Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wizard Chicago 2009: Oh, comics, why do you test me

After seeing some of the heights of the comics medium at MoCCA 2009, the view of the industry/medium/genre from a mainstream standpoint at Chicago's least-exclusive convention is enough to make one come crashing back down to earth. As seemed to be the trend with any talk about the San Diego Comic-Con, comics themselves seem to be an afterthought here, with more space and attention devoted to wrestlers, models, actors, and toys than to the art form that gives the convention its name. It was even more so than in years past, since both Marvel and DC didn't bother to show up (outside of some panels), and neither did most of the smaller publishers like Image, Dark Horse, or Oni Press; the only publishers that seemed to have any presence were Top Shelf, Avatar, and Ape Entertainment. Instead, visitors were greeted with booth upon booth bearing these sorts of wares:

Why?! Who comes to a comics convention to check out swords, real or otherwise? It's a shame, and it's ridiculous to have to search to find any actual comics content. The retailer section wasn't quite so terrible, but while some might want to hunt through back issue bins to find that one silver age book missing from their collection, there wasn't much in a good third of the floor that you couldn't find at your local comic shop. Some might come to a convention for that sort of thing, but not me.

No, I'm more interested in immersing myself in comics, meeting creators and discussing their art, and hopefully discovering new talents. That wasn't a totally fruitless pursuit, but even the artists' alley section of the convention was littered with either low-quality amateurishness or table after table full of pin-up art, usually of the embarassing type that mostly consists of superheroines in various states of undress. It's painful to witness; is this what gets comics fans excited? Do I really want to be part of that sort of idiocy?

But in between the wanna-bes and wankers, real artists lurked, and it's always good to talk to them about their craft, discuss what projects they have coming up, and look at the often staggering piles of original art to really discover the nuances of their work. Nathan Fox is one such artist; his originals are amazing to witness, seemingly twice the size of a regular comics art page. No wonder he can really pack in the details. He mentioned a few upcoming projects that sound really exciting, including a graphic novel published by Scholastic called Dogs of War that's a historical story about soldiers working with dogs in World War I and II and Vietnam. Unfortunately, it won't be coming out until 2011, but it will certainly be one to look for. He's also hoping to be able to get to a graphic novel that he's collaborating on with Joe Casey; they were planning it when they got the opportunity to do Dark Reign: Zodiac, and opted for the paying work.

David Petersen, creator of Mouse Guard, talked about his plans for future installments of his popular series; next up is The Black Axe, which delves into the past to explore the history of one character. That will be followed by The Weasel War, another prequel. And then he will return to the "present", but take a leap forward in time to a point a bit after Winter 1152 wrapped up, hoping to have readers work to catch up with what is going on with the characters. It sounds like a good amount of material to look forward to.

Other creators had some interesting tidbits of information, including Katie Cook, who will be working on a licensed Jim Henson project for Archaia, although since it had not been officially announced, she was not at liberty to state whether it would be Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, or The Dark Crystal (my guess is the latter). Mike Allred noted that he's trying to make Eugene, Oregon famous in the upcoming Vertigo series I, Zombie. Jill Thompson will probably be doing another Scary Godmother comic after Beasts of Burden is finished (the preview pages she had of the first issue are just gorgeous). Phil Hester is excited about his upcoming series The Anchor, which is illustrated by Brian Churilla. And there were probably plenty of other notable encounters, proving that there was good content to be had at the con, if you knew where to look.

On the "new discoveries" front, the find of the show has to be Jeff Wamester, an artist who seems to be bursting with talent and ideas. His most notable work is probably WMD, as soon-to-begin webcomic with plenty of sci-fi trappings, but he has a few other projects that are going to be coming soon from his small publishing company. Looking through the work he had on display, he's definitely a creator that will be a big name and a sought-after talent very soon.

Scott Dillon and Mitch Gerads of Pop Gun Pulp were another source of exciting work; their book Johnny Recon looks like a nice bit of pulp sci-fi action, with some pretty amazingly dynamic art from Gerads. This looks to be another book that should gain some notice, if all is right with the world.

Brittany Sabo seems like another notable talent; she mostly had minicomics on display, but she and her collaborator A. Bratton have recently released a book called Francis Sharp in the Grip of the Uncanny, and she also contributed to the Big Funny project. Sabo's work seems more like what was on display at MoCCA, rather than the superhero-wannabe material that was inescapable here. It was quite refreshing to see a nice, simple bit of design and character; if all goes right, Sabo will be another talent on the indie comics scene soon.

And there were quite a few other indie cartoonists and webcomics makers on the scene, including Serena Guerra; Gabriel Bautista and the Pulpo crew; Agnes Garbowska, who is doing a kids' zombie book called You, Me, and Zombie; Len Kody, whose webcomic Chicago 1968 is about the infamous Democratic Convention; and at least one of the creators from Saint James Comics. And maybe a few others, but really, the pickings were pretty slim. You wouldn't necessarily think so if you saw the pile of stuff I came home with though:

Maybe it's the continued encroachment of Hollywood and other media on comicdom, or maybe Wizard's state of instability is scaring away the real talent, but this year's con seemed to be kind of a downer. Maybe a smaller show like the Windy City Comicon will be a good place for the focus to return to comics and talent to flourish, or perhaps next year's C2E2 will manage to get a good comics show to return to the city, but for right now Wizard, despite its highlights, is looking pretty avoidable. Any chance to interact with creators is welcome though, so I'll take what I can get.

I'll have some reviews of stuff I got at the con in the next day or two, along with scans of sketches (including additions to my Groo sketchbook), and there should be some pictures up on Facebook too; I'll throw up a link when I've posted them (UPDATE: Here they are). And then it's back to normal around here, hopefully; I've still got a lot to catch up on. Oy.