Luckily I’m a loud broad who doesn’t take anyone’s guff, but not every woman is.”
“Oh yeah, there was that time some nerd got mad at you and ordered you not to shop at the same comic store as him anymore.”
She was puzzled. “Who was that?”
“Oh, right. Thanks for reminding me, douchebag.”
Unlike some conventions, NYCC’s neither chintzy nor faceless, for all its corporate presences. Or perhaps after all these years I’m just adept enough at avoiding that which I know bores me. It’s not a perfect science, as I found out to my detriment. (Ow. Dammit. Seriously, anyone at Dreamworks and/or Oculus Rift, in the words of “Golden Age” Larry Johnson: Hook a brutha up.)
I could try to shoehorn these moments into a theme, a distillation, a cross-section of the NYCC to give you a flavor, a judgment, a moral. I could act contrite or overcompensate for not meeting more pros and landing more exclusives, but I wouldn’t trade these genuine interactions for scoops. I’m one person, and the show is so massive that to expect one’s experience to be authoritative is fatuous. It’s a common space, yes, but packed densely with so much vying for attention we’ll each have seen scores of things most others did not.
The most important part is and always will be the people. The best thing someone in this ballooning culture can be to me is themselves. Many of us who’ve been in this game a while know that whatever our entry point, it was our first genuine community with which we connected. It was founded on certain ideals of acceptance of misfits and endless possibility: it not only holds its freak flag high, it posits that the so-called freaks are the true heros, and best of all, IT BELIEVES IT. That sincerity has finally brought the rest of the world to our table; we would be unworthy to play favorites at this late date.
Which, when you think about it, is exactly why I should’ve been granted professional registration.